Did you know that not all Vitamin C is the same?
Like, there are a gazillion different forms that do pretty much all the same thing. Except…
Some work best at kicking free radicals in the butt while others excel at fading dark spots.
Some have the lifespan of a moth while others will keep your skin company for a few months.
Some sting your skin badly while others will barely make it tingle.
There’s enough to make your head spin, isn’t there? How are you supposed to choose the right type of Vitamin C for you?
Fret not, I’ve done the work for you. Here’s a quick guide to the most common types of vitamin C used in skincare products:
FYI: All types of Vitamin C should help fade dark spots to some extent. Here, I’ve only highlighted those that have been scientifically proven to do this better than the others. All types of Vitamin C could also irritate sensitive skin (what doesn’t irritate sensitive skin?). Here, I’ve only highlighted the more irritating forms. You get the gist.
What it is: L-Ascorbic Acid is the pure form of vitamin C. The original. It’s water-soluble.
What it does: It’s a powerful antioxidant that fights free radicals, boosts the production of collagen and reduces dark spots. It’s the most effective form of Vitamin C out there.
Side effects: Super unstable. That means it easily oxidizes (ie, becomes ineffective) when exposed to heat, light and air. This isn’t something you can stock up in the sale and expect it to be effective 6 months later. Buy it only if you’re gonna use it straight away. High concentrations of L-Ascorbic Acid often irritate skin, too – especially when formulated at the low pH it needs to work. One more thing: L-Ascorbic Acid can sometimes cause mini pimples in oily and acne-prone skin types.
Should you use it?: If you’re serious about anti-aging, and your skin isn’t sensitive or oily, this is the best form of Vitamin C out there.
- Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum ($80.00/£67.00): Available at Cult Beauty, Sephora and SpaceNK
- Paula’s Choice C15 Booster ($49.00): Available at Feel Unique and Paula’s Choice
- Skinceuticals CE Ferulic ($166.00): Available at Adore Beauty, Blue Mercury and Dermstore
Related: Skinceuticals CE Ferulic VS Paula’s Choice C15 Booster: Which One Is Better?
Confused about The Ordinary? Click on the image below to subscribe to my newsletter and get “The Ordinary Products Guide” Cheatsheet. It’ll help you choose the right Vitamin C serum, retinoid product, and more from this confusing brand.
Ascorbic Acid Polypeptide
What it is: A water-soluble derivative of Vitamin C.
What it does: It’s very stable and easily converts to L-Ascorbic Acid when applied to the skin. It provides its same benefits (brightening, collagen-boosting, and wrinkle prevention) with less irritation.
Side effects: It could irritate very sensitive skin.
Should you use it?: There’s not much research on it at the moment. If you’re curious, pick a serum that uses both Ascorbic Acid Polypeptide and other forms of Vitamin C (like the one below).
- Be Plain Vitamin Brightening Ampoule ($16.90): Available at Yes Style
What it is: Vitamin C + glucosamine (an amino sugar).
What it does: It fights free radicals and reduces dark spots.
Side effects: There’s only little research supporting its effectiveness.
Should you use it?: There’s not much research on it at the moment. If you’re curious, pick a serum that uses both Ascorbic Acid Polypeptide and other forms of Vitamin C.
Best Picks: I currently don’t know any good products that use it.
What it is: Vitamin C + glucose (a monosaccharide sugar). In-vitro (non on real people) studies show it can penetrate skin.
What it does: It fights free radicals, boosts collagen, and reduces dark discolourations.
Side effects: There are only few studies that support the skin-lightening claim.
Should you use it?: If you have sensitive skin that can’t tolerate L-Ascorbic Acid and are looking for a brightening form of Vitamin C to treat your dark spots, this is worth a try.
