If you are new to serums and branching out your skin care beyond Cleanser + SPF & DONE! (which honestly for daytime has been all I wear some days), Vitamin C is one of the least expensive, highest impact products you can purchase. A close second might be niacinamide (that is if it works for you. See my experience with niacinamide to see how it worked for me). Vitamin C, on the other hand, works for everyone and on every type of skin especially sensitive skin.
Vitamin C is available as a dry powder or in a liquid formulation. Both use ascorbic acid or its derivatives as it’s source of Vitamin C. If you are brand new to Vitamin C or have sensitive skin I’d highly suggest not using powder form. Powdered Vitamin C is typically at 95% active ingredient or higher. If you use too much powder you can cause some minor stinging and burning. Vitamin C is an acid so that makes sense. With Vitamin C, more is not better. Liquid formulated Vitamin C have buffers and neutralizers as part of the total formulation to keep skin sensitivity issues at an absolute minimum. If I use a powder Vitamin C after I exfoliate heavily (like dermaplaning my skin), I have that burning sensation every time. It’s a great time to put Vitamin C on that baby skin but you do have to deal with that stinging for 30 seconds.
What does Vitamin C do for my skin?
Vitamin C helps to brighten your skin. Some believe it to lighten as well which isn’t entirely true. Vitamin C prevents the production of melanin which will help to even skin tone, decrease the visibility of hyperpigmentation and freckles even. It won’t do anything for moles though. I’ve tried, it won’t work. Vitamin C is also vitally important in collagen production, skin barrier repair and health, antioxidant, cell growth and differentiation making it important in not just skin health but full body health.
When has my Vitamin C gone bad?
This is one of the first questions I’ve seen asked within a month after buying a Vitamin C booster. Vitamin C will oxidize over time turning a darker orange color as it ages eventually turning a burnt orange / brown orange. Just because it’s turning orange doesn’t mean that it needs to be replaced though. While it’s still opaque in color or has faintest of orange coloration it’s near maximum effectiveness. It comes down to comfort with the product. Even when the product is fairly orange (think the color of an orange), if it’s been stored properly, it will still be an effective product to use and is perfectly safe on your face. Once the product is starting to become a brownish orange hue, especially once it smells like vinegar or rotting fruit, it’s definitely time to replace and start new. This can happen quickly and before the expiration period which is as short as 7-days and up to 1 year depending on the product formulation and packaging.
How much should I use?
With liquid formulations it’s a little difficult to use too much. That’s because there’s a lower amount of active ingredient and buffers and neutralizers have been added to decrease the risk of any reaction. It’s also dependent upon the individual product. It doesn’t take much Vitamin C to get the job done. For most liquid formulations that are marketed as a Vitamin C boosters (10-20% Vitamin C) two to three drops should be enough. Powder formulations will come with a scoop which represents the maximum amount you should use which is generally smaller than a pea-sized amount. When using Vitamin C in a powder formulation, don’t pack the powder into the scoop. Keep the powder lose in order to ensure proper use. Powder formulations are an advanced formulation. This is for skin that’s been using vitamin C for a little while. You really shouldn’t hop right into using a powder formulation of Vitamin C. As an avid user of Vitamin C even I’ve had issues when using powder formulations like burning, stinging, redness, and irritation.
Can I mix Vitamin C and Retinol?
Yes, is the basic answer. In fact, studies have shown that when Vitamin C is used with Retinol the retinol is more stable chemically allowing it to be more effective. The same is true when you put Vitamin C on before a sunscreen. Your SPF becomes more stable and works longer. When using retinol with Vitamin C (or sunscreen for that matter) layering becomes incredibly important. Your Vitamin C should be layered underneath your retinol treatment (same with sunscreen).
The Importance of Packaging
One of the biggest mistakes many companies make when formulating Vitamin C are errors in packaging. Vitamin C itself is easy to formulate but easy to destroy in packaging. For example, Herbivore has beautiful packaging but the clear glass packaging is horrible for product shelf life. Biossance, same general cost, has equally beautiful packaging but they get it right with the glass packaging by using a dark green glass instead of clear. The dark glass will block more sunlight and keep the product from degrading as quickly.
