Home Cosmetic Science Talk Formulating General Change my view Does Vitamin C really work? Or it just stains the skin?

  • Does Vitamin C really work? Or it just stains the skin?

    Posted by fareloz on January 24, 2022 at 10:40 am

    Summary:
    1. Does Vitamin C oxidizes in the skin after application and absorption?
    2. Does Vitamin C really evens skin tone as many claims it, or just gives a fake tan which makes you feel like it evens skin tone?
    3. Is it true that if you have enough Vitamin C in your diet - the skin won’t benefit from external applications?

    Long story:
    Hi! Around half a year I started to be curious about how the skincare works to be able to evaluate how some product will work, is it worth the price and will it be pleasant on the skin. Since then I am puzzled about one skincare ingredient - Vitamin C (l-ascorbic acid). 
    Many bloggersresearchesuser feedbacks ensure us that Vitamin C evens the skin tone and gives the skin a glowing “radiance” look, which inspired me to try some Vitamin C serum too. I bought one and started to apply each day during the night routine. After few days I noticed that my body become a little bit orange. 
    I read that orange color is a sign that ascorbic acid is already oxidized and the serum is expired (although the product was crystal clear). I did a research and some people suggest to apply a moisturizer on top to prevent oxidization of the acid right on the skin. Tried it - doesn’t work.
    Than I decided to bough the most famous Skinceutical C-E-Ferulic serum, since they advertise it as most stable. But the result was the same - my skin gets orange look after some days of application.
    Being upset about it (especially because of the price), I did more research and decided to make a fresh batch of vitamin c serum myself at home for each application. I bought ascorbic acidpropylene glycolglycerin, found a mixture which is not sticky and started to make and apply it each day. You know what? Same orange stain on the skin.
    After that I made a last shot on the topic, I decided that Vitamin E and Ferulic acid in that famous serum is not only to keep Vitamin C serum fresh in the bottle, but in the body too, and the only problem I had - a spoiled portion of the serum. So I decided to make a fresh batch myself. Bought everything needed to replicate it (ferulic acid, a-tocopherol, solubilizers, etc) but afterwards the result is the same - orange stain on the face and body.
    Now I wonder if Vitamin C really works, or it just tricks us by giving a layer of fake tan which makes us feel the skin is evened out. What do you think?

    Abdullah replied 3 weeks, 1 day ago 8 Members · 21 Replies
  • 21 Replies
  • grapefruit22

    Member
    January 24, 2022 at 5:16 pm

    Yes, it works.
    Some research:
    https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaotolaryngology/fullarticle/509859
    https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/skin-health/vitamin-C

    I can answer also from customer perspective. I use a vitamin c serum every day. If you find a good serum, you should notice the difference right away. The face immediately becomes brighter. Over time, the discoloration becomes lighter, the visibility of the pores is reduced. I do not use products with ascorbic acid. Try any other form of this vitamin - Ascorbyl Glucoside, Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate. According to research, they are much more stable, and I use them without any problems.

  • OldPerry

    Member
    January 24, 2022 at 6:03 pm

    I’ve always thought the research on topical vitamin C is sketchy and not terribly convincing.  

    Studies purporting to show a benefit to vitamin C typically are poorly designed and they don’t get to the heart of the matter for what consumers would really care about.  That is, what is the best technology to use for treating wrinkles? (or whatever other characteristic you are measuring)

    The studies are designed to be useful for marketing stories, not useful for determining what is true.

    For example, the first study you link uses a small samples size and they had a huge number of people who dropped out.  Started with 28 but only 19 were analyzed at the end? This is dubious as far as science goes. Then they didn’t just compare a placebo vs a placebo spiked with Vitamin C. Rather they looked at the placebo vs one spiked with Vitamin C, Zinc, and tyrosine. So, even if this study was correct in its findings, it says nothing about how vitamin C works but how Vitamin C in the presence of zinc and tyrosine works. From this  study we do not know whether it was the vitamin C, the zinc, the tyrosine or some combination of the three.

    The second study is more  a review of what is out there but again, it’s not very compelling to me. The research just does not answer the main questions consumers would want to know.