- Paula’s Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster ($44.00): Available at Cult Beauty, Dermstore, Net-A-Porter, and Paula’s Choice
- The Inkey List The Tranexemic Acid Night Treatment (£14.99): Available at Cult Beauty
- The Ordinary Ascorbyl Glucoside 12% (£8.90): Available at Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty, Feel Unique, and Look Fantastic
Related: My Full Review Of Paula’s Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster
What it is: L-ascorbic acid + palmitic acid (a fatty acid). Unlike most other forms, it’s non-acidic.
What it does: It has antioxidant properties, but there’s no evidence it can brighten skin or boost collagen yet.
Side effects: It’s not very stable and goes bad almost as quickly as L-Ascorbic Acid. Plus, we don’t know yet, if it converts into L-Ascorbic Acid once it penetrates skin (if it can’t, it won’t work).
Should you use it?: I don’t recommend it, unless it comes in a product with other, more effective, forms of Vitamin C.
- Intraceuticals Booster Vitamin C+3 (AUD$49.00): Available at Adore Beauty
- Marie Veronique Vitamins C, E + Ferulic Acid ($90.00): Available at Credo Beauty and The Detox Market
Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate
What it is: A water-soluble derivative of Vitamin C.
What it does: It fights free radicals and increases collagen production. It’s stable, less irritating and effective at lower concentrations than L-Ascorbic Acid
Side effects: Like all other forms of vitamin C, it degrades (but more slowly!) when exposed to light and air.
Should you use it?: If you have sensitive skin that can’t tolerate L-Ascorbic Acid, this is a good alternative to consider.
- First Aid Beauty Fab Skin Lab Retinol Serum 0.25% Pure Concentrate ($58.00): Available at Dermstore, Feel Unique, Look Fantastic, Selfridges, and Ulta
- Paula’s Choice Calm Restoring Moisturizer Normal To Dry ($29.00): Available at Paula’s Choice
- The Ordinary Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate 10% ($9.60): Available at Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty, Feel Unique, and Ulta
Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate
What it is: A L-ascorbic acid monophosphate, consisting of a stabilized (phosphorylated) sodium salt of L-ascorbic acid (thanks to my reader Eva for this info!).
What it does: It’s a powerful antioxidant that fights free radicals, brightens skintone and boosts collagen. Plus, it helps fight acne. Studies show SAP reduces sebum oxidation (a main cause of acne and inflammation) by up to 40%! It’s also more effective than 5% benzoyl peroxide and 0.1% differin.
Side effects: Like all other forms of vitamin C, it degrades (but more slowly!) when exposed to light and air.
Should you use it?: If you have oily or acne-prone skin, this is the best form of Vitamin C for you (better even than L-Ascorbic Acid).
- Facetheory Regena C20 20% Stabilized Vitamin C (£18.99): Available at Facetheory
- Insta Natural Vitamin C Serum ($23.66): Available at Beauty Bay and Yes Style
- Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum ($33.99): Available at Ulta
Related: My Full Review Of Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum
What it is: The newest form of vitamin C on the market. It penetrates skin deeper and faster than any other form of Vitamin C.
What it does: It fights free radicals, boosts collagen production, and brightens skin. Keep in mind that most of the research is done in-vitro, non on human skin. Still, the results are very promising.
Side effects: It may be irritating for sensitive skin.
Should you use it?: If you can’t tolerate L-Ascorbic Acid, this is the next best thing.
- Paula’s Choice Resist Super Antioxidant Serum ($39.00): Available at Dermstore, Feel Unique, Paula’s Choice, and SpaceNK
- Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Power Serum ($98.00): Available at Beauty Bay, Dermstore, Look Fantastic, Sephora, and Ulta
- The Ordinary Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% In Vitamin F (£14.90): Available at Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty, Feel Unique, Look Fantastic, and Sephora
Related: Skinceuticals CE Ferulic VS Paula’s Choice Resist Super Antioxidant Serum: Which One Is Better?
