Friday, January 21, 2011

Vitamin C

I recently bought some Vitamin C in the hopes of using it in my products. So let's see what this vitamin brings to the party!

Vitamin C is a water soluble anti-oxidant has been proven in studies to be an anti-inflammatory that can stimulate collagen formation, lighten skin, treat hyperpigmentation, and heal wounds. It's water soluble ingredient that works best in creations with a pH of less than 3 (now that's acidic!) and concentrations up to 5% are well tolerated by our skin. It's present in every layer of our stratum corneum and it's essential for stimulating collage synthesis and the formation of the barrier lipids. Applying a lotion with a concentration of 5% over 6 months have been shown to improve the appearance of skin with photo-damage (and this isn't the "improve the appearance" like the cosmetic companies use this phrase - this was an actual study!) and it's been shown to reduce sunburn cell formation and reddening in humans. And it has been shown that it can influence the synthesis of specific ceramides, which can improve the water retaining properties - well, at least in vitro. (This hasn't been confirmed in living human skin yet.)

Ideally we'll partner Vitamin C with Vitamin E to create an anti-oxidizing powerhouse because the Vitamin  C will help the Vitamin E regenerate to keep the anti-oxidizing awesomeness going for quite some time, and we can throw in up to 0.05% beta-carotene to increase the anti-oxiding power. This combination has been shown to quench free radicals on our skin.

So why aren't we using it in every single product we make? Because it's really unstable in water and it doesn't easily penetrate our skin. Plus pH 3 is really acidic and that's not a great pH for our lotions or serums to be. And it degrades easily when exposed to oxygen.

So let's say you want to use Vitamin C in your creations. Is it possible? It is. The ideal product would be a non-ionic anhydrous product or emulsion in an air tight container (so a lotion or serum not including any cationic ingredients - like BTMS or cationic polymers -  or anionic ingredients - like our bubbly surfactants - is right out). You can use it with silicones or oils as an anhydrous creation. But Vitamin C is water soluble, so how the heck would we get it into a creation with little to no water?

You can use an ester like ascorbyl palmitate in a serum or lotion as your source of Vitamin C, for instance. You can use the water soluble Vitamin C in an emulsion, but you will see some degradation of the ingredient, so don't choose a pump bottle but something like a malibu/tottle or disc cap to keep it less exposed to the air. (As I note, I found tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate at Lotioncrafter's site. This is another ester with Vitamin C and very stable. I also found VitaC Stable at the Herbarie, which is Vitamin C with a phosphate added for stability.)

Or you could dissolve it in water and create an emulsion, although this will be less effective than using the ester. And it can oxidize quickly, making your products an orange/brown colour (that's when you know it's oxidized!), which isn't great. So it's looking like using one of the esters is the best choice.

So what am I making with it? Well, probably nothing as I have the unstable water soluble kind and I can't think of a creation (yet!) that I'd be able to use it in, although I have some ideas.

Here's an idea from Lotioncrafter for using the water soluble Vitamin C in an oil based product along with the ester. Looks interesting! I can't comment on the end product as I don't have any of those ingredients, except for the water soluble Vitamin C!


Meaue said...

I made the C&E Serum from Lotioncrafters about a year ago. My sister loved it - I wasn't seeing any benefit. I now use a straight Vitamin C (l-ascorbic)in silicone (from It is 10% Vit C in silicone. I use on my cleansed face before moisturizer. After one week, I can already see improvement... it definitely fades spots and brightens the skin - and I think it is having an impact on the furrowed brow. I have a few different forms of Vit C and would love to see your take on formulating with them. BTW - is a wonderful company to order from.... great service, wonderful packaging(no peanuts - hate those thing!). I don't work for them - just putting it out there, I'm glad I found them - they have got alot of neat stuff!

Matt said...

I agree with you about the C esters being a better choice. I made a dual Vitamin C serum with Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate and Magnesium Ascobyl Phosphate the other day and have already noticed a brighter, more even appearance to my skin tone.

As far as formulating with l-ascorbic acid, I would definitely look into incorporating ferulic acid to help with the stability issue. I'll put a link to a US patent on this information below.

