TikTok’s Viral Vitamin C Test Isn’t Foolproof—Here’s What You Should Know

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard countless dermatologists, beauty editors, and estheticians alike extol the skin benefits of vitamin C. It can protect our skin from aging caused by oxidative stress, boost collagen production, and encourage a brighter complexion by suppressing hyperpigmentation. For these reasons, it’s definitely a staple ingredient that I recommend almost everyone incorporate into their daily routine.

That said, vitamin C can have its downsides. The fact that it’s such a powerful antioxidant is also what can make it a very unstable ingredient. Vitamin C always wants to be reacting with something, so the minute it comes into contact with air, light, or water, it oxidizes and is no longer effective. (Have you ever had a vitamin C serum that turned brown? This is what happens when vitamin C oxidizes, and it’s definitely not a good thing.)

To make matters even more confusing, there are many different forms of vitamin C that can be found in skincare formulas, and they all have varying degrees of stability. 

With all these caveats, it’s no wonder people are intrigued by the viral vitamin C experiment made popular on TikTok. The experiment involves adding a brown-colored iodine solution to a glass of water, stirring it, then adding a few drops of a vitamin C serum. The idea is that if the solution turns clear, the vitamin C serum must be effective. Vice versa, if it doesn’t turn clear, the vitamin C serum must be ineffective. 

Unfortunately—like everything else when it comes to vitamin C—it’s not quite that simple. With the help of cosmetic chemist Valerie George, I’ll explain how vitamin C can change the color of iodine and why you shouldn’t be banking on this experiment to judge the efficacy of your serum. Here goes!

Why Does Vitamin C Turn Iodine Clear?

To understand why this reaction occurs, we need to delve into a bit of a chemistry lesson. 

According to Valerie, iodine is what’s called a divalent molecule. This means it prefers to be in pairs and will always be found bound to another iodine molecule. When iodine molecules are paired up, they take on a brownish or purple color.

Simply put, when you add certain substances to an iodine solution, that divalent bond can become disrupted and the iodine molecules get split up. This is what causes a color change. (Remember putting iodine on a potato slice in grade school and watching it turn bright blue? This is a similar reaction that’s caused by iodine coming into contact with the starches in a potato.)

When Vitamin C is added to an iodine solution, it breaks apart the bond joining the iodine molecules causing the brown solution to become clear.

It’s Not Just Vitamin C That Causes This Reaction

The type of reaction we’re seeing in this TikTok experiment is what’s called a reduction. The reason I want to stress this is that it’s not just vitamin C that can reduce iodine. Iodine could be reduced by any type of antioxidant, including citric acid, lactic acid, or vitamin E. The reaction can also be caused by other types of ingredients that have reducing power, such as sodium hydroxide. Almost all cosmetic formulas have multiple ingredients that could probably contribute to a reduction, so when you’re doing this experiment it’s difficult to say if a reaction was caused strictly by the vitamin C in a product. 

Not All Forms of Vitamin C Are Able to React With the Iodine 

Another way in which this experiment is misleading? Just because a vitamin C serum doesn’t reduce the iodine doesn’t mean it won’t be effective when applied to the skin. The reason is that not all forms of vitamin C are going to be available to travel out of a skincare formula and into the iodine solution. 

Take, for example, the Renée Rouleau Vitamin C&E Treatment. This product uses a stable, oil-soluble form of vitamin C called tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate (THD). The fact that THD is oil-soluble is one of the reasons it can penetrate into the skin really effectively, but it also means you wouldn’t see a reaction after dropping it into a glass of water where there aren’t any oils present. 

Additionally, there are enzymes within the skin that slowly convert THD to pure ascorbic acid—another reaction that can’t be replicated in a glass of water.

All this to say, you can’t really look at how a complex vitamin C product reacts with iodine in a glass of water and directly translate that to how it will interact with your skin. These are ultimately two different scenarios involving completely different chemistries. 