How To Choose The Best Vitamin C Products
Have decided which type of Vitamin C to go for? Great! Here are a few more things to keep in mind when you go looking for it at Sephora (or wherever else you get your skincare fix from):
- High concentrations: The higher the concentration, the more effective it is. If your type of vitamin C isn’t at the beginning of the ingredient list, don’t bother.
- No jars allowed: Vitamin C loses a bit of its effectiveness when exposed to light and air. Go for an opaque, air-tight tube or bottle.
- Better with friends: Vitamin C is more effective when used with Vitamin E and ferulic acid. They also boost the protection of your sunscreen.
What’s your favourite type of Vitamin C? Leave a comment below and let me know.
Thank you so much for this article! I’m an avid user of whitening and brightening skincare, because I get really freckled and patchy in the sun. I’ve always wondered if all forms of Vitamin C are made equal, but never got the drive to look it all up. This post is awesome because it really points me to better ingredients and to look closer if I’m paying value for money. I’m so glad for the reminder at the end about sunscreen — I’ve always suspected this; on certain days with a Vitamin C cream I would develop spots from the sun, so you’ve hit the nail about sun sensitivity! LOL. I’m going to slap on higher protection from now on!
I’ve been using Clinique antioxidant moisturizer, and I think another reason is that being in a tube is more hygenic than to open the jar everytime. Your reason that Antioxidants can deteriorate when exposed to light and air is also true:). Thanks for the Vitamin C info, I try to consume as much vitamin C as I can especially at season chance so I don’t get the flu and it’s also good because my skin becomes healthier and brighter.
This is such a helpful article! I’ve always wondered how effective vitamin C anti-agers can be, since they are just applied topically. I will definitely be keeping this article in mind next time I shop for anti-aging creams.
.-= Rebecca´s last blog ..September Lust List =-.
Ciao Gio! I’d done a search on Vitamin C before but this is great, I have everything in one place!! I had been wondering about this product, MD Skincare Hydra-Pure Vitamin C Serum (link: http://www.mdskincare.com/productdetails.cfm?SKU=MD041613). These are the key-ingredients: Hydra-Pure Chelating Complex®, Vitamin C, water-soluble SAP (Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate), Vitamin C Ester (Ascorbyl Palmitate), Linoleic Acid.
Mmm…what do you think?
I have post-pregnancy brown spots on my forehead (cloasma) and I heard vitamin C could be effective. Of course, I wear SPF50+ religiously!
Baci, Anna x
.-= Anna´s last blog ..Deep purple NOTD =-.
Wow, this is great! I didn’t know there are so many different types of vitamin C.
.-= Dao´s last blog ..Crack on My Rye Bread =-.
i always seem to have a problem with vit c, whenever i use a prod containing vit c, it breaks me out..
Jasmine: I’m really glad you find this post useful. There is lot of information around about Vitamin C, but not much about the different types and how they work, so I thought it would be nice to sum it all up in one place. I hope it will help people to find products that contain effective forms of Vitamin C in sufficient amounts for them to be effective and that come in packagings (like tubes) that won’t degrade the formula. And I’m glad you’re using higher sun protection now. Most antioxidants can increase sun sensitive and using a sunscreen in conjunction with them (and on its own too!) is essential 🙂
Tavia: you’re welcome hun and I think getting Vitamin C through your diet is better than getting it through a cream. Although that can be beneficial for the skin too if there is enough Vitamin C in the product. And I agree about tube packagings: they’re more sanitary and prevent bacteria contamination as well as preserving the antixidants benefits of the product.
Rebecca: you’re welcome. Vitamin C can be very effective as long as it is present in sufficient amounts in the product and it is in an acidic enviroment. Under these circumstances it can penetrate the skin, instead of just lying on the surface, and provide anti-aging benefits. Of course it also depends on the type of Vitamin C present in the products as some are more beneficial than others.
