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So far in my Vitamin C series we've covered off pure form ascorbic acid and its benefits vs. limitations as well as some dupes for the Skinceuticals formula, so definitely check those posts out before diving into this instalment. As I've discussed: pure form Vitamin C can be tricky to formulate with, so many brands instead opt to use derivatives in their formulas, which the skin then has to convert into ascorbic acid. For this reason, these derivatives are less potent and we don't have the same extensive evidence proving their efficacy as we do for ascorbic acid proper. We'll dive into what's on the market, who each of these alternatives might be best for and spotlight some formulas containing each. If that sounds good, keep reading...

Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate - AKA THD (similar to but not exactly the same as the less commonly-used Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate) - is an oil-soluble Vitamin C derivative, so is often found in active facial oils or they can be blended into more of a traditional serum or moisturiser formula. This makes it great for dry skin types and more mature skin types lacking in lipids, but it also helps the ingredient to penetrate the skin. It's much more stable than ascorbic acid and can be formulated at a pH that's not dissimilar to that of the skin, meaning it's not going to anywhere near as irritating and it can be used in up to a 30% concentration. THD acts as an antioxidant as well as being effective at fighting hyperpigmentation in higher concentrations.  

You might like to try...

Lightweight oil
Also formulated with Vitamin E 
 Can be used AM or PM
 Compatible with just about any other skincare products
 Contains fragrance, which some people prefer to avoid
 I can't confirm the % concentration 
 The oil format might not work for oily skin types

Sunday Riley CEO 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum* £70

 Blends the ingredient into a milky serum so should suit all skin types
Also formulated with Vitamin E 
 Contains glycolic acid to help with penetration and exfoliate the skin to boost glow
 15% concentration might not tackle more persistent hyperpigmentation
 Contains fragrance, which some people prefer to avoid

Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (AKA SAP) is a water-soluble (salt-based) Vitamin C derivative, widely considered to be the most stable option on the market. This derivative also has antimicrobial benefits, making it a good option for breakout-prone skin. Like THD, this doesn't need a very low pH to be effective, so is likely to be more sensitive-skin-friendly than ascorbic acid. To target hyperpigmentation, you need to look for a 3% concentration or more.

You might like to try...

 A complex - it was hard to find a standalone SAP, but they aren't well-studied anyway
 Contains green tea extract as an additional antioxidant source
 I can't confirm % concentrations
 Contains fragrance, which some people prefer to avoid

The next derivative we'll focus in on is Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (AKA MAP), which is salt-based and water-soluble. It's relatively stable and doesn't require a low pH to be effective. In lower concentrations, it will still deliver antioxidant benefits, but you really want 5%+ to make a dent in uneven skin tone. An added bonus with this derivative is that it has anti-inflammatory benefits so could be good for acne-prone and redness / rosacea-prone skin.

You might like to try...

 Contains 5% MAP, sufficient for both the antioxidant and skin-brightening benefits
 Contains other hydrators and moisturisers like glycerin and shea butter
 Lightweight milky texture
 Whilst stability isn't a huge issue, I'd still like to see darker, more opaque packaging

This derivative is a little different: it's ascorbic acid that's been tinkered with. You really want to look for 3-O Ethylated Ascorbic Acid as opposed to earlier iterations of this ingredient, because this is the version that the limited evidence we have for this derivative is based on. This ingredient remains stable in both oil and water-based formulas but requires a slightly lower pH than most of the options we've discussed in this post, however not to the extent that ascorbic acid does. I recommend looking for a concentration of 5% or more.

You might like to try...

 Formulated with a gentle PHA exfoliant to smooth the skin and increase penetration
 Airtight, opaque packaging helps with stability
 Moisturising milky-lotion texture
 Contains fragrance, which some people prefer to avoid
 The low pH and added acid may make it too much for very sensitive skin

 30% 3-O Ethyl Ascorbic Acid (an effective concentration)
 Opaque pump packaging
 Other Vitamin C sources are extracts so unlikely to be as effective 
 Formula can pill a little with some skincare products

Ascorbyl Glucoside is very stable water-soluble Vitamin C derivative (combined with sugar, as the name suggests) that's relatively easy to formulate with. Its pH isn't too far of from the skin's natural range, which minimises potential irritation. 

You might like to try...

 Creamy moisturising base
 Contains other great ingredients for discolouration like niacinamide and azelaic acid
 Highly unlikely to cause irritation
 Opaque, airtight packaging
 2% concentration seems relatively low

One way to get the broadest possible range of benefits across all of these derivatives is to go for a complex. It's also a good idea because many of these derivatives don't have super-conclusive evidence that they can perform all of the functions that ascorbic acid does, so see it as hedging your bets. 

You might like to try...

 Pure Ascorbic Acid
Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate
 Also formulated with Vitamin E for stability and hyaluronic acid as a humectant
 Opaque pump packaging
 Can't speak to the stability of the ascorbic acid given the orange tone of the product

*Trinny London is only 3-O Ethylated Ascorbic Acid, please ignore its accidental inclusion in this image!

 3-O Ethyl Ascorbic Acid
 Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate
 Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate
 Other antioxidants can boost the overall formula's potential
 Light, hydrating texture
 Tinted pump packaging
 15% total concentration of derivatives might not be enough for some 

 Ttetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate
 3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid
Ascorbyl Glucoside
Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate
Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate
Also contains Vitamin E
 Formulated with additional tyrosinase-inhibitors
 Tinted pump packaging
 Contains fragrant extracts which could be irritating for some
I cannot confirm exact concentrations of the derivatives

 3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid
Ascorbyl Glucoside
 Also contains niacinamide to help with discolouration
 Opaque pump packaging
 I cannot confirm what percentage each derivative is included at

I really hope this post was helpful in navigating the derivatives of Vitamin C currently on the market - whilst none of them have the scientific backing behind them that ascorbic acid does (particularly when it comes to collagen-boosting claims) - they're a great option to get some antioxidant benefits and also to treat discolouration, if they're formulated at an effective percentage with other beneficial ingredients. Additionally, if you have sensitive skin that simply can't handle ascorbic acid: this is a great place to start.

Have you tried any of these forms of Vitamin C? Let me know if they worked for your skin!

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Read more posts from this series here!


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