Well, the truth is, the most helpful version of Vitamin C where skin is concerned is Ascorbic Acid. But it is also the most volatile and unstable form of Vitamin C. This means that it oxidizes and becomes inert very easily and therefore isn’t offering any benefit to your skin anymore. Not to mention, it can be a bit irritating to some skin types because of the low ph that is required to make it absorb and perform optimally. So laboratory scientists started to add Magnesium, Phosphorus, etc to adjust the formula to a less irritating level. But by making the molecule larger you are also effecting how well it can penetrate. If it can’t reach the depths of the skin where it can do the most good, then what’s the point? If you just care about UV protection, then sitting on top of the skin isn’t such a huge deal, but if you want it to help rebuild collagen and lighten hyperpigmentation, you are going to have to go a little deeper. The only form of Vitamin C that your body recognizes and knows what to do with is regular old Ascorbic Acid, which means in order for these other forms of Vitamin C to work the body has to be able to convert the derivative back into Ascorbic Acid before it can achieve any of the desirable results. Some of the forms do absorb and convert but some of them have no evidence to support that they do this. And how is the average consumer supposed know which ones are best? Is it Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate or Ascorbyl Tetra Isopalmitate?
Buyers Beware, many products on the market only put a small amount of active compounds in their product just so they can make an ingredient claim on the label. For Ascorbic Acid to achieve maximum absorption it needs to be between 8% and 20%. More than 20% and it doesn’t actually absorb as well and increases in irritability. So when searching the back of your serum bottle, look for your active ingredients to be in the middle to top half of the list. If they are lingering down in the bottom somewhere, there is practically no effective concentration in the formula. Ascorbic Acid also needs to be at a ph of about 3.5 which is quite low. If other ingredients in the mix bring up the ph the Vitamin C won’t perform as claimed. Only water soluble formulas have a ph at all. No Water = No ph problems. There are some waterless formulas out there that make the ph a non issue so be sure to check labels. But be careful of oil based formulas. When oil soluble Vitamin C's come in contact with sunlight they become toxic! Pre-made products also need to be packaged properly to keep the ingredients away from light an air. Both will speed up the oxidation process making the Vitamin C and potentially any other antioxidants or active ingredients inactive. When this oxidation process takes place, Ascorbic Acid will turn a Yellow/orange color. In order to disguise this reaction, many manufacturers will add colorant to the product so you won’t see the gradual color change taking place as your serum becomes less and less effective. Given the volatility of Ascorbic Acid you can see why they might do this. A product may sit in a warehouse for weeks before it makes its' way to a retail store shelf. And then how long did it sit there before you brought it home? All of this means that commercially manufactured Vitamin C and other antioxidant serums should ideally be filled into airless pump bottles of a dark color. Unfortunately, rarely do I actually see them packaged this way.
As you can see, there are a lot of criteria that need to be met for a commercial Vitamin C Serums to really deliver the results that you are hoping for and it requires an awful lot of label reading and ingredient knowledge. But did you know you can avoid all of the confusion and save a boat load by making your own at home? With a few simple ingredients you can make your own small batches of Vitamin C Serum to achieve maximum results for pennies compared to store bought.
What you’ll need:
1/2-3/4 tsp Ascorbic Acid Powder
1 tsp deionized or distilled water
(for best results use deionized water to keep the solution
as stable and efficacious as possible but distilled is ok)
1 tsp glycerin
1 glass or ceramic bowl
Non-metal mixing utensils
Dark Colored storage bottle
Ph test strip- optional
Mix all ingredients in Glass bowl until Vitamin C powder is dissolved. Store in dark colored container Airless pumps are best but because of the small batch size, Dark Brown or Blue Dropper bottles are ok. Use within 3-5 days. As I said in the article above, Vitamin C is incredibly volatile and therefore will oxidize and lose efficacy very quickly. If testing ph, aim for about 3.5. For sensitive skin types, mix solution with less Ascorbic Acid powder and work up to a stronger concentration.
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Laura Has been an Esthetician since 2003, started working for herself in 2008 and took the leap into business ownership in 2018. She strives to bring you the truth about skincare and take the guess work out of your cosmetic purchases.