Ultimate Vitamin C Skincare Guide Part 1: Ascorbic Acid | Lab Muffin Beauty Science
hi it’s michelle from lab muffin beauty science chemistry phd cosmetic chemist and big fan of vitamin c vitamin c is one of the most raved about ingredients in skin care and there’s so much evidence to back up its effects but it’s also one of the most confusing there are just so many different vitamin c ingredients and product types and that’s before you get down to all the different products you can buy so this is going to be a bumper guide to vitamin c and i’m going to have to split it into two separate videos in this one i’m going to focus on the form of vitamin c with the most evidence ascorbic acid and it also happens to be the fussiest drama queen i’m going to be talking about what it does how to use it the different product types and some product recommendations in part two i’m going to talk about the other versions of vitamin c the derivatives these are great if your skin is too sensitive for ascorbic acid or you just can’t handle how confusing ascorbic acid is so why is everyone so obsessed with vitamin c in skin care? well it’s because of the amount of evidence behind it it’s one of the best studied ingredients in skincare in the grand hierarchy of skincare ingredient categories if retinoids were up here vitamin c would be maybe around here just below it and specifically its ascorbic acid we’re talking about ascorbic acid is the best studied and most common type of vitamin c you’ll find in skin care products it’s actual vitamin c the same stuff you find in oranges and in supplements a side note sometimes you’ll see people say it has to be l-ascorbic acid and not just ascorbic acid the reality is pure l-ascorbic acid is the cheapest kind of ascorbic acid you can get so all the ascorbic acid that you find in skincare and supplements is going to be l-ascorbic acid l-ascorbic acid has been found to have these effects on skin it can increase collagen in the skin this is probably the most exciting effect vitamin c is involved in making collagen and cross-linking it so that it makes a nice firm solid network some of the enzymes involved in this prolyl and lysyl hydroxylase need vitamin c to work vitamin c might also be able to block the action of matrix metalloproteinase 1 this is an enzyme that breaks down collagen in the skin it can also help with wound healing such as after you have a fractional laser treatment and it also boosts pigment reduction and that’s the other big skincare concern that vitamin c can help with it can reduce pigments such as sunspots and post acne marks and melasma ascorbic acid interferes with the production of melanin which is the brown pigment in your skin the exact way it does this still isn’t entirely confirmed but it interferes with the enzyme tyrosinase and stops it from doing its job properly vitamin c can also help protect skin from sun damage it doesn’t stop uv like sunscreen but it acts as an antioxidant that mops up the damage that uv does inside your skin one of the big reasons uv is bad for skin is that it produces free radicals i have another video that goes into detail about free radicals and antioxidants but basically free radicals are really reactive substances that smash into lots of different parts of your skin causing generalized damage sort of like a bull in a china shop antioxidants can soak up this damage provided they can actually get into your skin where the free radicals are and ascorbic acid can get into your skin in one of the classic pig skin vitamin c studies they needed twice as much uv to turn skin red after it had been treated with 15% l-ascorbic acid adding 1% vitamin e doubled that and adding 0.
