4 Reasons Why Making Your Own Vitamin C Serum Is NOT A Good Idea

by Gio
4 reasons why you should not make a DIY vitamin C serum

“Can I make my own vitamin C serum, Gio? I’m tired of spending a fortune on store-bought serums that go bad before I finish the bottle.”

I hear ya. Vitamin C is the workhorse of your skincare routine. It does everything, from boosting collagen production to reducing hyperpigmentation and even enhancing sun protection. If you’re not using it, you’re missing out big time.

But it’s finicky AF. Goes bad quickly. Costs a pretty penny. Making your own can save you a lot of money, time and hassle… or not?

Here’s the deal: Vitamin C is one of the trickiest ingredients to formulate with. You can’t just add a sprinkle of vitamin C powder to your moisturiser and expect it to work. It’s more complicated than that.

Here’s why I think a DIY vitamin C serum isn’t the answer for most people:

tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate vitamin C derivative

1. Wrong Carrier = No Antioxidant Properties

A lot of DIY recipes tell you to dissolve either vitamin C tablets or L-ascorbic acid (the pure form of vitamin C) powder in water. That’s useless.

Watching those vitamin C crystals dissolve is so satisfying and makes you think it’s working. But when you apply the mixture on your skin, vitamin C recrystallizes. Crystallized vitamin C can’t penetrate skin. And if it can’t do that, it won’t work as an antioxidant.

You could fix this by using a carrier that enhances penetration. Alcohol is the most common, but it’s drying for some people. Propylene glycol or glycerin are much better choices. But they too have their limitations.

This solution (l-ascorbic acid + glycerin or propylene glycol) would be water-soluble. That means it won’t be able to penetrate the lipid-based barrier of your skin very well.

Sure, you’ll still get some of the antioxidant benefits. But it won’t work as well as a serum that can penetrate the skin and act from within.

2. Wrong Ph = Irritated Skin

If you think getting the carrier right is tricky, wait till you hear this.

Because L-ascorbic acid is acidic, it penetrates skin better at an acidic ph ( lower than 3.5). When mixed with water at a 5% concentration, L-Ascorbic Acid has a pH between 2.2 and 2.5. That means it’ll work well, right?

Not exactly. The skin’s natural pH is around 5.5 or 6.5. Using a product with a pH too low can irritate it and dry it out. That’s why most commercially available vitamins C serum are formulated at a pH between 2.8 and 3.4.

That’s low enough for vitamin C to work, but not so low to cause irritations (unless your skin is super sensitive). A homemade vitamin C serum is more likely to have a pH that’s too low and that can cause irritations.

If you decide to go down this route, have pH strips at the ready to check the pH of your serum.

types of vitamin c used in skincare

3. Wrong Storage System = Quick Spoilage

L-ascorbic acid is highly unstable. It oxidises, and loses a bit of its effectiveness, every time it’s exposed to light, heat, and air. You’ll notice when your vitamin C serum has gone bad. It turns a brown.

If you want your DIY vitamin C serum to last more than a couple of days, you need to stabilise it. You can do this in two ways:

You’ve guessed it, both solutions are hard to implement at home. The best you can realistically do ismake a small batch, pour it into an opaque, airtight container, and store it in the refrigerator. Even then, it won’t last you more than 3/4 days.

Related: How To Store Your Homemade Skincare Products

4. Fewer Ingredients = Fewer Benefits

Most DIY vitamin C serums are pretty simple. L-abscorbic acid. Water. Glycerin. Done.

That’s cool. But not enough. I prefer my vitamin C serums to come packed with other antioxidants. Why?

Antioxidants work better together than alone. Studies show that pairing vitamin C with ferulic acid and vitamin E, for example, makes each antioxidant more effective and doubles photoprotection.

Sure, you can buy a bunch of antioxidants for your DIY vitamin C serum. But every ingredient you use adds a new layer of complexity to the mix. It changes the pH, may clump or just be unstable.

What If You’re Doing Everything Right?

Are you a DIY fanatic who loves to spend hours learning the chemistry behind homemade skincare products and wiling to splurge on a few pieces of equipment?

Great! It’ll take you some trial and error, but you can make a vitamin C serum that works. Just be aware you’ll have to make a new batch every few days.

Just want to follow a random recipe online because you’d think it’d be fun? Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but making your own Vitamin C serum is more complicated than that. A lot of recipes you’ll find on Google or Pinterest just don’t work.

If you’re not willing to invest the time and money to make DIY skincare products the right way, do your skin a favour and buy a serum from the shops. You don’t want to buy a bottle of vitamin C, pH strips and co only to find out you can’t be bothered to mix a new batch every few days.

One more thing: how do you know your vitamin C serum works? It’s difficult enough for professionals to assess how well antioxidants work. How can you tell at home?

