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.