If you’re anything of a skincare junkie like me, you’ll have seen the term ‘Vitamin C’ floating around. Initially heralding as one of the most important vitamins in our diet, the skincare industry has really taken advantage of the powerful properties of this vitamin to produce topical treatments for healthy, youthful-looking skin. So, I’ve partnered with Adore Beauty in this post to describe some of the benefits of Vitamin C, and was able to knuckle down into my favourite Vit C recommendations for you to try.
Vitamin C (Vit C), also known as ascorbic acid, is a naturally occurring antioxidant and is found in many popular fruits and vegetables like citrus fruits, strawberries, papaya, leafy greens, red capsicum and broccoli. Humans aren’t able to synthesise Vit C, so we have to acquire our Vitamin C through our diet. However, it’s known that the ‘bioavailability’ of Vit C in the skin is poor when it’s ingested or administered orally. This is where Vit C in skin care has a place as a topical treatment. Interesting fact! Apparently ‘ascorbic’ is derived from the word ‘ascorbus’ which means ‘no Scurvy’ (Scurvy [scorbutus] is a condition characterised by weak connective tissues, caused by a deficiency in Vitamin C).
Vitamin C as an antioxidant
Antioxidants boast an ability to protect our cells and important molecules from damage by reactive oxygen species (free radicals). Unfortunately, the production of free radicals occurs in our system on a daily basis (eg from UV exposure, pollution) and it’s impossible to prevent them. It’s important to note here, sunscreen will only block around 55% of free radicals that are produced by UV exposure. Thankfully though, antioxidants are there to help eliminate these. Free radicals are characterised by unpaired electrons, making them super reactive and will basically try to steal an electron from anything else in their path to pair it with to become stable. Usually, this means our own tissues. Antioxidants are helpful because they are reducing agents that have the ability to donate an electron to these free radicals. Thus, these radicals are now reduced and neutralised, meaning that they do not have the power to attack our cells and proteins anymore. Interestingly, the power of Vitamin C can be increased up to four-fold when used in combination with Vitamin E. Vit E is again, another important antioxidant in the skin and both can help to reduce cell death by fighting against free radicals together.
Speaking of sun protection, Vit C is a sort of powerhouse when paired with sunscreens. Even though Vit C itself doesn’t absorb UV rays, it does exhibit a UV-protective effect through reducing free radicals in our skin. Because sunscreens cannot neutralise free radicals, and that it only blocks around 55% of free radical formation, it is important to pair your sunscreens with a topical treatment of Vit C. There has been some evidence in laboratory studies that 10% topical Vit C can reduce sunburn cell formation by at least 40%, however how realistic this study in the everyday lives of people is another question (ie, the study used freshly prepared ascorbic acid each treatment which obviously doesn’t happen when we perform our skincare routines).
Vitamin C and the synthesis of Collagen
Vit C plays an important role in the synthesis of collagen in our skin that helps to maintain firmness and skin youth. Vit C is essential for the cross-linking of the fibres that form the triple helix mega-structure of collagen, resulting in strong connective tissue. Not only that, the antioxidant nature of Vit C has a protective effect on the collagen produced – so it facilitates the production of collagen AND protects it from free radicals. Winning!
Vitamin C could be your hyper-pigmentation saviour
Thankfully, I don’t suffer from hyper-pigmentation (touch wood) but I know many who do. It’s a harmless condition that is caused by deposits of melanin (regulates skin colour) in the skin and these appear as dark patches. Nonetheless, it can be a cosmetically unfavourable condition to have. Vit C has the ability to help treat hyper-pigmentation by disrupting the activity of an enzyme called tyrosinase which is the producer of the melanin pigment that is the culprit for hyper-pigmentation. Additionally, as an electron donor, Vit C may also interact with brown melanin and reduce it to a colourless form. Thus, topical Vit C could be a solution to reduce the hyper-pigmentation some people suffer from, particularly as they age.
Topical formulation variations
Vitamin C in skincare products can take many forms, and it’s always a good start to learn how to read the ingredients labels so you know exactly which form you are getting and how it can benefit the skin. Different forms of Vit C have different chemical properties, and so will behave differently on the skin. In any case, it’s extremely important to understand the instability of Vit C as an ingredient. It’s an incredibly unstable ingredient that oxidises quickly if not prepared and stored correctly. Vit C is a colourless ingredient, so if you notice that the product you are using begins to change to a yellow colour, your Vit C has oxidised and is basically useless. Vit C is most stable in a powder form, however a lot of companies produce their Vit C products in the form of creams and serums. In order to maintain the stability of Vit C for the longest time possible, it’s important the pH of the product is kept below 3.5 to maintain the protonated form of Vit C. The decay of Vit C can be further accelerated by heat, changes in pH, and exposure to UV light and oxygen in the air.
