“How can I make my own DIY vitamin C serum, Gio? I’m tired of spending a fortune on products that go bad before I have time to finish the bottle.”
I hear ya. Vitamin C is a skincare superhero with plenty of anti-aging superpowers. Studies show it:
- Boosts the production of collagen, the protein that keeps your skin firm
- Fades away hyperpigmentation and all kinds of dark spots
- Enhancing sun protection, helping you make the most of your sunscreen
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…
Here’s the deal: L-Ascorbic Acid (the pure form of 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:
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.
It’s true that L-Ascorbic Acid won’t dissolve in oil, so you’re kinda stuck with a water-based solution and all its limitation. That’s why it’s important to choose a carrier that enhances penetration.
Making your own DIY Vitamin C serum isn’t just about mixing some powder with water. You need to mix them in a way that gives Vitamin C the best chance of success.
Related: Is Alcohol In Skincare Good Or Bad?
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.
Related: What The Heck Is The Acid Mantle And How Do You Repair It?
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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:
- Add antioxidants: Studies show that vitamin E and ferulic acid help vitamin C last a little bit longer.
- Microencapsulation: This technology covers vitamin C in a protective coating that keeps it safe from light and air.
You’ve guessed it, both solutions are hard to implement at home. The best you can realistically do is make 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.
Are you willing to make a new batch that often? If the answer is not, a DIY vitamin C serum isn’t for you.
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.
Related: 5 Things You Need To Know About Antioxidants
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 DIY 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 DIY 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 DIY 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!
What Are The Best Vitamin C Serums?
- 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, Nordstrom and Paula’s Choice
- Skinceuticals CE Ferulic ($166.00): available at Adore Beauty, Blue Mercury and Dermstore
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 DIY vitamin C serum? Share your experience in the comments below.