On one point in the health world, everyone—nutritionists, naturopaths, grandmas, scientists, and sailors*—agree unanimously: Vitamin C is one of our nutritional superheroes. (*You only have to get scurvy once to know better.)
But in the beauty world, Vitamin C has gained attention for its ability to reverse skin damage. But, how much can it do? How does it work? And which products are the best ones? Those are the questions we’re here to answer.
What is Vitamin C?
An essential vitamin, known for its immunity-strengthening prowess and as a powerful antioxidant. It’s usually taken in pill form (a blog post for another day). In topical applications, it is usually listed as a compound like L-Ascorbic Acid, ascorbyl-6-palmitate, and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP), and Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate.
Why does our skin need it?
In our modern world, our skin really takes a beating, or what’s scientifically described as “oxidative stress.” Chronic exposure to the sun and UV light is the traditional offender, but environmental pollution, smoking, and indoor air systems are all agents that cause wrinkling, discoloration, and that general aging skin look.
How does it work?
Vitamin C works so well because it addresses several problems at once. First, as a potent antioxidant, it “neutralizes the oxidative stress by a process of electron transfer.”
Second, it helps protect your skin against sunburn by aiding the skin’s immune response. When UV radiation hits your skin, it reduces the number of Langerhans cells—cells, in the lower layers of your skin which are essential players in your skin’s immune system. Topical vitamin C has actually been proven to protect those cells from that UV harm.
Third, vitamin C directly stimulates collagen production and stabilizes collagen fibers.
Fourth, it actually helps replenish vitamin E! Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant we need to protect against oxidative stress, and one that UV radiation depletes.
What should I look for in a product?
The Type of Vitamin C Used
L-ascorbic acid is the most common type of vitamin C, but it’s not the only one out there. Unless modified, L-ascorbic acid is actually an unstable molecule and doesn’t easily penetrate the skin. Other sources include Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, which is oil-soluble, and studies have shown that this form of vitamin C penetrates the skin most deeply. The other is Sodium Ascorbyl Palmitate (or Phosphate) which is compatible with both oil-soluble and water-soluble solutions. We like how Mad Hippie uses Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate, because the form they use is less likely to irritate your skin.
Studies have shown the most efficacy comes when the percentage of vitamin C is from 10%—20% (at higher than 20%, it might actually irritate the skin). The percentage really is most important when the source of vitamin C is L-ascorbic acid.
Always look for products with plant-based sources.
Our skin is naturally acidic (4.5-5.5 pH), so look for pH-balanced products that lean in that direction. For example, L-ascorbic acid isn’t naturally at a skin-compatible pH, so it needs to be lowered to 3.5 to even be stable enough for our skin.
How it’s Packaged
Vitamin C can lose efficacy over time with exposure to the light, so make sure your products come in a dark glass bottle or a UV-protected container.
What brands we recommend
These brands check all our boxes: effective and scientifically-backed, clean sourcing, cruelty-free, and consumer conscious!
What is the Best Form of Vitamin C in Skin Care?