Skin Cancer, Sun Damage and Topical Vitamin C

Actinic keratoses (AK) are pre-malignant lesions that occur on sun-damaged skin. DNA mutations from ultraviolet light are believed to be the cause of AK, and occasionally these lesions can progress to skin cancer. Most treatments for AK are expensive, cause significant side effects and most do not prevent recurrent AK on the sun damaged skin.

The topical use of the ascorbic acid form of Vitamin C is inexpensive with no side effects and can improve the appearance of sun damaged skin. Over the past decade, Robin Fleck, MD, board certified dermatologist in Fredericksburg, TX, has observed a significant reduction of the number of AK when patients use topical vitamin C, resulting in remarkable improvement of her patients’ skin.

Dr. Fleck explains, “I treat large and/or painful AK first with liquid nitrogen cryotherapy and then recommend patients apply topical ascorbic acid to the entire field of sun damage for several months or longer.”

Vitamin C has the added benefit that it appears to reduce pain and swelling from the cryotherapy treatment and results in more rapid healing afterwards.

These results are noticeable in as little as 4-6 weeks.

Topical vitamin C was shown to protect against ultraviolet B radiation damage in laboratory animals over two decades ago by researchers at Duke University.

Dr. Fleck cautions that vitamin C is unstable in solution so the potency decreases in just one month after mixing. The beneficial results are therefore dependent on using freshly activated, pharmaceutical grade 12% topical ascorbic acid, which ensures the necessary potency. This material is commercially available. Preparations of vitamin C that are pre-mixed in a lotion or cream have not demonstrated the stability to consistently deliver 12% ascorbic acid.

Patients with AK are also counseled to avoid sun exposure, wear sunscreen and protective clothing and follow up at least every 3-6 months with their dermatologist since AK can be associated with other skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma.