Synthetic Vitamin C Versus Natural: Does it Make a Difference?

Synthetic Vitamin C versus Natural

If you love skin care, you probably know all about vitamin C.

It’s one of the wonder nutrients for skin.

Look on any of our ingredient lists, though, and you won’t find the words “vitamin C.” That’s because we use ingredients like sea buckthorn berries and amla berries, which are natural sources of the nutrient.

Other skin care products often list “vitamin C” or “ascorbic acid” on their products because they’re using man-made versions of it.

Does it matter?

7 Vitamin C Skin Benefits

In case you aren’t privy to vitamin C’s amazing skin benefits, here’s why it’s considered a beauty staple:

  1. It’s anti-aging: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that protects from environmental stressors.
  2. It helps firm and tone your look: Vitamin C can help keep skin looking tight and toned.
  3. It reduces the appearance of dark areas
  4. It reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  5. It helps with oily skin and clogged pores: If these plague your skin, you may want to add a little vitamin C to your skin care.

It’s clear that vitamin C should be part of any skin-care regimen. The question then becomes, what kind of vitamin C is best?

Synthetic Vitamin C Versus Natural

First, the difference between natural and synthetic vitamins:

  • Natural vitamins come from plants, fruits and other natural sources. Natural vitamin C comes from berries, citrus fruits, peppers, and other natural foods. This type of vitamin C also contains additional phytonutrients from the source.
  • Synthetic vitamins are wholly made in the lab, usually from ingredients like corn syrup and acetone. They do not include flavonoids or other phytonutrients, but may be combined with other synthetic ingredients to promote absorption.

Why would companies use synthetic vitamin C rather than natural?

  1. Natural vitamin C is vulnerable to heat. Heat a product with natural vitamin C and you can destroy it. Synthetic vitamin C can survive things like pasteurization, which is why you often see “ascorbic acid” in things like orange juice.
  2. Synthetic vitamin C is a more cost effective way to include the nutrient in skin care formulas. Manufacturers can pass along the savings to customers, or simply increase their profit margins.
  3. Synthetics are more stable, and often last longer on the shelves than natural vitamins. They are less vulnerable to erosion from things like light and temperature.

Types of synthetic vitamin C you may find in skin care products include:

  • Ascorbic acid
  • L-ascorbic acid
  • Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate
  • Ascorbyl palmitate
  • Ascorbic acid polypeptide
  • Ascorbyl glucosamine
  • Ascorbyl glucoside
  • Ester-C
  • Sodium ascorbyl palmitate
  • Sodium ascorbyl phosphate

Of these, L-ascorbic acid is thought to be the best, as the skin easily absorbs it. The others are often combined with fatty acids, sugars, or minerals to provide additional benefits or to increase absorption, though we have little evidence showing the combinations to be effective.

Which is Better?

You already know we believe natural is better, but let us explain why.

Both types of vitamin C are said to appear identical in molecular structure, and we know that even synthetic vitamin C provides benefits to skin. So the point is not to say that synthetic vitamin C is bad. In the right formulas, it can be very good for skin. But there are definitely some differences that support our preference for natural.

Let’s take bioavailability, for instance. Can the skin actually take up and use the vitamin C that’s in the product?

Turns out that topical application of vitamin C is rather complicated. A 2001 study found that L-ascorbic acid had to be formulated at just the right pH level (3.5 or less) to be absorbed by the skin. They also found that other forms of synthetic vitamin C, like magnesium ascorbyl phosphate and ascorbyl-6-palmitate, did not penetrate skin, and did not increase skin levels of vitamin C.

Researchers concluded that “delivery of topical L-ascorbic acid into the skin is critically dependent on formulation characteristics.”

Stability is also a problem. L-ascorbic acid is the preferred synthetic form, but it’s the least stable of the synthetics. More stable options, like ascorbate phosphate, have limited ability to permeate skin and also show limited function once they get there.

In other words, the ingredient list may say that you’re getting some form of vitamin C, but your skin may not be receiving any benefits at all.

One laboratory study even found that ascorbyl palmitate, which has an additional fatty acid, had some toxic effects. Researchers applied it to skin and then exposed the skin to ultraviolet-B-radiation, which is the kind of UV rays that cause sunburn. The ingredient actually promoted oxidation of the lipids (fats) in skin, and showed cytotoxic effects.

“Our data suggests that, despite its antioxidant properties,” researchers wrote, “ascorbic acid-6-palmitate may intensify skin damage following physiologic doses of ultraviolet radiation.”

The Benefits of Natural Vitamin C

Natural vitamin C contains not only ascorbic acid, but other components like bioflavonoids and enzymes, which we believe help the body (and the skin) use the nutrient like it was designed.

Natural ingredients like those we have in our products also provide additional properties that work with vitamin C to create the effects we want to see in skin.

The amla berry, for instance, which is one of our key sources of vitamin C, has additional antioxidants to protect, balances natural oils, and helps improve the look of your skin tone.

The sea buckthorn berry, another natural source of vitamin C, also has moisturizing fatty acids, and other nutrients like vitamin A to provide potent benefits to skin.

Rosehip seed oil, another natural ingredient that’s high in vitamin C, also has vitamin E, which works together with vitamin C to protect. It provides essential fatty acids to help in absorption and moisturization.

By using natural ingredients like these, we don’t have to worry about adding this or adding that to be sure our vitamin C works like it’s supposed to. These natural oils sink quickly into skin (try them and you’ll see!), and have a number of varying components that work together to create benefits you’ll notice within weeks.

Bottom Line: It’s Up to You

In the end, the choice is up to you. You may experience benefits with synthetic vitamin C, especially if you’re careful to use products that formulate carefully for absorption and effectiveness.

We think it’s wise, though, to choose products like ours that provide you the real thing in the way nature intended it. You’ll reduce your risk and your skin will be more likely to take up and use the nutrients to create the anti-aging benefits you desire.

Have you noticed your skin does better with natural sources of vitamin C? Please share your thoughts.


Anitra C. Carr, Margreet C. M. Vissers, “Synthetic or Food-Derived Vitamin C—Are They Equally Bioavailable?” Nutrients, November 2013; 5(11):4284-4304,

Mangels AR, et al., “The bioavailability to humans of ascorbic acid from oranges, orange juice and cooked broccoli is similar to that of synthetic ascorbic acid,” J Nutr., June 1993; 123(6):1054-61,


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  1. BeaJae says

    I really enjoyed reading this post. It’s informative enough to help consumers make the choice they deem best for them and to encourage them to do further research. I love that you noted that many of the studies you mentioned used synthetic vitamin c. I also love that you noted how absorbency relates to effectiveness of products. Both are examples of needed transparency and understanding. Thank you.

    • Nicki says

      Hi there and thank you for this article. I’ve only used vitamin c serum on my face 2x in 1 day and though I’ve realized that I probably needed to gradually get to 2x a day, I couldn’t bring myself to continue using it on my face and stopped (the results from that 1 day made the texture of my face look bumpy and irritated). So now I’m REALLY being cautious about which vitamin c serum to use. I’ve been reading everywhere that vitamin c makes your skin more sensitive to the sun. Is this still the case with natural sources of vitamin c?

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