All hail this dullness-eliminating, wrinkle-preventing, collagen-boosting, brightening ingredient.
Certainly, Vitamin C sure can hold its own in the field of anti-ageing and should take its rightful place as an equally essential skin vitamin.
But why is it that Vitamin c deserves all this glory, you ask?
Despite its numerous multi-functional abilities, what really sets Vitamin C apart from other ingredients is its ability to rebuild your skin’s DNA at a cellular level.
Environmental pollutants such as radiation, sunlight, cancer-causing free radicals, and smoke break down collagen; stressing your skin and accelerating the ageing process.
It is a potent antioxidant powerhouse that can help counteract that process, brilliantly boosting collagen. It will lighten pigmentation areas and boost your skin’s luminosity whilst smoothing skin tone – it really is deserving of its cult status.
What is vitamin C?
Vitamin C is a chemical that occurs naturally in your skin – mostly in the epidermis, with a small amount in the dermis – and its role in skin biology is well-documented.
It is a water-soluble antioxidant, proven in studies to stimulate collagen synthesis, encourage the formation of the barrier, heal wounds, lighten skin, and treat hyperpigmentation.
So, for this article, we’re going to review the scientific data available on each Vitamin C ingredient using Kligman‘s three-question format on how to prove an anti-ageing ingredient works:
1. Is there any scientific data that explains why it would work, based on the ingredient’s chemistry?
2. Does it potentially penetrate the skin area where it needs to be to work effectively?
3. Are there any peer-reviewed, placebo-controlled studies demonstrating the ingredient really works when applied to the skin?
Let’s dive in and look at this wonderful anti-ageing ingredient in more detail.
What are the types of vitamin C?
There are around 8 different forms of Vitamin C used in cosmetics. There’s a lot of information about how the different versions work, how much to use, what kind of formula is required to deliver the ingredient, and so forth.
Whilst there are several different types of Vitamin C used in skincare, Ascorbic Acid – also referred to as L-Ascorbic Acid on an ingredient list – has the most scientific research behind it, as the only form that your body can actually recognise and utilise right away.
It is stable at a pH of less than 3.5 in an aqueous solution, and it’s stable in anhydrous systems.
Studies have found Ascorbic Acid can boost collagen, help firm and tone the skin, smooth out fine lines, and disrupt pigment production to give the complexion a healthy sheen.
The stability is key: ideally, a concentration at a minimum of 10% or more is required to get maximal benefits. A pH of around 3.5 will ensure the best penetration of Ascorbic Acid into the horny layer of your skin; the pH is naturally low because Vitamin C almost acts like an Alpha-Hydroxy Acid and can “soften the glue” between the cells, allowing it to penetrate the deeper layers of your skin.
Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (MAP)
There is another way to get Ascorbic Acid into the cell itself: combine it with another molecule that is selectively taken into the cell. Magnesium Phosphate is water-soluble and is taken up into the cells more effectively than Ascorbic Acid. The Vitamin C compound is easily converted to Ascorbic Acid, Phosphate, and Magnesium or Sodium inside the cells.
Ascorbic Acid and Ascorbyl Phosphates are useful and have similar results, but have a very different client profile. People with sensitive skin cannot use Ascorbic Acid, so we recommend to clients with susceptible skin, to use a Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate product or Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, as discussed below.
The fatty acid component that makes it oil-soluble penetrates deep into the horny layers to enter the cell wall with ease. Here, it helps with effective control of melanin formation, greater collagen deposition, and more efficient antioxidant protection.
Combined with a wide antioxidant brigade and effective UVA protection, pigmentation marks can be treated very effectively. At high doses, it can also be used on sensitive skin to treat acne.
There are other oil-soluble forms of Vitamin C, such as Ascorbyl Palmitate and Ascorbyl Dipalmitate. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to incorporate these into formulations in high doses without using alcohol. The fact remains that not nearly as much Vitamin C is achieved inside the cell as with Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate.
The problem with these derivatives is that there have not been human clinical trials that prove their bioactivity. There is lab data associated with them that shows they have the same antioxidant activity. Still, as nobody has put time, money, or effort into human clinical trials, it is difficult to assume that these derivatives will have the same reactions as L-Ascorbic Acid on the skin.
What makes a Vitamin C product great?
It is important to remember that not all Vitamin C products are created equally. When considering a Vitamin C product, it is essential to keep in mind that the ingredient’s efficacy, packaging type to prevent oxidation, the type of Vitamin C, the concentration, what other ingredients are in the formulas to help to stabilise the Vitamin C.
Our Ascorbic Acid products are sold as follows:
- C+ Ascorbic Acid complex is partnered with Ferulic Acid to create an anti-oxidising powerhouse. Vitamin C helps the Ferulic Acid to regenerate and keep this anti-oxidising power going for quite some time. We also add Vitamin E to increase this antioxidant awesomeness further – this combination has been shown to quench free radicals on our skin.
- Halo (coming soon) is our speciality organic oil that contains Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate. It is a stabilised, water-free serum in which the acid crystals have been finely micronized and protected within an oil ‘envelope’ to protect it from oxidation.
- Crystals for skin form a dry powder that is very stable. The crystals are kept dry until the user adds liquid at the time of application to their skin.
Concentrate on the concentration
So, how much Ascorbic Acid should a product contain? The maximum skin absorption occurs at 20% – the best insight into the origins of this 20% skin absorption is this study.
Don’t rush it when it comes to application.
After applying a Vitamin C product, you should wait a while before applying any other products. That’s because other ingredients can potentially trigger oxidation; if they’re applied on top of the Ascorbic Acid before it can be absorbed into the skin, it could become inactive.
How do I use Vitamin C?
An armour on your skin during the day, Vitamin C helps to shield your skin from free radicals and can boost the protection offered by your sunscreen. Therefore, it is recommended that you apply it in the morning to prevent skin damage during the day.
There is growing evidence that applying Vitamin C at night time won’t hurt either; some research suggests free radical damage continues to affect your skin overnight. Adding Vitamin C to your end-of-day routine can help reverse the skin’s damage from the day, rejuvenating while you sleep.
There is so much skin science available, and we appreciate it is a lot to take in, so let us sum all of this up for you.
Although Vitamin C sounds simple, there are actually several different kinds of Vitamin C to be aware of. Ascorbic Acid is the most common in skincare; it absorbs the quickest, has the highest potency, and has much research behind it.
Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate is a water-soluble form that can be effective in lower concentrations, and then there are the oil-soluble forms, with Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate being the most effective.
Vitamin C does have a few enemies; it isn’t best friends with all of the ingredients in your skincare repertoire. There are a few notable incompatibilities because it is quite an acidic ingredient, creating adverse reactions such as stinging and redness.
Active ingredients in skincare have different purposes, and using them simultaneously as Vitamin C in high concentrations may result in irritation. It’s best to avoid Glycolic, Salicylic, and Lactic Acids when using Vitamin C and use it at the opposite end of the day when using Retinol and Niacinamide.
Finally, we recommend always checking the quality of your Vitamin C formula – especially if it is a serum – because it is a water-soluble powder that can oxidise really quite easily in water-based formulas. This converts it into Dehydroascorbic Acid, the oxidised version, which you’ll notice has an orange or brown tinge.