Anna: ciao, and I’m glad you find this post helpful. I’ve had a look at the full ingredient list of that product and it contains several forms of Vitamin C high on the list, so it provides some antioxidant activity. I also like that it comes in a tube which will help prevent Vitamin C from deteriorating. However, some of the forms of Vitamin C used here (like Ascorbic Acid) can be irritating. But if you’ve already used this ingredient and didn’t give you any problems there is no reason not to use it.
In addition, the product also contains a lot of silicones that create a barrier on the skin, give it a very silky feeling and fill in fine lines and wrinkles temporarily reducing their appearance. But it is awfully expensive! I personally prefer getting Vitamin C through my diet or using products with Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, but if you can afford it, why not? It will provide some benefits, but it’s not a miracle product.
As for cloasma, I think it’s better to use skin-lightening ingredients like hydroquinone or azelaic acid and always wear sunscreen. You should also consult a dermatologist as he/she will be able to prescribe the best treatment for the condition. Hope this helped 😉
Dao: thanks, I’m glad you find it helpful. I knew there were quite a few forms of Vitamin C but I didn’t realise how many until I started writing the article! And I didn’t even list all of them! Some aren’t very used and I couldn’t find any scientific study or information on them.
prettybeautiful: that’s a shame, I’m sorry. I’m not sure why that happens since most forms of Vitamin C aren’t usually comedogenic. But at least you can always get Vitamin C through your diet and use other antioxidants on you skin. That would be beneficial for the skin too.
Ciao Gio! Thanks for the in-depth reply! I have in fact been to see a derm about the cloasma and she did prescribe a cream which I haven’t bought yet because I still have the lierac serum+cream thingy for brown spots. Unfortunately I can’t use it every day, because wearing SPF50+ on my forehead every single day means the mineral filters clog my pores a little so I’m also fighting some bumps (not real spots or acne, but bothersome and unattractive all the same!!) and I tend to prefer using the spot treatment gel she gave instead of the “whitening” cream! I don’t want them to interact and cause irritation or not work altogether! As for the MD vitamin C cream, yes it’s TOO expensive for what the results would be, I totally agree with you, I’m just glad you confirmed my opinions 😀
By the way, what Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate product do you use?? Just to know!
Thanks again! x
PS: I was just wondering…are you 100% Italian or are you bilingual?
.-= Anna´s last blog ..Deep purple NOTD =-.
Ciao Anna, I’m sorry it took me a while to answer to your comment, I was away during the weekend and I’m still catching up on things! You’re welcome and I agree, you should use the gel your derm prescribed instead of the whitening cream. That is just one of the things you could do but derms always know best and since she prescribed the gel, that’s the best treatment for you. 🙂
That’s a shame about the sunscreen. Are you using a physical one? Cos physical sunscrens may cause breakouts for some people, so maybe one that uses a combination of mineral and chemical ingredients would work best.
And you’re welcome. It’s not a bad products but there cheaper alternatives in the market that do the same thing. At the moment I’m not using any products with Magnesium Ascorbyl Phospahte. I just get Vitamin C through my diet and use moisturizers with other antioxidants but I know Oil Of Olaz makes a night cream that contains high concentrations of Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate. It’s called Total Effects Crema da notte rassodante. It also contains Niacinamide, which is a very promising ingredient as it hydrates skin, increases collagen production and also reduces skin discolorations among other things. I’ve wrote a post about it if you’re interested: http://beautifulwithbrains.com/2009/02/28/know-your-ingredients-niacinamide/
And I’m 100% Italian. I’d love to have been bilingual though but my parents are both Italian and can’t speak a word of English. lol But I’m an anglophile and just really love this language.
can you use non-acidic calcium ascorbate powder in place of l-ascorbic acid when making a vitamin c cream?
Nancy, I’ve never tried it so I’m not sure. I’ve always used L-ascorbic Acid as that’s the easiest and most effective form of Vitamin C to formulate DIY products with. I don’t think the one you have will harm your skin, but it may not be as beneficial.
About Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (your last entry).
It is totally wrong what you have written. It has nothing to do with palmitic acid.