    For example, they claim vitamin C provides photoprotection. Ok, but there are vastly better ingredients that provide photoprotection (e.g. sunscreen drug actives). Why use an inferior technology?  They claim vitamin C provides antiwrinkling.  Ok, but why not use an occlusive agent like Petrolatum that works even better?

    Overall, I find the claims of vitamin C to be nothing more than marketing stories. I have not seen any symptom that topical vitamin C would improve better than some alternative technology. I’m always open to new information so if anyone has better studies that they find impressive, I’d love to read them. 
     

  • grapefruit22

    Member
    January 24, 2022 at 8:45 pm

    The second article had 70 references to publications, none of them was convincing?

    The huge popularity of vitamin C products is definitely more than marketing given the high prices of these products. And when it comes to photoprotection, it works in a different way to sunscreen, just as it has an anti-aging effect in a different way than an occlusive agent. You don’t have to choose technology you find inferior, but you can use both.

    The main question was whether vitamin C evens out the skin tone, if the publications are not convincing, you can read thousands of reviews of consumers who appreciate this effect of Vitamin C. They cannot assess the photoprotection or the anti-wrinkle effect, but for sure they are able to notice improvement of skin tone.

    Here you can also find comparison with hydroquinone: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15304189/
    Was ascorbic acid less effective? Yes, but hydroquinone had more side effects, and you can’t use it in cosmetics in Europe. Usually ascorbic acid is also used at higher concentrations than in this study, so it is possible that you may achieve better results.

  • fareloz

    Member
    January 24, 2022 at 9:09 pm
    1. You didn’t read my questions carefully. I am not declining the fact that ascorbic acid evens skin tone. Although it seems it doesn’t do it in the way I expect. I expect it to fight hyperpigmentation and reduce dark spots, but it seems ascorbic acid just gives a small shade of fake tan which visually hides the issue rather than treating it.
    2. I am talking exclusively about ascorbic acid, not derivatives.
    3. I’m not surprised you get instant brightening of the face. Most serums have huge percentage of ascorbic acid, which is white powder. If you put such amount of zinc oxide you would get the same whitness. But in the long run ascorbic acid just stains the skin (IMHO)
    4. You can read the same amount of feedbacks from people who say same thing as I do - Vitamin C makes skin orange and just gives a fake tan (which makes skin look even, but it’s only visual effect)
  • fareloz

    Member
    January 24, 2022 at 9:30 pm

    The second article had 70 references to publications, none of them was convincing?

    Actually, I made a quick glance at studies provided in the article and found none to be  done on humans, most of them are made on animals, which is not convincing.
    Could you provide a specific study which is done on statistically meaningful number of humans with well-defined methodology?

  • grapefruit22

    Member
    January 24, 2022 at 9:50 pm

    For sure brightening (not whitness) effect was not caused by white powder, since this experience applies mainly to vitamin C derivatives, including oil derivative.
    You can check the mentioned studies and see if they are convincing. It is true that vitamin C can stain the epidermis orange, which can affect the perception of users.

  • fareloz

    Member
    January 24, 2022 at 10:00 pm

    You can check the mentioned studies and see if they are convincing.

    As I said, I already took a quick look at some of the studies mentioned in the article and all of them are done on animals. It is not cool to throw in huge list of studies and say “the truth is somewhere there”. If you have a convincing one - show it, don’t expect people to go through each of them instead of you.

  • OldPerry

    Member
    January 24, 2022 at 10:36 pm

    @grapefruit22 - before I respond I want to sincerely thank you for participating in the forum. I very much appreciate you including links and making good arguments for your position. I don’t wish to come off as combative but it is easy to be misunderstood in text.

    Alright, as to your response…

    The second article had 70 references to publications, none of them was convincing?
    I haven’t gone through all 70 references but certainly all 70  references are not relevant to the question at hand.  For example, the first 2 references are simply related to the question of whether skin naturally contains Vitamin C. Of course I find this convincing. But this tells us nothing about whether applying Vitamin C topically is beneficial.

    Which of the 70 references did you find most compelling?  As @toketsu points out, many of the referenced studies cite animal and mouse studies that may not be applicable to human studies. 

    The huge popularity of vitamin C products is definitely more than marketing given the high prices of these products.” 

