How to Use Vitamin C for Dark Spots, According to Dermatologists

How to Use Vitamin C for Dark Spots, According to Dermatologists

How to Use Vitamin C for Dark Spots, According to Dermatologists

Safety Considerations The Final Takeaway

Dark spots can appear for many reasons—they can be the after-effects of acne or brought on by hormonal conditions like melasma, for example. Regardless of the cause, treating them is likely your first priority when you see them appear. If you want to take action, consider incorporating a vitamin C product into your skincare routine. According to dermatologists, this powerhouse ingredient can help fade dark spots and offers a host of other skincare benefits. Ahead, find out everything you need to know about using vitamin C for dark spots.

What Is Vitamin C?

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant derived from natural sources like citrus fruits (think: oranges) and is often produced synthetically in different skincare products, such as serums, moisturizers, toners, and cleansers. The ingredient protects the skin from collagen breakdown and neutralizes damage caused by free radicals. The latter is significant as we are constantly exposed to air, sunlight (UV radiation), and pollutants, which can generate skin-aging free radicals. Because of these properties, Patel says vitamin C “helps decrease skin breakdown and discoloration, resulting in an overall [more radiant effect].”

The Benefits of Vitamin C for Dark Spots

Vitamin C can help reduce the appearance of dark spots and hyperpigmentation. This is because vitamin C down-regulates an enzyme called tyrosinase that’s involved in melanin production. “By reducing melanin production in specific areas, those areas can lighten, addressing the concern of dark spots effectively,” Singh says.

While you may notice your dark spots becoming less noticeable after using skincare products with vitamin C, Patel points out that “it’s not a hero ingredient for hyperpigmentation.” If you’re aiming to treat dark spots, she says vitamin C works better when the formula features other skin tone-evening ingredients like kojic acid and licorice.

How to Use Vitamin C for Dark Spots 

Choose the Right Product Format

The pure form of vitamin C, also known as L-absorbic acid, can be found in many formats skincare—from serums to cleansers. However, while many types of products are available, the specific formulation makes a big difference when it comes to treating dark spots. This is for a few reasons. The skin's outermost layer, which is called the stratum corneum, is naturally resistant to water-soluble molecules like vitamin C, Singh explains. Therefore, the product must be able to penetrate the outer layer of the skin for the vitamin C to be effective.

Patel specifically recommends using a serum. "It is better that the vitamin C is delivered to the skin in a serum because vitamin C is a water-soluble molecule, meaning it will best traverse the outer layer to the dermis in a water-based vehicle like a serum," Patel says. "The water-soluble vitamin C is more powerful than the fat-soluble variant."

However, if you have sensitive skin, Patel says esterified vitamin C products may be less irritating. They're fat soluble and may be slightly less effective, but can be a better option if your skin is prone to irritation.

Adhere to a Consistent Schedule

There are a lot of different recommendations around vitamin C use—particularly whether it should be used in the morning or at night and how frequently. Patel says you can use vitamin C serum daily and should apply it to clean dry skin after cleansing and prior to SPF.

Combine Your Vitamin C With the Right Products

Vitamin C can be used with other skincare ingredients and products to treat dark spots. To treat dark spots, Singh suggests combining your vitamin C serum with moisturizing vitamin E and applying this pairing twice daily. “This combination is safe and can be tailored depending on the cause of the dark spots,” he says. Singh also suggests using vitamin C with tranexamic acid for dark spots related to melasma.

There are some ingredients you’ll also want to be cautious about while using vitamin C. Patel says you’ll want to avoid using vitamin C with certain exfoliating ingredients and acids, like retinol and alpha-hydroxy acids, Using these ingredients with vitamin C can cause irritation; mainly if they’re used together every day. If you apply vitamin C in the morning, Patel suggests using these other ingredients in the evening.

Safety Considerations

Vitamin C is safe for most skin types, but some people may experience irritation. "If you notice your skin gets too dry or starts peeling after using [vitamin C], then you may be allergic to an ingredient within the serum, or the concentration within may be too high," Patel says. "The strongest form is the alcohol form, [which] can be irritating. Switching to the fat-soluble milder form can be helpful." 

It's best to stick to products with a vitamin C concentration between 10 and 20%. Research shows that products with a concentration of vitamin C above 20% may be more likely to cause irritation.

Another important point to remember is that vitamin C is an unstable ingredient. It can easily degrade, oxidize, and lose its beneficial antioxidant properties when exposed to light, air, and heat. This is why it's important to use vitamin C skincare products packaged in opaque, airtight containers and store them somewhere dark and cool. If your vitamin C product starts to turn brown or reddish, it may have begun to oxidize and need to be replaced.

The Final Takeaway

Dermatologists regularly recommend vitamin C to treat dark spots on the skin. As a powerful antioxidant, this common skincare ingredient can help reduce free radical damage and inhibit melanin production in targeted areas, decreasing the appearance of hyperpigmentation in turn. If you're considering adding a vitamin C product to your routine, look for concentrations between 10 and 20%, as this range is regarded to be most effective and non-irritating.

Article Sources Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.

  1. Telang, P. S. (2013). Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal4(2), 143–146.

  2. Poljšak, B., & Dahmane, R. (2012). Free radicals and extrinsic skin aging. Dermatology Research and Practice2012, 135206.

  3. Sanadi, R. M., & Deshmukh, R. S. (2020). The effect of Vitamin C on melanin pigmentation – A systematic review. Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology : JOMFP24(2), 374–382.

  4. Kaikati, J., El Bcherawi, N., Khater, J. A., Dib, S. M., Kechichian, E., & Helou, J. (2023). Combination topical tranexamic acid and vitamin c for the treatment of refractory melasma. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology16(7), 63–65.

  5. Al-Niaimi, F., & Chiang, N. Y. Z. (2017). Topical vitamin c and the skin: Mechanisms of action and clinical applications. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology10(7), 14–17.

  6. Telang, P. S. (2013). Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal4(2), 143.

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