Sunday, April 19, 2009

Topical Vitamin C for Skin: Re-examining the Case

Vitamin C reduces wrinkles – but only when used topically. (Photo by √oхέƒx™)

Lately, I've been reading the Skin Aging Handbook by Nava Dayan in an attempt to educate myself on how skin aging happens and what can be done to prevent it.

A few months ago, I concluded my experiment with a product called SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic acid. As the name implies, it's a topical that contains vitamin C & E and ferulic acid. I was impressed by the studies behind the product, so I bought some sample bottles and applied it on my face for about half a year.

Unfortunately, I didn't see any visible results. I hypothesized that it might have been due to the ascorbic acid being oxidized, because in some bottles the liquid was a deep orange color instead of a light yellow. Since the product is quite expensive, I decided to move on to other things for the time being.

Reading the book, however, has re-sparked my interest. The evidence for the anti-aging benefits of topical vitamin C is much more positive than I had thought. Below is a compilation of the beneficial effects of ascorbic acid on the skin:

  • Increases the transcription rate of DNA in vitro
  • Increases fibroblast proliferation by a factor of four to six in vitro
  • Doubles collagen synthesis of fibroblasts in vitro
  • Has anti-inflammatory properties in vitro
  • Enhances collagen production (type I and III) in vivo
  • Protects from UV-induced photodamage and skin cancers in vivo
  • Reduces uneven pigmentation in vivo

In other words, topical vitamin C is able to both prevent and reverse photoaging, including wrinkles. Here's a picture taken from the book showing results after a year of using vitamin C:

Topical vitamin C serum and skin aging
Vitamin E, too, has photoprotective properties. Unlike vitamin C, vitamin E works both topically and orally, but the form of vitamin E is important. For topical use, d-alpha-tocopherol seems like the best option.

The reason why vitamin C serums should have vitamin E (and preferably ferulic acid) as well is because they work synergistically to provide antioxidant protection. In other words, the combination works better than the single ingredients alone. It's also more stabile.

I'm currently looking for cheaper alternatives for the SkinCeuticals product, but the options seem pretty limited at the moment. One option is to buy the ingredients separately and make your own serum. In any case, I decided to take a risk and purchased another set of sample bottles to see if there's a difference the quality.

Indeed, that seems to be the case: the color of the liquid in the first bottle I opened is much lighter ('champagne' describes it well) than in the previous batch. Thus, most if not all of the bottles I had the last time had clearly oxidized, which means they were useless (and possibly even harmful, though I'm not sure of this). A waste of money, but at least I learned something.

I'm storing the current batch in the fridge just in case. The last time I applied the serum on my entire face and both hands. However, now that I have several more experiments related to skin going on, I'm applying it on my entire face, but only on the left side of the neck and my left hand.

For more information on skin and aging, see these posts:

Examining Possible Causes for Slower Wound Healing
Lutein for Skin Elasticity, Hydration and Photo-Protection – Experiment Begins
Coconut Oil Is Better than Olive Oil for Atopic Dermatitis
Bioactive Form of Silicon (BioSil) Improves Skin, Hair & Nails in Photoaged Women

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20 kommenttia:

Anonymous July 18, 2009 at 6:56 AM  

wow! please keep me posted on your findings! i think that this is great! real people not some satistic from a company that makes up lies about there own product...
thank you!

Anonymous November 9, 2009 at 11:36 AM  

i dont know if cheaper, but you can order Vitamin C from and its cheap really, and if you order Ferulic Acid you can put it in the serum and that will stabilize L-ascorbic acid. Hope that will help, bye!

Jan June 22, 2010 at 4:34 PM  


Your blog is awesome, but please stop putting pictures of black men (or any non-whites) in your posts. Many readers are sensitive about these things (to put it simply, they don`t like indoctrination/taking sides with extremists(-leftists), and this blog shouldn`t either).

Thank you.

Respectfully yours,

JLL June 22, 2010 at 4:38 PM  


What on earth are you talking about?

Anonymous July 8, 2010 at 9:31 AM  

What was the conclusion of this experiment?

JLL July 10, 2010 at 4:23 PM  


It's still running.


Anonymous September 18, 2010 at 4:53 AM  


Thanks for conducting this experience.. Just curious what the result is.. Thanks.

JLL September 18, 2010 at 2:26 PM  


I don't know if there's going to be a "result" per se for this experiment, because I'm using it indefinitely (as long as I can get the stuff for a decent price). Maybe I should move it away from the experiments list, since I already wrote one conclusion.

On the other hand, I'm thinking that if I see any visible results, I'm writing update posts about them. One thing I have noticed is an increase in beard hair growth on the side of the face where I'm using vitamin C. Anyone else noticed that?


