What you need to know about Vitamin C in skincare

Is it any wonder that we love Vitamin C? Not only is it a powerful infection fighter as a supplement, it also has incredible benefits when used topically as a skin lightener, brightener, a powerful antioxidant, and collagen booster. The problem is you could be putting “empty promises” on your face. Finding a stable form of Vitamin C in a skincare product is no guarantee.


The first time I became aware of this issue was when I discovered a now-discontinued line called Awake at NYC’s Henri Bendel many years ago. (The beauty department was, of course, a former stomping ground.)


Awake produced a Vitamin C treatment powder that melted on contact with skin. It was a really cool product, but the information that came with it was even more interesting. Essentially, it let me in on a little secret that most forms of vitamin C lose their efficacy somewhere between the time of manufacturing and hitting store shelves—and sometimes even sooner—so that the end result no longer works. You may think you’re getting a potent Vitamin C product, but in the end it’s just pretty packaging, if that, with few benefits.
 What you need to know about Vitamin C in skincare


The problem is, how to identify a reliable source of Vitamin C in skincare products? To answer, I turned to Blissoma founder Julie Longyear so that she could address our most pressing questions. Her background in chemistry and as a formulator makes her uniquely positioned to understand which form of Vitamin C is most effective on a label and which ones won’t last at all. Who are we kidding? It’s also my dedication to her Vitamin C serum, Timeless Reconstruction Serum, that made me reach out to her because only someone who knows what they’re doing could produce this rich and effective blend.


By the time you finish reading this post, you’ll be armed with insider intel so the next time you pick up a product touting Vitamin C, you’ll know you’re getting your money’s worth.


What does topical Vitamin C do for the skin?


Vitamin C is a skin lightener, antioxidant, and exfoliant. It stimulates collagen production in addition to lessening wrinkling and fine lines.


Does it make sense to isolate Vitamin C for skin or is it best combined with other vitamins?


The effects of Vitamin C can be multiplied when used properly with other compounds, so combining it can be really great.  Combining Vitamin C, E and ferulic acid has been shown to actually double the photoprotection to skin.  These compounds work synergistically and enhance one another.  Vitamin C actually renews Vitamin E even after it has been oxidized.


When a product calls itself a “Vitamin C” product, what are the markers that it’s in a stable form that skin can utilize?


My personal recommendation is that people steer clear of any liquid product that has just plain Ascorbic Acid listed on the label.  Ascorbic Acid is the most basic, water-soluble form of Vitamin C. It is also incredibly unstable and prone to oxidation.  Temperature and oxygen exposure are both factors in this, but it’s hard to prevent.  In laboratory samples tested of refined Ascorbic Acid and grape juice there were losses of up to 50% of the pure Vitamin after just 240 minutes (4 hours).  That’s barely making it through manufacturing!  While some brands have developed buffer systems that do somewhat protect the integrity of Vitamin C, it still always degrades.  It just gives you a bit more time to use the item, but most brands run big batches of products and then have to ship to a warehouse, then to the retailer, then it sits for a few months there, then in your bathroom cabinet…. so you can see how that would basically use up any extended shelf life and be giving you only oxidized Vitamin C. (Source)


If the product is using Ascorbic Acid in a powdered form then that’s fine, as it doesn’t get hydrated until the minute you use it, meaning it doesn’t have the chance to degrade.  Similarly any natural source Vitamin C ingredients like Acerola Cherry or Camu Camu should be powdered as they’ll have the same stability problem if they are extracted into water and would be useless by the time they reach the consumer.


The manufactured forms of Vitamin C that are stabilized that are available are compounds like Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Tetradexylhexyl Ascorbate, Ascorbyl GlucosideAminopropyl Ascorbyl Phosphate, or Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate.  These all have different percentage recommendations and some are soluble in water and some in oil depending on what the Ascorbic part of the molecule is complexed with.


What are the signs that a Vitamin C product won’t be effective?


Color change is the biggest sign that the Vitamin C has oxidized.  It can create a yellow or amber color to the product, so if your serum that started off clear is now yellow it is likely not great to use anymore.


I know that with Blissoma, you’re scrupulous in selecting ingredients in their most bioavailable form. Which products are rich in Vitamin C and what makes them different from other “Vitamin C” labeled formulas?


What you need to know about Vitamin C in skincare
Our products that contain Vitamin C are our Bright Eye Vitalizing Nutrient Serum, Timeless Vitamin C Reconstruction Serum, and Glow Good Earth Exfoliant Powder.  Each product contains a different form specifically suited to what we were working to accomplish with the recipes.
What you need to know about Vitamin C in skincare
Bright is made to go near the eye area so we used the Aminopropyl Ascorbyl Phosphate because it could be used at a very low percentage due to its time release properties.  The eye area is sensitive and we didn’t want to overwhelm that area with something overly acidic.  That particular molecule is deconstructed at need by enzymes in the skin so the skin is only taking in the dosage it can actually use at any given time.