5% ferulic acid doubled that again meaning that this combo gave a total of eight times the uv protection there were similar results when vitamin c was used with ferulic acid and phloretin on human skin vitamin c has also been shown to reduce some of the skin damaging changes that infrared radiation can cause in your skin there’s also evidence that can protect against ozone and diesel exhaust which are two pollutants you find in urban areas also in some of these studies they found that people who didn’t get enough vitamin c in their diet had bigger improvements in their skin so unsurprisingly a balanced diet is good for your skin so how do you use an ascorbic acid product studies have generally tested ascorbic acid products at between 3 and 25% and like for many other skin care actives i think lower percentages are actually underrated higher percentages can be really irritating and a lot of studies have actually used lower percentages like three and five percent so you don’t actually have to go very high to see benefits out of all the skincare ingredients i think ascorbic acid is definitely one where you can get diminishing returns if you go too high i’d recommend starting at under 10% and then going up or down depending on how that goes you might even need to stop it all together because a lot of people do find ascorbic acid too irritating there are also some fruits that are very high in ascorbic acid so for example kakadu plum is about 12% ascorbic acid by dry weight but usually with fruit extracts it can be really difficult to work out exactly what percentage you have because extracts vary a lot in terms of how concentrated they are so if you want something more reliable i’d recommend looking for a product that has straight ascorbic acid with layering i’d recommend using ascorbic acid as close to your bare skin as possible so one of the first steps after cleansing because it’s not very good at getting into skin ascorbic acid can go with most other skin care products the only hard no’s i can think of are copper ions so any of those blue copper products and benzoyl peroxide both of these will inactivate the ascorbic acid it’s a myth that you can’t use ascorbic acid with niacinamide kind of stephen has debunked this thoroughly on his blog i recommend being careful with other irritating skincare ingredients like hydroxy acid exfoliants and retinoids they can go together but you have to be really careful otherwise you’ll burn your face off actually there’s one more ingredient incompatibility that i discovered when i used them together on my face and that is i had an eyebrow pencil that went bright orange when i used it with ascorbic acid it had ferric ammonium ferrocyanide in it so be careful with that one you can use vitamin c morning or night if you use it in the morning you’ll probably get more of those uv protection benefits but it’s believed that vitamin c has a depot effect so in other words one application lasts more than 24 hours in your skin in pig skin it was 72 hours so using it at night will probably get there too it is a myth that vitamin c is photosensitizing it will actually improve your resistance to uv i think this myth comes from the fact that alpha hydroxy acids are photosensitizing and then people assume that all acids were but in fact no acids are apart from alpha hydroxy acids now the big problem with vitamin c is there is so much variation when it comes to vitamin c products not all forms of vitamin c have been shown to have all these amazing beneficial effects in human skin some might have had one effect in a study but it wasn’t very high quality study so you can’t really say much for sure some of them are pretty unlikely to work at all and with every variation it depends a lot on the specific formula here’s where i’m going to introduce the lab muffin matrix for figuring out whether or not a skincare product will actually work i’ll talk more about this in a later video and to be honest i haven’t really fleshed it out properly but these are some of the things you want to be thinking about you want to see if the active ingredients can theoretically work and if the active ingredients have been shown to actually work on human skin in clinical trials a lot of things that could theoretically work don’t actually work when you put them on a complex system like human skin if everything that theoretically worked actually worked on humans then we would have cured cancer thousands of times over you also want to see if that specific formula could theoretically work and then if it’s actually worked on human skin in clinical trials some ingredients are really easy to formulate with so you don’t have to do too much guesswork here but other ones are a lot trickier cough ascorbic acid there are a few really annoying things about l-ascorbic acid firstly l-ascorbic acid is pretty unstable and it breaks down relatively quickly to inactive dehydroascorbic acid when it’s been ionized this happens faster when it’s in water when it’s at a high ph so when it’s alkaline and when it’s exposed to light and oxygen this process is called oxidation because oxygen is usually involved this means your product gets less effective over time and how quickly this happens depends a lot on the formula when it breaks down it starts off colorless then it goes yellow then orange than brown so you can sort of get a visual indication of how active your vitamin c probably is so looking at the lab muffin matrix L ascorbic acid ticks off these two boxes really well there are tons of studies on it or at least tons of studies by cosmetic ingredient standards but it’s in these two other boxes where things get incredibly dicey and it’s largely because of this instability how much ascorbic acid you actually have depends so much on the formula the packaging and how long you’ve had it it is probably one of the trickiest ingredients for this part on top of whether or not it works decomposed vitamin c is just plain annoying because it stains after the ascorbic acid breaks down a few times it turns into a chemical called erythrulose this is a component of fake tan and that means your decomposed vitamin c can stain your face and your skin this isn’t harmful but it’s also not designed to be a fake tan product so it doesn’t go on very evenly and it gives you that metallic soy sauce sort of smell and this decomposition speeds up after you’ve applied it to your skin obviously your skin is going to have more oxygen and more light than in a bottle so even a very stable formula can give you nasty stained yellow fingers for days ascorbic acid is usually formulated to be at a relatively low ph below 3.
