Vitamin C, The Classic Anti-Aging Superstar
Vitamin C is a classic skincare ingredient that has long been used in topical formulas for its proven role as a powerful antioxidant. However, recent studies have demonstrated that Vitamin C also plays an integral role in the synthesis of new collagen fibers when supplied in a proper form suitable for skincare treatments. It’s this key issue of form that makes a product containing Vitamin C either very effective or totally useless as both an antioxidant and for the stimulation of new dermal collagen fibers.
The Vitamin C form used by the vast number of skincare companies for the past several decades is standard ascorbic acid, which is effective when taken as a supplement but less effective in skincare products. This is because ascorbic acid is very unstable in the presence of water, which is why skincare products with the simple ascorbic acid form of Vitamin C as an active ingredient lose their effectiveness within 24 hours of production. Up until now this rapid degradation of Vitamin C in water has greatly limited its ability to be used in collagen-enhancing topical products.
This led to research and development of stabilized, buffered Vitamin C forms that have a longer shelf life in liquid mediums. But there were hurdles to overcome in the beginning with these Vitamin C forms too. The down side to this initial research that didn’t become apparent until more recently was that many of these buffered forms weren’t as well utilized by the skin as ascorbic acid. So while they functioned as stable antioxidants, they were less effective at stimulating collagen synthesis. Ascorbyl Palmitate (Vitamin C Ester), for instance, was prematurely heralded by some authors in the anti-aging field as the holy grail of Vitamin C. After several years of hype it was finally discovered that Ascorbyl Palmitate remained largely in the epidermal layer of the skin instead of penetrating down into the dermis to stimulate increased collagen development. This limited penetration made it a good candidate as a surface antioxidant against UV-induced free radical damage, but not very effective at attaining the maximum Vitamin C potential of evening out skin pigmentation or enhancing collagen.
Fortunately, research since the turn of the century has discovered a handful of extremely effective forms of Vitamin C that impart the full range of benefits as pure Ascorbic Acid but are highly stable in aqueous skincare products. These stable, water-soluble Vitamin C forms are known collectively as chirally correct Stabilized L-Ascorbic Acid Vitamin C that, unlike some other forms, have been clinically shown to easily penetrate through the lower skin layers and incite the synthesis of new collagen fibers in addition to protecting cellular structure from free radical damage (and are additionally effective at lightening “age spot” hyperpigmentation in the skin).
Multiple studies have shown that it takes at least a concentration of 10% of Stabilized Vitamin C in face products to really see more dramatic tightening effects in the skin (concentrations under this do have some benefit but the results are less dramatic). Many skincare companies either ignore this by using extremely low concentrations just to make a Vitamin C claim on their label or don’t understand that there are concentration gradients by which Vitamin C has different effects. Lower percentage concentrations of Stabilized L-Ascorbic Acid Vitamin C act as an effective antioxidant, and at moderate concentrations will induce skin lightening of hyperpigmentation, but it’s when the overall Vitamin C concentration breaks the double digit percentage barrier that it also stimulates collagen development (most notably because Vitamin C is an essential building block for collagen). So without high concentrations of Vitamin C in a skincare product there isn’t enough bioavailability of this nutrient to impart its full benefits.