15 Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin C Deficiency
1. Rough, Bumpy Skin
Vitamin C plays a key role in collagen production, a protein that is abundant in connective tissues like skin, hair, joints, bones and blood vessels (3).
When vitamin C levels are low, a skin condition known as keratosis pilaris can develop.
In this condition, bumpy “chicken skin” forms on the back of the upper arms, thighs or buttocks due to a buildup of keratin protein inside the pores (4).
Keratosis pilaris caused by vitamin C deficiency typically appears after three to five months of inadequate intake and resolves with supplementation (5).
2. Corkscrew-Shaped Body Hair
Vitamin C deficiency can also cause hair to grow in bent or coiled shapes due to defects that develop in the protein structure of hair as it grows (6).
Corkscrew-shaped hair is one of the hallmark signs of vitamin C deficiency but may not be obvious, as these damaged hairs are more likely to break off or fall out (7).
Hair abnormalities often resolve within one month of treatment with adequate amounts of vitamin C (8).
3. Bright Red Hair Follicles
Hair follicles on the surface of the skin contain many tiny blood vessels that supply blood and nutrients to the area.
When the body is deficient in vitamin C, these small blood vessels become fragile and break easily, causing small, bright red spots to appear around the hair follicles.
Taking vitamin C supplements typically resolves this symptom within two weeks (8).
4. Spoon-Shaped Fingernails With Red Spots or Lines
Spoon-shaped nails are characterized by their concave shape and often thin and brittle.
Red spots or vertical lines in the nail bed, known as splinter hemorrhage, may also appear during vitamin C deficiency due to weakened blood vessels that rupture easily.
While the visual appearance of fingernails and toenails may help determine the likelihood of vitamin C deficiency, note that it’s not considered diagnostic.
5. Dry, Damaged Skin
Healthy skin contains large amounts of vitamin C, especially in the epidermis, or outer layer of skin (11).
It also promotes collagen production, which keeps skin looking plump and youthful (14).
6. Easy Bruising
Bruising occurs when blood vessels under the skin rupture, causing blood to leak into the surrounding areas.
Easy bruising is a common sign of vitamin C deficiency since poor collagen production causes weak blood vessels (18).
7. Slowly Healing Wounds
Since vitamin C deficiency slows the rate of collagen formation, it causes wounds to heal more slowly (2).
Research has shown that people with chronic, non-healing leg ulcers are significantly more likely to be deficient in vitamin C than those without chronic leg ulcers (24).
8. Painful, Swollen Joints
Since joints contain a lot of collagen-rich connective tissue, they can also be affected by vitamin C deficiency.
Bleeding within the joints can also occur in people who are deficient in vitamin C, causing swelling and additional pain (2).
Yet, both of these symptoms can be treated with vitamin C supplements and commonly resolve within one week (21).