Is it fair to call vitamins a “trend?” When you’re slathering them on your face instead of swallowing them down, yes. These days, in addition to taking a handful of capsules after breakfast, it’s standard practice to show your skin some love with topical supplements, too — like serums that boast vitamin E (to keep skin hydrated) and moisturizers chock-full of vitamin A (an anti-aging powerhouse). Since parsing product labels to figure out which vitamins your skin really needs can get confusing, we’re breaking down the key differences between two of the most popular skincare vitamins on the market, vitamin C and vitamin D.
There’s no denying that both vitamin C and vitamin D can be beneficial for your skin — and yes, it’s totally fine (and encouraged) to use both. Each of these vitamins is what’s known as an antioxidant: They work to neutralize the damaging effects of pollution on the skin. The duo also has anti-inflammatory properties, which is just a fancy way of saying they counteract redness and swelling.
C and D both contribute to stronger, plumper skin as well — although they do this in slightly different ways. Vitamin C helps the skin build up its collagen stores (and we all know collagen = youthful skin), while vitamin D helps skin cells proliferate and repair themselves. And that’s where the similarities end.
The Benefits of Vitamin C
If you’re looking for more even skin tone, or want to brighten any acne scars or hyperpigmentation, vitamin C should be your new go-to. “Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is extremely powerful in correcting dark spots and scars thanks to its multifunctional properties,” Barbara Gavazzoli, the Director of Communication and Education for /skin regimen/, tells me. “It also interrupts the key steps of the production of melanin (melanogenesis) by inhibiting the action of the enzyme tyrosinase, thereby decreasing the melanin formation.” In other words, it can help fade existing scars and keep new ones from forming.
However, vitamin C can sometimes be harsh on sensitive or compromised skin — so tread lightly if this applies to you. It’s also considered “unstable,” meaning it breaks down when exposed to sunlight or left unused for too long a time. Because of this, the ingredient is most potent if delivered via serum (serums tend to penetrate the pores more deeply to deliver nutrients deep into the skin, whereas moisturizers form a protective layer on top of the skin). And as with any perishable, it helps to store your vitamin C serums in the fridge!
The Benefits of Vitamin D
Those with sensitive or irritated skin will do better with a daily dose of vitamin D. Just like it’s known for strengthening your bones when taken internally, D strengthens your skin when applied externally. “Vitamin D is protecting the skin from environmental assaults, fortifies skin barrier, and helps in the natural skin renewal process,” Dr. Marko Lens, the founder of Zelens, tells Nécessité.
Studies have shown that topical vitamin D even helps soothe symptoms of psoriasis and other disorders that involve dry, flaky skin. (I personally use a vitamin D spray when my dermatitis is acting up, and the rash goes down within a day.) The best part? “There’s no risk at all,” Dr. Lens says. “All skin types can use it.”
So, Which One Should You Use?
Both vitamins are guaranteed to level up your skincare game and result in calm, clear skin; but Vitamin C is better suited to fade scarring and hyperpigmentation and give you an overall glow, while Vitamin D is ideal for strengthening sensitive or reactive skin.