Anonymous January 27, 2011 at 9:29 PM  

Enjoyed reading many of your blogs this morning.

If your serum is anything but clear, then oxidation has already occurred.

My recommendation is to buy pure l-ascorbic acid sometimes marketed as "crystaline C" online, mix it with oil or lotion and a E capsule immediately prior to use. Here in the States you can get 8 oz for under $14.

I use this all over my body and have been doing this for well over a decade with good results.

Anonymous July 25, 2011 at 9:06 PM  

Hi. I read your blog with some interest. I had a co2 laser treatment under my eyes to get rid of some spots. The treatment was effective at removing the spots but left me with hyperpigmentation (browning of the skin). The doctor recommended a course of chemical peels. I decided to do an internet search. I discovered that vit C (L-ascorbic acid) would lighten the skin. I bought skinceuticals 20% vit c. The liquid was yellowy orange so some oxidation had occurred and it was very expensive (£60 for only 10ml). The vit c worked!! I researched vit c and decided to mix up my own. I bought crystal vit c from holland and barret health store(I'm based in the UK). I also bought purified de-ionised water (the type that goes into car batteries). It cost me 10pence To make up 10ml of 20% vit c (as opposed to £60). It was fresh and colourless (instead of half oxidised). I started giving it to my friends and family for free. They have all been amazed by it (clarifying the skin and reducing pore size). Its wonderful stuff!!! :) PS I am not selling anything, just singing the praises of vit C. PPS The palms of your hands will not absorb vit c like other skin and when it oxidises will make them smell strange. Best to use cotton wool to apply.

Anonymous February 22, 2012 at 4:24 PM  

Nufountain has a 20% vitamin C + ferulic acid serum for under $25. It is at the right PH to perform correctly. You can buy it directly from them or via amazon, and it's made fresh when ordered. I've had great results with it, and prefer it to SkinCeuticals as it comes in a pump and I don't end up exposing it to light and air every time I apply it.

JLL March 10, 2012 at 5:54 PM  


Thanks for the tip,


Anonymous October 24, 2012 at 2:40 AM  


I also bought cheap L-ascorbic acid powder and made my own topical treatments. Dissolved Vitamin C in distilled water is colourless, so any kind of yellowing is probably oxidation unless there are other yellow ingredients (e.g. curcumin).
I noticed that nails and calluses would partly turn yellow/orange/brown after prolonged contact (as verified on a feet). At least on nails, this discoloration cannot be washed off.

Anonymous October 24, 2012 at 2:41 AM  


I also bought cheap L-ascorbic acid powder and made my own topical treatments. Dissolved Vitamin C in distilled water is colourless, so any kind of yellowing is probably oxidation unless there are other yellow ingredients (e.g. curcumin).
I noticed that nails and calluses would partly turn yellow/orange/brown after prolonged contact (as verified on a feet). At least on nails, this discoloration cannot be washed off.

tanyam314 May 8, 2013 at 7:28 AM  

Wow, thanks so much for this post. It sounds like you really know your stuff chemistry-wise, which was what I was actually seeking since I make my own homemade Cellex-C (I've even blogged about it and was seeking confirmation chemically that I'm using the right form of Vitamin C. I'm definitely going to give your formula a whirl since the addition of vitamin E sounds like just the right ticket.

Anonymous February 19, 2014 at 11:48 AM  

I use a ferulic acid with C and E in it daily. I have noticed a brightening effect and a texture change. I did notice the serum is a pale yellow. I called the company and they said that about 10% of the C will oxidize but the other 90% remains effective -thus the color. Apparently Ferulic Acid will stabilize the C but not completely when water is present. The chemist said since the formula has 20% C in it, it's still quite a bit of C compared to most serums.

Sudhir Kumar July 7, 2014 at 12:09 PM  

I'm also involved aggressively into antiageing & use too many supplements.
I found Vit C capsules (for Local application) in India which is sold by name "Strea C10". I use it. Its also sold internationally I think, with the same brand name.

Anonymous December 20, 2014 at 7:38 AM  

I too have been using vitamin c in the form of L-asorbic acid on my face for over a year. It does not touch my fingernails, yet for several months now, they are all an ugly orange/yellow color from the tip to about 2/3 the way back. I am trying to find a cause for this. Two different doctors are not able to tell me. Does anyone know if my vitamin c solution, which does not come in contact with my nails, still be the cause of my issue?

Anonymous December 20, 2014 at 8:59 AM  

Can L-asorbic acid cause fingernail discoloration when used topically, even though there is no direct contact with fingernails? Looking for an answer to my orange/yellow nails!

Anonymous February 24, 2016 at 2:41 AM  

Hi! I've been using EmerginC 20% vitamin C serum. I absolutely love it.

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