It may just be the brightening effect is due to the acidic exfoliation vitamin C gives you. But its collagen-boosting properties? You can’t assess them at home.

Antioxidants are preventative. So if your vitamin C serum doesn’t work, you won’t find out straight away. Heck, you may be applying something for 10 years only to discover it didn’t help that much!

drunk elephant c-firma day serum

What Are The Best Vitamin C Serums?

The Bottom Line

There are many skincare products you scan easily made at home. A vitamin C serum ain’t one of them. If you’re not willing to spend the time and effort to do it right, don’t bother.

Have you ever tried to make your own vitamin C serum? Share your experience in the comments below.

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336 comments

Faerie Thompson March 21, 2019 - 6:20 am

As a former flavor chemist I was confident of my ability to formulate and make a facial serum. After much research and testing, I created a serum with long chain hyalluronic acid, vitamin c, vitamin e, lavender, aloe and witchhazel. I make an ounce at a time and store in a dark dropper bottle. I keep it in my beauty fridge.

Making a serum should not be a casual endeavor. Even if your formula is sound, you need precise measurements and procedures. I am very happy with mine. It takes about three drops for my face and neck.

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Gio March 21, 2019 - 4:55 pm

Faerie, thank you for your comment. That’s exactly my point. You can’t just use a random recipe online that tells you to mix a bit of this and a bit of that. Making your own DIY products is more complicated than that.

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mjn March 28, 2019 - 11:46 am

Faerie, can you please post your recipe here? Thank you!

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Estell April 20, 2019 - 10:08 pm

Yes, Faerie, can you please post your recipe for your vitamin C serum for us ?

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Amy Demler June 22, 2019 - 11:20 pm

Hi Faerie. Thank you for your insight & comment. I, too, am interested in learning all about your personal version of Vit C serum. Would you be willing to share it with me as well? I didn’t see it posted if you’ve already answered this query. My apologies if you you’ve already addressed this question. Thank you,
A

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Sonya July 20, 2019 - 6:05 pm

Faerie,
I would also be very interested in seeing your vitamin c serum recipe thank you

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Suzanne March 21, 2019 - 5:49 pm

Some counter points:

1. Crystallization: a lot of brand name, expensive vitamin C serums are actually very finely milled l-ascorbic acid in a silicone or oil/ester/other non-polar, anhydrous base. These particles are small, but they’re still crystals, not ionized, no? On the theory that these serums help skin in some way, I assume some of them must dissolve when they get into contact with skin moisture. (Either that or it’s somehow good for your skin to have very small LAA crystals in the epidermis. What do I know.)
Some brands (before The Ordinary) have simply sold this super fine powder for self-mixing – Philosophy I know did that. REN sells what they call “1-minute facial” with “water-activated vitamin C” – that’s just LAA in an anhydrous base, which you rub on your face and then add water so the LAA dissolves.

2. Penetration pt.1: lipid-solubility. Yes, if you want the substance to even theoretically maybe be able to reach viable cells, below the stratum corneum, perhaps even all the way down to the dermis where it could possibly affect collagen production, it would certainly help if it was lipid-soluble.
L-ascorbic acid isn’t. But it’s also by far the best-researched form (& w/ the most promising research results) when it comes to topical effects on skin, and the only form of vitamin C I’ve ever seen research indicating it might affect collagen-production (in vitro). Again, it’s the form that is in SkinCeuticals’ serum and many other high end ones. And many other popular expensive forms like ascorbyl glucoside & magnesium/sodium ascorbyl glucoside are non-lipid-soluble too. Those are used to avoid the problem of skin-feel of anhydrous formulas, LAA degrading in formulas with water, and also the need for low pH for skin uptake and the stinging or tingling. All great things, it’s just not proven (or even made probable, IMO) that they’re good for skin, which is a pretty significant drawback.

3. Penetration pt. 2: penetration-enhancing solvents or additives in commercial LAA serums? LAA dissolves much better in water than in glycerin or propylene glycol, so no they’re not better solvent choices. But at least propylene glycol can enhance skin penetration of various chemicals (though I haven’t seen research re: LAA skin penetration with this, or any other solvent. If you have, I’d love for you to point me to it!) Propylene glycol is also fairly available to DIY:ers, and I think most people trying to dupe Skinceuticals’ serum already use it, to dissolve the ferulic acid.
Some commercial serums have other additives that might have this effect – SkinCeuticals and Paula’s Choice C15 Booster have ethoxydiglycol. If I ever hear of a study claiming that ethoxydiglycol makes a big difference in skin penetration of LAA, I’ll definitely read it, but til then, I don’t think it’s something people really should want to spend hundreds of dollars extra a year for.