Bottom Line

While the vitamin C iodine experiment on Tik Tok is undoubtedly cool and visually satisfying, it’s misleading. It’s not an accurate method of measuring how effective a vitamin C serum is going to be when applied to your skin, and there are a number of other ingredients commonly found in skincare products that could cause the same color-changing reaction. 

Next, need help when it comes to choosing the right vitamin C serum for your skin? Here are 5 things to look for

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The Beginner’s Guide to Healthy Aging

Updated 02/11/22. As an esthetician, I’m always asked, “What should I be doing to my skin NOW to prevent wrinkles from appearing later?”  The truth is that there are many different things you can do. As someone who will be turning 53 this year, I know firsthand the difference that a healthy lifestyle and an effective skincare routine can make. And no matter how old you are, it’s never too late to implement new habits. Keep reading for my guide to healthy aging.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Aging

First, let’s talk about the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic aging. We’ve all heard someone say, “Look how young they look! They must have good genes.” While we are genetically programmed from birth to age a certain way, genetics are now thought to only be responsible for 20-30% of aging. This is what’s referred to as intrinsic aging.

The other 70%-80% depends on extrinsic aging. This refers to aging caused by environmental factors, such as lifestyle and skincare—all of which you have control over. This is great news because it confirms that how we care for our skin far outweighs our genetic predisposition. When it comes down to it, healthy aging is all about making good choices.

Your Guide to Healthy Aging

Here’s what you can start doing NOW to promote healthy skin aging later.

1. Limit Sun Exposure

UV rays are the number one reason for premature skin aging. A study out of Australia even showed that “the skin of daily sunscreen users aged a full 24% less than that of occasional wearers.” This just goes to show how important daily sunscreen use is. You must apply SPF every day, 365 days a year, rain or shine, inside or out.

I started wearing sunscreen every day when I was 28 years old, which was considered pretty early back in 1998. I would have worn it earlier in my 20s but I just couldn’t find one that didn’t make me break out. So, I created my own! Weightless Protection SPF 30 is lightweight and won’t clog pores, cause blemishes, or feel greasy. It’s great for all skin types, and I wear it every single day without fail. (It’s my daily moisturizer, so no extra moisturizer is needed once I apply it.)

I really envy and admire all of the teens out there who are diligent about sunscreen. They are so lucky to have this knowledge and be able to put it into practice at such a young age. Sunscreen will undoubtedly and dramatically slow the progression of visible signs of aging, so make it a daily habit. And make sure you’re using it correctly (this is the right way to apply sunscreen).

2. Switch Up Your Sleeping Position

Did you know that the way you sleep may be the second most prominent cause of wrinkles (after sun exposure, of course)? Sleeping on your side is like ironing wrinkles into your skin. To prevent wrinkles from forming around the chest, neck, mouth, and eyes, you should sleep on your back. I know it’s easier said than done, but if you sleep on your side, you could potentially be spending more than 2,500 hours per year reversing the positive effects of your skincare routine. (See how I sleep.)

3. Wear Glasses and Sunglasses

Creases from repetitive facial expressions (like squinting, laughing, smiling, talking, and yawning) can ultimately result in permanent lines and wrinkles. Of course, our faces were meant to move, but you want to avoid facial expressions that are unnecessary, such as squinting. This will accelerate the appearance of lines and wrinkles around your eyes. Be sure to wear glasses (if you need them) and sunglasses. Don’t put off getting your eyes checked.

FYI, you can also prevent signs of aging from forming on your neck. Neck lines and wrinkles, which are called “tech neck,” are caused by the constant position of looking down at phones and computers. Read more about “tech neck” and how to prevent it.

4. Try Microcurrent Treatments

Gravity causes the muscles of the face to sag—especially those that are rarely used. Skin experts used to think this was unavoidable, but now we understand that exercising the muscles is possible and can help the face appear tighter and firmer. (Fun fact: We have 53 muscles in our face, and 32 of them are accessible for exercise.)

