Vitamin C is advertised on everything from skin care products (many of them, in fact) to dietary supplements, so by now you’ve probably figured out that it’s good for you—but do you have a full understanding of why?
While vitamin C is considered a powerhouse ingredient, in order to get the biggest benefit topically and internally, it’s important to comprehend all of the different benefits, the different forms of C, the application process, and how to choose the highest quality products incorporating the ingredient so you’re not wasting your time or money.
Ahead, everything you need to know—and then some.
Benefits of topical vitamin C for skin
Vitamin C is a potent, naturally occurring antioxidant that is used topically to treat and prevent a variety of skin conditions to include:
- Reducing appearance of aging
- Creating the appearance of a brighter, more even complexion
- Lessens the appearance of temporary redness
- Promoting an even skin tone
- Protecting skin from environmental stressors
- Reducing the appearance of dullness
- Promoting ageless beauty
- Minimizing the appearance of expression lines and wrinkles
- Brightening and lightening your look
Different types of topical vitamin C
When looking at an ingredient label, you’ll see many forms of topical vitamin C. This can definitely be a bit confusing, but the main differences have to do with stability. Referring to whether or not the form can infiltrate the stratum corneum, and any potential side effects. Research suggests that C derivatives may not be able to penetrate skin, while some may be added to a product at such a low level that the user won’t see any results. Here are some of the key players.
This form is touted as the most potent and pure because it’s the only form that can be completely absorbed—so much to the point that it can’t be washed off and will linger in the skin for up to an impressive 72 hours.
The bad news is that it’s also the least stable form of C because it oxidizes easily. Another downside is that L-ascorbic acid tends to cause the most skin irritation and can leave a temporary yellowish tinge on the skin.
Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate
This water-soluble form of C is great because it’s more stable than L-ascorbic acid while still having excellent penetration quality because it has a pH of 7.
Bonus points for having a hydrating, emollient effect on the skin.
Sodium ascorbyl palmitate
Moving on up, research indicates that SAP is more stable than other forms of C. It protects against environmental stressors after being converted into ascorbic acid within the skin. It is also a defense mechanism against Propionibacterium, an acne-causing bacteria.
Ascorbic acid polypeptide
This water-soluble C is extremely stable and converts into C when applied with minimal irritation.
A mixture of vitamin C and an amino sugar known as glucosamine. It’s known for protecting against environmental stressors and clarifying and balancing the skin. The drawback is there’s not a lot of research to back up that it’s actually effective.
Aside from the fact that this vitamin C is mixed with glucose, the pros and cons of ascorbyl glucoside are the same as ascorbyl glucosamine.
Sodium ascorbyl palmitate
A hybrid of L-ascorbic acid and palmitic acid and despite the way it sounds, it’s actually non-acidic. It’s known for protecting against environmental stressors and revitalizing the appearance of mature skin—but only at a high concentration. Unfortunately, many skin care products don’t hit the mark.
Synthetic versus natural vitamin C for skin
Of course, synthetic derivatives are not the only form of vitamin C! Natural forms of this powerhouse ingredient are derived from fruits, plants, and other natural materials that have the added benefit of naturally occurring phytonutrients.
Annmarie prides themselves on using all-natural forms of C such as sea buckthorn berries, rosehip seed oil, and amla berries. On the flipside, synthetic C is lab produced, void of phytonutrients and flavonoids, and contains synthetic fillers to aid in the absorption process.
Which C to choose
While synthetic C is more stable than natural (and potentially more cost effective), it’s not necessarily the best choice. As aforementioned, studies reveal various complexities regarding whether or not topical vitamin C in a synthetic form can actually effectively penetrate the skin and/or remain stable long enough to actually be effective.
Natural C, on the other hand, is less complicated yet still extremely effective because it also contains bioflavonoids, enzymes, and ascorbic acid—natural compounds that aid in a healthy complexion. As with any active ingredient, you have to be patient to see a change in your skin. Because the natural forms contain no added fillers to be effective, one typically starts to see results within a few weeks.
Applying topical vitamin C
We’ve talked about absorption a lot, so when it comes to applying topical vitamin C, you’re going to want to make sure you have clean skin. Many forms of C—synthetic and natural—tend to be serums as they are more concentrated ingredient-wise than a moisturizer.
