Ascorbic Acid/Vitamin C

Ascorbic Acid

It is a sad fact of life that not many of the fancy sounding ingredients that cosmetic companies add to their formulations add much to the benefits those products have for your skin.  A good moisturiser is a pretty handy tool for dealing with dry skin, but how much of the good it does you comes from the things that the pack talks about is usually pretty minimal.  But there are a few things that do have some real effects, and one of them is vitamin C.

Vitamin C’s chemical name is ascorbic acid and this is the name under which it appears on the ingredient list.  In many ways it was vitamin C that was the first health supplement.  Every British reader will be familiar with the story of how the British Navy pioneered the use of fruit juices to combat scurvy on long sea journeys.  It is a remarkable material in lots of ways.  Lab workers are often astonished at how soluble it is.  It dissolves in less than its own weight in water.  I dare say there are a few other compounds that do the same but it is the only one I have come across.

It has all sorts of benefits in the diet and people have written books about that.  On the skin its main thing is that it is a powerful antioxidant.  There are good theoretical reasons to believe that antioxidants applied to the skin might help delay the onset of the signs of ageing.  But antioxidants can also inhibit or even reverse melanin production.  The effect isn’t as strong as some other skin lightening agents, but at least vitamin C is indisputably safe.  And for some purposes a mild effect is the most desirable.   If you want to even your skin tone something like ascorbic acid is just the ticket.

But there is a problem.  Ascorbic acid is not very stable.  Really it is impossible to make a good antioxidant that is stable.  They work by reacting with oxygen more quickly than the molecules around them.  This is a sacrificial process.  The ascorbic acid is destroyed so other things can last longer.

This means that while it is easy enough to add ascorbic acid to a formulation, most of it is not going to still be there by the time it reaches the customer.  We have a safe and beneficial material that does what the customers want, but it is really hard to get it to them.

There have been a number of ideas tried to overcome this problem, many quite ingenious. In fact, so ingenious that they probably deserve a blog post of their own.  I’ll just finish by noting that there is a folk remedy for freckles that suggests lemon juice.  As we all know, citrus fruits are a rich source of vitamin C.  I have never tried it, but it sounds like it should work.


Photo credit: xavi talleda via photopin cc

3 thoughts on “Ascorbic Acid/Vitamin C”

  1. I’ve heard good things about sodium ascorbyl phospate and ascorbyl glucoside as Vitamin C derivatives. But due to the sensitivity, I suppose the form/packaging of the cream/lotion/serum etc may be more important than the actual derivative? What say u?

  2. Hi Colin.
    I am trying to choose between 2 vitamin C serums. They contain identical ingredients (15% L ascorbic acid; 0.5% ferulic acid and 1% vitamin E). However, one has a pH of 2.5 and the other has a pH of 3 – will that make a big difference? I have heard that anything over 3.5 just sits on the skin.

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