So, how do we exercise the muscles of our face? We can use professional microcurrent treatments. These are machines that use low-level electrical currents to simulate the currents that naturally run through your body. The waves it gives off are able to penetrate through your skin and into your muscles. Because microcurrent works to strengthen muscles, it’s often described as a “workout for your face.”

For home use, I like using a microcurrent device from a brand called NuFace. Learn more about microcurrent and how it works.

5. Wear Sun-Protective Clothing

This is an important key to healthy aging. Just like sunscreen, sun-protective clothing can prevent UV light from accelerating the aging process. (One more thing—stop wearing this piece of clothing if you want to save your skin—and chest!)

6. Avoid Smoking and Second-Hand Smoke

This should come as no surprise. Smoking (and inhaling second-hand smoke) are dangerous to the body. When it comes to the skin, specifically, it starves cells of oxygen, making it look dull and tired. Also, collagen-destroying enzymes (MMPs) ramp up when the skin is exposed to tobacco smoke. This dramatically increases how quickly the skin ages. Read more about how smoking affects the skin.

7. Limit Alcohol and Drug Use

Every drug will affect the body differently, but generally speaking, drugs can stress the nervous system. This, in turn, elevates hormones (adrenals) that contribute to the wear and tear of connective tissue, resulting in loose, sagging skin.

As for alcohol, it’s not doing your skin any favors either. Overconsumption of alcohol causes chronic inflammation and harmful free radical activity which is the underlying cause of skin aging. Learn more about how drinking alcohol affects the skin.

8. Lead a Healthy Lifestyle

When it comes to healthy aging, don’t overlook your lifestyle as a whole. This includes everything from eating a nutritious diet to getting enough quality sleep, exercising, and focusing on living your best, happiest life that’s filled with love and laughter. As for laughter, did you know that doctors and health professionals are prescribing laughter to lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, and increase disease-fighting cells? Laughter is free and fun and everyone can do it. It’s no wonder you always hear, “Laughter is the best medicine.

When Should I Start Using Preventative Aging Products?

Answer: six months old (well, for sunscreen, that is).

Since the sun is the primary cause of premature aging, this makes sunscreen the most biologically active ingredient available. Sunscreen, more so than any other over-the-counter skincare product, has the greatest ability to prevent wrinkles and premature skin aging. Sunscreen can be applied to children as young as six months of age. (Of course, consult your doctor as to the best one to use for an infant.) This essentially means that the concept of healthy aging begins at less than one year of age. It’s never too early to start, right? Again, Weightless Protection SPF 30 is the one I recommend for everyday use under makeup.

As for other skincare products, a serum can be a game-changer. They’re designed to create positive change in the behavior of your skin. However, depending on the ingredients (such as retinol, certain vitamin combinations, and peptides), it may not be appropriate for those in their 20s and younger. This is because many serums are formulated to increase the metabolism of the cells. This action is needed for skin that is showing a lot of signs of aging but may be too active for younger skin and those prone to breakouts since this type of skin already has an active metabolism.

If you need help choosing the right serum for your skin type, take the Skin Type Quiz. At the end of it, you’ll get personalized recommendations.

What Skincare Ingredients Should I Use for Healthy Aging?

Aside from sunscreen, there are two skincare ingredients/products I recommend using to encourage healthy aging.

1. Retinol or Retinoids

We can now safely speed up the skin renewal process with products that contain retinol. I, for one, use the Advanced Resurfacing Serum three nights per week to encourage smooth, even-toned skin without wrinkles. Make sure you look for these four things when choosing a retinol product. Then, read my beginner’s guide to retinol before adding it to your routine.

2. Vitamin C

This is one of the most extensively researched antioxidants in skincare. It’s found to be extremely effective in interfering with aging free radicals that are found in the environment, such as those that come from sunlight, stress, and pollutants. (Learn more about free radicals and how they can accelerate the aging process.)

Not only does vitamin C give your skin a daily dose of antioxidants, but it’s also helpful in reducing discoloration and brown spots. I use the Vitamin C&E Treatment every single day (I apply it in the morning before my sunscreen). It contains both lipid and water-soluble forms of stable vitamin C to work deep within the epidermal layers.

