When I shared my skincare routine, the most frequent questions you asked concerned vitamin C, so here is my short guide on how I use it, why I like it and what are some of my favorite Vitamin C products.
Out of all the ingredients that skincare companies advertise as miraculous, vitamin C (along with retin A and retinoids) has been shown in independent, clinical studies to have real benefits. It’s a potent antioxidant that prevents sun damage. It increases the production of collagen, even in adult skin. It brightens the skin and helps to lighten sun spots. It’s anti-inflammatory, which means that it’s a good ingredient for those who struggle with acne or rosacea.
This is all good news. The bad news is that Vitamin C is highly unstable. Because it’s such a potent anti-oxidant, it begins to bind to free radicals of oxygen even when it’s still in the bottle. Which means that it becomes potentially damaging to the skin! The sure way to tell is if your Vitamin C serum has changed color and turned yellow or orange, but many brands cheat and add botanical colorants. Then, there are formulations that use so little Vitamin C, it makes no difference. Or they use a type that doesn’t convert to the active form in the skin.
In other words, Vitamin C is a very difficult ingredient for a skincare chemist to use, but each year brings more interesting and excellent products that rely on the latest research. Below are some of my favorite Vitamin C serums. By the way, none of these contain silicones, which not only make the lotions feel heavy on skin but also may interfere with the efficacy of Vitamin C.
My Current Gold Standard: The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
At last, The Ordinary changed the packaging of their Vitamin C serum, and it now comes packaged in a neat tube, rather than a messy dropper bottle. At 23% concentration of L-Ascorbic Acid, it’s an effective product for brightening skin, preventing sun damage and obtaining other wonderful benefits of this important ingredient. It’s also stable. The texture is ever so slightly grainy, but it absorbs well. Will definitely sting the first time you use it, so start slowly and use as little as possible during the first weeks. Or you can dilute it in your cream. You skin will eventually adapt.
I use it in the evening, sometimes followed by a retinoid serum and moisturizer or just moisturizer.
30ml, 5.80 euros
Brightening and Hydrating: The Ordinary Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate Solution 10%
This is a stable derivative of Vitamin C in a water-based cream. It’s especially good if your concern is skin brightening. It can be used with the Niacinamide serums, which makes it versatile. I usually use it during the day after a rose water toner and The Ordinary Niacinamide serum, followed by a moisturizing lotion and sunscreen.
30ml, 9.60 euros
Fancy Skincare Geek Option: NIOD Ethylated Ascorbic Acid
Like The Ordinary, NIOD is part of the same family. Ethylated Ascorbic Acid (EAA) is another potent ingredient they offer, noting that it’s as potent as direct L-Ascorbic Acid. The benefit is that it’s highly stable and gentle on skin (in comparison to The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension). The downside is that EAA is an expensive ingredient, which is reflected in the cost of this serum.
I use it in the evening either after a rose water toner or alone, followed by a moisturizing lotion. But honestly, I don’t see much difference when I use this serum as opposed to The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension.
30ml, 60 euros
Cult Favorite: Skinceuticals Ferulic C
This combination of 0.5% ferulic acid (an excellent antioxidant) with 15% Vitamin C and 1% Vitamin E offers all of the benefits of a Vitamin C serum, along with light hydration, since the base Ferulic C includes hyaluronic acid. This is a very good brand, and this is one of the best serums available. However, in Belgium it’s hard to find, and at $163 for 30ml, it’s several times more expensive than my other favorites. (Another serum I used in this category was Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic Acid+Plus Retinol Brightening Solution; 30ml, $88.)
Japanese Option: HABA White Lady Vitamin C Serum
A well-formulated 6% Vitamin C serum with licorice extract made for the Japanese market. It won’t whiten anything, but if you have spots of pigmentation, it will tone them down. I liked the watery texture and glycerin base.
How to Use Vitamin C in Your Skincare Routine
Here are some of my assorted tips:
Use your Vitamin C serums within 3 months after opening.
Vitamin C serum can be used during the morning and/or evening, provided you don’t use any concentrations of Niacinamide at the same time. (But you can use Niacinamide serums with other stable derivatives of Vitamin C such as Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate or Ascorbyl Glucoside.) Some dermatologists comment that highly concentrated serums are best used at night, since sun light can degrade Vitamin C, and that Vitamin C is retained in the skin over the next day.
I usually use Vitamin C in the evening, either as my first step followed by a moisturizing lotion, or after a toner. If I use a toner beforehand. I make sure to wait a few seconds for it to absorb completely before applying the Vitamin C serum.
Apart from the Niacinamide serums (see above), you can use any other serums, moisturizers or oils afterwards.
Whatever Vitamin C serum you use, apply only a small amount.
If you haven’t used Vitamin C serum before, start very slowly–once a week for two weeks and increasing frequency gradually. If your skin is very sensitive, you may find other derivatives of Vitamin C more gentle–Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate or Ascorbyl Glucoside. But if your skin handles Vitamin C well, then it’s the best choice.
Of course, please share your recommendations on using Vitamin C serums and your favorite products.
Photography by Bois de Jasmin