3. pH: decent point. pH-strips are an extra cost to calculate and an extra step, and not that exact. And if we mess it up, there’s stinging. Some people might get worse, especially if they keep using despite real irritation.
But pH-strips sure are a lot cheaper than Skinceuticals or Paula’s Choice, and they’re usually accurate enough to tell when you’re above 2,5 but below 4,5, and the process in whole takes about 7 seconds.

4. Calculating %: better point. A very accurate scale for these small amounts is super expensive. I got one used for other purposes, but I haven’t even been bothered to use it for this yet, so my actual % LAA in each batch likely varies from 3-20%.

5. Stability: that’s basically the point of making your own LAA serum, besides maybe saving $$. It degrades, but not in a dark (or foil-wrapped) bottle in the fridge over one week. If you want to apply dissolved, non-oxidized LAA to your skin regularly, that’s the only way I’d ever do it.
(Btw, I’ve actually tested how long roughly 15% takes to visibly change color in a clear open shotglass on a counter top, and it wasn’t even slightly yellow until over a week later, but that mostly makes me distrust color as an indicator of LAA degradation).

6: Preservation: again, we’re keeping this in the fridge and tossing within a week, and the pH is 4 or lower. There’s still a risk though, especially over time if you don’t properly disinfect the bottle, which to me is the only real annoying part of this whole little hobby.

My conclusions for now:
– Don’t use topical vitamin C for stimulating collagen synthesis, it’s not that likely to work or even be a good idea for your over-all skin health in vivo to regularly try to force down large amounts of active (LAA) vitamin C through your skin barrier into your dermis.
– Do consider using it for antioxidant effects in epidermis, and as a sun protection adjuvant (though if a good sunscreen is priority 1, topical antioxidants come in at maybe priority 100 when it comes to UV damage).
– L-ascorbic acid is by far the most probable form of vitamin C to have any (good) topical skin effects, and only when it hasn’t oxidized, which it will in water over time.
I personally also believe it’s more likely to be effective when it’s a) not added to skin in an anhydrous base of silicone or lipids, b) dissolved in water before added to skin rather than in (even fine) crystallized form, c) not much of it is neutralized (=turned into a salt, such as sodium ascorbate when buffered), so at as low a pH as your skin tolerates without pain or visible irritation; trial and error, but I don’t believe any skin is likely to benefit from often applying something of a pH much below 3.

Lastly: yes, adding certain other antioxidants, specifically d-tocopherol and ferulic acid, seems more likely to help skin than just LAA. And that will be much more complex, and EXPENSIVE, than making an LAA product – especially if you want to add them all in one formula. But even as separate products it’ll get much more expensive than the water/LAA-powder/sodium bicarbonate/pH-strips/bottle disinfectant investment of DIY LAA toner. If this is something you really want to try, and you have that kind of money, maybe some commercial products are worth it for you.
Since the existing products that look interesting won’t ever be financially conceivable options for me personally, if I ever try this approach, this is what I’ll do:
– Buy a small vial of natural (d-tocopherol) vitamin E, an oil I like to put on my face (sunflower or jojoba) and make a 20% by volume mix, store dark & cool and use up in 6 months
– Buy The Ordinary’s 3% Ferulic + Resveratrol serum
– Add a drop of each to my moisturizer, especially after applying LAA.

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Gio March 29, 2019 - 2:43 pm

Suzanne, thank you for your thoughtful comment. I agree a lot about everything you’ve said here, especially about the difficult of using LAA for collagen-boosting properties.

My main point is that making your own Vitamin C serum is more complicated than you think. A lot of people think you can put some vitamin C powder in your moisturizer and boom, it can now boost collagen! There’s a lot more to it than that, like you pointed. I think when you make something like this, you really have to delve into the science to figure out how to get as many benefits as possible out of it. And when you do, you may realise it’s too much hassle and want to stick to commercial products.

Or you may find out it’s fun and maybe even decide to become a cosmetic chemist. 🙂

In other words, there are pros and cons for each argument. It’s just that too many websites make making your DIY serum sound easy and I wanted to offer a counterargument. 🙂

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Amy Demler June 22, 2019 - 11:38 pm

Hi Suzanne & Gio.

After reading this article and Suzanne’s response I have even more trepidations about whether or not I should create all of my own Vit C, H.A seriousness or just one with Vit C, HA, ferulic acid, magnesium, etc.

Many consumers on Amazon are reporting great results from simple diy serums – using very simple recipes. Honestly, I can’t afford the Vit C serums by Skinceuticals, Drunk Elephant or even Paula’s Choice every month.

For the last 2 months I’ve been using inexpensive but 72% organic & 98% natural alternatives of Vit C, HA, etc by Tree of Life Beauty. Small, word of mouth company with great customer service which sells their products on Amazon. Fingers crossed – so far so good.

