Can You Use A Vitamin C Serum If You Have Sensitive Skin?

by Gio
vitamin c safe for sensitive skin

I know what you’re thinking, “Vitamin C for sensitive skin?! Isn’t that like milk for lactose-intolerance? Trouble?”

It can be. Vitamin C has a (well-deserved!) rep for being stingy, irritating and harsh AF. Ouch! If you’ve got sensitive skin, it’s easy to think you’d be better off without it.

Big mistake.

Vitamin C is more sensitive-skin friendly than you give it credit for. You just have to choose the right type (yep, there’s more than one!). Here’s what I mean…

Why The Heck Should You Use Vitamin C For Sensitive Skin?

For the same reason why everyone else should use vitamin C. It’s an antiaging superstar. Studies show that vitamin C has several superpowers:

  • Antioxidant: it destroys free radicals before they give you wrinkles and dark spots
  • Brightening: it fades away dark spots and give the complexion a lovely glow
  • Firming: it boosts the production of collagen, the protein that keeps your skin firm

Vitamin C works wonders on its own, but it’s even more powerful when used with its BFFs vitamin E and ferulic acid. Together, they BOOST photoprotection and make your sunscreen work better.

Do you really want to miss out on all this goodness?!

Related: 5 Antiaging Superstars You Should Add To Your Skincare Routine

dr dennis gross c collagen brighten and firm vitamin c serum

What’s The Problem With Vitamin C For Sensitive Skin?

When someone says vitamin C is irritating, they’re usually referring to L-Ascorbic Acid, the pure form of vitamin C.

L-Ascorbic Acid packs such a punch, it can make your skin tingle and sting – especially in high doses (15% and up). It doesn’t help it works only at a low pH (around 3.5)… yep, that can bother your sensitive skin, too.

So, where does that leave you? If you have sensitive skin, you have two options:

  1. Go with a lower dose of L-Ascorbic Acid
  2. Use a vitamin C derivative

Related: Vitamin C In Skincare: Pros & Cons

Let’s see which one is right for you:

vichy liftactive vitamin c skin brightening corrector

Option #1: Lower Dose Of L-Ascorbic Acid

Let me guess: you’re about to say there’s no point using a low concentration of L-Ascorbic Acid. Everyone knows that less than 15% doesn’t work, right?

This may shock you but… that’s a myth.

I guess it started because studies are usually done with high doses of L-Ascorbic Acid. Take the one that proved the benefits of CEF (vitamin C + vitamin E + ferulic acid), for example. Researchers used 15% L-Ascorbic Acid for that.

But that doesn’t mean that lower concentrations are useless. Sure, 1% L-Ascorbic Acid won’t do anything for you. But studies show that already at 3%, L-Ascorbic Acid helps improve the signs of photodamage and premature aging (you know, wrinkles, dark spots and all that malarkey).

If your skin’s sensitive, you can go up to 10% without experiencing any irritation. Granted, you’ll see results more slowly than someone who’s using 20% but you’ll still see results. And that’s what matters.

Best Picks:



Option #2: Use A Vitamin C Derivative

Few people have the patience to put up with L-Ascorbic Acid. It’s irritating, unstable and goes bad quickly (FYI, if your vitamin C serum has turned brown, toss it – it doesn’t work anymore).

That’s why scientists have been hard at work to create derivatives of L-Ascorbic Acid that do the same thing minus the side effects.

The catch? They’re a little less effective than L-Ascorbic Acid but you still get enough benefits to make the trade-off worth it.

The real question is, which derivative to choose? There are a gazillion out there. I prefer vitamin C derivatives that are well-studied (so many aren’t!) and work at a skin-friendly pH. Here are my picks:

  • Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate: one of the most studied form of vitamin C, it has a neutral pH.
  • Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate: another gentle derivative with a skin-friendly pH.
  • Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate: an oil-soluble form that penetrates deeper than all other derivatives (and even L-Ascorbic Acid itself) and is stable at a <5 pH.

Best Picks:

Related: Types Of Vitamin C In Skincare


The Bottom Line

Vitamin C for sensitive skin? I’m all for it. Just make sure you use a gentle, skin-friendly form that gives you all the antiaging benefits without the irritating side effects. I’d start with a derivative and build my way up to 10% L-Ascorbic Acid. 😉

What’s your take on vitamin C for sensitive skin? Share your thoughts and fave picks in the comments below.

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Moh Moh August 13, 2018 - 6:36 pm

Hi Gio,

I’m a big fan of this page. I’m 42 years old with oily skin. I bought several stuff recommended by you but I’m still very overwhelmed which ones to mix and match. I have drunk elephant glycolic serum, hydra intensive hydration gel, C Firma day serum, ordinary niacinamide 10%+ zinc1%, the ordinary buffet, the ordinary magnesium ascorbyl phosphate 10%, skinceutical CE ferulic, Bakel deep hydration serum. How do I put everything in order? Please help.

Gio August 16, 2018 - 1:42 pm

Hi Moh Moh, this is a good routine for you:

Vitamin C (C Firma Day or TO MAP 10% or Skiceuticals CE Ferulic – use only one at a time, NOT all together!)
Niacinamide + zinc

DE glycolic acid (3 or 4 times a week)
TO Buffet
Hydra Intensive Hydration Gel or Baker Deep Hydration Serum

Hope this helps

Charlie November 6, 2018 - 12:18 am

Hi Gio, do you recommend using vitamin C or a derivative only in the morning? Doesn’t sunlight make it less effective? Thanks – plan on buying Mad Hippie

Gio November 10, 2018 - 7:13 pm

Charlie, if you apply a good amount of sunscreen in the morning and reapply during the day, you can use pure vitamin C in the morning too. Otherwise, a derivative will do just as well.

Kathleen February 12, 2019 - 5:41 pm

I guess I’m lucky. L-Ascorbic acid doesn’t irritate my skin, at 15%. I used the Maelove Glow Serum for about 6 months, but now I’m using Shero Science 15% + E + Ferulic . I like it very much and it’s very inexpensive. Vitamin C is one thing I use that really seems to make a difference.

Gio February 15, 2019 - 1:39 pm

Kathleen, it’s a wonderful active isn’t it? Glad you’ve found a product that works for you.


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