Stabilized ascorbic acid compositions and methods

Tara said...

I also love using vitamin C. I use the magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP - H2O soluble) or L-ascorbyl palmitate (fat soluble). I also have the Vit C in silicone - maybe I should actually use it!
I also like using vit A and niacinamide in my facial blends. Mostly because Dr. Oz has recommended it, lol!

I too, love They have such a great website - all of their ingredients are linked to a recipe to see how to use them. And no, I don't work for them either, I only wish I did. Their only downside is expensive shipping to Canada.

Pam said...

WOWW...All seems confusing...Anyone have a recipe that we could try?

sweeteababy0427 said...

What about using the water soluble kind in a toner?

Thanks for the post! I was just about to make a facial lotion with the water soluble vitamin c. Now I know it would have failed and saved me the confusion.

Leman said...

Hi Meaue,

I'd be interested in how you actually use Vitamin C (l-ascorbic)in silicone? Do you just add 10% Vit C in some dimethicone or cyclomethicone?

I have been usuing it in a C&E serum with Ferulic acid, Vit E and Hyaluronic Acid. But your version looks simpler and if it does the same thing I'd rather use it that way!

Nicole said...


I have a question for Susan or anyone else that might have some experience formulating with vitamin C esters.

In trying to chose which ester to use in a lotion that I am creating to (hopefully) help with hyperpigmentation, I came across some information that said that the oil soluble esters display greater antioxidant activity and can more easily penetrate the skin. Thoughts?

Also, I found a supplier that sells "Ethyl Ascorbic Acid", described as water and oil soluble and as "working on all three levels of skin lightening". I have not been able to find much information on this ester.

So apart from the solubility questions, are all esters created equal? Or do some offer better activity in terms of oxidative stress or melanin inhibition, for example?

Many thanks for your feedback and a special thanks to Susan this most awesome website!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Nicole. I wish I had an answer, but I don't. I really don't know enough about Vitamin C esters to say anything. I'll post this for feedback in today's Tuesday Wonderings and see what might come up!

Nicole said...

Thank you Susan!

Anonymous said...

I just ordered trahexyldecyl ascorbate from LotionCrafter. I'm scared to think of what the duty will be.
Maybe it would make sense for a group of people to get together on an order to ship to Canada?? Just a thought. :)

Anna said...

Hi Susan,

I just read the post but still feel I would like to get something straight. Would a vitamin C ester (Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate to be specific) be stable in an emulsion even though water is one of the ingredients? Does the stability get affected by how much water you would include in the recipe?

Thanks, as always, for a wonderful blog!

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan

I've been going round in circles for days trying to find reliable information on L-Ascorbic Acid's stability issues and an anhydrous solutions - mainly, how to create one using silicones, which isn't readily or widely discussed.

I know is been done because MakingCosmetics sells the stuff, but I don't want to purchase ready-made until I know exactly how it's made and whether I can create it myself.

Found this pdf that you might find interesting discussing the oxidation and discoloration process and problems in-depth, which also provides the solution - including a formulation:

It gives a lot more information than I was expecting and thought you and my fellow Swifty-followers might like to take a peek.


Anonymous said...

p.s. - Forgot to say that I found the above link at the chemistscorner cosmetic science discussion:

I wonder how effective the Ascorbic Acid would be if it's just 'suspended' in silicones - fair enough that it protects it brilliantly from oxidation, but what might that mean as far as efficacy goes? Would the Ascorbic Acid still be able to be absorbed by the skin?

Think I'll just have to be my own lab rat and find out for myself :)

Anonymous said...

Well, I've made a vitamin C serum that I love with L-Ascorbic and MAP, but it also incorporates Vodka and glycerin. Probably would make Susan scream. But, it is extremely phototoxic. I did pay real attention to the pH. But seems to be working well with this old woman and her not so old daughter. By Kathie Beasley

Trina said...

I made a Vit-C serum.
I used L-ascorbic acid, E, Arbutin, Kojic Acid, Vit B3,
Aloe & HA.
I love it.
Doesn't lighten as I hoped on freckles but is nice overall on the face.
I used a solid colored white bottle and its holding at 3 months now.
The sample I put in a frosted bottle turned RED...
so I can attest to the light changing the Vit C much faster.

