Vitamin C in skincare is problematic, here’s why

Drunk Elephant's C-firma day serum

Vitamin C is probably the most hyped up ingredient in the skincare world. It is truly the hero ingredient for everybody who is looking to brighten their complexion, get rid of dark spots and even out the skin tone. But in many cases it can be very ineffective! You can read here to find out some amazing tips on how to achieve that bright and even skin tone, alongside using a vita-c serum!

The main problem with Vitamin C is that it is an unstable molecule. What this means is that Vitamin C oxidises quickly on exposure to light, heat and air, making it physiologically ineffective. Product packaging and potency will determine whether you are getting the real deal, or buying an imposter product. Dr. Zamani gives us a guide on potency here.

Ingredient potency

“When looking for a suitable Vitamin C product, finding the right concentration is important. A potency of 10-20 per cent means that results for the skin will be seen quicker and more uniformly across the skin…A concentration of between 3 and 10 per cent will still be effective, in an L-ascorbic acid or ascorbic acid form.”

Maximum skin absorption of occurs at 20% strength. Increasing the potency beyond this point does not equal better skin absorption! Furthermore, using agents with higher potency levels, such as 10% and 15% strength will give you more apparent results in a shorter amount of time; but you will risk irritating the skin.

With skincare it is best to start with the least potent ingredients. This gives your skin the opportunity to adapt to new ingredients. You can do more harm than good if you just go straight in with 20%, so always work towards the big boys – particularly if you have sensitive skin.

The packaging is more than what meets the eye!

Before you go and spend £200 on a vitamin C product, you should know something about packaging.

Vitamin C can become totally useless if not packaged and stored in the right way. Make sure that you keep it away from light to avoid oxidisation and weakening the potency of the ingredient. Also ensure that the packaging is tightly sealed as too much air has the same effect! Dr Zamani recommends to opt for formulas in “air-tight packaging, pumps or single-use, individually wrapped products”.

Individually wrapped products are great for experienced Vitamin C users. You can be the most sure that the ingredients are stable in this form. DIY kits are a great example, as they isolate the vitamin C powder away from the essence to mix it into – until you are ready to use it.

The different types of Vitamin C and what to look out for

Now, I highly encourage everybody to really analyse the ingredient list at the back of all products, just to be aware of what you are putting on your face. Ingredient lists go in the order of highest potency: the first ingredient is most present in the product, and the last ingredient is the least present.

The power ingredient is not always labelled as ‘Vitamin C’ in the ingredient list however, as it comes in many different forms. Dr. Mahto has your vitamin C dictionary, and explains it all here:

“Any type of vitamin C in your moisturising serum and lotion will likely offer some skin benefit. There are several different types of vitamin C used in skincare products, so you want to look out for things like L-ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbyl palmitate and retinyl ascorbate on the ingredients label. Retinyl ascorbate has the most amount of scientific research surrounding its benefits and L-ascorbic acid helps to boost collagen production and smooths and firms skin, as well as preventing photo-ageing.”

“Other ingredients you should look for in vitamin C products include magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (this is the most stable and preferred vitamin C compounds), disodium isostearyl 2-0, L-ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbic acid sulphate and tetraisopalmitoyl ascorbic acid. The effects of topical vitamin C can also be enhanced by other agents such as ferulic acid and vitamin E.”

Investing in a product that combines vitamin C with ferulic acid and Vitamin E can result in even better skincare results. “Vitamin C can be combined with the anti-ageing, UV damage fighting antioxidant vitamin E, or hyaluronic acid, which penetrates into the dermis boosting the elasticity and hydration of the skin. The protective barrier on the skin locks in moisture, which gives the skin a youthful appearance. It is also often combined with ferulic acid, a powerful antioxidant that combats the free radicals in your skin.”

How should I use it? A cream? A wash? A mask? A serum?

How you use an ingredient is just as important as the effectiveness of an ingredient. It doesn’t matter how much a product can do for your skin if you are only going to wash it down the sink, right? Serums are your best bet for really getting the most of the super-ingredient, as they are usually the most concentrated and active form of vitamin C.

Serums are also great because it means that you can layer your skincare with minimal problems. Whereas, using something a little more direct may cause some interference with what you can and cannot mix on top of the vitamin C.

Now, you have had the run down of all of the problems with vitamin C and how to get around them; it might feel like you just do not know what products there are left that actually work! Here are some of my personal favourite products, and what I have found actually work.

No7's youthful Vitamin C

People with sensitive skin, or people who are trying vitamin C for the first time.

No7’s youthful vitamin C fresh radiance essence is an amazing product to start with. At £19.50, you can pick this up from your local Boots or online. The reason that I recommend this so much is because it is a DIY product. You have to mix and shake a 5% strength with a gel-like elixir. The concoction lasts you for a two weeks course. Due to the low potency of the product, it is great for sensitive skin. I would also recommend it to people trying Vitamin C for the first time. Working up to higher potencies is the key to success!

The one thing I must stress with this product is to keep it away from light. As it is a two week course, it does not have too much time to go completely unstable, however you can always prevent this through keeping it away from the light.

Phloretin CF gel

People with oilier skin

The Phloretin CF gel is a pricey yet very effective form of vitamin C. At £150.00, Phloretin is dermatologist recommended as a superior brand. You can trust it really does work. This product not only features a 10% strength vitamin C, but it also has Ferulic acid. This enhances the benefits of the whole product. Due to its watery base, it does not feel too thick or heavy on oily skin. It also glides on to the skin, seeping in instantly.

The packaging helps to keep the product stable, as it is in a dark and opaque bottle. But always keep vitamin C away from the light anyway, especially if you spend £150 on a bottle!

Drunk Elephant's C-firma day serum

Best for dry skin

Drunk elephant‘s C-firma day serum is an excellent product that combines 15% L-absorbic acid (vitamin C) with Vitamin E. The product also has exfoliating fruit enzymes and hydrating Sodium Hyaluronate. These leaves the skin looking bright, even, and very smooth thanks to the AHA’s. Then there’s the vitamin E and plant oils which provides nourishment for the skin. This is a dream for anybody with dry skin. Although this product is £67.00, it is an amazing investment to get your skin on the right track. I always recommend this product because it just has never ending benefits!

That’s all folks! I hope that this blog post has helped you to understand this magical ingredient a little bit better, and hopefully help you to spend your money more wisely.

See you soon,



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