Benefits of internal vitamin C
The use of internal vitamin C was discovered in the 1930s by Dr. Albert Szent-Györgyi as a cure for scurvy—a disease stemmed from malnutrition. You may have read about how sailors used to eat oranges when they were on long voyages at sea. That’s because when consumed, C aids the body in effectively using carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
While there are additional copious benefits that come from taking vitamin C in the modern-day world (treating the common cold, boosting the immune system, boosting mood, protecting against environmental stressors, and supporting a healthy heart), from a skin perspective, C is linked to reducing cortisol.
This pesky hormone is released during stressful times. This can lead to skin conditions (think acne, eczema, dullness), a decrease in muscle tissue, and an increase in visceral fat—typically around the midsection.
Taking internal vitamin C
While you can pop a supplement—typically around 1,000 milligrams per day—to reduce cortisol levels (be sure to consult your doctor before starting a new supplement), there are several natural sources of vitamin C. These include oranges, strawberries, cantaloupe, spinach, cabbage, papaya, bell peppers, green peas, broccoli, grapefruit, kiwi, tomatoes, and pineapple.
Now that it’s summer, it’s the perfect time to hit the farmers’ market and prepare vitamin C-rich meals all season long!
“C” the light
While Annmarie stands behind the efficiency of natural vitamin C (it’s how nature intended it to be!), it’s okay to experiment with a synthetic form—but just make sure to do your research first.
Read reviews, don’t be afraid to ask a salesperson specific questions regarding stability and added ingredients, and remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a good idea to keep your money in your wallet.
“Vitamin C in Dermatology”, NCBI, Indian Dermatology Online Journal, April-June 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3673383/
“Application of l-Ascorbic Acid and its Derivatives (Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate and Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate) in Topical Cosmetic Formulations: Stability Studies”, J. Chem. Soc. Pak., March 2013, https://www.jcsp.org.pk/PublishedVersion/d63b69db-eba1-4590-8d24-7eabca2f54a3Manuscript%20no%207%20Final%20Gally%20Proof%20of%209590%20_Slim%20SMAOUI_.pdf
“Vitamin C Versus Natural, Does It Make A Difference?”, Annmarie Skin Care, https://www.annmariegianni.com/synthetic-vitamin-c-versus-natural-does-it-make-a-difference/
“Albert Szent-Györgyi's Discovery of Vitamin C”, ACS, May 11, 2002, https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/szentgyorgyi.html
“Scientists Say Vitamin C May Alleviate The Body's Response To Stress,” American Chemical Society, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/08/990823072615.htm
Rebecca Taras has over ten years of editorial and copywriting experience, including serving as an editor for hot digital spaces like Refinery29, PopSugar, Forbes Travel Guides, and Bustle. Along with contributing to print and digital outlets, she currently handles copywriting for some of the biggest brands in the beauty and travel industries.
A Chicagoland native, Taras began her career catering to celebrity clientele as an esthetician at the Peninsula Chicago Hotel before launching her own line of bath and body care products with her previous bath and body care company, Cleansing Queen. Rebecca also created custom in-room amenities for the Sofitel Hotel Chicago, including items featured in a special presentation for the president of AccorHotels upon his visit from France to Chicago. Her efforts were recognized by the Chicago Fashion Foundation, and she received the Style Maker and Rule Breaker award in the Beauty category.
Ultimately, Rebecca’s initiatives evolved into the co-founding of Terminal Getaway airport spas, now located at Seattle-Tacoma International, Tampa International, Orlando International, and Chicago O’Hare International airports. Though she is no longer involved with Terminal Getaway, her passion for beauty and travel not only persisted over the years but grew.
As Rebecca continued to refine her skincare knowledge, she spent a considerable amount of time as a journalist covering beauty and other topics. Rebecca’s diverse body of knowledge, experience, and an insatiable curiosity for faraway places culminated in Well-Traveled Beauty, an upcoming skincare line and travel website. The company’s initial offerings will be a line of results-driven, travel-friendly beauty products that take the guesswork out of figuring out what to pack.
A global traveler with a passion for Paris, Taras finally decided to live the Parisian way of life on the daily and call the City of Light home.