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Today we're kicking off a series I've been wanting to get out for ages and it's all about Vitamin C! Ascorbic acid is the pure form of this ingredient so it seemed the right place to start... we'll jump into everything from pros, cons and how this ingredient works plus how it might be beneficial. Then in the forthcoming instalments we'll talk through some affordable ascorbic acid options, Vitamin C derivatives and alternatives to Vitamin C.
'Vitamin C' is an umbrella term and ascorbic acid is its pure form. Other types of Vitamin C are labelled as 'derivatives'.
Like all skin vitamins, Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, neutralising free radical damage from your environment (which can cause premature ageing). It's also a tyrosinase-inhibitor, meaning it interrupts the activity of the hormone that leads to excess pigmentation forming in the skin after an injury (such as a blemish). Ascorbic acid is particularly good as an antioxidant when compared to Vitamin C derivatives and it has a very important, unique advantage: it can actually boost up collagen production in the skin. Collagen is what gives our skin its fullness and bounce, and our stores of it deplete over time, and there aren't that many ingredients that can do this. The collagen-boosting effect (plus the fact that Vitamin C works synergistically with sunscreen to boost the benefits of both steps) is why Vitamin C is often considered essential for a well-ageing AM skincare routine.
Of course there had to be a catch! The issue with ascorbic acid is that it's notoriously unstable. If the formula becomes overly exposed to oxygen, it oxidises, which obviously makes it ineffective as an antioxidant (how many more 'oxygen' variations can I get into a sentence?) This can also make it more irritating on the skin, and it's already a potentially-irritating ingredient. Avoid formulas with ascorbic acid that contain other ingredients that could make the serum orange in colour, because this masks oxidisation. Additionally, you want opaque packaging and ideally an airless pump, but if not: go for a dropper bottle that has a stopper in it. This protects the formula from degrading sooner than it needs to. Keep it in a cool, dry place like a cupboard or even your fridge, if you want to go the extra mile.
The good news is that Skinceuticals discovered the perfect way to create a water-based ascorbic acid that's stable, effective and gentle. The bad news is that they've patented it. The pH (which has to be acidic), the concentration of the ingredient and the stabiliation of it using Vitamin E and Ferulic Acid) are all covered by the patent and their product costs about £150! Next week, we'll be covering some dupes of this product, so stay tuned...
Powders minimise the risk of oxidisation by removing water from the equation. The downside is that you (presumably not a cosmetic formulator) have to dispense the correct amount for a consistent application every day and choose a compatible moisturiser to mix it in with (i.e. one that doesn't contain anything that might deactivate or destabilise this finicky ingredient). You also still might experience a grainy texture and difficulty getting this to spread evenly over the skin and mesh with your moisturiser.
Silicone suspensions are another option; instead of mixing the ingredient with water, it's suspended in a waterless silicone. This means it's easier to spread and work with than a powder formula. However, a lot of people don't love that silky (or slippery) silicone feel and find heavy silicone formulas don't mesh well with their sunscreen and / or makeup.
There are also water-activated formulas, which are usually grainy flash face masks that don't contain water. You massage it onto damp skin to activate the formula, leave it on for a couple of minutes and then rinse it off. The only negative with this format is that it's not a leave-on product working on your skin throughout the day.
My last alternative is packaging activation; these are products that contain two compartments: one is the water-based serum and the other is the ascorbic acid powder. Usually you'll click two parts together to blend the two components and you have a fresh Vitamin C serum. They often come in smaller quantities as they need to be used quickly to remain effective. My main negative is that you still may experience the texture problems you do with powders (though some of the guesswork is removed) and these products are usually quite expensive (due to the cost of these sorts of components) for the quantity you're getting.
I really hope this overview of ascorbic acid, why it's great, some of its drawbacks and how we might get around them has been helpful. This is our jumping-off point for the Vitamin C series so tune into my forthcoming posts to build on this, starting with our Skinceuticals dupes and more affordable alternatives next week...
Do you use ascorbic acid or a different form of Vitamin C in your skincare routine?