Information, Symptoms, Treatments and Resources

How to Use Vitamin C Correctly


First and most importantly, you should understand that Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is a strong antiviral compound. Its mechanism of action is not fully understood, but it inhibits viral replication and infectivity of many virus types, including HSV1, HSV2 and HZV; its efficacy is not just due to improved healing, antioxidant activity, or vaguely defined “boosting of the immune system.” Like all antiviral drugs, ascorbic acid has an effective concentration in the target tissue, and so the goal of the directions that follow is to raise the concentration in the herpes lesions high enough to affect the virus. We will accomplish this by using both oral and topical Vitamin C.


These directions require you to use Vitamin C in a manner similar to using prescription drugs. In other words, you must use it several times daily, and be diligent. If you paid hundreds of dollars for a prescription drug, and were instructed to use it 5 times a day for 7 days, or twice a day for a year, you certainly wouldn’t expect it to work by taking one dose. Yet most people, if they ever think to try Vitamin C, will typically locate that dusty bottle of Vitamin C tablets, eat one this evening, and tomorrow morning when their symptoms haven’t disappeared, conclude that Vitamin C doesn’t help.

Here are the simple directions--you will find information below about what products to use and how this treatment works.



Note: Begin treatment as soon as possible. Apply topical vitamin C immediately to areas where prodrome symptoms occur. The first day is the most important. A blister may not even develop if caught early, and blisters and sores will be smaller, less painful, and will heal more quickly using this treatment.


1. Take oral vitamin C at least three times daily until the symptoms are gone. One gram (1000 mg) every 8 hours is recommended. More frequent use is desirable, but more than 6 times daily is unnecessary.

2. Apply topical vitamin C AT LEAST three times daily until the symptoms are gone. More frequent application is desirable, up to hourly if possible on the first day.  




1. Take oral vitamin C at least daily.

2. Apply topical vitamin C daily to areas where outbreaks generally occur.


Eating Vitamin C will raise the level in the bloodstream, thus raising the exposure throughout the body including the skin and the lesions. Vitamin C is quickly absorbed from the gut and raises the blood level very high. However, it is also relatively quickly cleared from the bloodstream by the kidneys. Typically the level in the blood rises and stays high for a few hours before dropping off. Thus oral Vitamin C should be taken several times daily: taking three 1000 mg tablets in the morning is not the same as taking one every 8 hours. Almost any vitamin C brand is acceptable. I recommend the least expensive big bottle of tablets you can find, but if you want to eat Ester-C or drink Emergen-C, that’s up to you. Most people easily tolerate 3 grams (3000 mg) daily, but if you have any problem with this amount, use smaller doses, such as 500 mg or 200 mg three times a day. There is only so much Vitamin C that the tissues can absorb via the oral route, and 3 grams daily provides a large excess in most cases.


Topical application is how we boost the Vitamin C in the lesions. This doesn’t require application to the entire body, only to the affected areas. But it is important that the solution being applied is relatively concentrated and consists of Vitamin C in a chemical form that can be absorbed by the skin. Your skin is not like the digestive tract: it doesn’t have the acids and enzymes that will break down mineral ascorbates, esters such as tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, etc. So Ester-C, and topical products containing ascorbyl palmitate, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate or other chemical derivatives are not what you need. Only ascorbic acid or dehydroascorbic acid will work.


There are two ways to get an appropriate solution for topical application: buy a prepared product, or make your own.


