It's been centuries since British sailors discovered the key to avoiding scurvy: vitamin C. You probably grew up being told that getting enough vitamin C would ward off colds and other ailments, but now the word is out that vitamin C may not play a big part in staving off the sniffles. However, it does have a vital role in maintaining the health of your skin.
Those sailors and others who couldn't get fresh fruits and vegetables suffered bleeding under the skin, ulcers and joint weakness. That's because vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is key to the production of collagen, a protein that aids in the growth of cells and blood vessels and gives skin its firmness and strength [source: WebMD]. Vitamin C also helps create scar tissue and ligaments, and it helps your skin repair itself [source: Milton S. Hershey Medical Center].
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that slows the rate of free-radical damage -- free radicals are unstable molecules that damage collagen and cause skin dryness, fine lines and wrinkles. New research shows that ascorbic acid 2-phosphate, a derivative of vitamin C, not only neutralizes free radicals, but also reverses DNA damage [source: University of Leicester].
Research suggests that vitamin C may also reduce sunburn caused by exposure to ultraviolet B radiation and prevent the consequences of long-term sun exposure, which can lead to skin cancer [sources: University of Maryland Medical Center, Bouchez]. This doesn't mean you can take vitamins or apply topical vitamin C and then bake safely in the sun, but you can help keep your skin healthy and supple by making sure you get enough of this antioxidant vitamin [source: Bouchez]. Keep reading to learn what foods you can incorporate into your diet to make sure you get the vitamin C your body needs.
Vitamin C Foods Vitamin C can improve your skin, strengthen your immune system, protect against cardiovascular disease and reduce your risk of stroke, and doctors say it's one of the safest and most effective nutrients [source: Zelman]. Vitamin C is water-soluble, which means it's easily absorbed through the water in your body. Your body doesn't store vitamin C, so you must replace your supply every day -- excess amounts are flushed out through your kidneys [source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration].
There are plenty of foods that can help you boost your consumption of vitamin C. If you get the recommended nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables, you're probably meeting the minimum daily recommendations for vitamin C -- in addition to many other vitamins and minerals [source: Zelman]. To ensure your diet includes plenty of vitamin C, eat citrus fruits and vegetables such as bell peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, collard greens and tomatoes [source: Bouchez]. Although opinions differ on how much vitamin C your body needs, many doctors suggest taking 500 milligrams a day, which can often be found in daily multivitamins or vitamin C supplements. However, don't exceed more than 2,000 milligrams per day -- too much vitamin C may cause stomach irritation [source: Zelman].
You can also apply topical vitamin C to your skin to encourage collagen production and fight free radicals. Look for a facial cleanser or moisturizer that contains the L-ascorbic acid form of vitamin C to ensure the vitamin penetrates your skin layers [source: Bouchez].