" Known as the most active forms of vitamin C, studies suggest that ascorbic acid and l-ascorbic acid protect skin cells from oxidative damage, however, both ingredients are known to be very unstable and have a very short shelf life in a water-base formula."
Vitamin C is known to possess antioxidant activities that help protect skin cells from free radical damage. Ascorbic acid is the natural vitamin C found in fruits and vegetables while l-ascorbic acid is the synthetic form of ascorbic acid. Both ascorbic acid and l-ascorbic acid have exactly the same chemical structure which is considered as the most active form of vitamin C.
L-ascorbic acid may help prevent skin discolouration and sun-damaged skin. Studies suggest that l-ascorbic acid lightens pigmentation spots and improves the appearance of acne-prone skin. It has been reported that vitamin C boosts collagen production in the skin, hence, it may also help reduce the signs of ageing.
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Does L-Ascorbic Acid Really Work Wonder For Your Skin?
In order to be effective, l-ascorbic acid needs to be added to a water-base formula at a final ph below 3.5 and in concentration between 10% to 20%. Even at this optimum condition, l-ascorbic acid may not work wonder for your skin due to the following reasons:
1. L-ascorbic acid can be too irritating for the skin
The ph of healthy skin is about 5.5. Skincare products with a ph above 7 or below 4 can weaken the skin's barrier function. With an optimum ph of below 3.5, l-ascorbic acid can be too irritating for the skin. Skincare products that contain 10% or higher l-ascorbic acid is not suitable for sensitive skin. It is also not recommended for the use around the eyes.
As a skincare scientist, I highly recommend niacinamide as a better alternative to l-ascorbic acid. Known as vitamin B3, niacinamide has been shown to boost the production of collagen, elastin and other proteins in the skin by up to 100%. Studies also indicated that niacinamide effectively reduces pigmentation spots, prevents sun-damaged skin and strengthens the skin's barrier function. Unlike l-ascorbic acid, niacinamide has an optimum ph similar to the ph of healthy skin, hence, it is suitable for all skin types including sensitive skin and the fragile skin around the eyes.
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2. L-ascorbic acid is very unstable and has a very short shelf life
L-ascorbic acid is quickly oxidised, turned into dehydroascorbic acid upon a contact with the oxygen atom of the water molecule (H2 O). It is no longer have antioxidant properties. Don't use vitamin C products when the colour has turned to orange or brown. It is a clear sign that the oxidation process has already happened. Oxidised vitamin C can irritate the skin and speed up the skin ageing process.
Some skincare formulators replaced the water in the formula with silicone and its derivatives like cyclomethicone or pentasiloxane, to protect l-ascorbic acid from oxidation. However, the efficacy of l-ascorbic acid in a non-water-base formula is questionable. Other formulators add vitamin E, ferulic acid or zinc sulfate to help stabilise l-ascorbic acid in a water-base formula. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be working. The oxidation process is still happening and the colour of the products is visibly darkened within a few weeks. This is the reason that I have never use ascorbic acid or l-ascorbic acid as the active ingredient in my formulas. For better results, I prefer to use niacinamide in my skincare products.
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Henry Tianus is a multi-award-winning Anti-Ageing Scientist based in London, UK. Henry Tianus has been listed as The Recognised Institute Practitioner at The Institute of Traditional Herbal Medicine and Aromatherapy (ITHMA), London (UK) since 2005. Henry Tianus's articles have been read by people in more than 100 countries with USA and UK at the top of the list. Join Henry Tianus eNewsletter to receive the latest health and wellbeing tips.
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Scientific Sources: Oxidative Decomposition of Vitamin C in Drinking Water, Free Radical Research, 2004 Aug; 38(8): 855-60.