Kaori Joma said...

1) I have Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate, which is more stable type of Vitamin C that works best at PH6.5 (according to source).

With it, I'd like to mix oil-based Vitamin E and Water and Glycerin - does this mix well? I want to keep it as SIMPLE & NATURAL as possible.

Can my recipe work or will Vitamin E separates from the rest in the bottle?

2) If the finished serum is at PH6.5, does that mean my moisturiser (which applies after the Vit C serum) needs to be at similar PH level and not lower than PH6.5?

OR if I wait 10mins does my skin PH adjust to the acidic level of 4.5-5.5PH and use moisturoser of aroundPH5.5?

Thanks. Kaori

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Kaori! No, you can't mix water soluble and oil soluble ingredients without an emulsifier or some kind. The oil soluble ingredients will float to the top.

A question for you: If your Vitamin C has been modified to be more stable, is that a natural ingredient?

I would get the serum down to pH 5.5 or so before using. If you put something that is pH 6.5 on it, it will adjust, but the pH of our skin can be altered by the products we use on it. (Check out this post!)

Kim said...

I've been making and using Lotioncrafter's C&E Intensive Serum formula for a few months now and love it. I spent some time researching on how vit c serums work, and why they are unstable. This one is simple, very effective and does not degrade quickly as it's anhydrous. The MicroSilica Spheres are awesome and this formula doubles as a great primer - it feels really good going on. The Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate is on the expensive side, but this is so much cheaper than buying ready made serums. I played with the formulation and use less EL3045 so it's not as thick. The combination of C+E is extremely effective. said...

wonderful forum ... i am new in this but i love tryong to do cosmetics
resently i created een serum ... i dont know if it goed combination

i used ascorbine acid in water and than to make it intenser i used hyaluronic acid. it became wonderful looking serum, but my question is ... two acids together? is it stabel? and is it effectief?


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Hilda. What do you mean by stable? You can combine two acids and have it work out well. We do this all the time in recipes - combining things that are acidic like a surfactant and another one, for example - and it isn't an issue.

Ascorbic acid in water isn't stable, though. It degrades quickly. You really need to use another form of Vitamin C to be stable.

Kitty Fredricks said...

I bought some vitamin c ester. I've been adding a few grains of it to a pre-prepared cream each day and using it that way. Seems to dissolve just fine, and it never gets a chance to oxidise.
I've used ascorbic acid before as a toner - simply mixing 1tsp to 9 of rosewater or cold green tea.
It seems too simple though! Does anyone know if this really is a legit approach to having the active ingredient work?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

As i mention in the post, Vitamin C esters are stable, so it should work to include it in the cream when you make it, rather than adding it every day. As for using ascorbic acid in a toner, it won't be stable if it's a water soluble version, as I mention in the post. I don't think this is a good way to make Vitamin C work in a toner, unless you're using it right after making it and making it every day.

Anna said...

Hi Susan!

I've been looking into buying oil-soluble vitamin C and am getting really confused between the different types, such as AP, MAP and SAP. I've tried reading up about them but the science just reads as gobbledegook to me!

May I ask which you think is the better choice out of AP, MAP or SAP, please, in terms of usability, skin penetration and efficacy (for all those lovely things that vitamin C can do)? I see that you've used MAP in your latest serum. Is that because you think MAP is the better performer overall, or just the better vitamin C for that particular product?

Can I take this opportunity to thank you for all the information and experience you share with us here. I've learnt more from your blog in the last six weeks than I have from net in the last six months! Seriously! I really appreciate your honest - and witty - posts. Thank you!

Sarah W said...

The Lotioncrafter C&E kit talked about by Meaue is not anhydrous -- you have to use distilled water, from the description online.

Also, I think it's worth talking about the different types of Vit. C's -- there's a post at this website about the phototoxicity of your choices:

I would like to find an anhydrous non-toxic Vit. C + ferulic serum recipe. For non-toxic Vit. C I would be looking at one of these options:
- L-ascorbic Acid aka Ascorbic Acid (AA)
- Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (MAP)
- Magnesium-L-ascorby-Phosphate (VC-PMG)
- Ascorbic Acid Phosphate (AA2P)

Sarah W said...

