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Acne affects roughly 85 percent of people aged 12 to 24 and anywhere from 12 to 25 percent of adults in their 40s. If you fall into one of these groups, you may still be searching for a treatment that works for you. And if you're already familiar with standard breakout-banishing ingredients like Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acid, you might wonder: Does Vitamin C help acne? What about Vitamin C for acne scars?


Vitamin C is known for its powerful antioxidant properties and ability to soften fine lines and wrinkles, but it can help bolster your acne treatment regimen, too. Here's how.


What Is Acne?

Acne is a common inflammatory skin condition primarily caused by clogged pores. When sebum—the natural oils that keep your skin moisturized and protect against foreign substances—mixes with dead skin cells, your pores become clogged, trapping bacteria and leading to acne breakouts.


Acne Causes and Triggers

While the root cause of acne is dead skin cell, oil, and bacteria buildup, why does it happen to some and not others?



Hormonal acne develops from increased oil production. When excess sebum interacts with dead skin cells and bacteria, the pores become inflamed, leading to breakouts. Hormonal acne can affect both sexes during puberty and adulthood. However, adult women are more susceptible due to the hormonal changes associated with pregnancy and menopause.



Researchers believe heredity strongly influences whether you get acne.


Excessive Sweating

Sweat contributes to and traps buildup in your pores, which can cause acne on the face and body—especially if you don't shower immediately after activity. Friction from your clothing can further trap acne-causing bacteria during exercise, worsening existing breakouts.



Exfoliating too often can irritate the skin, increasing oil production and breakouts.



While stress doesn't directly cause acne, your skin produces more oil when cortisol (the stress hormone) levels increase. Studies suggest that if you already have acne, stress can worsen the condition and slow the healing process.


A young woman touches the acne on her face


Types of Acne

The primary acne types are categorized into an acne grading system.


Grade 1: Mild

With Grade 1 acne, you may have whiteheads and blackheads with a few papules (inflamed, tender lesions) and pustules (papules accompanied by white or yellow pus).


Grade 2: Moderate or Pustular

Grade 2 acne is characterized by several pustules and papules, primarily on the face, along with whiteheads and blackheads.


Grade 3: Moderately Severe or Nodulocystic

If you have Grade 3 acne, you may notice numerous papules, pustules, and inflamed pustules and nodules—hard, painful bumps that develop under the skin.


Grade 4: Severe Nodulocystic

Grade 4 acne is identified by an even greater number of nodules and inflamed pus-filled lesions.


What Does Vitamin C Do for Your Skin?

Vitamin C is a science-backed skin care ingredient with incredible benefits. It's one of the most potent antioxidants, effectively warding off damaging free radicals from sources like pollution, ultraviolet rays, cigarette smoke, and blue light from electronic devices.

In its purest form (L-Ascorbic Acid), Vitamin C is the only antioxidant that increases collagen synthesis, resulting in softened fine lines and improved skin tone. It also helps fade discoloration associated with sun damage, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and natural skin aging.


How Does Vitamin C Help Acne?

Here's how Vitamin C can help you achieve clearer skin.


Reduces Inflammation

Vitamin C has anti-inflammatory properties, so it helps reduce the swelling and redness associated with acne.


Reduces Acne Scars

Vitamin C for acne scars works by stimulating collagen synthesis. When your skin incurs damage from an acne breakout, your body repairs the compromised tissue. Vitamin C assists this process by promoting healthy collagen production, allowing your skin to recover faster.

Vitamin C's skin-brightening properties can also lighten post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation associated with acne scars.


Fights Blackheads and Acne-Causing Bacteria

When sebum oxidizes, it can lead to blackheads. By preventing this oxidation, Vitamin C can help negate blackheads and future breakouts. It also has an antibacterial effect against P. acnes, which is commonly linked to acne.


Regulates Sebum Production

Vitamin C helps balance sebaceous (oil) gland activity, reducing breakouts. Studies show that applying Vitamin C twice daily reduced acne lesions after four weeks compared to a placebo.


How to Add Vitamin C to Your Routine

Are you ready to put Vitamin C to the test? Here are some expert tips for incorporating this superhero ingredient into your routine.


Choose Vitamin C's Active Form

L-Ascorbic Acid is the best form of Vitamin C to help battle acne. Opt for a concentrated serum like PCA SKIN C-Quench® Antioxidant Serum to help regulate sebum production, brighten dark spots from acne scarring, and ward off environmental aggressors that may impede healing.


Consider Concentration

The best Vitamin C concentration for acne is generally between 10 and 20 percent. PCA SKIN C&E Strength Max is formulated with a 20 percent concentration of Vitamins C and E to deliver unmatched results. In about a week, you can achieve stronger, smoother, clearer skin.

However, everyone's skin is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. If you have dry or sensitive skin, start with 5 to 10 percent and gradually increase as your skin adjusts. Consult a licensed professional if you're unsure which concentration is best for your skin and acne type.


Avoid Mixing Certain Ingredients with Vitamin C

When adding Vitamin C to your routine, use caution with certain ingredients to prevent irritation and support the best results. These include:

  • Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs)
  • Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs)
  • Benzoyl Peroxide
  • Retinol

If these ingredients are a staple in your routine, try using them at different times of day. For example, apply Vitamin C in the morning and Retinol at night.


Pair with Soothing Ingredients

On the flip side, some ingredients complement Vitamin C and your acne treatment, such as:

  • Vitamin E
  • Hyaluronic Acid
  • Ferulic Acid
  • Niacinamide
  • Peptides
  • Ceramides

Building Confidence in Your Skin Care

Treating acne can be challenging, but it's not impossible. Vitamin C provides additional benefits such as regulating sebum production and reducing acne scars and inflammation. So if you haven't had luck with other acne-fighting ingredients, it's well worth trying. Speak to a licensed professional if you're unsure which concentration to use, how to incorporate it into your routine, or whether professional treatments could help. Building confidence in your skin care gets you one step closer to your best complexion.


Rebecca Taras
A Chicagoland native, Rebecca began her career catering to celebrity clientele as a licensed esthetician at the Peninsula Chicago Hotel. Her passion for skin care ingredients, formulations, and skin histology led her to create custom in-room skin, bath, and body amenities for the Sofitel Hotel Chicago. The Chicago Fashion Foundation recognized her efforts with the Style Maker, Rule Breaker award in the Beauty category. She later went on to co-found Terminal Getaway airport spas. Rebecca’s experience also includes serving as an editor for digital outlets such as Refinery29, PopSugar, Forbes Travel Guides, and Bustle. She continues to refine her skin care knowledge while spending time traveling the world with her husband.