“Too much of a good thing” is a concept I have become all too familiar with as of late. Some examples that spring to mind: another onslaught of snow in a seemingly endless winter; a stomachache after an outrageously rich meal; a heavy-handed makeup application at the department store cosmetics counter. Most recently, I have endured adverse effects from too much of a very good thing, while testing PhytoCeutical’s eye cream. It is one of the last ingredients I would suspect of evil in a cosmetic, and one of the first to take credit for anti-aging benefits. It comes from fruit and vegetable sources such as broccoli, oranges, and strawberries. It belongs to a category of nutrients necessary for healthy growth and development, and its merits are ingrained in every child at an early age. I am, of course, speaking of vitamins – in particular vitamin C.

Despite its well-heeled pedigree, I have developed a love-hate relationship with good old vit C, all thanks to my roller-coaster experiment with a new eye cream. PhytoCeuticals, Inc. is a laboratory specializing in the stabilization of vitamin C in liquid form. A lucky byproduct of this discovery is the Phyto-C Skin Care Eye Firming Cream ($68). Belonging to the company’s “Prevent” line, the Eye Firming Cream centers on antioxidant protection, promising to reduce premature signs of aging and enhance elasticity. More of a gel-like consistency than a cream, Phyto-C spreads on thick and can sometimes create a sticky sensation as it dries. I realized early on that Phyto-C is in no way an ordinary eye cream comprised of synthetics content to rest on the surface of skin. Phyto-C is complicated.

It has taken me nearly three weeks to settle into a good routine with this product. On my first few attempts, I was all but ready to write it off. Immediately after dabbing it under my peepers (in the same way I do with all eye creams), I suddenly developed the urge to cry. As a painful haze enveloped my eyeballs, they began to tear up. The stinging lasted for several minutes until I could no longer resist the temptation to rub. The final result was a set of red, swollen eyes that made me look like I had just suffered heartbreak or took a few blows to the face in a fistfight. Though this was not the look I was hoping for, I soldiered on…and I’m happy I did. Eventually, I learned that Phyto-C works best when applied in the morning under a rich moisturizer. And I realized that my skin’s response to the product was not the result of nasty additives – as was the case with another eye cream that proved incompatible – but, rather, potent actives.

It was not until I had a few more misfires before I reached my present state of zen. There were the nights when I had to rinse my eyes out and dab away remnants of the cream. And there were the mornings when I woke up with crusty eyes thanks to 8 hours of close quarters with Phyto-C under my sleep mask. Then, one day my skin miraculously acclimatized to the actives. It became a rare occurrence when I felt a stinging sensation, which became far less dramatic and drawn-out. The occasional discomfort was offset by the clear results: firmer under-eye skin and fewer fine lines. This outcome should be no surprise after reviewing Phyto-C’s list of ingredients.

Topping the list is L-ascorbic acid (pure vitamin C), whose power to increase the synthesis of collagen in a culture of skin cells (fibroblasts) is backed by numerous studies. Vitamin C is usually a difficult ingredient to sneak into a formula without running into instability or oxidation – problems that can lead to ineffectiveness and even injury, since oxidized vitamin C increases the formation of free radicals. Formulations need to be at least 10% strong to boost collagen synthesis; however, a high vitamin C content causes the preparation to be highly acidic, which tends to be irritating to many people. PhytoCeuticals solves this dilemma by housing the vitamin C in an anhydrous environment. In the absence of water, which acts as a catalyst of oxidation, vitamin C degrades less rapidly both during storage and on the skin surface. Furthermore, anhydrous vitamin C tends to be less irritating than regular ascorbic acid since irritation is mainly caused by hydrogen ions dissociating in water.

So why go through all this trouble to develop a base out of vitamin C? Well, ascorbic acid is not only a powerful ally in the synthesis of collagen (thus a foe of fine lines), but it is also an important antioxidant, helping to reduce skin damage caused by free radicals. In addition to vitamin C, the formula’s first line of defense is made up of big guns like pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), alpha hydroxy acids, and retinyl palmitate (vitamin A). Extracts from green tea, licorice, and the Centella asciatica plant provide even more anti-aging perks, from evening hyperpigmentation to boosting circulation. Excellent emollients such as hyaluronic acid and chamomile oil help the skin remain plump and hydrated. On top of the bioflavonoids present in the green tea extract, PhytoCeuticals tossed in even more soluble bioflavonoids to boost the absorption of vitamin C, protecting it from oxidation.

As one of the most commonly taken vitamins, ascorbic acid delivers a range of health benefits with a low chance of adverse effects. On the contrary, vitamin A is a rather fickle cosmetic ingredient, frequently triggering allergic reactions (rash, hives, etc.) or dry skin symptoms (cracking, peeling, flaking) when encountered in excess. Alpha hydroxy acids are also known to irritate – that’s kind of their point. Listed fourth in the formula, the eye cream’s hydroxy fruit acids could potentially be at a high enough concentration to burn right through dead skin cells to living skin. So perhaps it isn’t fair to make vitamin C bear the brunt of the blame for my hypersensitive skin’s reaction. What matters most to me is that I see visible gain from my pain, and perhaps more importantly, that my temporary pain is not doing long-term damage due to harsh chemicals.

Ingredients:

L-Ascorbic Acid, Hyaluronic Acid, Vitamin B5, Natural Hydroxy Fruit Acid, Vitamin A Palmitate, Salicin Glycoside, Centella Asciatica Extract, Green Tea Extract, Soluble Bioflavonoids, Chamomile Oil, Licorice Extract.