Environmental Defense Treatments & Vitamin C

Florence Barrett-Hill
Human biology has evolved in an oxidative environment, cell and organs not only use, but depend on the potentially dangerous oxygen molecule. However, this also means that, consequently, all cells constantly generate a variety of reactive oxygen species, capable of oxidatively destroying cell components if unchecked. In addition, the oxidative risks present in our external environment are proliferating. This is particularly significant for the skin, with its direct exposure to the external environment.

Oxygenated free radicals play a significant role in skin ageing and inflammatory skin disorders. The high reactivity of oxygenated species allows them to initiate chemical or structural modification of protein, nucleic acids or membrane lipids. Such changes alter cellular morphology or function and contribute to skin ageing conditions like pigmentation, collagen loss and elastin loss.

Researchers studying free radicals have estimated they are responsible for causing 80-90% of the degenerative diseases that afflict the human race.

The discovery of free radicals and the theories regarding their effect on living tissue has perhaps answered many of the questions asked about premature ageing. The common nicknames of “The Invisible Destroyers” and “The Cellular Terrorists” give valuable insights to the destructive effect free radicals have on all living tissue.

In simple terms, a Free Radical is an atom or molecule that has an uneven number of electrons on its external orbit. This imbalance makes the molecule very unstable and immensely reactive, as normal molecules or atoms always have matched pairs of electrons. A highly destructive chain reactions begins when a molecule, thrown out of balance by the loss of one electron. Rampages around other molecules looking for a mate, in the process doing everything in its power to break up existing electron couples. The renegade molecule attacks normal molecules, breaking up the electron couples and forcing the abandoned electrons to search for their mate, thus creating more free radical molecules.

Fortunately, the body has developed enzyme systems (catalase and dismutase superoxide), and chemical molecules Vit E and Vit C that neutralise great numbers of free radicals. These protect the body by reducing the number of free radicals it is exposed to, and helping the prevention of damage. The human body metabolises the enzyme systems catalase and dismutase superoxide (SOD) but is entirely dependant on a dietary source for Vitamin C.

The human body cannot synthesise Vit C itself and directly relies on food intake. In humans, the total pool of Vit is approximately 1,500 mg. Bodily functions and activities consume a considerable amount of Vit C.

Physical, emotional stress, mental illness, smoking and some medication cause even more Vit C to be depleted from the body, the skin is particularly vulnerable to Vit C deficiency.

Once Vit C is absorbed into the skin, it can not be rubbed, washed or even perspired off for three days. This means that topical delivery of Vit C is much more efficient than massive doses or oral supplements.
Recent dermatological studies have revealed that Vit C has surprising sun-protective properties. The Vit C concentration in sun damaged skin has been found to be considerably lower that in normal skin.

Experiments also show that the skin gets considerable less damage if a significant amount of Vit C is applied topically before sun exposure. Furthermore, the skin recover quickly from sun-damage after topical application of Vit C. These findings indicate that topical Vit C can be utilised to prevent and repair skin sun damage.

Traditional chemical sunscreens formulated to absorb or reflect UVR can only reduce erythema (redness) not prevent skin cellular sun damage. The sun damage due to incomplete protection of sunscreens can be minimised by topical Vit C.

sun protection
Vit C can be added into sunscreens to provide additional protection

Therefore, Vit C can be added into sunscreens to provide additional protection. It should be clearly understood that Vit C does not absorb UV rays and is not a substitute for sunscreen, it is acting in the role of an anti-free radical and preventing and reducing skin damage caused by UV exposure.

By understanding the skins structure and function to establish cause of a skin condition and linking that skin condition to a product composition. We have come a long way in valuing and understanding topically applied vitamins as an active in a formulation. As we age and cellular functions begin to decline, researchers have determined that we suffer both loss of growth factor, and a decline in receptor sites which are an intricate part of the bimolecular process of renewal and regeneration.

It has been concluded that in its role as a co-factor, Vit C stimulates receptor sites and make it possible for a greater number of growth factors to attach to individual cells. Through this process, metabolic activity of the cell improves and a more youthful like metabolic activity is seen.

Practising “Environmental Defence Protection” will have to become one of our greatest responsibilities.

Facial treatment programs over the summer months are when we should be targeting environmental defence. Using products with a high anti-free radical profile plus essential fatty acids as a massage medium will benefit our skins 100%. Vitamin C based programs will have a high profile this summer, the lines will be small but intense, and will fit into any skincare line.

You will find, that photo-damage can be reduced or minimised by careful planning and prevention programs. The sunscreen is no longer enough for summer care, unless combined with daily use cosmetics that address all aspects of actinic damage and skin ageing.

Choose your Vit C serums carefully using the guide I have given you so that you may understand the difference and the actions they give. Any anti-free radical program using Vit C in conjunction with a physical sun block will offer excellent environmental defence. 

I always say: “Practising ‘Environmental Defence Protection’ must be one of our greatest professional responsibilities”

Quick Chemistry notes:
Although Vitamin C is very unstable in an aqueous solution, the ester form of Vit C is relatively stable, particularly when combined with a metal ion (chelate). In a chelate, the structure of Vit C is stabilised via stronger chemical bonds and steric hindrance which makes it difficult for oxygen and other relative substances to attack the weak point of Vit C.

Recently a number of Vit C chelates with magnesium and other groups have been successfully synthesised. The Vit C chelates or derivatives are relatively stable in aqueous solutions so are suitable for cosmetic formulation. After topical application chelates are readily absorbed by the skin and release Vit C promptly. Different from free Vit C, the chelates of Vit C are not so acidic (pH between 5.0 and 6.0) and are very safe to skin.

As an anti-oxidant Vit C most commonly in the form of ascorbic acid (or l ascorbic acid, which represents a lipid encased version of ascorbic) and especially when enhanced by potentiators such as bioflavonoids, is a powerful free radical scavenger.

 Vit C in the Ascorbyl form (Ascorbyl Palmitate) has been tested extensively and was reported in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (Jan 96) to inhibit the production of melanin. (Tyrosinase inhibitor) 

In the Ascorbate form (Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate) research demonstrates that special forms of Vit C acts as Collagen “type 3” production booster. As important, it appears to strengthen collagen strands, making them more resilient. It has also been proven that mineral ascorbate appeared to be absorbed better and last longer in the tissues than normal Vit C (ascorbic).