Vitamin C – The Antioxidant Superhero

by Dru Pattan

There are a lot of “gold standard” ingredient claims within the skincare industry. This is ironic coming from an industry that doesn’t seem to know how to simplify anything enough to offer a “standard” solution. In a complex realm of 10 step regimens, would you be surprised to learn that “gold standard” ingredients also come in different forms for the same ingredient?

The Vitamin C Confusion

Vitamin C is a prime example of a “gold standard” ingredient with several different forms. Some of these forms are more beneficial than others depending on what you are looking for.

It is common for consumers to be a bit confused when it comes to Vitamin C. It’s often touted as a “must have” but sadly there are so many products out there that would be more appropriately labeled “must not touch.” I hear all sorts of hesitations from my clients when it comes to product recommendations but none seem to be quite as common as the “my skin just doesn’t like Vitamin C” claim. The truth is, if the skin responded poorly to Vitamin C, it is very likely that the skin either did not like the form of Vitamin C used or didn’t like the formulation as a whole.

Why is Vitamin C so beneficial for the skin?

Abundant daily environmental factors, such as exposure to UV radiation and pollution, accelerate damage to the skin by creating oxidative stress. This occurs when there is an imbalance of reactive oxygen species, also known as free radicals, and antioxidant defenses.  Vitamin C is one of the most potent antioxidants for the skin. It neutralizes the oxidative stress by a process of electron transfer and/or donation.

How antioxidants reduce free radicals

Aging itself is a progressive accumulation of damage at a molecular and cellular level as a result of all of these daily insults. As a potent antioxidant, Vitamin C not only works to combat oxidative stress, but also provides much needed support to other elements of healthy skin, such as:

  • It helps support the skin’s immune response which has shown to be compromised with regular sun exposure.
  • Supports the effectiveness of SPF and protects the skin against burns
  • Vitamin C is essential for the production of collagen within the skin
  • Vitamin C is known to be the primary replenisher of vitamin E, which similar to vitamin C, is rapidly depleted after UV exposure
  • Different forms of Vitamin C have been shown to have effective benefits for lightening and preventing pigmentation

Types of Vitamin C

While there are quite a number of different forms of Vitamin C out there, let’s discuss a few of the more popular ones:

  1. Ascorbic Acid
    This is Ascorbic Acid  your most common run-of-the-mill water soluble form of Vitamin C. It is the usual offender for the “my skin just doesn’t like Vitamin C” claim. Penetration of this form of Vitamin C is dependent on its pH and will not penetrate well until that pH is dropped down to 3.5. (Healthy skin pH is between 4.5 and 5.5.) Unfortunately, at this lowered pH, it becomes extremely irritating to the skin. In an attempt to increase penetrability, many companies then increase the amount of Ascorbic Acid making it even more problematic.

    This form of Vitamin C is also highly unstable and can oxidize with repeat exposure to air and light. It changes into a pro-oxidant and is no longer suitable for use. If using this ingredient, it is helpful to ensure proper packaging has been used.

    Thankfully science is providing us with improved versions of this ingredient.  Other ingredients compounded with Ascorbic Acid and sold as one all encompassing compound the chemists allow us to reap the benefits of Ascorbic Acid without it being pH dependent and any of the subsequent issues. Unfortunately these compounds come at a price and formulations using them will not be found for $20 at the grocery store.  Some of our favorites include AnteAGE Eye and Roccoco Peptide Finisher.

  2. Tetrahexyldecyl AscorbateTetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate
    This is an oil soluble Vitamin C ester. The skin is made up of a good deal of lipids and this oil soluble form allows this ingredient to penetrate without being pH dependent. It is highly stable, gentle, and ultimately much more suitable for those who may be hesitant where Vitamin C is concerned.

    It combats oxidative stress by helping to prevent oxidation within your own skin’s lipids. This form of Vitamin C packs a punch against hyperpigmentation. It’s the form of Vitamin C you want to turn to if that is your primary issue.  AnteAGE has leaned into the powerful effects of this Vitamin C derivative including a high therapeutic concentration in both their Accelerator and their Brightener.
  3. Sodium Ascorbyl PhosphateSodium Ascorbyl Phosphate
    A water soluble yet highly stable form of Vitamin C, Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate is also not pH dependent. This makes it gentle and beneficial even for sensitive skin.

    Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate provides all of the benefits Vitamin C is known for but studies have shown a substantial improvement on subjects with acne when using this ingredient. If you are looking for a Vitamin C product and acne is your concern, this ingredient is what you will want to lean towards.  A powerhouse Vitamin C Serum for Acne Prone Skin is Roccoco's Clarifying C Serum.

  4. Magnesium Ascorbyl PhosphateMagnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate
    Another water-soluble form of Vitamin C, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate also has what Ascorbic Acid lacks: stability without a pH dependency. It is much gentler on skin and still maintains its efficacy in lower concentrations. While it is slightly less effective in free radical reduction than Ascorbic Acid, it is much more hydrating.

Looking for recommendations for our favorite Vitamin C infused products? Find links to our favorites mentioned in this article below.

About the Author:

Dru Pattan is a Licensed Esthetician who specializes in acne while taking a skin healthy approach to sustainably healthy skin known as Corneotherapy. She believes that we don't need to beat the skin into submission to make it comply. By monitoring the skin's needs and offering nourishment we are able to heal common ailments which can often seem lifelong and defeating.

Dru has been licensed since 2014 and has spent the majority of that time relentlessly hunting down advanced education within the industry. When she herself is not studying, she is offering education and support to clients and other professionals within the industry.

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