Vitamin C Ascorbic Acid in Skin Care

Text that says Vitamin C over an image of serum

Vitamin C is one of the best ingredients in skin care products because it has many skin benefits. However, it can be very expensive so you need to make sure that Vitamin C is the best skin care ingredient for your skin type.

In this blog I will tell you which Vitamin C products dermatologists recommend and why. You will also learn how to know if you need Vitamin C for your skin type.

There are many Vitamin C products out there are not made properly and do not work.

When should you start using Vitamin C on your skin?

When to use Vitamin C on your skin depends upon which Baumann Skin Type you are.

undefined

Side Effects of Topical Vitamin C

The good vitamin C serums are acidic.  They can cause:

  • stinging
  • skin burn
  • rash
  • acne

Vitamin C does not cause skin dryness. Some formulations such as SkinCeuticals C E ferulic can make skin feel oily.

Skin Types and Vitamin C

Which skin type should use Vitamin C?

These skin types will benefit from vitamin C:

  • Aging skin
  • Dull skin
  • Mature skin
  • Uneven Skin tone

Which skin types should not use Vitamin C?

Rosacea types and stinging skin types should not use Vitamin C serums.

The most effective Vitamin C skin care products are a low ph. 

These acidic serums:

  • Exfoliate
  • Irritate Skin
  • Cause facial flushing
  • Cause stinging

Rosacea types and people with stinging skin can use vitamin C creams instead of serums but these are not very effective.

Vitamin C creams are not as effective as serums because the pH is not as low. They do not absorb well into the skin.

There are better antiaging ingredients than ascorbic acid for people with rosacea and stinging skin.

The best way to know if you should use Vitamin C is to shop by your Baumann Skin Type.

Vitamin C and Sensitive skin

Is Vitamin C good for sensitive skin?

Vitamin C is not a good choice for sensitive skin types.

Vitamin C must be acidic to be effective so it can irritate sensitive skin types.

Although it is an antioxidant, it can cause inflammation in sensitive skin such as rosacea-prone skin types.

Never use Vitamin C on irritated skin or skin with a rash.

What does Vitamin C irritation look like?

Skin that has a rash from Vitamin C may be:

  • red or pink
  • itchy
  • stinging
  • rough to touch
  • tender and uncomfortable
  • slightly warm to touch

Is Vitamin C too harsh for sensitive skin?

Vitamin C is too harsh for sensitive skin because the good serums are a low acidic pH.

Vitamin C serums can make these types of sensitive skin worse:

Can Vitamin C cause an allergic reaction on the face?

It is unusual to have a true skin allergy to topical ascorbic acid.

It is more likely that your skin is irritated by the low acidic pH of the Vitamin C serum.

What to do if my skin is sensitive to Vitamin C?

Don't use Vitamin C if it irritates your skin.  Inflammation can lead to skin aging and hyperpigmentation.

You can take oral Vitamin C supplements and get skin benefits without upsetting your sensitive skin.

(Note that oral Vitamin C does not raise skin levels of Vitamin C as much as applying it topically, but it is a good option when ascorbic acid serums irritate your skin or make it break out.)

How to treat vitamin C skin irritation?

If Vitamin C burned your face, you need to take special care of your skin to prevent post inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Here are steps to take if your skin is irritated from Vitamin C serum:

  1. Cleanse with a soothing cleanser
  2. Apply a moisturizer with soothing ingredients.
  3. Avoid hydroxyacids (AHAs)
  4. Avoid beta hydroxyacids (BHA)
  5. Avoid retinoids
  6. Stop using the Vitamin C serum
  7. Stay out of the sun

undefined

Vitamin C in A Skincare Routine

How to combine Vitamin C and retinol in a skin care routine?

Vitamin C goes first.  It can be used in am and pm.  Retinol should be applied after Vitamin C.

Whether the retinol goes before or after  a moisturizer depends upon your Baumann Skin Type.

Once you take the quiz we will tell you the best product order for vitamin c and retinol for your skin type.

When should you use Vitamin C in routine?

Vitamin C always is the 3rd step in your skin care routine.

This is the order to apply Vitamin C serum in your routine:

  1. Cleanse skin
  2. Apply protective eye cream
  3. Apply vitamin C serum
  4. Moisturizer

What not to mix with Vitamin C in skincare?

Always apply Vitamin C serum alone to clean skin because it does not mix well with many other ingredients.

You can wait for the Vitamin C to absorb and then apply other serums.

Can I use Vitamin C serums with other serums? 

You can use other serums after Vitamin C but do not mix them with the Vitamin C before applying.

Serums that can follow Vitamin C are:

How to Use Vitamin C

Always apply vitamin C to clean skin preferably after cleansing with a low pH cleanser.

How much serum to apply?

Apply 1/8th of  teaspoon for entire face.

Do I use Vitamin C Serum Day or Night or Both?

You can use Vitamin C serum morning and night but it really depends upon your Baumann Skin Type.

Vitamin C before or after moisturizer?

Always use Vitamin C before a moisturizer.  Using it after a moisturizer is a waste of money because it will not absorb.

How often should I use Vitamin C in skin care?

Not all skin types should use Vitamin C.  Some Baumann Skin Types should use it once a day and some 2 times a day.

Can I use Vitamin C serum every day?

Most skin types can use Vitamin C every day and even twice a day.

However, not all sensitive skin types can tolerate Vitamin C.

Know your Baumann Skin type before buying any Vitain C products.

undefined

Using Vitamin C with other Cosmeceutical Ingredients

Vitamin C and Retinol Together

How to know if I need retinol or Vitamin c?

