Vitamin C Efficacy

How to decipher skincare products that actually absorb

The skin is the largest human organ and protects the body from physical and biological attacks. The epidermis effectively forms a barrier that is crucial to maintaining optimal internal and external health. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to protect the skin and ultimately protect the body. However, a commonly overlooked aspect of skin protection is directly correlated to skincare ingredients, products, and daily habits.

While skincare ingredients and products can help protect and maintain the skin, strong marketing often overshadows clinically significant information leaving a consumer to believe that all products are created equal. Skincare ingredients are critical to a products’ formulation and will determine the results consumers will see. These ingredients’ have different absorption properties, which play a major role in absorption and, ultimately, the desired outcome of using them.

Not All Ingredients are Created Equally

Absorption is not only dependent on penetration, but without products penetrating the skin, the effects of the ingredients are not likely to happen. It is essential to realize that skin penetration studies are extremely important yet expensive. Unfortunately, many companies do not invest the time or resources to understand if the products or ingredients will work as marketed. The most common misconception is that different forms and molecular weights of ingredients have equal or similar actions. One of the most prominent examples of this is vitamin C.

With an abundance of products available on the market, it is difficult to know that more than one molecular form of vitamin C exists.

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Vitamin C, also known as L-Ascorbic Acid (LAA), is the most abundant water-soluble antioxidant found in the skin that is continuously depleted as environmental aggressors attack it. Therefore, vitamin C needs to be consistently replenished and supplemented with more vitamin C in the form of L-Ascorbic Acid to adequately protect the skin from being damaged and expedite the premature signs of aging. Besides wrinkle prevention, vitamin C plays a vital role in photoprotection, neocollagenesis, and many other skin disorders.

Topical vs. Oral Consumption

With an abundance of products available on the market, it is difficult to know that more than one molecular form of vitamin C exists. Even more confusingly, only one of those forms shows clinically significant results when applied topically. Vitamin C can be provided to the skin through topical application or ingested orally. Oral consumption is not as effective as topical application due to the ingredient being broken down before successfully being transported to the skin.

Studies have shown that percutaneous vitamin C absorption is the most effective way to deliver the nutrient to the skin. However, the stability of vitamin C in topical solutions is a concern, as exposures to air, heat, and/or light may slowly degrade vitamin C. The natural form of vitamin C, ascorbic acid, is the most effective while derivatives are considered to have limited permeability and function in the skin.

How effective are your products?

Formulas containing vitamin C depend greatly on pH, molecular form, and concentration. Formulations with a pH below 4.0 aid in transport by promoting the uncharged form of ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Although concentrations of vitamin C up to 30% have been used, maximal absorption is achieved with 20% vitamin C. Topical application of ascorbic acid will cross the epidermis into the underlying dermal layers.

The most critical aspect of a vitamin c formulation is if it even penetrates the skin expressed as percutaneous absorption, as previously mentioned. A few of the most common forms of vitamin C derivatives are Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, and Ascorbyl Palmitate. Research shows that every type of vitamin C besides L-Ascorbic Acid needs to be converted into Ascorbic Acid for it to be effective, which occurs after it’s applied.

Therefore, the different molecular forms of vitamin C formulations must first penetrate the skin and undergo successful conversion. This means that an insufficient amount of the ingredient is being applied and utilized by the skin. Moreover, conflicting studies have shown these derivatives, such as sodium ascorbyl-phosphate, would not penetrate the epidermis while it has in other studies. In another experiment, magnesium ascorbyl-phosphate did not improve skin barrier function. Ultimately, these results do not prove to be reliable for clinically significant results.

Utilizing vitamin C in a clinic or spa is essential to provide patients with the most clinically significant results to protect against photodamage, wrinkles, and dark spots while also being excellent for use in combination with laser treatments and skin maintenance. Providing the right vitamin C products with clinically proven absorption is highly dependent on formulations containing L-Ascorbic Acid, that have an aqueous (water) based solution, with a pH below 4.2, and the concentration of vitamin C below 20%.