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vitamin c

Vitamin C

Reviewed by SarahK October 6, 2010 22 Comments

Ready for an overdose of vitamin C? Related information, I mean – it is actually incredibly difficult to sustain toxic reactions to this wonder nutrient. There is plenty of information available about vitamin C, but it can be difficult to discern what is pertinent and best for your anti-aging regimen.

But before I get to that, what exactly is vitamin C and is all the hype that surrounds it merited? Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble nutrient that, in addition to its antioxidant qualities and well-known role in boosting the immune system, synthesizes collagen.

In fact, vitamin C has been hailed as an anti-aging gem for some time now. According to research, vitamin C has been shown to help protect and repair skin cells. Not only does the nutrient wipe away free radicals, but it can also remove the DNA damage that the radicals form.

The visible benefits of this super vitamin? Wrinkle and hyperpigmentation reduction, protection against photoaging and collagen stimulation.

While you can get your daily dose of vitamin C from food sources like oranges, grapefruits, and strawberries there is significant proof that topical application of vitamin C serums may enrich your skin even further. The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology published research that concluded, “appreciable photoprotection can be obtained from the combination of topical vitamins C and E.” And another study determined that spreading a vitamin C serum over your skin might correct aging-associated structural changes that occur over the years.

Sign me up! The fact that science supports the wonders of applying a vitamin C-infused cream make me all the more eager to slather some on right now. Unfortunately, things get a little complex once you’ve read and researched how vitamin C benefits your skin. Now comes the more difficult part – determining which of the countless topical serums is best and most effective in terms of improving and protecting skin. But before you decide what product is right for you, you should know the different types and derivatives of vitamin C that these products are made from.

L-Ascorbic Acid (AA) is vitamin C in its purest form. This unstable, water-soluble antioxidant seems to be the key to benefiting from the nutrient’s skin-rejuvenating powers. It is usually found in concentrations of 5 – 25%, though it is arguable what concentration is best for absorption. While some say a 10% concentration boosts collagen synthesis, others say the optimal amount is 20%, and still others claim that nothing over 18% can be absorbed.

Also important to ascorbic acid’s effectiveness is its pH level. The lower the pH level, the more stable, permeable and, therefore, effective it is. When its pH level is too high, it oxidizes, degrades and becomes inactive – or sometimes even a harbor for dangerous free radical formation.

What can be frustrating when shopping for the perfect vitamin C serum is the fact that the ideal, potent formula (high concentration, low pH) tends to irritate the skin. Still, there is a solution: using a topical based cream with no water will be less irritating since most of the inflammation is caused by hydrogen ions generated by acid disassociating in water.

Ascorbic acid is certainly a tricky substance in terms of stabilization and absorption. And sometimes, even if you do find a formula without water, it can still cause redness or other signs of irritation. Luckily, there are other options to explore for those seeking the advantages vitamin C has to offer. Synthesized vitamin C derivatives, including ascorbyl palmitate, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbyl tetra-isopalmitoyl, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, and sodium ascorbyl phosphate are more stable and less irritating than ascorbic acid. The question is, are they more effective?

Ascorbyl palmitate (AP) is a vitamin C ester, which means that it has been esterified to a fatty acid. It is fat soluble as opposed to the water-soluble ascorbic acid, which may hinder its ability to penetrate skin. Also, ascorbyl palmitate produces different short and long-term effects compared with ascorbic acid.

Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP) is similar to ascorbic acid in that it is water-soluble. However, it also has what AA lacks: a gentle effect on skin, efficacy in lower concentrations, and stability at a neutral pH. In one study, researchers discovered that it was statistically more effective than ascorbyl tetra-isopalmitoyl (see below) in free radical reduction, although less so than AA. However, it does seem to better quench the deeper layers of skin than ascorbic acid.

Ascorbyl tetra-isopalmitoyl (ATIP) is a vitamin C derivative. It is stable, due to being fat soluble and less irritating than ascorbyl acid. There is a 2006 study that concluded that it can suppress UV-induced skin pigmentation at a 3% dose. Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate plays nice with vitamins A and E and UV filters. One study published in Dermatologic Surgery in 2002 showed that a topical formulation combining 10% vitamin C and 7% tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate improved hydration and collagen synthesis in the skin and resulted in "clinically visible and statistically significant improvement in wrinkling" after 12 weeks. A 2009 study claims that it can actually prevent UV damage occurring.

and effective at a lower concentration. However, ATIP seems to be a poor performer when it comes to penetrating skin.

Sodium ascorbyl phosphate (SAP) is known to promote collagen formation, and its ability to be stabilized for at least 24 months if it is stored in the original sealed containers at 25 degrees Celsius.  It is also being lauded as an effective acne fighter. Still, it is a fairly new derivative, so there is not a great deal of research comparing it to ascorbic acid.

So, how do L-Ascorbic Acid and its derivatives stack up against each other? Overall, it seems that AA is the winner and champion when it comes to vitamin C and skin care. One study revealed that topical application of ascorbic acid outperformed both MAP and ATIP in antioxidant potential. Another study showed that AA permeated the skin more effectively than MAP in gel and cream formulations. Finally, a study comparing the effectiveness of AA in anhydrous solutions revealed that MAP and SAP both have negligible free radical foraging ability compared to ascorbic acid.

While some derivatives (like Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate and Sodium ascorbyl phosphate) seem to have noteworthy benefits, it is important to make sure that L-Ascorbic Acid is near the top of the ingredients list when searching for vitamin C creams. Though, perhaps an ideal serum would include first and foremost ascorbic acid, followed by smaller amounts of a derivative.

  • August 30, 2016

    by Pam

    This sounds like the NCN Pro Skincare Vitamin C+ Serum with 20% L-Ascorbic Acid, MAP, Vitamin E, Glutathione, Ferulic Acid, Oat Beta Glucan, etc.

  • July 27, 2016

    by Marta

    Hi Ty, we have an extensive ingredients database, so if you ever want to check out a product's claims, you can look them up. MAP is indeed a stable form of vitamin C and good to have alongside AA. There is more information here:

    Glutathione regulates antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E and lipoic acid. There is more information here:

    So, what is the product in question? Sounds interesting.

  • July 26, 2016

    by Ty

    What are your guys thought's on this products claim?

    "Studies and tests have proven that the best Vitamin C Serums are made with L-Ascorbic Acid due to its ability to penetrate skin. The only problem with L-Ascorbic Acid is that it isn’t stable; it oxidizes quickly, deeming it ineffective. However, we have solved that problem with the addition of Glutathione & MAP (Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate). Glutathione stabilizes l-ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and Vitamin E. Glutathione rapidly depletes with age, stress, and the environment. It’s our best defense against accelerated aging. The addition of Glutathione in this formula makes it a real anti-aging powerhouse!

    Glutathione, known as the body’s master antioxidant, is part of the body’s natural antioxidant systems. Many of the most commonly used antioxidants work by regenerating glutathione. It is a primary antioxidant that neutralizes current, and prevents future oxidation."

  • January 14, 2016

    by George

    Nothing compares to L-ascorbic acid! The only problem is that the companies that manufacture these products do not reveal their potency. Demand products that contain 20% to 35% pure L-ascorbic acid. Avoid derivatives. Also demand stabilized L-ascorbic acid in order to avoid degrading products. which discolor. This type of product is ideal and it will do the exceptional job on your skin. It may tingle a little bit, but you will be rewarded when you look at yourself on the mirror.

  • October 11, 2015

    by sayara

    I making my own serum using vitamin c powder mixed with water, vegetable glycerin and oils (jojoba, avocado, coconut ... etc) is this safe?

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