5 to help it get into the skin when the ph is higher then more of the ascorbic acid will be charged and charged things don’t get into skin very easily this was actually the topic of my very first youtube video having a low ph also helps keep it stable and sometimes the ph is lower than it needs to be because of legal reasons moving on to the different formulation types let’s start with ce ferulic the best researched ascorbic acid formulation is the skinceuticals c e ferulic formula the scientist who did most of the peer-reviewed research on vitamin c’s effects on skin was dr sheldon pinnell he patiented a particular formulation and his son started the skincare company skinceuticals which is now owned by l’oreal the patent which is commonly called the duke patent is pretty broad as well as covering the ceo of rylic formula which was the formulation developed from all of these studies into vitamin c it also covers any formula with pure ascorbic acid at 10 to 20 concentration and a ph between 2 and 3.
5 so in other words the formulations where vitamin c seems to perform best now these aren’t really hard and fast rules a lot of the early studies were done on pig skin and it isn’t like it doesn’t work at lower percentages there are clinical trials where three and five percent worked really well anyway this is why scientists and dermatologists always rave about the skinceuticals c e ferulic formula this is literally the formula that’s the culmination of all of this ascorbic acid research it’s really rare to have a non-drug product that scores really well in all of the boxes on the lab muffin matrix this product basically does the best out of all the skin care products that aren’t regulated as drugs they’ve subbed out the vitamin e to make it less oily and thick and so it works better for oily skin there’s phloretin cf which is recommended for discoloration and silymarin cf which is recommended for oily acne prone skin and again there’s lots of studies on these which means they get good marks in all of these departments the obvious downside is that these are really expensive not everyone wants to pay this much or can pay this much even if it is the gold standard rolls royce of all vitamin c products slash all non-drug skincare products and it still does eventually break down it’s not a hundred percent stabilized they say it’s fine for six months after opening the patent suggests that it’ll be fine for more than a year so what are the other options you could look for a copycat vitamin c vitamin e and ferulic acid serum there are some that violate the patent and l’oreal just haven’t gone around to suing them yet and there are some that get around the patent by messing around with the formula for example some of them go outside the ph range that skinceuticals has bagsed with their patent some of them might go lower than the already pretty extreme ph range and i think that’s why some people think their skin can’t handle vitamin c as a scientist who worked in r&d i know how important patents are in getting companies to invest in innovation so i’m a bit ethically conflicted about trying to work out which products do and don’t violate the patent so i’m just going to list a bunch of popular products that have vitamin c e and ferulic acid there’s timeless paula’s choice maelove geek and gorgeous and ausceuticals i recommend you look up reviews to get a gauge of which one might be right for you are they as good as the skinceuticals ones? well obviously the overall formula doesn’t have the same level of evidence but anecdotally from people who have tried both some people find the skinceuticals formula much more gentle and more effective whereas other people can’t really tell the difference so i think it really depends on how picky your skin is and what you want out of a vitamin c product for shorter term effects like pigment then anecdotal evidence is going to be a bit more useful for longer term effects like collagen production you’re probably going to want more clinical evidence because it’s hard to see what’s going on just by eye you could also track down the ingredients and diy something very similar to the skinceuticals formula by following the patent michelle is not a lawyer do not trust her do not take this as legal advice she is not responsible if l’oreal break down your door and sue you for patent infringement this is a bit of an investment both time and money wise but it could pay off if you commit to doing it so if you’re not sure whether or not your skin even likes vitamin c then it’s probably not as good an idea if you want to go down this route holy snails has a tutorial on her blog there are also lots of other antioxidant combos that work apart from just vitamin e and ferulic acid this combo is mostly what dr pinnell published his peer-reviewed research papers on