SAP ia a L-ascorbic acid monophosphate, consisting of a stabilized (phosphorylated)
sodium salt of L-ascorbic acid. Esterification of ascorbic acid at position 2 protects
vitamin C from destruction by oxidation. The L-ascorbate molar activity of the phosphorylated
ester of vitamin C is equivalent to L-ascorbic acid.
Eva, thank you for your comment. That was the most difficult ingredient to research because there is not much information about it yet. I believe I eventually found what it was made of at Future Derm. If it is wrong, could you point me to a link or book that confirms your info, so that I can add it to the post? Thank you.
You could also mention Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate and Aminopropyl Ascorbyl Phosphate. These would make your list complete too 🙂
Eva, thanks for the suggestion. I tried to add only the most common ones cos there are so many, but may add these soon. Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate is becoming quite common too, although I hadn’t heard of Aminopropyl Ascorbyl Phosphate yet. 🙂
Thank you for your reply.
Aminopropyl Ascorbyl Phosphate is found in Clinique Smart Serum among others. Indeed it is not a very common form of Vitamin C, yet 🙂
About SAP, I copied the description from DSM SAP Data Sheet. I am a cosmetic formulator and have access to these kind of documentations. Unfortunately I don’t believe you could find any form of this document on line.
Here is a link for SAP at cosmetic formulators database: http://www.ulprospector.com/en/eu/PersonalCare/Detail/472/317173/STAY-C-50?st=1&sl=32373572&crit=a2V5d29yZDpbU29kaXVtIEFzY29yYnlsIFBob3NwaGF0ZV0%3d&ss=2&k=Sodium|Ascorbyl|Phosphate|phosphates&t=Sodium+Ascorbyl+Phosphate
It is for registered and approved members only.
I can try to explain what Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate means in a more plain language.
Sodium is a water soluble salt form
Ascorbyl = Vitamin C
Phasphate = phosphorylated form
All in all, a stabilized (phosphorylated) sodium salt of L-ascorbic acid.
I paste the link to the INCI nomenclature for the EU, where you can see the chemical description of SAP.
Eva, thank you so much for your comment. I actually reviewed that serum, but had completely forgotten about Aminopropyl Ascorbyl Phosphate! Guess cos it’s still quite rare and didn’t make much of an impression on me. There are so many forms of Vitamin C that it’s hard to keep up with them all.
Thanks for the information on SAP. I’ll add it to the post.
Dear Beautiful With Brains (Gio),
This is a very informative article. There is a wealth of information on the internet about Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate and other forms of Vitamin C. Bear in mind that a lot of chemical compounds have alternative names. With good research many of these are found easily.
I believe that the inclusion of antioxidants in beauty products is a positive thing. The percentage of antioxidants included in products is also very important. It is good to have Vitamin C in products, but certain types are not as active in low concentrations (and with the wrong pH range).
This is a lovely website. Thank you.
S. Jackson, thank you for your comment. The fact that chemical compounds have more than a name is quite confusing, isn’t it? It’d make life easier if all compounds have a single, simple one.
I agree with you. Antioxidants are so important, but so delicate. You have to be so careful when you choose a product, cos some are so poorly formulated, they won’t do anything.
I’ve been wanting to start using a Vitamin C serum on my face and been researching on which kind to use. I keep reading about L-Ascorbic acid and Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate. However, I am failing to understand which one is better to use? Is there a huge difference between these two? I have mild rosacea and I read that Vitamin C is good to use for rosacea, but it has to be a pure form of vitamin C. No idea what the pure form of vitamin C would be.
I have a few Vitamin C serums that I have narrowed down to, but two of them have Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate as ingredient and one has L-Ascorbic acid. Is one ingredient better than the other or more beneficial? Can someone please advise. Any input would be very appreciated.