Will Anti-Aging Products Make My Skin Worse If I’m Prone to Breakouts?

It’s important to always choose products that are appropriate for your skin type — even when it comes to products that slow down signs of visible aging. Many cosmetic companies assume those who want anti-aging care must have dry skin but this is not always the case. For those who produce oil and are prone to breakouts (like Skin Types 1, 2, 3, and 4), using products for dry skin can be problematic. It is possible for all skin types to preserve their youthful appearance and achieve their skincare goals with the right balance of products. Take my Skin Type Quiz to learn about which products are best suited for your skin’s unique needs.

In summary, it’s all about prevention. How you take care of your skin, body, and mind now will pave the road for how you will look and feel in the future. Make caring for your skin a priority and you will get the reward of beautiful, healthy skin for a lifetime.

Next, check out the 10 best ways to prevent wrinkles from forming!

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Could a Skincare Detox Benefit Your Skin? The Answer Might Surprise You

Updated 02/01/22. Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about the concept of a “skincare detox.” I’ve also heard it referred to as a “skincare cleanse” and a “skin fast.” Whatever you call it, this trend involves stopping the use of all skincare products in order to “reset” the skin. The idea is that without products getting in the way, your skin can balance itself so that any conditions you’re struggling with—whether dryness, oiliness, breakouts, or sensitivity—will be resolved.

It makes sense that the trend would pivot from one extreme to another. It used to be all about an elaborate 13-step skincare routine. Now, it’s all about no routine at all. The question is, though, is this actually beneficial? Are we, in fact, using too many skincare products, and is a “skincare detox” the solution? Keep reading to learn my thoughts.

Will a Skincare Detox Really Work?

To answer this question, I want to start by talking about what the word “detox” really means. Medically speaking, detoxification refers to the removal of toxic substances from the body. When it comes to beauty, the word “detox” is unregulated. Its meaning is vague at best, which is why I like to think of it as a “reset.” In other words, your skin is acting up, so you strip everything down to bare bones. It’s kind of like cleaning up your diet after the holidays. You stop eating rich foods and go back to basics to feel more balanced.

In the case of skincare, I do think this can be beneficial, but I don’t think anyone should just stop using skincare products altogether. Instead, I suggest paring back your routine, so you can tell what your skin likes and (just as importantly) doesn’t like. In this way, a back-to-basics “detox” could really work. However, if you’re thinking that detoxing means removing toxins via a charcoal or clay mask, then the answer is no. Essentially, it comes down to how you define the term, “skincare detox.”

On that note, some people think if they start using “clean” skincare products, their skin will purge all the toxins from their old products. They go through extensive breakout periods, and they’re okay with it because they think their skin needs to break out to re-balance itself. This simply isn’t the case. The breakouts are likely due to two things. The first is internal/lifestyle factors. The second is using a product that’s not compatible with their skin type. And the word “clean” itself is just as vague and unregulated as “skincare detox.” In fact, there’s no legal definition. (Learn more about skincare marketing terms and what they really mean.)

Should I Try a Skincare Detox?

Before committing to a skincare detox, ask yourself, “what problem am I trying to solve?” If you can’t clearly answer this question, then a skincare detox might not be for you. That said, there are some issues that can be improved by a skincare detox:

Red, Irritated, and Reactive Skin

If your skin is frequently red and hot and/or it stings when you perform your skincare routine, chances are you have a damaged moisture barrier. There are a lot of different things that can cause this, but what I see most, is that people are overusing active ingredients and using products that are too harsh for their skin.

Doing a skincare detox, and by that, I mean paring down your routine, can help you identify which products are the root of the problem. From there, you can curate a skincare routine based on your specific skin type that agrees with your skin.

Eczema, Perioral Dermatitis, Rosacea, or Other Inflammatory Conditions

It’s not always possible to identify the triggers for these conditions. However, using the wrong products is, once again, a common cause for flare-ups. This tends to be more common in women since they often experiment with skincare more regularly.