which is why everyone uses it but even in the original patent this wasn’t the only combo there are tons of combinations in the patent and there are a million antioxidants out there so some of them will definitely work as well also ferulic acid is mostly what’s causing that hot dog water smell there’s a bit of vitamin c in there as well but it is mostly the ferulic acid so if you hate that smell then it might be worth looking for one that doesn’t use this combo i recommend looking for a product where the brand has tested it out properly in terms of stability and clinical results because now the lab muffin matrix is looking a bit sadder on this side one example of a good one would be the ultraceuticals one i’m sure there are others out there it’s also possible to stabilize ascorbic acid in other ways you can use special airtight packaging unfortunately a lot of airless pumps aren’t actually airless so they don’t protect the vitamin c properly from oxidation it’s also difficult to find pumps that don’t have metal springs in them and that metal will rust and decompose with the vitamin c so that means your packaging breaks plus that extra metal will deactivate vitamin c faster but it is possible to get special packaging that works for example the rohto melano cc has a special airtight tube you have to squeeze it really hard to get any product to come out you can also use colloidal gold i know colloidal gold sounds really gimmicky but they have some really cool applications in drug delivery this is basically getting substances where they need to be to work which is very relevant to skin care someone in my phd research group was actually studying gold particles the way it works is ascorbic acid is bonded technical word conjugated to tiny gold particles the ones used in skin care are generally just too big to be categorized as nanoparticles the gold also has glutathione on it which is another antioxidant it’s almost like a vitamin c derivative except it’s still listed as ascorbic acid in the ingredients list the extra bond stabilizes it and the ascorbic acid doesn’t come off the gold particle until it’s in your skin so that means it’s fine at a higher ph the manufacturer recommends 3.
5 to 6.5 and because it gets into your skin a lot more easily and it’s a lot more stable that means a lower percentage of ascorbic acid bonded to gold will be as effective as a higher percentage of a regular ascorbic acid product there are products from naturium and murad which use this technology there are also vitamin c derivatives which is a whole different kettle of fish i’ll go into more detail about those in part two of my vitamin c guide so that is water-based ascorbic acid products like i mentioned ascorbic acid is pretty unstable when it’s dissolved in water but what if we get a product where it’s not dissolved in water where you maybe dissolve it yourself that means you don’t have to worry as much about how long the product’s been sitting around waiting decomposing before it gets to you or even going through some pretty gnarly destabilizing temperature changes there are a few different categories of these products there’s the very simple diy formula that i talked about in an earlier video i forgot to put on my lab coat this formula is super basic with no penetration enhances and you’re probably going to have to remake it every few weeks or so because it does break down plus the only preservative is the low ph but because it’s so fresh a lot of people do see better results with this than an older pre-made more stable vitamin c serum this is the cheapest option but it does take time i’ve had a lot of questions about this diy serum some people have claimed that it couldn’t possibly work but i don’t think those arguments make much scientific sense having the ascorbic acid crystallize out after you’ve put it on your skin isn’t a big issue i’ll talk about this in a bit but solid ascorbic acid crystals can work on skin ascorbic acid is stable enough to last a few months after you’ve dissolved it this has been reported in the literature and i’ve done a few experiments myself to see how long it lasts so i’ll talk about that in a later video i’ve also had a lot of questions about adding things to it like glycerin and aloe vera i generally wouldn’t recommend it because there’s no extra preservative here it’s at a very low ph which means that there’s a low microbial risk but if you start adding stuff into it that feeds bacteria and fungi that’s going to up the risk so i’m not really comfortable recommending that same with keeping it for a longer period of time like it could be fine but there’s also a good chance it won’t be so if you do try that be really careful and don’t say i didn’t warn you michelle is not responsible if you make this and mess up your face she bloody warned you if you