What comes to mind when you hear Vitamin C? Maybe it’s orange juice and trying to remedy a cold or prevent sickness. Maybe it’s that dang “Graduation” song from 1999 that will now be stuck in your head for a week. Or maybe, if you’re into skincare like I am, it’s all about BRIGHTENING! ✨ Today we’re going to take a look at this mighty ingredient and why you most definitely want to start using it in your routine.
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Table of Contents:
- Proven Skincare Benefits of Vitamin C
- Not All Vitamin C is Created Equal
- Precautions & How to Use Vitamin C in Your Routine
- Best Natural Vitamin C Serums (Becca’s Faves)
- Best Natural Vitamin C Serums (Other Blogger Picks)
Proven Skincare Benefits of Vitamin C
First of all, what is Vitamin C? According to cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson, “it’s an essential nutrient required for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of the body, including the skin, but we cannot produce it on our own.” Essentially, it’s an antioxidant that has been touted because of its numerous skincare benefits:
- Lightens dark spots such as melasma, hyperpigmentation, acne scars, and general discoloration. All without altering your natural skin pigmentation! Hellooooo, even skin tone. It does this by blocking the pathway of pigment synthesis and inhibiting your skin’s melanin production. (1)
- Protects against environmental stressors and free radicals. Since it’s an antioxidant, Vitamin C protects the skin against stressors like UV damage and pollution. Therefore, it also keeps skin looking youthful and vibrant because these stressors can contribute to cellular damage and aging. (2)
- Boosts collagen production. Dermatologist Howard Sobel says that when vitamin C is applied topically “the skin is triggered to heal itself by accelerating the production of collagen and elastin.” Yes, please! 🙌
Cool, huh? I initially became interested in using Vitamin C in my routine because I noticed some slight pigmentation around my lips and under my eyes. Nothing serious, but it definitely flares up after summer and spending lots of time in the sun. Vitamin C to the rescue!
Not All Vitamin C is Created Equal ⚠️
Here’s where it can get confusing. There are various forms, percentages, and derivatives of Vitamin C that are used in skincare, and not all function the same. This is also part of the reason that you’ll see different price points for serums, or even notice some are more effective than others.
Essentially, some forms are more stable than others and less prone to oxidizing. Some are less irritating on our skin. Some are water-soluble and some are oil-soluble. Some penetrate the skin barrier more effectively. You get the idea! Overall, it’s important to choose a Vitamin C best suited for what you’re looking to achieve.
In general, Vitamin C does not easily penetrate the skin’s barrier. (1) It’s also extremely reactive to air, heat, and light and will break down if routinely exposed to those elements. This also means their powerful antioxidant properties can diminish (3). This is why there are derivatives and synthesized forms; by synthesizing them or adding compounds such as phosphate, their chemical structures change, and therefore so do the properties (and in turn, more stable and less reactive)! (4)
Common Types of Vitamin C Used in Skincare
Some of the most common forms you’ll see in skincare products:
- Ascorbic Acid: Vitamin C in its natural form and has been shown to be the most effective when applied topically. However, it’s the most unstable. (4) Sometimes you might see this in powdered face masks which makes sense because it’s activated when you mix it with water and is not something that sits on your skin all day.
- Ascorbyl Palmitate: A fat-soluble form that can effectively penetrate the skin
- Calcium Ascorbate (Ester C): A water-soluble mineral salt form that’s effective for collagen production and tissue repair
- Ethyl Ascorbic Acid: A water-soluble form that contains the highest concentration of ascorbic acid of any derivative
- Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate: A water-soluble form that is one of the most stable and also really hydrating
- Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate: A stable, water-soluble form that converts into ascorbic acid once it’s applied to the skin and behaves less erratically. It’s been proven to reduce sebum oxidation (a cause of breakouts and inflammation) by up to 40%! (5)
- Tetrahexyldecyl (Tetra-C) Ascorbate: A non-irritating, oil-soluble form regarded for its ability to deeply penetrate the skin
By the way, there are many other derivatives! And since I’m not a chemist nor do I want to bore you with a mile-long blog post, you can read more about types of Vitamin C in skincare here.