Vitamin C will oxidize when it comes into contact with air and it’s light sensitive. Clear pot type packaging will be the worst offender with the pump, dark glass or solid plastic-type, with internal packaging that prevents the introduction of air to the product would be best if in a liquid formulation. Droppers are the most commonly used packaging for Vitamin C. Droppers allow you to use the amount of product appropriate for your skin needs instead of the predetermined amount set by the company. Look for packaging that doesn’t allow light into it or are dark glass bottles. These packages will result in a longer shelf life for your product. Although droppers aren’t the best, they aren’t the worst either and gives you most flexibility when using the product.
Hands down my favorite product is Philosophy’s Turbo Booster C Powder. I’ve gone through two bottles already since finding it two years ago. It is a powder formulation and has a scoop to help with dosage. The biggest con I have is with the scoop itself. It’s harder to get product out when it’s humid outside and the product gets a little ‘sticky’. There’s also nowhere to store the scoop between uses meaning the scoop stay out and gets covered in whatever dust or dog hair that happens to be flying around my bathroom. To get around that, I use a clear hair tie around the bottle and just slip the scoop into that so at least the scoop stays with the bottle. The bottle is great for packaging; an amber bottle with a deep secure lid with a plastic lining which will help to keep the air out. I’d give it an overall rating of 8/10. The ability to scoop product out properly is kind of a let down, but the product itself is amazing. Massive fan. Worth every penny.
A less expensive Vitamin C powder is The Ordinary’s 100% L-Ascorbic Acid Powder. It’s $5.80 at Sephora or TheOrdinary.com and it a great dupe for the Philosphy’s Turbo Booster C Powder. The con of The Ordinary’s powder is the larger pot opening which makes it more open to oxidation and will shorten the shelf life. But with the difference in price between the two products it’s still less expensive to buy The Ordinary’s product even if you only use half before you hit the shelf life limitation.
Clinique’s Fresh Pressed Daily Booster
This is an EXPENSIVE means of getting some Vitamin C into your routine if you wanted to use it everyday over a long period of time but if you’re new to it, it’s a great way to introduce your skin to Vitamin C. In the bottle there is a plastic vile that has to be broken and mixed with the serum. Since the Vitamin C is separate from the serum it’s effectively a dry powder formulation up until you use it. It’s effective for 7-days and provides more than enough serum for the face and neck. The reason i like it for someone who hasn’t used Vitamin C before is that it is just a 7-day supply meaning you don’t spend more money on a 6month supply. But for regular daily use, I’d definitely use something else that’s more economical.
Least Favorite Products
Paula’s Choice C15 Super Boost. You get a lot of product with this one (0.67 fl oz) but the shelf life is only 6 months. It’s almost impossible to use up the entire bottle in 6 months because you only use 2-4 drops. They went through a packaging change after being sold to Loreal which went to a plastic solid bottle instead of an orange glass dropper bottle. In general the packaging just looks cheaper than before but it’s better for the Vitamin C stability. I had a bottle of this go rancid after only 4 months in the previous orange glass bottle. There needs to be an additional antioxidant like tocopherol and packaging change which could increase the shelf life to 8 months and that’s closer to how long it should take to use a bottle with regular use.
Elizabeth Arden Vitamin C + Ceramide Capsule: I really like capsules mostly because they’re fun to play with and generally do an amazing job of keeping light and oxygen away from the product (think everytime you reach in to grab one). All the pros of having a pot container without the cons. Environmentally, each of those capsules are generally made of some type of plastic component which equates to a lot of waste. The serum uses an oil carrier making it useful only for those who have dry skin or at night limiting the number of people who can actually use the product. The major claim is that their Vitamin C is 178% more effective than traditional Vitamin C they still use an ascorbic acid derivative (tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate)….that’s quite a statement to be making and not something I’d necessarily agree with since that would be higher than most clinical studies that put it at 50x more powerful.
If you’re travelling a lot this is perfect for travelling and the capsule has enough product to easily treat the face, neck, and chest but at $87 for a bottle, it’s a hefty price tag for a Vitamin C just for a travel bottle. I just don’t recommend this one for day-to-day use unless you have very dry skin. Mine is dry but even this is too much for me. I have traveled with this and popped it into a really inexpensive retainer carrying case. 3 straight months of travelling and this was just an easy product to travel with that I could pack in my carry on bag.