The best vitamin C serum for the face ?
This post will answer this question and will also give you some practical advice that will help you make your own purchasing decisions.
My goal is not to make reviews and tell you what to buy. That would mean me wanting you to follow my advice blindly. Instead, I want to provide you with the tools and education to decide what to buy on your own like I’ve always done in my other guides, for example this.
Vitamin C serum- The basics- How does vitamin C work
Vitamin C can be found in skincare products under different names (vitamin C derivates) but the “official” one for vitamin C is l-ascorbic acid.
L-ascorbic acid is, first and foremost, a powerful antioxidant.
Antioxidants are CRUCIAL because they fight free radicals.
Free radicals are very unstable molecule with an appetite for electrons. They tend to steal electrons from whatever other molecule they can find, including the DNA, leading to changes in our bodies that are negative.
In the skin, they’re responsible for the process of aging. For instance, tobacco smoking promotes the formation of free radicals, and this is why they say smoking makes your skin age faster.
Molecules such as vitamin C, Vitamin E, Coenzyme Q10, Glutathione, lipoic acid and such have antioxidant properties, meaning they donate electrons to the free radicals thus neutralizing them.
As I’m sure you know antioxidants can be taken orally and are naturally present in many healthy foods (not in pizza :)).
Nevertheless, antioxidants are a must in any skincare product not only to preserve the product itself but also and especially to deliver their benefits to the skin and keep it young for as long as possible.
In this post I’ll only talk about vitamin C serums for the skin, but it doesn’t mean I believe taking vitamin C supplements is useless. To tell the truth, I believe in doing both to max out benefits.
Vitamin C in serums has different names
Ascorbic acid is not a stable molecule because of its tendency of donating electrons which doesn’t only happen on the skin but everywhere unless you protect it from light and air.
This fact brings us to a very important point : vitamin c serums that are not packed in UV resistant containers are useless.
"Vitamin c serums that are not packed in UV resistant containers are useless."
Because of its inherent instability vitamin C is a difficult ingredient to preserve.
Moreover, the physicochemical properties of ascorbic acid are not optimal for transport across skin ( partition coefficient log P(o/w) = −1.85 and dissociation constant (pKa = 4.25) .
This is why researchers came up with some vitamin C derivates that are supposed to release ascorbic acid once they reach the skin.
It’s like ascorbic acid is wearing a protective mask that gives it a temporarily different appearance . Only the skin enzymes can take off its mask and reveals it for what it is. This approach (called “prodrug”) is extremely common for drugs as well. Not only does it improve stability, it can also ensures a prolonged action as vitamin c gets available at a slower rate.
Sodium ascorbyl phosphate is an example of a vitamin c prodrug. Serums that contain it are still vitamin C serums, yet they’re way more stable and, therefore, effective.
The industry has developed several other vitamin C derivates with different properties; not necessarily one is better than the other. Oftentimes they just have different properties to suit different formulations. If I want to make a water free serum, I won't be able to use a water soluble vitamin C derivate.
Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (SAP), Ascorbyl palmitate, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate (oil soluble), 3-Glyceryl Ascorbate, 3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid, Ascorbyl Glucoside, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (MAP), Aminopropyl Ascorbyl Phosphate, Bis-Glyceryl Ascorbate, Aminopropyl Ascorbyl Phosphate, Trisodium Ascorbyl Palmitate Phosphate, Myristyl 3-Glyceryl Ascorbate, Hexyl 3-Glyceryl Ascorbate, Sodium Ascorbate.
Let’s discuss the one that in my opinion is the most effective and promising: sodium ascorbyl phosphate.
SAP- Sodium ascorbyl phosphate
It’s a stable form of vitamin C that does not require an acid pH to be active (in fact it works best at pH 6), thus resulting in less irritation compared to ascorbic acid.
Sodium ascorbyl phosphate and acne
SAP has recently gained a lot of attention because of its promising results in the treatment of acne.
Recent studies showed one of the mechanisms for acne insurgency is oxidation of squalane and/or fatty acids. Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate, being an antioxidant could prevent this.
If sodium ascorbyl phosphate isn't in your acne arsenal, perhaps it's time you give it a try.
Talking about acne treatment, sodium Ascorbyl phosphate could also represent an option for people who don’t tolerate retinol. People who do tolerate retinol could benefit even more from the combination of the two.
Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate as anti-aging ingredient
SAP is a powerful anti-aging ingredient because:
1) It reduces aging caused by free radicals.
2) It promotes the collagen formation. Collagen is the protein responsible for skin elasticity and structure. As we age collagen levels tend to diminish. The result is sagging skin.
For these reasons a vitamin C serum should belong to your anti-age skincare routine even if you're still young.
Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate as lightening ingredient
Dull skin / dark spots
To lighten dull skin or dark spots ( for real) we can't rely on one active only.
We need to use a mix of ingredients acting with different mechanisms but only one goal: to lighten the skin.
But please remember this: no cosmetic treatment will work unless you obsessively apply sunscreen.
Not using sunscreen (and also reapply it every 2 hours or so) is like trying to erase something while making it more prominent at the same time.
Like trying to lose weight with training only instead of adjusting diet, too.
It just doesn't work that way!
Using my experience as both pharmacist and cosmetic chemist I developed a 10% Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (Vitamin C) , 15% Niacinamide, and 1% Dipotassium glycyrrhizate (concentrated licorice extract) serum.
Lightening / brightening ingredients are always a hot topic. Vitamin C Phosphate is able to suppress the formation of melanin, making it a viable alternative to hydroquinone (which is banned in Europe, UK, and Australia) , kojic acid, and arbutin for people who don’t tolerate these actives well.
