Can this Vitamin C supplement do as much for your face as skincare?
For three months earlier this year, I gave up all my usual high-tech skincare, collagen supplements and skin-boosting procedures in order to see what scoffing three of these sachets a day could do for my skin.
Why did I want to try it?
Because Altrient, this patented form of liposomal vitamin C, has been shown in medical-grade clinical trials, to boost collagen levels, hydration levels and elasticity in the skin enormously. And they asked, did I want to be the first journalist to try it out for myself? You bet I did, so in the interests of finding out #whatreallyworks I ditched all my retinoids and glycolics, stopped the supplements and fancy facials, and went off to get my starting skin measurements done at the Santi Labs in South Kensington.
What makes this special?
Taking high doses of vitamin C is usually a quick route to an upset stomach, but this brand has patented a method of wrapping up the active vitamin C in liposomes, the fatty delivery particles often used in skincare to get active ingredients into the skin. In the supplement, these liposomes mean the product doesn't get shredded by the acids in the stomach, but makes it through to the gut where up to 98% of it is available to, and absorbed by, the body (as opposed to the 10-20% that you get from your average high-street vitamin C).
So did it work?
Much to my surprise, it worked brilliantly. I thought that dropping all the usual stuff that keeps my skin looking good (all I used during the trial was a moisturiser with spf50 by day, and a plain cream at night) would mean my skin would get worse rather than better. And it's not in bad shape to start with, so it would be hard for this supplement to make any improvement. But - after three months, my collagen levels were up 22.8%, my hydration levels were up 30% and my skin elasticity had soared by 64.3%. So yes, I was astonished. How does it work? By giving the skin the building blocks it needs to stimulate collagen products and generally make itself healthier, I gather.
Altrient costs £39.99 for a box of 30 sachets from www.abundanceandhealth.co.uk - not cheaper but cheaper than many high-tech moisturisers, and a lot cheaper than cosmetic procedures. Plus it improves the skin all over your body, not just on your face, and fends off colds impressively.
Below, I've put the video I've done on youtube talking about trying the product
And here's the (long) original piece I wrote about this experiment for The Times
(a rather snappier version is in the paper today).
So, if you want to improve your skin, to make it smoother, bouncier and stronger, which of the following should you do? A) Start using the latest and most active face cream? B) Resign yourself to investing in scary laser treatment? Or (c), just gulp down high doses of vitamin C every day and let nature take its course?
You’ve guessed -- that’s a trick question, and yes, as unlikely as it may seem, the answer appears to be (c). Skin-boosting supplements have become a huge trend in recent years, but most of these are built around collagen -- but good old vitamin C? The sort that we all persist in hoping will help boost our immune systems and stave off colds, even though all the research says it doesn’t? Does it really have skin-building super-powers? Well, yes and no. There’s a new type of vitamin C supplement, a special and expensive type, naturally, which now boasts decent clinical research -- double-blind randomised trials, no less – which show that taking it can boost levels of hydration and elasticity in the skin dramatically. This is huge news, and as a career health-and-beauty guinea-pig, I felt it was my bounden duty to put it to the test.
Celebs love Altrient -- Gwyneth Paltrow loves the stuff, and takes four or five sachets a day when she is flying, to strengthen immunity and ward off viruses. Kourtney Kardashian takes it as health insurance ‘to keep me from getting sick’, and finds it helps reduce muscle soreness after a workout, too. Justin Bieber loves it: ‘This is the best concentrated vitamin C in the game, if you’re trying not to get sick, cop some of this stuff, it's a beast.’ But they're all taking it just for the health benefits. It's skin-boosting powers are a more recent discovery.
Vitamin C supplements are old news, and if you’ve ever tried taking larger doses of the common-or-garden vitamin C that you find in high-street pharmacists and health food shops in an effort to ward off a cold, you’ll know that even two of those fizzy, water-soluble 1000mg tablets of ascorbic acid, the most common form of vitamin C, are enough to give you tummy cramps and loose bowels.
This new vitamin C, which is called Altrient, is a different creature. The vitamin C within it is sodium ascorbate, (a mineral-salt form of ascorbic acid, if you want details) which is wrapped up in tiny fatty particles called liposomes. These liposomes work as a protective shield (if they sound vaguely familiar, it might be because they’re a popular delivery mechanism in face creams, for getting delicate ingredients into the skin), which mean that rather than breaking up and wreaking havoc in your stomach, the vitamin C in Altrient is whisked safely through to the gut and absorbed by your bloodstream and made available to your body’s cells in a way that normal vitamin C is not.
The upshot of all this is that, while your body gets hold of as little as 10 per cent of standard high-street vitamin C supplements, studies suggest that up to 98 per cent of Altrient gets to its target and once there, the body can use it for whatever it needs, and particularly as a building block of collagen, the protein that keeps the skin firm.
It’s tricky stuff to formulate, which explains why it costs a little over £1 a sachet, so the 3-a-day-for-three-months regime costs around £100 – though you could easily spend that on high-tech skincare for the face, whereas this is going to work on the skin all over your body, and helping build hair, nails, bones and joints into the bargain.
The standard wisdom is that we don’t need much vitamin C – it only takes a tiny bit to prevent us getting scurvy and the Department of Health advises that we’ll get all the vitamin C we need from a varied diet. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin so our bodies can’t store it, hence the view of the majority that taking vitamin C supplements does little but create expensive urine. Add that to news stories citing studies that show repeatedly that vitamin C does nothing to alleviate or shorten the symptoms of the common cold, and you wonder why anyone would bother with the stuff.