[Note: Bright, $56, is one eye product that I keep on hand and have repurchased because it absorbs easily, allowing me to wear eye makeup without oil slicks and smudging that greasier eye products cause, and because it instantly firms and awakens my eye area.]
What you need to know about Vitamin C in skincare
For Timeless this was an entirely oil based serum, so we used Ascorbyl Palmitate which is an ester (oil friendly) form of Vitamin C.  Timeless is best used at night and the Ascorbyl Palmitate is able to penetrate deeply into the skin partly due to its own structure and then we also included soy lecithin.  The deeper the C can get the better the overall results.  This form of Vitamin C is not acidic at all either because it is an ester so there it does not irritate skin at all.  This product can be used on irritated and damaged skin and it will help rebuild from the deepest layers up.


[Note: Timeless, $59, is another repeat purchase and product that I’m devoted to, particularly in winter, because it’s a lipid-rich blend that offers superior moisture and protection.]
What you need to know about Vitamin C in skincare
Glow is an exfoliant product and is sold in powdered form, so in that product we used the powdered Ascorbic Acid so we could control the exact percentage.  The acid properties of it help loosen the “glue” that holds skin cells together so that they are more easily sloughed off.  It is also hitting the skin at full strength as it is only hydrated the moment of use.  This form can be a little more challenging for some skin types so we usually recommend this product for people that do not have rosacea, eczema or any serious inflammation issues.  They really shouldn’t be doing this kind of exfoliant anyway.  Glow is well suited to people with intact, sluggish skin that needs a boost.

[Note: Glow, $40, is a first-time purchase for me and I’m enjoying the versatility as both an exfoliating powder to add to my cleanser or as a leave on mask. A potential repurchase, though I have a few similar products, so we’ll see when I run out.]


Aside from the products above (which I actually had on hand before reaching out to Julie for this post), these are my top picks for reliable Vitamin C:Vitamin C infused products that brighten skin and boost collagen. More in post...
  • Marie Veronique Vitamin C+E+Ferulic Acid Serum — this pro formula feels more like a gel-serum that absorbs instantly and works seamlessly layered under other serums to boost sun protection by day and rebuild collagen by night (I own a few sample sizes, but not the full size)
  • Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum — I wasn’t expecting much from this watery serum but I love it! It’s light as air, layers really well under other serums and creams, and imparts a brightening effect. Who knew?
  • One Love Organics Vitamin C Body Oil — this skin-refining body oil contains Vitamin C Ester, Papaya Enzymes and organic Shea Oil to deeply hydrate and gently exfoliate while leaving skin radiant and deliciously scented
  • Jillian Wright Vitamin C Powder —can be added to any serum and is powered with antioxidant rich acai berry and antibacterial cranberry to fight free radicals and reveal luminous skin
  • Leahlani Skincare Meli Glow Nectar Mask — transports me with its stunning aroma and is loaded with vitamin C rich fruits (strawberry, guava, and rose hips) and a Vitamin C Ester to give skin that lit from within glow
  • La Bella Figura Modern Radiance Concentrate — this Vitamin C gel-cream is, in a word, fabulous! I’ve got a small sample size and can say that it’s worth the splurge. It derives its Vitamin C from kakadu plum, a whole and natural source containing flavonoids and phytochemicals with as high as 3200-5000mg/100g  levels (compared with 50mg/100g for oranges).
  • Odacité C for Colette — another sample that I went gaga for. This Vitamin C + superfood booster is powered by 15% vit. C, to stimulate collagen synthesis, plus a super-food trio: wheatgrass, acai, and goji berries to slow down the aging process and neutralize free radicals generated by stress, fatigue and pollution.
  • Orgaid Vitamin C Revitalizing Organic Sheet Mask — it’s in my cart at AILLEA as we speak and I’ll let you know how it is once I’ve tried it but Kristen Arnett loves the yogurt mask and raves about it in this video about treating super dry skin and puffiness.

Want to know more? I’ve read numerous posts on the topic of Vitamin C on kimberlyloc.com that talk about the need for stabilizing ferulic acid and vitamin E in a product containing Vitamin C, so if this is a topic that intrigues you, definitely head over there to read up. And if you really want to geek out, you need to check out an actual laboratory style test of Vitamin C levels and ferulic acid used as a stabilizer. (Thanks, Julie!)

What are your favorite Vitamin C containing products? What results have you noticed from using them?

*Some affiliate links in post for products I would recommend anyway. I purchased all the products in this post. Full Disclosure.

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