Even if you’re experiencing a flare-up caused by environmental factors like allergies or weather changes, it can still be beneficial to strip everything back. This will make sure your products aren’t further aggravating your skin and making matters worse. Of course, if these types of issues persist, you’ll want to schedule an appointment with a dermatologist who can assess your individual needs. Conditions like eczema, rosacea and perioral dermatitis sometimes require a prescription, especially if you’ve simplified your routine and you’re not seeing improvement.

Should I Try a Skincare Detox If I Have Breakouts?

In my opinion, people who are struggling with breakouts probably won’t benefit from a skincare detox. Most acne, and especially adult acne, is caused by hormonal factors. Skincare products are simply used to help manage the situation.

That said, if you have breakouts, using harsh or overly drying products can actually exacerbate the situation. Breakouts happen when oil gets trapped inside pores by dead skin. This creates an environment where bacteria can thrive. If you’re using harsh or overly drying products, you could actually be making the situation worse by causing more dry, dead skin cell build-up. Not to mention, you could be causing excess irritation (irritated skin is more likely to break out than balanced skin). So, in this way, removing irritating products from your routine can create an environment where breakouts are less likely to occur.

What’s the Best Way to Go About a Skincare Detox?

Take it back to basics. Only use “boring” skincare products that are gentle, soothing, and free of irritants such as fragrance, artificial dyes, drying alcohols, and harsh sulfates. Like I said before, I don’t think it would be beneficial for someone to stop using skincare products altogether. Instead, look for products that include barrier-supporting ingredients.

While you’re getting your skin back on track, I suggest sticking to just three products:

  1. Cleanser
  2. Moisturizer
  3. Sunscreen

I’ve heard people say they skip moisturizers to let their skin “breathe.” I don’t suggest this, especially if you’re struggling with conditions like eczema or perioral dermatitis. First of all, skin doesn’t respire, so the idea of skin breathing is a myth. Second, moisturizer protects the skin and prevents water loss, which can lead to even more moisture barrier damage (always remember that skin cells are like fish—they need water to live).

If you go back to basics for a while and your skin improves, this means you’ve been using the wrong products for your skin type.

Once your skin has been in a good place for two weeks, you can slowly start to introduce other products back into your routine. The key is to introduce them one at a time so you can tell if something irritates your skin. You should also consider performing a patch test for each new product. (Read all about how to avoid a negative reaction to skincare products!)

How Many Skincare Products Is Too Many?

There is no exact number of skincare products everyone should use, but I have a general philosophy. I think everyone should use a gentle cleanser, an alcohol-free toner, a hydrating serum, and a moisturizer (which should include SPF in the daytime). Something to keep in mind is that our skin is like a sponge and can only absorb so much. At a certain point, things just accumulate on the surface of the skin.

I understand why people want to layer on all sorts of products. There are so many amazing ingredients available, and we all want to reap the benefits. While I do believe it’s good to use a variety of ingredients to give your skin a full spectrum of benefits, my philosophy is that it’s best to cycle through them, focusing on just one active a night, so it can do its job. Using too many actives at the same time risks irritation, which brings us back to the original problem that a “skincare detox” is meant to solve.

As an example, you might use a retinol serum three nights a week, followed by three nights of an exfoliating acid serum and one night of a hydrating serum with peptides and antioxidants. The exact products you use will depend on your skin’s specific needs. (If you want to find out which products are best for your specific skin concerns, take the Skin Type Quiz!)

The Bottom Line

While there may be a few people out there who are lucky enough to have skin that’s so well-balanced they don’t need to use products, most of us are constantly exposed to things that disrupt our skin’s barrier. Using the right products is one of the best ways to protect our barriers, so I never recommend forgoing products altogether. That said, if your skin is acting up, a “skincare detox” (AKA going back to basics) is a good way to identify whether your products are doing more harm than good.

Next, learn how to prevent your protective face mask from causing breakouts and irritation.

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