Yet I am still interested in diy seriousness because of their guaranteed freshness, lack of potentially harmful chemicals, etc.

Frustrated & more confused.
Amy

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Amy Demler June 22, 2019 - 11:41 pm

*serums, not seriousness.

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Jodi April 27, 2019 - 2:05 pm

Hello,
I found this wonderful thread of comments at just the right time. Received an email re: NEOGEN Real Vita C Powder Lemon currently available only at Soko Glam online in the US. A new product as of Spring 2019, and the reviews stating amazing results after only days or weeks of use has stopped me from purchasing along with basic logic that has always kept me from buying full on serums. I’m no scientist, but since this Vitamin C craze began I’ve wondered how anyone has managed to stabilize these costly Vitamin C serums or powders from production to delivery, (in all sorts of weather) to sitting in bathrooms with their own temp changes for weeks or months and be anywhere near as effective as promos claim. I’d always assumed the Vitamin C in any serum I’ve received in Beauty subs was useless. Is there any truth that a serum such as Skinceuticals CE Ferulic would retain any Vitamin C potency from sitting in a warehouse or store for weeks or months through the time it would normally take to use a container? Thank you

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Gio June 4, 2019 - 7:36 pm

Jodi, adding a good preservative system and proper packaging helps. But eventually, it will go bad. The ideal is to get a fresh bottle that was newly made, but it’s happened sometimes that you buy a bottle that’s already turned brown!

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jacqueline schneider May 11, 2019 - 4:07 am

Could you post a vitamin c serum you believe does work correctly?

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Gio May 31, 2019 - 12:51 pm

Jaqueline, please read the post. I’ve shared my fave Vitamin C serums there. 🙂

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Marianne October 7, 2019 - 6:25 am

Thank you for your info on C serums Gio. I’m 62 & 1/2 and used C serums for many many years read all about them. SkinMedica C&E serum is very good and I used it for a long time, but as with any Ascorbic acid it will become unstable or arrive that to us way! I felt the tingle even after having a bottle for a few years I didn’t use up [always wondered if it was still still stable since it tingled]. I think it’s a good product but it’s highly $$$ now! It has a lot of dimethicones/cones in it so as I’ve aged my skin developed mila and bumpiness on areas. Since derms offered it in their offices and it never turned color in the airtight dark pump I thought of buying no other- even though it never took away sunspots [I use sunblock] IMO helped with keeping skin plump before menopause and I don’t have much fat on my face, so need a good one I am trying other brands now however SkinCeuticals which ALWAYS turned color right after dropping over 100.00 on it I heard that can be a pro oxidant when it turns darker. Why can’t they makes small batches instead of larger ones and sell for less? I will not buy that and I know you mentioned Drunk Elephant …well same deal as Skinceauticals! it was dark when I got it. They said via phone it’s normal I said no it is not. I think the 2 you mention are highly unstable. I would buy as said if I KNEW it was fresh, so going to try the other ones less $ and stable C’s like Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate and similar. It’s just too costly for the others and I feel we are getting ripped off by the companies selling short or unstable C’s for an arm and leg although I do agree they are good when fresh! Dr P’s seems to be good [my sis is letting me borrow for reactions] and so far it does not give me bumps but no idea of ph. Think I’ll buy PH strips now! TY again Gia

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Judy W Nolin October 11, 2019 - 1:50 am

Hi, love your blog. I’m going a little off script with my question but I’m desperate. Many of your ladies may relate.
I had chemo and radiation 30 years ago. Bad idea. The older I get, the worse my skin gets….typical lol. However, I’ve spoken with many women my age that did the same.
My skin is so weak that the least little scratch turns into a blood fest. I’m extremely active with exercise and gardening.
Right now I have a huge bandage on my leg from a little scrap in the yard. Even with boots on.
My face is fine. But my entire body will bleed and the skin will scrape off. Ouch!!! Do you have any idea of how I can try to strengthen my skin? I’m thinking of a vitamin E potion to actually rub on my skin. I try to stay out of the sun..always.
I take E internally everyday 16 IU. I’ve tried every vitamin in existence but nothing strengthens my skin.
One of my legs is wrapped right now from a rip yesterday.
If someone could invent a cure for this, they would make a fortune. Warning to cancer patients….stay OUT of the sun forever. Or cover up well. Chemotherapy plus radiation is life changing and in my opinion…not always necessary.
Thanks for listening. Any ideas would be great.
Judy

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Gio November 8, 2019 - 11:48 am

Hi Judy, thank you for sharing your experience and sorry to hear chemotherapy and radiation harmed your skin this much. It’s awful! But I’m very glad you’re well, now. 🙂

Unfortunately I don’t know of any cure for this. But I agree someone should come up with one.

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