This is easy!  Take the skin type quiz and we will tell you exactly which products you should use and the correct skin care routine order.

What goes first- Vitamin C or retinol?

  • Vitamin C always goes before retinol.
  • Retinol absorbs easily.
  • Vitamin C does not.

How to layer Vitamin C and retinol?

  1. Cleanse skin
  2. Apply protective eye cream
  3. Apply vitamin C serum
  4. Moisturizer
  5. Retinol

However if you are used to your retinol and not having side effects, use the retinol in step 4 and moisturizer last on top of the retinol.

How long should I wait between Vitamin C and retinol

Learn more about using retinol, hyaluronic acid and Vitamin C in the same skin care routine here.

When should you not use Vitamin C on your face?

Do not use Vitamin C on your face if you have:

However, you can use Vitamin C on sunburned skin if it has not blistered or peeled.

When should I use Vitamin C on my face?

The morning is the best time to use Vitamin C serum because it can protect you from sun exposure and pollution.

However, you can also use it at night so skin has the ascorbic acid it needs to generate new collagen.

undefined

What are the best Vitamin C products?

The best Vitamin C serums are made by SkinCeuticals, La Roche Posay and Derma Made.  

The best Vitamin C skin care products are:

  • a pH of 2-3
  • made from L-ascorbic acid
  • serums not creams
  • in a amber bottle or airless pump
  • NOT in a jar
  • made by reputable brands
  • freshly opened

You can read more here about the best ascorbic acid serums.

Find the best Vitamin C for melasma here.

These are some of our favorite Vitamin C serums:

What are the 8 different types of Vitamin C in skin care products?

  • aminopropyl ascorbyl phosphate
  • ascorbyl glucoside
  • ascorbyl palmitate
  • ethyl ascorbic acid
  • L-ascorbic acid
  • magnesium ascorbyl phosphate
  • sodium ascorbyl phosphate
  • tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate

Comparison of Vitamin C forms in skin care products:

This table compares the stability, absorption and formulations of Vitamin C. 

undefined

Note which are fat soluble and which are water soluble. 

Fat soluble forms protect the cell membrane while water soluble works inside the cells.

All forms of Vitamin C have some effects on blocking melanin production and increasing collagen.

However, it is the form ascorbic acid that is the most effective form.  The other forms must convert into ascorbic acid to be effective.

undefined

The most effective Vitamin C must be:

  • stable 
  • absorbed
  • able to convert well ascorbic acid.

L-ascorbic acid is the most potent form- if it is formulated at a pH of 2-3 so it is absorbed.

Your skin care routine should be designed to increase absorption and stability of the ascorbic acid.

We will design a skin care routine for you based on your Baumann Skin Type.

If Vitamin C is right for you, the regimen will be designed to maximize absorption of Vitamin C.

How Long does it take?

How long does it take Vitamin C to absorb into the skin?

It depends upon the pH and what other ingredients are on the skin.

Learn more here.

How Long Does it take Vitamin C to work?

Vitamin C can take months to work.  How long depends upon:

  • What you are treating
  • What your Baumann Skin Type is
  • Which Vitamin C product
  • How you use it
  • How often you use it
  • When you apply it i
  • What other products you use it with

Learn more about how long it takes to treat dark spots and wrinkles, click here.

Best Vitamin C creams to moisturize

Vitamin C creams are not very good because

  • To high of a pH to absorb
  • Not good barrier repair moisturizers
  • Not enough moisturizing of fatty acids

Instead, choose a moisturizer that is right for your Baumann Skin Type.

What is Vitamin C cream used for?

These are used to treat dark spots and wrinkles.  However, Vitamin C serums work better than Vitamin C creams.

Best products with Vitamin C and retinol

I prefer that my patients use separate Vitamin C and retinol serums instead of using a combination product.

Vitamin C in Dermatology

Can Vitamin C help with skin issues?

Yes. These are the skin issues that Vitamin C can help:

  • aging skin
  • dark spots
  • melasma
  • stretch marks
  • thin skin
  • radiation dermatitis
  • wrinkles

Does Vitamin C fade dark spots?

Yes Vitamin C is a tyrosinase inhibitor.  But it is not as strong as other skin lightening ingredients to lighten dark spots.

Stop wasting time and money on the wrong products, shop by your Baumann Skin Type.

Level up larger font.jpg

References and Medical Publications About Ascorbic Acid In Skin Care:

Baumann L. Chapters 40 and 55 in Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Ingredients (McGraw Hill 2015).

Baumann L. Chapters 37 and 39 in Baumann’s Cosmetic Dermatology 3rd Edition (McGraw Hill 2022)

Baumann, Leslie. “Cosmeceuticals in skin of color” Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery 35 (2016): 233-237.

Baumann, L. (2020). 14 A Scientific Approach to Cosmeceuticals. The Art of Aesthetic Surgery, Three Volume Set: Principles and Techniques.

Baumann, L. (2013). Nonsurgical skin care and rejuvenation. Gurtner GC, Neligan PC. Plastic Surgery (3rd and 4th ed). China: Elsevier, 25.

Baumann, L. (2018). How to Use Oral and Topical Cosmeceuticals to Prevent and Treat Skin Aging. Facial Plastic Surgery Clinics26(4), 407-413.

Pinnell, Sheldon R., et al. “Topical L-Ascorbic Acid: Percutaneous Absorption Studies” Dermatol Surg 27 (2001): 137-142.

© 2006 - 2023 Skin Type Solutions