    Popularity is not a good measure of whether something works or not. It is a good measure of whether a brand’s marketing works but does not say much about the product. Having been a formulating chemist in the industry, I know that the price of a product has very little to do with how much it costs to make it. A 1 ounce serum that costs $125 likely costs about $2 or $3 for the company to make it. And the majority of that cost is the packaging. The reason the product costs that much is because of the brand positioning more than anything else.

    you can read thousands of reviews of consumers who appreciate this effect of Vitamin C

    When a consumer reviews a product, they are assessing the entire product from application, packaging, price, odor, etc. This says very little about how effective the Vitamin C in a product is. Maybe they just like how it moisturizes skin? 

    They cannot assess the photoprotection or the anti-wrinkle effect, but for sure they are able to notice improvement of skin tone.

    Again, I’ve been involved in enough consumer home research tests to come to the conclusion that consumers are terrible at noticing small improvements. The assessment of whether a product works or not is much more related to the amount of money they paid for the product rather than how it actually works. Many consumers are always looking for the next great new thing. Why? Because the thing they have been using doesn’t make any noticeable difference. And that’s because most products will moisturize and make skin feel good, but that’s about all a consumer really notices. 

  • OldPerry

    Member
    January 24, 2022 at 11:08 pm

    @toketsu - I don’t believe Vitamin C would work to “stain” the skin in the way that say Dihydroxyacetone (DHA - fake tan) would.

    Ascorbic acid supposedly works by interfering with different biochemical steps in the melanin synthesis process. So, in theory, it stops the production of melanin which would steadily reduce the amount of pigment in skin at the spot where it was applied. This wouldn’t be staining the skin as suggested.

    But like I said, while the theory is reasonable, I don’t find the evidence of it working from products compelling.

  • fareloz

    Member
    January 25, 2022 at 9:12 am

    @Perry Agree, but do you think ascorbic acid could oxidize and degrade already in the skin during night or two and give the stain?

  • grapefruit22

    Member
    January 25, 2022 at 11:27 am

    toketsu said:

    You can check the mentioned studies and see if they are convincing.

    As I said, I already took a quick look at some of the studies mentioned in the article and all of them are done on animals. It is not cool to throw in huge list of studies and say “the truth is somewhere there”. If you have a convincing one - show it, don’t expect people to go through each of them instead of you.

    You mean all the few you selected were about animals? It’s not true that all or even most of them were such kind of study, so it’s not right to write that way, especially if someone just try to help you. Just as it is not true that you got the whole list only, because you also got two specific publications, the second of which is about the comparison with hydroquinone which I found convincing, but you just skip them.

    @Perry, check the comparison with hydroquinone. I think it is better study than the first I recommend. 
    When I wrote about the price, I did not mean that it must work because it is expensive. My point is, if a product is expensive, people become more picky. At the same time, I also agree that some of them will justify the expense and convince themselves that it works because they paid a lot for it. But here again, as you wrote, people like to change products, and that is how they can compare them and come back to the best. There are cases where the product was released by a recognized company, had great marketing, fancy packaging and a nice smell, and after some time the manufacturer quietly recalled it from the market and replaced it with a new one. I mean mainly products where, of course, the manufacturer provided a high concentration of the active ingredient (10-15%), where in fact it was 3-5%. People had a comparison and noticed the difference. But this is mainly about the active ingredients, when it comes to the moisturizing cream, here I agree that the overall experience and marketing is more important.

  • fareloz

    Member
    January 25, 2022 at 12:29 pm

    @grapefruit22
    I am sorry if my messages look too harsh (as Perry says, it is easy to be misunderstood in text), I didn’t want to attack you in any way. English is not my native language, so I probably use wrong words sometimes and they look offensive, sorry if so.

    You mean all the few you selected were about animals? It’s not true that all or even most of them were such kind of study

    If you can provide a study from that list which is relevant - I would really love to discuss it. I found only one done on 4 pieces of human skin and it has a note that results might be irrelevant due to small number of trials.

    I also checked the one with hydroquinone and have some doubts on it:
    1. Only 16 women. I don’t think math would say it is statistically representative
    2. These women were using Vitamin C on one part of the face and hydroquinone on other. They were covering whole face with a SUNSCREEN, So basically the comparison was Ascorbic acid + sunscreen with hydroquinone + sunscreen. How we can be sure it’s ascorbic acid helps but not the sunscreen? There should be 3rd group which is wearing ONLY sunscreen. Although it’s not included because results might be unpleasant (what if just sunscreen gives better results that combination of it with vitamin c or hydroquinone?)
    3. Are we sure that brightening effect is based on Vitamin C special properties but not on pH and acidity? Are we sure that any other AHA acid with such percentage rate (15%) and pH value (around 3.5) won’t perform same, better?

