You’ve probably heard of Vitamin C. It’s a vitamin that we have been told will improve our immune system and help us feel better when we get a cold. It’s also an antioxidant. When applied topically it can help heal acne, increase the barrier function of skin, regulate synthesis of collagen, protect from UV radiation, and prevent age spots. All of this means healthier, firmer, younger looking skin. Who doesn’t want that?!
Finding the right Vitamin C is a challenge. This is a finicky vitamin and it does not like air, heat, or light so it needs to be in the right kind of packaging. It has to be in the correct concentration to be effective as well. To make things more confusing, it can be listed under other names like ester-C, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, sodium ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbyl palmitate, and L-ascorbic acid. L-ascorbic acid is the chemically active form but the least stable so it must be at a low pH which can cause stinging on sensitive skin (the lower the pH the more acidic). There are other forms of Vitamin C that have a longer shelf life and are stable at a higher pH. The higher pH means less acidic and less irritation for sensitive skin. The cost to manufacture a potent, shelf-stable Vitamin C product is high, and that is why we see some Vitamin C products that are more expensive.
What to keep in mind when looking for a Vitamin C product:
- Look for pumps, single use vials/capsules, or dark bottles. Avoid anything in clear packaging. I would still throw out any opened, unused product after 6 months or if your once clear Vitamin C is yellow or orange.
- Look for L-ascorbic acid on the ingredients list. It is the most studied & most effective.
- If you have sensitive skin look for magnesium ascorbyl phosphate or sodium ascorbyl phosphate. These are less irritating and might be as effective as L-ascorbic acid.
- Look for a concentration of 5%-15% of L-ascorbic acid. Studies suggest maximum absorption occurs at 20%, but this can be really irritating. Anything higher shows no benefit.
- Look for other antioxidants like Vitamin E & ferulic acid in the ingredients list. Studies indicate antioxidants work best when combined.
- Cost can be high. Right now I use and love Skinceuticals CE Ferulic but the cost is $165 per 30 ml (1 oz). I use it daily on my face and neck and it lasts me around three months. I found another brand, Cosmetic Skin Solutions Vitamin C + E Serum, which is $40 per 1 oz.
For further reading on Vitamin C: