Spotlight on Vitamin C

For this round of Regimen Research, we take a deep dive into the science behind Vitamin C and its role in skincare. Vitamin C is a common ingredient in anti-aging and skin-brightening formulas, but all vitamin C is not created equal.


Most skincare professionals tout Vitamin C as one of the essentials in any routine. "Vitamin C is one of my favorite antioxidants," according to Alex Hushcha, the regimen's resident esthetician. "All antioxidants are going to be great for anti-aging. By definition, they prevent your cells from dying." Vitamin C is a free-radical scavenger as an antioxidant so it fights all signs of oxidative stress on your skin. It's also got skin-brightening properties, which makes it a wonder product for those that need to get rid of acne scars, dark spots, or any other hyperpigmentation. "I struggled with a bad bout of hormonal acne in my early twenties and what was left behind was some awesome scarring in the lower half of my face," Alex explained. "Vitamin C serums are one of the things that made a huge difference for my skin. On a professional level, I have seen those that consistently use vitamin C serums have a noticeable glow to their skin."

But, besides its brightening effects, what makes Vitamin C a holy grail in anti-aging is its ability to promote collagen production and create an effective barrier for the skin. Studies have shown that mRNA of collagen type I and III were increased by topical use of Vitamin C. Simply put, at the cellular level, using Vitamin C on skin directly ramps up collagen production and hastens signs of skin aging. Similarly, Vitamin C plays a key role in creating an adequate lipid barrier on the stratum corneum, the horny outer layer of our skin. Vitamin C heightens the lipid profile, showing increased content of ceramides, which are water-retaining lipid factors in your skin.

Vitamin C in skincare products claim to do a number of wonderful things for the skin, especially when combined with other ingredients that stabilize the product and help to nourish the skin. The most potent and chemically active form of Vitamin C is L-ascorbic acid. Timeless Skin Care 20% Vitamin C + E + Ferulic Acid is a wonderful serum that contains L-ascorbic acid, which is the active form of Vitamin C. It's a personal favorite and a good knock-off of Skinceuticals C E Ferulic. This active form of Vitamin C is better in an acidic pH, like 3.5, and it is more able to be transported through the outer layer of the skin. The science behind this deals with the ionic charge of the molecule being removed, but that is more in-depth than this post will allow. Vitamin C's efficacy is dependent on its concentration, up to around 20%. 

Alex explains that "Vitamin C is very hard to keep stable and it oxidizes so, so quickly. The main thing I would advise people to watch for is packaging: amber or opaque bottles and stoppers or lids that have as little exposure to air as possible." Vitamin C is usually fairly unstable due to its low pH and oxidizes when it's exposed to sunlight. Gothamista posted a picture on Instagram of her serum brand new and 5 months later. The color change shows the Vitamin C oxidation.

It should be said that Vitamin C is not created equal, and in saying so, not all derivatives used in skincare products are physiologically effective. Some forms of Vitamin C in the ingredients list don't even effectively cross the outer layer of your epidermis and penetrate your skin. For Vitamin C to impart its most effective benefits, the derivatives in products have to convert to the active form of Vitamin C. Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate is the most stable Vitamin C ester. It is easily absorbed into the skin, has hydrating qualities, hunts down free radicals, and promotes collagen production the way L-ascorbic acid does. Ascorbyl 6 phosphate is also an antioxidant and breaks down into Vitamin C and palmitic acid in water. The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% is a novel suspension that is oil-free and water-free, keeping the 23% pure L-ascorbic acid stable from the absence of water. Other great Vitamin C treatments are Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day SerumDr. Dennis Gross Skincare C+ Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum, and Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop.

Being mindful of the ingredients is important in skincare. Marketing a product as "Vitamin C" is not a surefire guarantee that it is a quality formulation. Because of its fragile nature as an ingredient, the packaging is important in preservation. Serums typically last about 3 months so smaller vials of about 1-2 ounces will be plenty. Incorporating Vitamin C in your routine is a great way to fend off signs of aging and give your skin a glow at the same time.