Not All Vitamin C Serums Are Created Equal, So Here’s What to Look for in the Ingredient Lists

Apparently.
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Apparently.

Some skincare products have certain rules as to how and when you're supposed to use them. Retinols are one of them; acids too (though there is contradictory information about that); and also, vitamin C. 

For the longest time, I was convinced that all vitamin C-based products like serums had this ridiculous shelf life that succumbed to oxidation the second it came into contact with air and light — which is essentially every time you apply it — so that its effectiveness had a diminishing half-life. I don't even get how anyone would get on board with that considering that vitamin C serums are by and large not cheap (and if it is cheap, it's probably straight acid — run).

They are however AMAZING at doing their job of brightening and telling free radicals to scram so your complexion can be all clear and glowing. Quick refresher: vitamin C is one of the best antioxidants to diminish hyperpigmentation, fine lines and visible sun-damaged areas, as well as promote collagen production. 

Among the finicky reputation of vitamin C, one thing I've heard about it include that tidbit above and related to it is that you should never purchase a vitamin C serum in a clear container because it's probably degraded by the time you buy it. I also read that you should only apply it at night because it makes your skin more sensitive to the sun. Both half lies!

The main difference in that half-lie is that there's a big shift in effect with unstabilized and stabilized vitamin C in skincare products. Unstabilized formulas, once oxidized, can actually harm your skin. They last about six months. Stabilized formulas can last up to two years and don't break down as easily. 

Ascorbic (or L-ascorbic) acid is pure vitamin C. You'll see a lot of vitamin C derivatives in skincare products, however, because of their ability to not totally eviscerate your complexion. You can roll-call these when you look through your products' ingredient list:

  • Ascorbic Acid (L-Ascorbic Acid)
  • Ascorbyl Palmitate
  • Sodium Ascorbate
  • Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate
  • Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (MAP)
  • Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (THDA) (also denoted Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate)
  • Ascorbyl Glucoside
  • Ascorbyl Glucosamine
  • Ascorbyl Methylsilanol Pectinate

Ascorbic acid is obviously an acid and depending on its concentration can seriously mess up your facial situation if you're not ready for that jelly. It's the most irritating and most rapidly oxidizing kind; however, it's essential to do all the magic to your skin that you want it to. It's all a matter of how it's formulated. 

This orange is pleased.

This orange is pleased.

One of my all-time fave vitamin C do-ups is Drunk Elephant's C-Firma Day Serum. This formula uses 15% L-ascorbic acid, pumpkin ferment extract, ferulic acid and vitamin E. It wasted no time in brightening and evening out my skin tone, and even getting rid of a few baby breakouts in less than a month. You're meant to apply this in the morning before your SPF to kick-up your skin's damage defenses.

But then I met SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic a little while later and realized that it had a similar formula that included both ferulic acid and vitamin E. 

This orange is rather small.

This orange is rather small.

Well apparently, that trio is gangbusters — plus it's in it for the long haul, doubling up the photo-protection ability of the formula as well as acting as a stabilizer. 

I've tried vitamin C serums before that didn't do anything but make me a bit red in the face — and at the time, everyone I knew who tried them had similar reactions. I'm pretty sure it was because the stuff I was using before was the unruly rebellious teens of ascorbic acid in all its unbridled orange juicery. It smelled strongly of pennies and No Fear t-shirts.  

VITAMIN-C-SERUM-HERO.jpg

It's difficult to know what serums are stabilized since it doesn't exactly say so. A step in the safe direction would be to keep your eyes peeled for vitamin C derivatives (that list above).  

  • Have you had iffy experiences with vitamin C? 
  • What's your favorite vitamin C serum?