Wait…Is Vitamin C Synthetic!? 🤔
Yup, some types of Vitamin C in skincare are synthetic. I know what you’re thinking…Becca, I thought you only blogged about NATURAL ingredients?! And yes, yes I do! However, synthetics in skincare are NOT always a bad thing. This is a whole topic for another day, but some synthetics are safe to use topically and sometimes are even a better option than their natural counterparts. There are many reasons for this such as environmental concerns (ingredient scarcity or overharvesting), stability, price, or are just flat out better for our skin. Something to keep in mind!
Natural skincare formulator Annmarie Gianni says:
“Synthetic Vitamin C is a more cost-effective way to include the nutrient in skincare formulas. Synthetics are more stable and often last longer on the shelves than natural vitamins. They are less vulnerable to erosion from things like light and temperature.”
Other Natural Sources of Vitamin C
As an alternative, if you prefer to simply use ingredients that are naturally rich in Vitamin C that are not actives, look for these in your skincare products:
- Amla berry
- Camu camu berry
- Goji berry
- Kakadu plum
- Rosehip seed oil
- Sea buckthorn oil
Precautions & How to Use Vitamin C in Your Routine
You can use Vitamin C day or night in your skincare routine. Because it’s an antioxidant, it makes a nice pre-sun treatment (when layered with a mineral sunscreen).
Careful Using Vitamin C If…
Although Vitamin C has so many awesome skincare benefits, it might not be for you if you have extremely sensitive skin! If your skin is reactive yet you still want to try a serum, here are some tips:
- Opt for non-irritating forms that are non-ascorbic such as Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (keep reading for some suggestions!)
- Use a serum that has a lower concentration of Vitamin C
- Only apply it at night instead of twice a day; this is when your skin is naturally most depleted
Also, avoid mixing Vitamin C serums with products that contain benzoyl peroxide, retinol, or strong acids. These can oxidize it and make it less effective, less stable, less likely to penetrate the skin, or cause irritation. (6)
And be sure to store your bottle in a cool, dark place so that it’s protected and less prone to oxidizing. If possible, find products that use a pump so that it’s even less exposed to air! 🌬
The Best Natural Vitamin C Serums (Becca’s Faves!)
Finally, time to talk about the FUN stuff! Having been a skincare junkie for a couple of years now, I’ve had the opportunity to try a LOT of serums. There are definitely some duds out there, but here are my absolute favorite picks. All of these are vegan, cruelty free, use stable forms of Vitamin C, and meet my high standards for ingredient purity.
Notes: Best for promoting graceful aging or mature skin
This one is really unique especially compared to other serums I have tried. It’s a milky consistency that absorbs into skin really quickly. It’s an orangey-brown hue and to me, it smells like apples 🍎 (even though there isn’t apple in it). Light, fresh, and sweet. As I’ve entered my thirties (😱), I appreciate that this one also promotes graceful aging by targeting fine lines and wrinkles.
Blissoma uses 3% Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate as its Vitamin C. It’s hard to describe, but I can just feel this working on my skin when I apply it; my skin just looks so great and vibrant. You can just tell that it’s super concentrated and powerful. This one also has Coenzyme Q10 for firmness and wrinkle-fighting, as well as pomegranate extract for highly bioavailable antioxidants. The founder of Blissoma, Julie, is an herbal chemist and is extremely knowledgeable about formulation. I always trust that her products are thoughtfully formulated and curated!
FitGlow Vita Active Serum [$149]
Notes: Most powerful and effective brightener
This one is a SUPER splurge, but I did notice a huge difference after using it consistently. It’s not something I am able to buy repeatedly, but if you are, then I totally think it’s worth it! Or even as a one-time purchase to do some serious work. It’s a beautiful orange serum that applies light like a feather and instantly soaks into skin. The smell is a bit citrusy (it has pink grapefruit peel oil and sweet orange extract!) 🍊
FitGlow uses a whopping 20% Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate and Ethyl Ascorbic Acid blend in their formula. So you’re getting not one, but TWO forms of brightening power. It also contains niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, glutathione, and wakame stem cell extract which makes it a powerhouse against fine lines, wrinkles, and environmental stressors. I really wish this one were more affordable, but you can definitely tell it’s on another level and the ingredients are top-notch.
