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Can vitamin C and vitamin E containing products improve aging skin?

Patients are increasingly turning to vitamin C and vitamin E containing anti-aging serums, creams and lotions to fend off the signs of skin aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles, brown spots and uneven skin tone.  Vitamin C (a water soluble vitamin) and vitamin E (a fat soluble vitamin) are classified as antioxidants because they help scavenge and degrade molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS).  ROS are generated by sun exposure and cause accelerated skin aging by degrading the collagen and elastin found in the dermis (second layer of the skin).  Vitamin C works in concert with vitamin E to maintain the skin’s antioxidant properties, functioning like “skin police” to seek out and arrest any ROS that may be hanging around.  Theoretically, skin care products containing vitamin C and E can increase the “stores” of these antioxidants in the skin, which could potentially lead to a stronger police force to combat ROS.  In order for them to work, however, they must penetrate through the dead, outer skin cells and come in contact with the viable skin cells that live deep in the skin.  The skin’s thickness results in less absorption of the active ingredients in skin care products.  This presents a problem given that active ingredients need to penetrate deep in to the skin to have any effect on wrinkles and sun spots.  It is true that topically applied Vitamin C and E can increase the amount of their stores in the outer, dead layer of the skin.  However, the ROS that accelerate skin aging live in the deeper parts of the skin, not the outer layer that is being enriched with the extra stores.   Therefore, vitamin C and E applied topically to the skin have little effect on skin aging caused by ROS.  As a side note, Vitamin C and Vitamin E taken in a pill form using supplements have been studied to see whether they can boost the anti-aging properties in the skin.  Currently, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that shows any anti-aging benefit when Vitamin C and E are taken as oral supplements.  So, that being said, what is the best bet for patients who want to preserve their appearance?  The best answer is a complete sun reduction strategy that includes:  daily application of a broad-spectrum sun block, covering up the skin with sun protective clothing, avoiding the intense, mid-day sun (between 10 am and 2 pm) and steering clear of tanning booths.  These tactics are proven to fend of skin aging and skin cancer.

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