Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Is Your Vitamin C Serum Harming Your Skin?


Vitamin C in skincare is a big trend right now in the beauty world. And rightly so! This simple vitamin has been found to scavenge free-radical damage, helps to firm skin and even-out skin tone. But despite the promise that vitamin C brings, some vitamin C products could actually be damaging your skin.

See, the most effective form of Vitamin C is ascorbic acid. (In particular l-ascorbic acid.) This is the form of C that has been studied and found to be so beneficial. But ascorbic acid is a tricky thing. Once it's dispersed in water (or aloe, etc) it starts to degrade fairly quickly, and these products of degradation can end up damaging your skin with free radicals. To remain stable, ascorbic acid in solution needs to remain in a highly acidic state (Source) and also not exposed to air. So, while it is possible to have a stable vitamin C formula, it is difficult. (The formula will turn brown once this happens, so it's fairly apparent.)

So, formulators instead turned to ascorbyl palmitate--a form of vitamin C that's much more stable. Doesn't break down and it's oil-soluble so it's great to put in a serum. Or so we thought. Turns out, once asorbyl palmitate was actually studied, researchers found out that it didn't have the same benefits that ascorbic acid has. Ascorbyl palmitate has to be activated by enzymes in order to do its job as a vitamin, and they found that the enzymes in the skin just didn't do an efficient job of utilizing the ascorbyl palmitate. They also found that when exposed to sunlight, the ascorbyl broke down and created free radicals on the skin. So, the compound that you've been using to try to reverse damage could actually be damaging your skin! (Source)


18 comments:

Michele said...

What about Vitamin C (Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate)as listed by a certain "Pure" product?

Anonymous said...

I'm thankful of your post about the hazards of Vitamin C serums. I had a horrible allergic reaction to one that will remain un-named: within a week of use, my skin was literally burned and felt like dried paper. I was able to heal with proper moisturizer, but still ... Thanks for the great info! - Annie

Anonymous said...

I'm taking a supplement and the soft gel contains the ingredient. It's it safe to take orally?

Stephanie Greenwood said...

@Anonymous--yes, this is an issue that pertains to skin care, not vitamin C supplements. :)

Therese said...

What should we be looking for when reading labels to insure a stable Vit C product and how stable is Ester C ? I have serums with that type of Vit C in it. And it come in a dark amber glass container with a glass dropper. Thank you for all the great info you share with us!!

Stephanie Greenwood said...

@Michele--Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate has not been studied a lot. In the limited studies available, it has been found to be helpful, but not as powerful as ascorbic acid.

@Therese--Ester C is Ascorbyl Palmitate.

Slim LP said...

Hi. I been researching ways to soften water. I have vitamin c powder for a few months an it has brown in it already. I have been using it for baths. But it been exposed to air. Should I just toss it? I also seen shower filters made that contain vitamin c to remove chlorine an chloramine. Are these okay to use? UBS Vita-Fresh an vitashower. Thanks David

Julia Farkas said...

I have been using l-ascorbic acid in butylene glycol. When placed on the skin or ingested, butylene glycol is absorbed and broken down into “gamma-hydroxybutryic acid,” a naturally occurring compound found in humans. But because it is derived from petroleum (though it's the safest form of glycol), I will probably not buying a second bottle, though it did make my skin visibly smoother.

Do you think we could just buy l-ascorbic acid in powder form and mix it into fruit/veggie face masks? Would that be absorbed?

Sarita said...

Hey Stephanie, great post! Is there a form of Vitamin C that would be beneficial topically or does this rule out most Vitamin C products on the market? Should we start massaging in raw kiwi? That sounds pretty good, actually!

Stephanie Greenwood said...

@Slim LP--I'm honestly not sure about the filtering with the vitamin C--I don't know what form their using or the mechanism whereby it would actually soften the water.

@Julia--yes, you can get an ascorbic acid powder and use it in DIY products. Your formula will need to be fairly acidic to really work well.

@Sarita--Ascorbic acid is the best form, if you can find a formula that is able to keep it stable and fresh.

Nadia said...

Hi Stephanie,
Always a pleasure reading your blog. Any safe recommendations for a face vitamin c-serum?

Thank you!

Melissa said...

Anyone looking to make their own can do a search for "vitamin c and glycerin face mask" and you will find quite a few pages listed with simple "recipes" that you can make at home.

tippi1223 said...
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Stephanie Greenwood said...

@tippi1223--Thanks for your question! If it's a powder, it's going to be way more stable. Can you see the powder at all? is it white or brown?

tippi1223 said...
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tippi1223 said...
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Anonymous said...

This is really eye opening! Thank you for this info!

Jackie said...

It's unfortunate that vitamin c serums degrade so rapidly; I try to extend the life of my serums by storing them in the fridge and decanting what I use daily in a smaller vial.