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Vitamin C and the Skin from Radio National

Vitamin C and the Skin
Broadcast Monday 30 June 1997
Norman Swan, Dr. Sheldon Pinnell

Research at Duke University in North Carolina has found a way of putting Vitamin C, (L- ascorbic acid), into a skin lotion. The formulation may turn out to reverse some of the changes associated with sun damage and ageing, and it could be an effective sun protector. The person behind it all is Sheldon Pinnell, who’s Professor of Dermatology at Duke.

Sheldon Pinnell: Well vitamin C turns out to be the major way that the body, and for that matter the way virtually every organism on the face of the earth, both plant and animal, protect themselves from living in an oxygen rich atmosphere. In the course of metabolism in our tissues, and in the course of being irradiated by the sun, we generate something called reactive oxygen species, or free radicals, which can be quite destructive to tissues, and we have to protect against this. And it turns out that ascorbic acid is a simple molecule and it’s, if you will, God’s own choice for solving this problem of getting rid of these free radicals.

Norman Swan: So what have the trials shown then about the effects of this vitamin C lotion?

Sheldon Pinnell: A sunscreen protects by being between you and the sun; it’s a block, if you will. What seems to happen with the vitamin C is that when the sun shines on skin there is a chemical reaction that occurs. These free radicals are generated and we believe the vitamin C protects because it’s there to be an antioxidant and actually quench these chemical reactions.

Norman Swan: And how long does it stay there?

Sheldon Pinnell: Well we’ve measured the biological effect for protecting against light for as long as three days after application.

Sheldon Pinnell: People have used that on one side of their face and not the other side of their face, and in some small number of people there have been some fairly dramatic lessening of wrinkling on the side where they’ve used the vitamin C. This takes a minimum of about three months, but the careful clinical trials that need to be done using double blind technology to show whether indeed it can reverse wrinkling, have yet to be done. They’re in the process of being done; it will take probably a year for us to have that information.

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