This guy has an anhydrous Vit. C + ferulic acid recipe --

I would want to avoid buying his $30 LAA + glycerin product and make it myself -- but will LAA dissolve in glycerin?

Also, the other question is -- would a preservative be necessary? There is no water in his recipe.

B Schwegman said...

do anyone have knowledge or trial of mixing caprylic acid and Vitamin C as a serum?!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi B. Can you provide more information on the caprylic acid, like a link?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Sarah! I have the kit at home now, and will be trying it in the next few weeks. As for the anhydrous recipe you mentioned, I don't know. Please don't take this the wrong way, but I really don't have 13 minutes to watch the video and analyze the recipe. It also feels like a sales site, so I don't really want to investigate it further based on the comments under the video. Can you tell me what LAA might be? Glycerin is water soluble. Is LAA water soluble?

As for the other comments made, I'm going to be brutally honest. Vitamin C is one of those ingredients that can have great advantages for your skin, but it's super hard to separate the hype from the ingredient, so I haven't done as much reading about or testing with it as I have for many many other ingredients. Most of those recipes you see on line will not work. The Vitamin C will oxidize or the pH is too high or low or you're using the wrong kind, and so on. I can create recipes using the MAP I have at home, but I can't test it in a lab and confirm that the Vitamin C is working in it. I can only say that it should. I don't like recommending things I can't confirm and suggest you spend tons of money on an ingredient that might do nothing, so I'm going to leave these links here and encourage you to learn more about Vitamin C and all the versions you might like to use from my posts and other science based blogs or groups for now. I might re-visit this ingredient again in the near future, but I have quite literally a few hundred new ingredients to try before I get back to it. This isn't a reflection on anyone's interest in the ingredient or in using it. You don't need to try to convince me it's a worthwhile ingredient as I think it is. I just simply don't have time to do any more work on Vitamin C at the moment.

Vitamin C and ferulic acid moisturizer with Aristoflex.
Does Vitamin C penetrate the stratum corneum?
Adding Vitamin C to a product

Unknown said...

I made a recipe with the Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (MAP) and ferulic acid. See below.

The recipe will need to be changed for the second round because the MAP immediately stuck to the glycerin and created a "softball-type candy" in the heated water phase. As I poured the water into the oil I had to pull out the chunks of this "candy" and try to break it up with my fingers.

I'm now using the cream, which turned out to be great consistency. but the chunks that I broke up are now bits of undissolved, dry MAP that I try to break up further each time I use the cream. The PH seems to be in a good range for MAP, which also is more forgiving that other Vit. C's.

Any suggestions on how to get the MAP to dissolve? Use a different humectant?

(I've been buying from Lotioncrafter, as I'm in the U.S.)

RECIPE -----

1 Ferulic Acid (powder)
10 Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (powder)
51.5 Distilled Water
5 Glycerin
2 Sea Kelp Bioferment

5 Emulsifying Wax NF
2 Cetyl Alcohol
10 Avocado Oil
4 Black Currant Oil
4 Cranberry Oil

0.5 Germall Plus
1 Vitamin E
2 Panthenol
2 N-Acetyl Glucosamine - NAG

Thanks for any advice!!!!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

HI Unknown! Check out Lotioncrafter's website for their suggestions on how to incorporate this ingredient. Note that the solubility is at most 15.4%. Also note the pH restrictions and suggestions for using it with warmed ingredients, rather than room temperature water.

Just are you testing pH? With strips or a digital reader?

Sarah W said...

Hi Susan -

I'm testing the PH with strips only because the electronic PH reader I have doesn't seem to want to gauge the cream -- it's one of those $12 ones that only works in liquids.

It appears from Lotioncrafter, if I understand right, that there are two dispersion methods:

1) From Lotioncrafter "You can also predisperse it in a small amount of distilled water and add at the end of the formulation process." -- but wouldn't this be a problem with making sure there is no bacteria in my water? I thought I had to have this as part of the heated water phase for safety?