do want to make it more complicated i recommend checking out that holy snails blog post and tweaking that there are also products where the ascorbic acid comes as a separate powder and it’s already pre-measured and you just dump the whole lot into a base serum drunk elephant recently came out with one there’s also been some from the body shop and clinique so those are also an option there are also just jars of ascorbic acid powder that you can buy and you dissolve a little bit into your serum right before you apply it the ordinary has one and i don’t really like these i’ve talked about why before you need a really tiny amount of ascorbic acid per application three drops of a 10 vitamin c serum converts to 1/50th of a tic tac and that’s really hard to measure out that means it’s really variable how much you’re applying you could be applying too much like forty percent plus when you just dissolve the powder without adjusting the ph afterwards then you generally end up with a much lower ph than you want it’s going to be more irritating so i’d warn against doing that it might be okay if you have really resilient skin or if you put it on thicker body skin maybe if you mix it into a really soothing product but i think there are much safer options that won’t mess up your barrier also if you decide not to listen to me and do it anyway it’s probably cheaper if you buy nutritional ascorbic acid and a mortar and pestle so you can grind it up finely there are also water free products these have ascorbic acid but it’s ground out really finely and then suspended into an oily base ascorbic acid doesn’t ionize an oil so it’s pretty stable like this then when you apply to your skin it slowly dissolves in the water that’s always evaporating off your skin this is where trans epidermal water loss comes from this is also why the so-called crystallization of ascorbic acid isn’t a problem when you’re doing a diy serum ultraceuticals have published a peer-reviewed paper on what i’m assuming is that ultra c23 plus firming concentrate this has the ascorbic acid in a silicone base and it’s had a lot of those really nice vitamin c effects on tiny skin samples l’oreal revitalift 10% pure vitamin c serum is another good one a lot of the time when it’s a really big brand like l’oreal you can probably assume they’ve tested it there are a few other brands that have had similar products too like the ordinary and paula’s choice there are also a couple of pre-made ascorbic acid and silicone ingredients that can be used to formulate these sorts of products really easily the biggest problem with these is that the ascorbic acid crystals aren’t dissolved yet and there’s generally no ph adjusters in them so when these tiny crystals of ascorbic acid do actually dissolve you end up with tiny puddles of really concentrated ascorbic acid at low ph on your skin and some people’s skin is fine with this but a lot of people including me we do get a bit of stinging and irritation so i like to mix it with another product in my hand before applying it to try to get that ascorbic acid to dissolve and get a low concentration before it hits my skin i usually use the paula’s choice 2% bha liquid for this but it might be too much for a lot of people’s skin because double acid so maybe use a toner the downsides are that the texture can be really tricky again mixing can help and sometimes it’s still too much for some people’s skin i wouldn’t recommend these sorts of products at all if your skin can’t handle a regular water-based ascorbic acid product but if your skin can handle them and you want a product where you can leave it in the corner for a year and it’ll still be good this is a great option this is one category that i almost forgot actually there’s probably tons of categories i’ve forgotten but microneedle patches with ascorbic acid inside the solid needles after you apply the patch the ascorbic acid in the needles go into your skin a little bit and then they dissolve there acropass spot eraser and zitsticka hyperfade both have ascorbic acid in them but it’s not really the star ingredient these are only really good for spots like acne marks and they usually have other pigment fading ingredients in them as well so that is seven or eight separate categories of ascorbic acid products let me know if i’ve missed any and that’s just ascorbic acid so far i’m going to come at you with ascorbic acid derivatives in part two these are good options if you don’t like the smell or staining or irritation or stability issues of ascorbic acid but you do sacrifice some of that guaranteed efficacy in the first column of the lab muffin matrix like subscribe follow check out my other videos check out my blog check out my exfoliation guide and skincare guide if you haven’t already and i will see you next time for more nerding out