The Formulations of Vitamin C and The Science Behind Them
March 29, 2022
As you all know, my love for vitamin C runs deep — no routine is complete without it. But (and a big but) there’s a stark difference between the efficacy of topical vitamin C and ingestible vitamin C. Yes, we get virtually all of it from the food we eat, but only a tinie tiny percentage of that actually makes its way to our skin. Cue topical vitamin C! Potent potions formulated specifically to feed our skin.
I’m sure by now that you’re familiar with the endless benefits that this skincare MVP has to offer. So now that we’ve touched on why you need vitamin C, let’s jump straight into the nerdy stuff — the formulations.
The ABCs of Vitamin C
Much like skincare ingredients like retinol, vitamin C comes in various forms and aliases. Typically, vitamin C is categorized into two groups: active and inactive.
Under the active classification is l-ascorbic acid. When it comes to concentrations and the efficacy of this type of vitamin C, the gold standard for visible results is about 8-20%. So it’s pretty potent, which is great, but one major downside is that it’s unstable AF and can easily oxidize or alter. Some of its wavering factors include high temperature, high PH, metals, oxygen, and even exposed light and air. Therefore it’s a vitamin C that requires a little more TLC, and I always advise switching out your droppers for pumps or purchasing it in small doses that you can use up much faster if it’s available.
Who is it for? Normal and oily skin.
And who should avoid it? Drier and sensitive skin types as you may experience a reaction.
Worth the splurge: Skinceuticals’s C E Ferulic is a product I use until the very last drop. It’s available in a 30ml bottle, as well as in a small microdose set, and what I love about this formula is that it includes vitamin E and ferulic to stabilize the l-ascorbic acid, keeping it at a low pH of 3.5 for better absorption. It’s on the boujee-er side of prices ($166 to be exact), so for guys and gals on a budget, Paula’s Choice C15 Super Booster ($49) is a great substitute.
Next, The Vitamin C Esters That Are *Actually* Worth Your Coins
The rest of the vitamin C’s fall under inactive or ester types, and these become active once applied onto the skin. They’re lipophilic, meaning that they penetrate the skin barrier far better, and they’re also a whooole lot more stable than l-ascorbic acid. I’m going to do a rundown on three that are worth spending your money towards:
#1: Sodium ascorbyl phosphate (SAP)
This is a holy grail of mine as it offers similar perks as l-ascorbic acid, mainly antioxidants, and collagen-boosting and pigment-evening properties. Research has also shown it can regulate sebum production and acne inflammation, making it a worthy choice for acne-prone skin types.
WHAT TO BUY
Budget-friendly: Olay Regenerist Brightening Vitamin C Serum, $29
Splurge-worthy: U-Beauty Resurfacing Compound, $228
#2: Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate
MAP is the most stable esterified form of vitamin C. In vitro, it converts to ascorbic acid, and it does a good job of boosting collagen and fading pigmentation. However, it’s a little questionable when it comes to its antioxidant properties. It also absorbs into the skin quite poorly, which is why it’s the least irritating derivative. But on the bright side, this then makes it a pretty good fit for sensitive skin types.
WHAT TO BUY:
Budget-friendly: Glossier Super Glow, $28
Splurge-worthy: Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant, $59
#3: Tetrahexydecyl Ascorbate
This new kid on the block is not only stable and lipophilic, but it also offers the same perks that ascorbic acid does, so it provides photo-protection, stimulates collagen production, and evens out pigmentation. If you have sensitive skin, gradually incorporate it into your routine to build tolerance over time as it will cause some irritation. But as much as I love this gem, there’s a catch…it’s damn expensive! The cheapest one I’ve come across is around $70, while the rest will set you back $100 and more. A suggestion? Definitely add this to your Valentine’s Day wishlist.
Budget-friendly (if you’re MONEYED): Dr. Loretta Intense Brightening Serum, $75
Splurge-worthy: Sunday Riley C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum, $122
And finally, a lot of you guys have commented about 3-O-Ethyl ascorbic acid, stay tuned for a video coming soon!
Let’s Get Intimate – Vitamin C Video: