Ascorbic acid is incredibly important for helping keep our bodies and skin healthy. But what is it?
While you might think you don’t know that much about it, you may be surprised that pretty much everyone does (clue: it goes by a different name)...
Ascorbic acid is, in fact, vitamin C.
It’s used by our bodies to make collagen, which plays a key role in the development and maintenance of our skin, bones, teeth, and cartilage.1
The NHS says vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is essential for:2
Over time, not having enough vitamin C can, lead to a condition called scurvy (severe vitamin C deficiency) that can cause symptoms, such as bleeding from the gums, bruising, and joint and muscle pain.3
Fortunately, it’s possible to get all the vitamin C we need from our diet. The best sources of it can mainly be found in fruit and veg.
Ascorbic acid is another name for vitamin C. It’s used by our bodies to make collagen, which plays a key role in the development and maintenance of our skin, bones, teeth, and cartilage.
Now that you know the basics of what ascorbic acid is, let's move on to its benefits for the body.
As mentioned above, ascorbic acid is usually given to help people increase their vitamin C levels. You’re most likely to be vitamin C deficient if:
So too are smokers, due to the fact smoking increases the amount of vitamin C the body needs to repair damage caused by free radicals.
The NHS recommends adults get 40mg of vitamin C daily. Those who smoke need 35mg more a day – however, this is according to guidelines from the US.² ⁴
When applied topically, vitamin C can boost your skin’s appearance and help keep skin plump and firm. Topical vitamin C can help support healthy skin ageing and help achieve a more youthful, smooth appearance.
Not only is vitamin C useful in itself, but it can enhance the way other nutrients work.
Vitamin C helps to increase absorption of non-heme iron (the type of iron we get from plant-based foods, like leafy greens). ⁵
Non-heme iron is a little more difficult to absorb than heme iron (the type of iron we get from meat and fish), so this is particularly important if you’re vegetarian or vegan.
When you eat a plant-based, iron-rich meal, try to include a food containing vitamin C at the same time - it’ll help your body take in as much of it as possible. ⁵
Without vitamin C, the epidermis (top layer of skin) starts to dry out, which can lead to itchy, scaly skin, and signs of ageing like dryness, skin thinning, and fine lines.
Hydration is vital to keeping your skin healthy and youthful looking. Fortunately, vitamin C is clinically proven to help skin retain water, keeping it plump and smooth and preventing it from becoming too oily or dry. ⁶
Yes! Ascorbic acid is a form of vitamin C.²
Ascorbic acid is the general term for all forms of vitamin C. L-ascorbic acid is synthetically made, but it’s identical to “natural” vitamin C. It’s usually used as a dietary supplement when people aren’t getting enough of it from their diet alone.
Low vitamin C levels can occur if people a) aren’t eating enough vitamin C-rich foods, or b) they have intestinal malabsorption problems, which may impact their body’s ability to take in ascorbic acid.
What’s more, vitamin C cannot be stored in the body, which is why it’s so important to incorporate it in your diet as much as possible.²
Most supplements use ascorbic acid as their available form of vitamin C. But it’s possible to buy vitamin C that doesn’t contain it.
Vitamin C and ascorbic acid both contribute to your daily vitamin C intake, but some people find that ascorbic acid irritates their gut.
If you want to avoid ascorbic acid, look instead for:
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) can be taken orally, applied topically to the skin, injected into muscles, or given intravenously.
According to NHS guidance, adults aged between 19 and 64 need 40mg of vitamin C a day.²
Taking more than 1000mg a day is potentially unsafe and may cause kidney stones, as well as severe diarrhoea.
It’s recommended people who have had kidney stones in the past shouldn’t take more than 1,000mg of ascorbic acid a day; anything higher could potentially lead them to develop kidney stones again. ¹¹
Unless your GP or the instructions say otherwise, you can take ascorbic acid at any time of day. It’s best to pick a time when you’re most likely to remember, either before or after meals.
If you’ve been instructed to take a higher dose, i.e., more than 250mg, you may be advised to split it into divided doses.
Make sure you are clear on when and how much ascorbic acid to take before you start taking it, as not taking the correct amount may lead to you experiencing one or more side effects.
On the whole, there are minimal risks associated with taking ascorbic acid.
However, i’s not recommended to take more than 1000mg per day, as the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) cannot confirm that this is safe.²
You should always consult your GP before taking a new vitamin or supplement such as vitamin C, even if you are otherwise healthy.
Last updated: 12 January 2023
Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019
Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry
Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.
After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.