2) From Lotioncrafter "If you're having trouble dissolving MAP in water, warming the solution to about 40°C (104°F) will help." -- this solution would lead me to believe that if I heat up my distilled water and work on dissolving the MAP ahead of time in this water ... then once that is done I would continue with the rest of the recipe/process.

- Sarah

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Sarah! If you're using distilled water, it's clean. You can use it straight out of the bottle. Just make sure your containers are clean! Or heat it as Lotioncrafter suggests. That's the perfect temperature for a cool down phase!

Sarah W said...

Will make another attempt with a few tweaks and let you know how it goes (maybe a month from now when I'm ready to do it again). Thank you! -- Sarah

Sarah W said...

I did another try with my MAP recipe -- I soaked the MAP in warm distilled water for many hours, which did dissolve a good portion of it. But I could not get it to dissolve all of it -- even after periodic squashing of clumps to break it down further. So much management with MAP! I will be back to breaking up powdery bits in the final cream as I use it.

I saw someone point online a suggestion of using Dimethyl Isosorbide (Arlasolve DMI) to help with the dissolving, but after doing some research on that chemical I'm a little scared to use it due to the skin penetration effect. Maybe you have some thoughts?

Mia said...

Hi Susan! I was wondering... so according to this, if I mix a vitamin C serum with a facial oil to apply it to my face will have no effect over the serum's pH, right?
I've read before that when you're using acids (all of them: ascorbic, glycolic, salicylic, etc.), it is best to wait about 15 minutes to apply any other skincare product on top since it can change the pH of the acid you applied underneath. I just bought a water-vitamin C serum that doesn't have lots of hydrating or moisturizing ingredients, and since I have incredibly dry skin, I'm definitely not willing to wait 15 minutes and let the water escape my skin, so I was wondering how could I use it without affecting it, and remembered that there're some vitamin C serums are crafted in silicones only so they don't have an actual pH but still work wonderfully, and reached the conclusion that perhaps I could mix my serum with an oil (I was thinking about sunflower, that has worked incredibly well on my dry skin on the past) or apply it on top, right after I applied the serum. Am I ok? Will this work? What do you think?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Sarah. Isn't skin penetration what you want from an expensive active ingredient like MAP? I would try that solvent and see what you think!

Hi Mia! If you are making a serum from oils or silicones only, it doesn't have a pH as that only applies to water. As for the other question - I have no idea. I'm wondering why you can't just use one product for a while to see how your skin likes it rather than layering other things on top of it? I think it's impossible to answer this question without knowing what each product contains and your specific skin type. I think you will have to try these things and keep really great notes so you know what's happening with your skin to see what works.

judie osammor said...

hi Susan,
I've got 3-0 ethyl ascorbic acid, and I've been using it in lotions without the issue of degradation, I've also got ascorbyl palmitate. But will like to confirm at what phase of my lotion formula can I use it (oil or water) also from what I've been reading active ingredients with esters that come in palmitate are to be used at night only. ascorbyl palmitate, retinyl palmitate, etc. Is this true? Kindly waiting to hear your thoughts. thank you

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Julie! I'm afraid you'll have to speak to someone much more experienced than I. I don't know why something would be used at night only, except something that makes you sun sensitive, like more than 3% sodium lactate.

Sara B.F. said...

To anyone having problems dissolving MAP in water, this is a method that worked really well: I mixed approx. 1.2% sodium citrate and 0.1% disodium EDTA in hot, distilled water. The sodium citrate should increase the solubility of MAP. When the solution had cooled to around 40°C, I added the MAP slowly while stirring. If you add everything at once, it is likely to form hard lumps that are difficult to dissolve. I managed to dissolve 12% MAP using this method.

I have a question as well. Can ferulic acid and MAP be combined in a formulation?

Sara B.F. said...

I'm answering my own question:) Ferulic acid will degrade faster at higher PH levels. MAP needs a PH level close to 7 in order to be stable, so combining the two in a formulation is not ideal. Still, it is possible to increase the stability of FA by adding high levels of a glycol or storing the cream or serum in the fridge. I don't know if there will be any reaction between the FA and the MAP.