Consistency is the key to achieve results
So if you’re planning on using a sodium ascorbyl phosphate serum for the face, make sure you stick to it for at least 30/60 days. See this video to understand why.
Vitamin C serums reviews and options
Mad Hippie Vitamin C serum -$33.99 for 1 oz
This is the ingredients list from their website (I have erased ingredients listed twice by mistake): Water Deionized, Vitamin C (Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate), Alkyl Benzoate, Vegetable Glycerin, Sodium Levulinate, Sodium Anisate, Clary Sage (Salvia Sclarea), Grapefruit (Citrus Grandis), Hyaluronic acid, Amorphophallus Konjac Root Powder, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf, Vitamin E (Tocotrienol), Ferulic acid, Chamomile Flower Extract (Recutita Matricaria), Sodium Phytate, Xanthum Gum, Hydroxyethylcellulose
I like the idea of adding vitamin E and ferulic to have a synergic effect with vitamin C. With that being said, I don’t think this ingredient list is exhaustive as it does not contain any emulsifier/solubilizer while having both a water and oil phase. All the natural extracts nicely complement the formula but the efficacy does exclusively come from the 3 mentioned actives.
Vitamin c serum Mario Badescu- 1oz for $45
Ingredients: Propylene Glycol, Aqua (Water, Eau), Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Hexylene Glycol, Pentylene Glycol, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, 3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid, PEG-25 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Cucumis Sativus (Cucumber) Extract, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Sodium Hyaluronate, Soluble Collagen, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Hydroxyacetophenone, Triethanolamine, Citric Acid, Potassium Sorbate, Caprylyl Glycol, Phenoxyethanol, Silver Citrate, Zeolite, Sodium Benzoate
Researchers at Mario Badescu opted to use Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate and 3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid as active forms of vitamin C.
In my opinion, this vitamin c serum is properly formulated. The ingredients clearly show that researchers did their job In researching the best vehicle for ethyl ascorbic acid.
Definitely a product to try!
I decided to write about this vitamin C serum because of its huge popularity and the fact it’s very affordable.
These are the ingredients: Organic Deionized Herbal Infusion (????), Organic Aloe Barbadensis Leaf (Aloe), Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (Vitamin C), MSM, Botanical Hyaluronic Acid (Cassia Angustifolia Seed Polysaccharide), Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel), Vitamin E (d-alpha Tocopheryl Acetate), Carbomer, (2s)-2-Amino-5-guanidinopentanoic Acid (I.e arginine), Organic Gotu Kola, Wildcrafted Horsetail (Equisetum Arvense), Wildcrafted Dandelion, Wildcrafted Geranium, Organic Jojoba Oil , Phenoxyethanol, Ethyl Hexyl Glycerin.
A few mistakes in their product description: they claim the % of hyaluronic acid is 5% , but this is simply impossible. The result would be a sticky paste. They also claim the product color can vary from clear to milky due to the lack of fillers and stabilizers. The milky color is due to the fact they added jojoba oil without any solubilizer or emulsifier and it has nothing to do with the lack of fillers.
Bizarre they think stabilizers are something to steer away from…I would think they’re crucial in ensuring consistent quality throughout the shelf life!
I wasn’t able to find any information on the % of vitamin C they used…I probably wouldn’t trust a company that makes so many errors when describing their own product nor is able to provide real info about their ingredients.
Benefits of vitamin C serums
The main benefit of all vitamin C serums is the anti-aging effect through its antioxidant action.
Additional benefits are the brightening properties which also include a reduction in the appearance of dark spots (when used together with a sunscreen).
I recommend vitamin C serums over creams because serums usually contain a higher percentage of it.
It’s definitely possible to layer up with a moisturizer.
The best vitamin C serum
As I always say the best product does not exist. Your aim should be finding the best product that works for you.
So I can’t tell you what is the best vitamin C serums. Whoever claims to be able to do it, is only trying to sell you their product.
If you don’t see results with the first one, try a different one possibly with a different vitamin c derivate or with additional anti oxidants such as vitamin E and ferulic acid.
How long does vitamin c serum take to work
It takes time and consistency.
Isn’t it the same for every aspect of your life? Skincare is not a quick fix.
A good quality product will take at least 20 days to see results.
However some people do see results within a week. Don’ be discouraged if that’s not you, though.
If you don’t see any improvement after 30 days, switch to another vitamin c serum.
How to choose a vitamin C serum
I want to give you 3 practical pieces of advice to pick vitamin c serums for the face.
1) Choose the active keeping in mind that even though ascorbic acid might be the most effective one, it is also the one that’s the most unstable and potentially irritant. Personally I wouldn’t opt for pure ascorbic acid as you’re probably paying for something that has been already degraded. As of now, June 2020 Sodium ascorbyl phosphate is the best option.
2) Buy only from reputable companies - not from marketers.
Sadly, the beauty industry is filled with fairness. Fake reviews, fake picture, and fake products. Some people know how to leverage *powerfully shady marketing techniques to make you buy stuff. Then they build a “brand” using these techniques. They only focus on profit giving you products that oftentimes are nothing but water with 2 or 3 drops of some other ingredients with strong selling names.
How do you recognizes them? You recognize these con artist by the way they speak or write information on their products. You’re smart. You can tell when someone doesn’t know what they’re talking about! Buying from a reputable company increases your chances of success in finding a product that works for you.
3) Give it time to work.
Apply the vitamin c serum once or twice a day and see what happens. Take pictures every 2 or 3 days to document any improvement.
4) Add niacinamide to your routine.
Niacinamide works synergically with sodium ascorbyl phosphate to give you the best results in terms of brightening and reducing appearance of pores. Another lightening active you can try is liquerice extract.
Tell me about your personal experience with vitamin C serums...what benefits did you notice? Any recommendation or question, leave me a comment! I appreciate you!