There is no shortage of ingredients that can do amazing things for your skin. Plants, vitamins, minerals, and acids can tackle almost every type of complexion problem. And while each is a star in its own right, there’s one that shines the brightest for many skincare experts: vitamin C. Here’s everything you should know about it, plus what to look for in a vitamin C serum to get the most skin-rejuvenating benefits.
What is topical vitamin C?
Topical Vitamin C is a proven and powerful antioxidant that can help to guard against skin damage from high-energy molecules, called free radicals, which form naturally due to sun exposure, pollution, other external environmental triggers and our body’s natural metabolism. You might hear vitamin C referred to by another name, L-ascorbic acid. It is considered the queen of the vitamin C’s, but it also happens to be one of the hardest to keep stable.
What does a vitamin C serum do for your skin?
A better question is what doesn’t it do? In addition to helping fight those free radicals, vitamin C is absolutely essential for collagen formation. Collagen is the key player when it comes to your skin’s physical support and elasticity, as it keeps your complexion firm, plump, and smooth. But, that’s not all. It also has potent brightening properties — it interrupts pigment production, helping to prevent the formation of dark spots and minimize existing hyperpigmentation. Additionally, because of its strong antioxidant properties, says Idriss, it not only reverses the signs of ageing (dark spots, fine lines, uneven texture), but also prevents them at the same time.
Can I not just get it from our nutrition?
While it’s true that you can get vitamin C in your diet, it won’t provide enough benefits for any noticeable improvement in your skin. Your body can only absorb so much vitamin C through your gut, so eating a bunch of oranges isn’t suddenly going to make your skin look firm and clear. Topical vitamin C, on the other hand, is absorbed directly into the topmost layers of the skin, allowing it to go to work immediately on dark spots, fine lines, and those pesky free radicals.
Is the nutritional value of Vitamin C the same as topical application?
In short, no. Please do not compare internal vitamin supplements with the topical concentration. Two different things. As outlined above, many plants contain high levels of Vitamin C such as Kakadu Plum, Camu Camu, Papaya, Mango etc However, these are relating to internal nutritional value. This daily value internally does not directly translate to percentages of Vitamin C that have been shown to deliver clinical results topically.
Is the Vitamin C from plant oil as effective as synthentised Vitamin C ?
In short, again, no. Kakadu Plum is one of the plants that is praised for its highest content of Vitamin C when it comes to the plant-world. It is celebrated in the beauty industry widely for it and can be found in many products due to that very reason. There are numerous studies as well confirming that Kakadu plum has the highest recorded levels of natural Vitamin C content in the world, measuring up to 7000 mg/100g DW, which is 100 times the Vitamin C content in oranges.  So can the Asorbic Acid content of the Kakadu Plum contribute to free radical scavenging ability? Yes, it can certainly contribute to the free radical scavenging ability in the skin. But it is not nearly enough Vitamin C to compare the concentration that comes from a Kakadu Plum of the 8%-20% concentration of a lab synthesized L’Asorbic Acid and even its derivatives to match its effectiveness proven in clinical studies. The reason being is that while Kakadu plum has the highest recorded Vitamin C content, when you look at the entire plant, Vitamin C only approx contributes to 3.5-6% of its weight. So the entire plant has a Vitamin C percentage of 3.5%-6%. This is less then what studies suggest to use to see a difference in your skin, in addition Vitamin C from plant oils will need to go through a conversion in the skin which will further reduce its effectiveness. And finally you don’t have only Kakadu Plum in a product but other ingredients thus the percentage reduces even further.
So if we look at a formulation where 100% of Kakadu Plum is being used, lets say for easier calculation, has 4% of Vitamin C and you use a total of 5% in a formulation. The end product will contain less than 1% Vitamin C in the formula. If my math is correct, it will be 0.2%
Yes, this tiny amount still is good for the skin but again, that is not nearly high enough to deliver the results that studies confirm what Vitamin C can achieve on the skin. And it is just biologically not possible to fit enough of the fruit content into a 30ml bottle to achieve what Vitamin C can achieve in a lab. Thus it is so crucial to look at not only the formulations and claims being made but also the extraction process and if lab-synthesised ingredients might be in many ways more beneficial for our skin and for nature. And finally, is it sustainable to squeeze all Kakadu Plums out there into a bottle to get the effectiveness what a synthetise Vitamin C can create?
Does vitamin C play well with other ingredients?
Vitamin C was given a bad rep that couldn’t be combined with other active ingredients. But this is just plain wrong. Actually, using other antioxidants alongside vitamin C will supercharge your results and can lead to enhanced free-radical fighting results such as Niacinamide or Vitamin E in our Glow Serum.
Are there any downsides?
One thing you will commonly hear about vitamin C is that it is “unstable.” However, this various depending on the derivates of Vitamin C. Vitamin C like Retinol has a huge family tree with many cousins, siblings and extended family members. However, the most potent and long-researched one for its proven effectiveness is Asorbic Acid. Asorbic Acid is considered volatile as it can easily oxidise in a water-based formulation.
In short, it degrades faster and loses efficacy. Water can pose an issue, which is why it’s difficult for cosmetic chemists to formulate full-power vitamin C serums in a liquid. That’s why a powder format, like the our Antioxidant Defence Booster, is preferable. With a powder, the vitamin C remains stable, making it all-around more potent when it is absorbed into the skin. Plus, you get the added bonus of being able to make a customised product and become your own chemist — you can blend the powder with either water or a water-based product, essentially making a fresh batch of vitamin C serum before every application.
Is a vitamin C serum good for all skin types?
Because vitamin C needs to be slightly acidic to be effective, it may be a little tough on ultrasensitive or breakout-prone skin. No matter your skin type, though, it’s always best to patch test new ingredients before making them a regular in your routine. For vitamin C, start out by applying once a day, every other day, and work your way up in frequency to avoid potential irritation and redness.