  • grapefruit22

    Member
    January 25, 2022 at 1:56 pm

    You may assume they didn’t make that comparison for fear of underperformance, and there is such possibility, but I’m sticking to the point that it’s about money. I know publications where the alleged effectiveness was a statistical error (like X was 0.0001 better), and they were published anyway. As it was a half face study, to compare a sunscreen only they would have to double the number of test subjects, and if you wanted more subjects in general, the cost of the test would be enormous. Even if a company releases a great super hero ingredient, I can assure you, there is no queue of scientists waiting for it to test 100 people for free. What to do in this case? You can search for information whether only the use of sunscreen can reverse melasma, especially melasma that has been developed for many years (such cases were examined in the publication). A very similar study was also done comparing hydroquinone with 4% niacinamide. If you want to test whether the acidic pH of ascorbic acid may be crucial, you can compare the effectiveness of vitamin C derivatives that can be converted into ascorbic acid and be used at a neutral pH. But here again, don’t expect a lot of un-sponsored research in large groups. 

  • OldPerry

    Member
    January 25, 2022 at 5:10 pm

    @grapefruit22 - Here is the full study you referenced. What is it that you find compelling?

    I read the paper and find it lacking. While 16 subjects is pretty small (30 should be the minimum), that isn’t even what I have the most problem with. 
    Consider…

    1. They compared two completely different formulas. 5% L-ascorbic acid (La Roche Possay, France) or
    4% hydroquinone water–oil emulsion (Stieffel, Coral Gables, FL,
    USA). So maybe an ingredient other than vitamin C is responsible for the effect?

    2. Their primary measurements were subjective and the scale they used is terrible and leading.  They asked rate your skin improvement (mild, moderate, good, and excellent)? This automatically forces the subject to say there was a positive improvement. Where is the “made skin worse” option? or the “no change” option? 

    3.  Look at the before and after pictures. They don’t even control for lighting! The person’s lips are much darker in the before compared to the after picture. This is just terrible work. It’s the kind of thing that goes in beauty magazine or long sales pages on websites. This isn’t serious science.

    Why didn’t they have a dermatologist rate the sides using a standard rating scale? This seems like it would be standard practice especially since the study was conducted by 3 dermatologists?

    If they wanted a proper control in this study they only needed 24 participants which would allow for 16 half face sides for each treatment plus the control. It would have been easy enough to do.  

    At the end of the day, I don’t find this evidence compelling.

    I will add that when these studies are done they actually pay volunteers to participate and scientists to conduct them. If a company had developed a great super hero ingredient the cost of testing would be tiny compared to the profit they could make. 

  • vitalys

    Member
    January 26, 2022 at 2:36 pm

    @toketsu
    I don’t believe that topical Ascorbic acid works the way the marketing campaigns declare. All the possible effects that we can observe are very similar to the effects of AHA. When studies don’t show or explain any compelling data or conclusions regarding this acid, I tend to explain the possible activity and effects of the topical Vit C by the fact that Ascorbic acid is still an acid, which also explains why the pure form of it works better vs the salts or esters. So, the topical Vit C is a form of the mild peeling, which is comparable to let’s say Lactic acid or Mandelic acid at 5-7% or some other acids like this. (If we add some Niacin to the mixture, the results would be even more positively pronounced for the shorter period of time)
    As for the “orange stains” you may find it interesting to read here 
    Vitamin C Degradation Products and Pathways in the Human Lens (nih.gov)

    It doesn’t related directly to the topic we discuss, but it explains the degradation of Vit C and why the skin turns tanned. 

  • Bjeans

    Member
    January 29, 2022 at 4:36 am

    I make my own Vitamin C & Hyralonic acid serum. I use ascorbic acid. I keep it in the frig (life=2-3 weeks). Never experienced your problem. I give to family/ friends. I do use small amount of (1-2%) of Leucidal Liquid SF, & amber bottles. Been making it for about 3-4 years. I do feel it is effective, as there have been periods when I did not use it.