Yet modern nutritional thinking is less about minimal doses to prevent disease than about optimal doses for improved health and there’s a lot of scope for that with vitamin C.
You get a very different view on Vitamin C from Dr Thomas Levy, a board-certified cardiologist in the USA who has been researching high-dosage vitamin C for 20 years. He sees vitamin C not just as an antioxidant which protects against harmful molecules known as free radicals, but as a basic fuel for the body, because it is needed by so many bodily processes and his book on the benefits of high-dose vitamin C is called Primal Panacea (Medfox Publishing, £21.20 on amazon) is an eye opener.
Why humans need to consume vitamin C is because our bodies don’t make the stuff. We’re the only mammals that can’t and we still have the gene that would allow us to manufacture vitamin C, but somewhere along the evolutionary pathway, this has been switched off, as it has in primates and guinea pigs (fun fact: that’s why guinea pigs found themselves subjected to so much testing for infectious diseases – because they catch them easily). A goat, for example, will make itself about 13g, that’s 13,000mg, of vitamin C every day of its life, but if it is facing life-threatening disease, its body will create over 100,000mg of vitamin C a day in order to tackle the disease and the associated stress. Compare that to the official RDA, the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C, which in the UK is a puny 40mg, and ponder it.
Levy sees humans’ inability to produce vitamin C as a key reason why we suffer more infectious diseases than animals and points out studies showing that humans with the highest blood levels of vitamin C have a lower risk of mortality.
His book lists endless examples where high-dose vitamin C, administered intravenously, has worked wonders by seeing off diseases like sepsis and swine flu and shrinking cancerous tumours (there are 60 pags of cited references at the end).
‘High dose’ means anything up to 100g a day which is an enormous amount. ‘There’s actually no upper safe limit on vitamin C – no one has ever suffered serious side effects from it even when using really high doses. You just have to find a dose that works for you, which means taking it to the limit of bowel tolerance, i.e. to the point where it starts to give you gas and slightly loose stools,’ says Dr Levy.
And what about the common cold? If people don’t get shorter colds when they’re taking vitamin C, it’s probably because they’re just not taking enough of it, says Jonathan Orchard, of Abundance & Health, the company which distributes Altrient in the UK. ’Contrary to popular belief, studies have proved that the more vitamin C you consume, the more stays in your body. It is true that regular vitamin C is largely passed out in the urine and if you try taking larger doses it can cause gastric distress, but Altrient vitamin C solves these absorption problems. A recent study by Dr. Harri Hemilä from the University of Helsinki, demonstrated that taking 8,000mg of vitamin C a day shortened the duration of colds by 19%, which was twice as much as taking 4,000mg a day. She concluded that there is a linear response in reduction of cold symptoms with increased vitamin C and that further studies should look at even higher doses of up to 15g/day.’
This is all fascinating but digressing from the main theme of what this stuff can do for your skin. In order to get the full picture, I went to to Santi Labs in south Kensington, where director Tariq Karim took detailed measurements of my skin hydration levels, tested its elasticity and photographed the collagen density within my skin.
Then I went back home and ripped open the first sachet. I can’t say it was a huge pleasure. The Altrient gel emerges in a gloopy mass that looks not unlike orange snot. I squeezed it into a small amount of water, swilled it around and gulped it down. It didn’t taste good – somehow soapy and alien - but it’s not that bad, and, because I knew I would be taking three a day for three months, I just did it, and have learned almost to like it. With practice, you can pretty well shoot the whole thing down without touching your tastebuds.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. I thought that as soon as I abandoned my usual skincare routine, my skin quality would plummet. How could it not, when I dropped all my retinoid skin refiners and glycolic acids and high-strength vitamin-C serums (a strong vitamin C serum is great as a topical treatment, to stimulate collagen production and reduce pigmentation).
I also had to call a halt on the collagen-boosting powders and potions that I usually ingest, and the skin-peels and light-treatments that I’m partial to. And yet, even after just four weeks on the sachets, my hydration levels had improved. By the end of month two, these were even better, and so was the elasticity of my skin. I could tell because I could feel that the little machine that applied suction pressure in order to test my skin was pulling miles harder than it had done before. By the end of month 3 my face didn’t look a great deal different, though it didn’t have its usual winter pallor and it certainly wasn’t too dry, and my collagen levels, which had taken a dive in the first month (those supplements must have been working) had lurched right back up again. By the end, my collagen was up 22.8%, my elasticity had improved by 64.3% and my skin’s hydration reading was so greatly improved at 30.26% that Tariq called me back the following week, saying he suspected an error – but the extra reading was just the same.
Is this earth-shattering news? Yes. If you stop and think about how much we all spend on skincare in the hope of strengthening and hydrating our skin (the beauty and personal care market in UK worth about £14.5bn, according to statista.com) , and how much some people are willing to pay for non-surgical procedures to do the same, the idea that you can get great improvements by simply downing large doses of vitamin C is pretty revolutionary. Also, obviously, this improves the skin all over your body, not just on your face, and offers a bunch of health benefits into the bargain.
Then there’s the ‘natural’ factor: here’s something for the people who would never contemplate the retinoids and glycolic acids of ‘cosmeceutical’ skincare, let alone the lasers and needles of cosmetic doctors.
Having seen how effective Altrient is at heading off incipient colds since I started taking it in December, most of my family now follow suit. As for me, I’ve started buying it in bulk since the trial ended in March and am taking two sachets a day for maintenance – though I’m back on the active skincare and non-surgical treatments as well. I tend to think it’s all about marginal gains when it comes to skincare. If I find something else that really works, I prefer to add it into the mix than rely on it in isolation.