Here are the l;inks of the products I am interested in:
Rani, L-Ascorbic Acid is the pure form of vitamin. It’s the most effective but also the most irritating and the most unstable. Unstable means you have to use it quickly because it goes bad really fast, It’s not unusual to get a L-ascorbic acid serum that’s already useless because it was sitting on the shelf too long. If you opt for this form of Vitamin C, you want to make sure you’re getting a fresh bottle from the brand.
I personally prefer derivatives, like sodium ascorbyl phosphate because they’re gentler and more stable. They take a bit longer to work but they’re still effective. In the end, it just comes down to how sensitive your skin is and your budget. I’d personally go with the cheapest with SAP.
Thank you so much, really appreciate your response!
Gio, this is a fabulous article! Thanks for synthesizing so much information! Out of curiosity, is there any research on what form(s) of Vitamin C boost collagen the most? Do any alternatives match or even excel beyond L-Ascorbic Acid in this regard?
Melissa, when it comes to collagen boosting L-Ascorbic Acid does it best. The others can do the job too but we only have in vitro (on petri dish) tests to prove it. LAA was tested on humans and found to work really well.
Hi Gio! I’m currently using Mad Hippie’s vitamin C serum which is composed of Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate. It’s located fairly at the bottom of your list and you stated that if the type of vitamin C that we’re using isn’t at the beginning of the ingredient list, don’t bother. I have lots of acne scars and was wondering what would you recommend then?
Also I’ve been thinking about using Differin which is an over the counter Adapalene (0.1%) Retinoid gel. Can we use that with Vitamin C?
Looking forward to your reply! Thank you 🙂
Vanessa, vitamin C can help with the dark marks left behind by pimples, but it can’t help with scars. If that’s your problem, you should consult a dermatologist. Topical skincare doesn’t really help here.
Yes, you can use them together but at different times. Vitamin C in the morning and Differing at night.
Hi Gio! Our interest in vitamin C never grows old, thank you for your list of vitamin C-types. I’ve used PC C15 but seem to have a problem with it oxidizing on my skin making me look evenly tanned (not orange thankfully) even though I use exfoliating products and the bottle is fresh. I mainly want the brightening properties since I have quite a lot of old sun damage. I also use PC niacinamide 10 % twice a day and always use Elizabeth Arden Pro Triple Action Protector SPF 50 every day, all year round. Is there any way to restrict the vitamin C from oxidizing on skin or do I need to find another type of vitamin C? Maybe turn to licorice extrakt instead? Any thoughts? Thank you for your great blog!
Lena, unfortunately that’s a common side effect of L-Ascorbic acid. Check out this post to find out how to avoid it: https://labmuffin.com/vitamin-c-can-stain-skin-avoid/
I learned so much by reading your blog,
You really know how to explain all these stuffed things about cosmetic products, thank you for that.
I am interested in your opinion about TO products with vitamin C (Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%, 100% L-Ascorbic Acid Powder)
I currently use TO EUK, but I want to introduce vitamin C
My routine :
In the morning:
TO Hyaluron B5
TO EUK + cream
In the evening:
TO Glycol (every 2-3 weeks) + Buffet
When I do not put glycol, I use every 2-3 nights TO salicylic in critical places (nose).
Where could I put in vitamin C?
I have 33god, normal skin with few wrinkles and oily T zone
Looking forward to your reply! Thank you 🙂
Ljubica, it depends what product you go for. I usually recommend vitamin C in the morning under sunscreen to boost its sun protection. But Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% is one of the exceptions. Its texture is very gritty so it’s best to mix it with a hyaluronic acid serum and use it at night. Also, this suspension has a high dose of vitamin C that can sting and irritate skin if you’ve never used this ingredient before.
What are you thoughts on The Ordinary’s 100% L-Ascorbic Acid Powder? Got a free sample and am not sure what to do with the stuff.
Eli, this is about the Philosophy version but my thoughts still apply to the Ordinary powder too: https://www.beautifulwithbrains.com/philosophy-turbo-booster-c-powder-review/