Pre-prepared solutions are cosmetic products, generally sold as “Vitamin C Serums.” You are seeking products that contain 5% or greater concentrations of L-Ascorbic Acid or L-Dehydroascorbic Acid. There are lots of skin lotions available at your local store that have “Vitamin C” on the label: THESE ARE NOT THE PRODUCTS YOU WANT. They do not contain high levels of vitamin C. The serums you are looking for are found online, at high-end salons, or dermatologists offices. Many are very pricey, but you will find that you don’t use very much, so they can last a long time if you take care to store them properly. Transfer a small amount into a small clean container for daily use and keep the original container in the refrigerator. Used this way, these products are quite economical and so for most people are more practical than attempting home made. A new product called ReCverin 50/50 by ReCverin ($79 for 2 oz) is recommended, since it contains dehydroascorbic acid which is a stronger antiviral than ascorbic acid. Another recommended product is C+ Firming Serum by Cellular Skin Rx, since it is high in ascorbic acid concentration and also reasonably priced ($38 for 1 oz). Others include products by Skinceuticals, Obagi, LaRoche-Posay, Cellex-C, Mario Badescu and Rexsol. Avoid Perricone MD, Avalon Organics, and Emerge, as they contain ineffective derivatives. There are many other brands…read the ingredients label.


To make your own, you can obtain pure ascorbic acid powder, dissolve it in water, and mix with glycerin. Mix one teaspoon ascorbic acid (5 grams) in 5 teaspoons warm water and stir until dissolved. Then add 5 teaspoons glycerin, and stir until the solution is clear and without swirls. This yields a solution of about 10% ascorbic acid. Store refrigerated. There was a time when ascorbic acid powder and USP glycerin were commonly available at local pharmacies, but you will probably discover that these ingredients are hard to come by locally, and you may need to go online to buy them. It is possible to make a solution from vitamin C tablets by crushing them and dissolving in water, but tablets contain insoluble binders, so there will be some “stuff” left in the bottom of the cup. If you go this route, first make sure you get tablets that contain l-ascorbic acid. Crush to a powder five 1000 mg tablets (5 grams) and add to 5 teaspoons warm water. Stir regularly for about two hours to make sure the ascorbic acid dissolves, then cover the cup and let stand in the refrigerator overnight. Then, carefully pour off the clear solution on the top into another cup, leaving behind as much of the insoluble “stuff” in the first cup as you can. Finally add the 5 teaspoons glycerin as above. If you can’t get glycerin, you can apply ascorbic acid in water with a cotton swab. But a pure water solution will dry out quickly on the skin, so you need to apply it more frequently to get the ascorbic acid to penetrate.


It is conceivable to make dehydroascorbic acid solution for topical use at home, but it is difficult and/or expensive at best. One option is to obtain a product called Ascoxal which is sold in Scandinavia and maybe some other countries, but not in the USA. It is a tablet intended to be dissolved in water and used as a mouthwash. It is known to produce a short-lived solution of dehydroascorbic acid. Ascoxal was patented and first sold in the late 1950s. In 1995, it was used in a clinical trial in Finland as a therapy for cold sores. Briefly, one tablet was dissolved in about ½ teaspoon of water and blotted on the lesion (or the area of prodrome symptoms) for 5 minutes. This process was repeated 30 minutes later, and then again 30 minutes after that. The results were remarkable, better than any prescription antiviral currently sold. The solution contained, at best, 3% dehydroascorbic acid, only a single one-hour treatment was used, and the subjects were not given oral vitamin C supplementation. The authors recommended further testing with more applications. So, if you have a friend in Sweden, maybe you can get hold of some. If you want to read the study, see Antiviral Research 27 (1995) pages 263-270.


Another possibility for home made dehydroascorbic acid is to obtain the compound from a chemical supply house in its pure, powdered form. The best price I’ve seen is about $40 per gram. Most chemical suppliers won’t sell directly to the public, but you might have a contact in a laboratory or at a university that can help. Dry dehydroascorbic acid powder doesn’t dissolve well, and so it requires heating the water to about 60 degrees C (140 F) with constant stirring to dissolve. It is difficult to get more than about 5% concentration. Heat destroys the compound, so it is important to not overheat the solution, and to cool it immediately after it dissolves. Water solutions are extremely unstable, especially if the pH isn’t acidic. The best way to acidify it is to add about an equal amount of ascorbic acid right after the dehydroascorbic acid dissolves. Then mix the water solution with equal parts glycerin and store refrigerated. This process is not recommended for those who don’t have laboratory experience and basic tools like heating stir plates, magnetic stir bars, small beakers and flasks, and a thermometer.


About this page