Notes: Becca’s current top pick! ⭐️ Best everyday serum, Ideal for most skin types including blemish-prone skin
This is my current go-to and I love it so, so much! 🌞 I first tried a sample of it in a subscription box and have been hooked ever since. It’s such a gorgeous yellow/orange color and the smell is divine (like orange, jasmine, and a hint of floral). It’s sunshine in a bottle, basically. I started using this towards the end of summer to keep any sun damage at bay and also into fall to heal some slight pigmentation I already had. My skin responds so well to this lovely serum and it makes me look vibrant and youthful!
Bright Side is made with a duo of 10% Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate and 3% Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate for its Vitamin C. There are so many amazing antioxidants and extracts in this such as bearberry, amla, mulberry, and purple corn which protect against free radical damage, help even skin tone, and support natural elasticity. It also contains niacinamide which is helpful for breakouts, healing inflammation, and controlling sebum production. The founder for Free + True, Tami Blake, is an esthetician that really knows her stuff. I highly recommend this serum!
Notes: Most moisturizing, Best for dry skin, MADE SAFE® certified
Allyson, the founder of Pleni Naturals, is a former aesthetician with a professional background in product education and skincare product development. So I have complete faith in her formulas and knowledge! Day Squad is quite luscious. It’s a daytime oil infused with tomato fruit extract which works alongside Vitamin C to protect from UV and environmental aggressors (the idea of “Squad” comes from this duo!), as well as turmeric to help brighten and keep a clear complexion. It’s cased in a dark violet glass which helps protect and preserve the potency of the formula!
The base is organic olive oil so it doubles as a moisturizer; so you can use it as a final step in your skincare routine or layered underneath sunscreen. Day Squad uses 1% Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate for its lipid-soluble form of Vitamin C. The concentration is low because the tomato extract works in conjunction with the Vitamin C with similar effects. I love how silky this one feels and it’s gentle at the same time (would likely be ideal for sensitive skin too). It has a pleasant, mildly earthy scent. I can’t get enough of it!
Notes: Budget-friendly pick, Most ideal for sensitive skin types and contains no essential oils
This one is the most affordable option but still packs a punch! 💪 I also appreciate that it’s heavy enough to use as a standalone moisturizer. This serum is “no-frills” and the ingredients are simple, yet intentional. Wabi-Sabi products never contain essential oils, which can be too harsh for sensitive skin. The product is naturally scented by its ingredients such as candlenut oil, sea buckthorn, and buriti oil (the smell is slightly earthy and nutty). Since Vitamin C can already be too potent for some people, this would be the best option if your skin tends to react to other serums.
I mean, just look at that color! 😍 Light Reveal uses non-irritating 5% Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate for its Vitamin C. It also has natural carotenoids and caffeine to help boost dull skin. Such a wonderful product and you can also use it as an under-eye treatment! My skin just drinks this one up.
The Best Natural Vitamin C Serums (Other Blogger Picks)
In case you’re not interested in hearing my recommendations 😉 I thought it would be fun to ask some of my blogger friends what their personal favorite serums are! (click each image to shop the product)
Congrats, you’re now officially an expert when it comes to Vitamin C! 🤪 Feel free to drop any comments or questions in the box below. Or let me know what your personal favorite serum is. It’s truly a wonderful ingredient when it comes to skincare and I hope this inspires you to try it out in your routine!
Sources & Further Reading:
- Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications
- Free Radicals and Extrinsic Skin Aging
- Indian Dermatology Online Journal
- Formula Botanica: Best Form of Vitamin C in Natural Skincare
- Sodium ascorbyl phosphate efficacy in the prevention and treatment of acne
- The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health