Some of the most common Vit C forms include:
- L-ascorbic acid
- Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP)
- Sodium ascrobyl phosphate (SAP)
- Ascorbyl palmitate (AA-PAL)
L-ascorbic acid is more stable and effective in higher concentrations at a pH around 3.5, but this may pose issues to those with sensitive skin. There, MAP which can be effective in lower concentrations and stable at pH 7 may be an option. However, MAP and SAP have to be converted into ascorbic acid in the skin to be an effective ingredient. How well this happens in the skin is unclear to me at this stage though. Non-salt derivatives such AA-PAL are lipid soluble instead of water soluble so must be delivered in an emulsion, and it is debatable whether this actually is absorbed into the deeper dermal layers. Additionally, studies on the benefits of these derivatives in the skin are more limited than the abovementioned ingredients.
In any case, the half-life of Vit C is around 4 weeks, so if you’re worried about the stability of your Vit C I’d recommend wrapping any clear glass bottles in aluminium foil and limiting the exposure of the product to light and air. You could even store it in the fridge as well.
So which Vitamin C products have I been loving?
I was sent some Vitamin C products to test out for myself in writing this article, which you can purchase from Adore Beauty, and I’ve listed the top 3 products of my choice.
Intraceuticals Vitamin C +3 Booster ($49.99)
Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate, Ascorbyl Glucoside, Ascorbyl Palmitate,15ml
This is a serum-like product that is milky in colour. It’s called a booster because they are meant to be added to your daily serum in your routine, and not as a standalone product. Usually, Vit C has to be ‘activated’ by other ingredients to be delivered to the skin but make sure you are applying it immediately after ‘activating’ it to avoid it oxidising before it even hits your skin.
This one contains 3 synergistic Vit C forms to optimise performance of Vit C but are non-salt derivatives. This one does have water listed (which could encourage oxidation), but it is housed in airless pump packaging and an opaque tub, which would help out with this.
Skinstitut Vitamin C 100% ($45)
100% L-ascorbic acid powder, 10g
This is such an interesting product and one I hear many people being confused about. It is literally 100% L-ascorbic acid powder, so the best form! Being a dehydrated powder, this is really best way you can avoid the oxidation and degradation of Vit C products and it will last you so long! The way you use it is that you need to tap out in your fingers and mix in and activate with a serum before applying to your skin. The thing is, being so concentrated you only really need the tiniest bit of powder to mix in. Also, it needs to be diluted in a serum anyway before applying because your skin can’t absorb all of that Vit C anyway! It comes in a opaque tub with a skaker lid, again though, minimise the exposure to air and light!
Hylamide C25 Stabilised Vitamin C Booster ($59.95)
Ethoxydigylcol, ethyl ascorbic acid, hydroxyphenoxy propionic acid, phenylethyl resorcinol, 30ml
I love simple skincare ingredients with a short list of constituents and Hylamide have a very ‘non-hand wavy’ approach to skincare. Ethoxydiglycol is a solvent, and in my opinion a preferable carrier than water in the instance of a Vit C product so thumbs up Hylamide! Ethyl ascorbic acid is the form of Vit C in this product, but one I haven’t mentioned in this product. Ethyl ascorbic acid is a more recent modification of the ascorbic acid molecule that increases its stability. And that’s exactly what Hylamide claim with this product, that is a much more stable form of Vit C. This way, the frosted glass bottle doesn’t need to scare you as much as it should. Although, I am pedantic about Vit C so I always keep this bottle inside it’s cardboard box to store it to make sure it is not exposed to light. It has an ‘oil dropper’ applicator and the texture of this serum is so intriguing! Not oily, but still has a viscosity and feels so light on skin.
In each case, I always mix in my Hyaluronic Acid serum with each of these Vit C products. None of the products gave me any irritation, sensitivity or broke me out. And since using them, I am really pleased with the clarity of my skin. Although I don’t have any hyper-pigmentation I still notice my skin is brighter. I don’t think this will help me with treating any photoaging currently on my skin (it’s currently in a great place) but it’s a great preventative ageing measure and I think I will thank my mature skin for it later. I think Vit C is one of those ingredients that really has so many benefits to our health, both internally and externally, and it really seems that isn’t talked about enough.
What did you learn about Vit C that you didn’t know before? Want to start incorporating it into your routine? Let me know in the comments!
- Telang, P.S., 2013. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J. 4, 143-146
- Stamford, N.P.J., 2012. Stability, transdermal penetration, and cutaneous effects of ascorbic acid and its derivatives. J Comset Dermatol. 11, 310-317
*These products were supplied to me for editorial consideration. However, as always, true to my values and beliefs all the material and opinions presented are genuine and my own. I am also not a qualified chemist or dermatologist so please consult your doctor or do your own research if you require further advice