  • Abdullah

    Member
    January 29, 2022 at 10:49 am

    @Perry “They claim vitamin C provides antiwrinkling.  Ok, why not use an occlusive agent like Petrolatum that works even better?” 

    Can i ask how an occlusive like petrolatum act as anti wrinkle?

  • OldPerry

    Member
    January 29, 2022 at 6:51 pm

    @Abdullah - it moisturizes the skin which helps “plump up” the skin, keeps in some moisture and makes the wrinkles look less apparent.

  • Dtdang

    Member
    January 30, 2022 at 9:39 pm

    I am very limited knowledge about formulating. But, I like vitamin C which helps fading age spots, brightening skin and reducing wrinkles (less than retinol)

    Ascorbyl Glucoside Is stable vitamin C. It is stable up to pH = 6

  • Cst4Ms4Tmps4

    Member
    January 13, 2023 at 11:03 am

    Another quality and (real) scientific response by @Perry.
    I like confirmation bias. LMAO!

    Hello to you again, @Abdullah.
    You can prove and convince yourself by covering a part of your skin with plastic.

    More realistic proof is parts covered by clothes are normally naturally moist/oily.

    An even more realistic proof is the folds of skin (joints, fat, wrinkles) on your body. People rarely or never get any imperfections such as acne/pimple in these places, so it is easier to observe.

    Those places nearly always having the smoothest and ‘youngest’ appearance without the need for special treatment or product compared to skin exposed to external insults.

    The scalp is another very good realistic proof. See those elderly bald people? Only their scalps retain high level of youth while the rest of their bodies die.

    @Dtdang I have been using Tretinoin for all my life. I am still using it. According to the Internet, Retinol and Tretinoin are similar to each other. Tretinoin is a controlled item due to its potency (It is banned in certain countries). I am not interested in the types of vitamin-A derivatives in, say Olay Regenerist, because it is too weak OR contains too little of that thing to be useful OR probably does not even have that thing. It is a marketing thing, you know…

    I am not sure what you read or told how Retinol actually works. Its primary action is to peel skin. Old skin away, new skin is magically grown. Nothing special to it. AHA and BHA and whatever chemical peels can do the same. Many people even swear that Citrus juices can do the same. I am sure you have heard it over and over. Sometimes concentrated salt solution and sunburn can do the same, these dry/kill the skin, dried/dead and black skin sloughs off, new and white skin mysteriously pops out. What a natural way. LOL! You can see this easily on the beach.

    Having said all that, only Tretinoin can touch deep down (messes with DNA). It does not work only at the surface, that is.
    Other weaklings vitamin-A derivatives could do it too, I think. But I can say about Tretinoin only because Tretinoin is an extremely well-researched drug for more than 50 years. It is one of those gold standard stuff in medicine.

    Now, can mess with DNA does not mean it whitens skin and removes wrinkles the way that most people believe or preach.
    “Old” skin still needs to come up.
    There is a reason why people on Tretinoin treatment for removing hyperpigmentation are STILL asked NOT to be under the Sun without protection.
    There is a reason why the same people who successfully remove whatever they want to have removed are STILL asked NOT to be under the Sun without protection.
    They will perpetually go on treatment otherwise. Or blame Tretinoin is shit. (The blame part is common and real story all over the world. Many people using Tretinoin have unrealistic goal and understanding.)

  • Abdullah

    Member
    January 14, 2023 at 3:27 am

    Another quality and (real) scientific response by @Perry.
    I like confirmation bias. LMAO!

    Hello to you again, @Abdullah.
    You can prove and convince yourself by covering a part of your skin with plastic.

    More realistic proof is parts covered by clothes are normally naturally moist/oily.

    An even more realistic proof is the folds of skin (joints, fat, wrinkles) on your body. People rarely or never get any imperfections such as acne/pimple in these places, so it is easier to observe.

    Those places nearly always having the smoothest and ‘youngest’ appearance without the need for special treatment or product compared to skin exposed to external insults.

    The scalp is another very good realistic proof. See those elderly bald people? Only their scalps retain high level of youth while the rest of their bodies die.

    @Dtdang I have been using Tretinoin for all my life. I am still using it. According to the Internet, Retinol and Tretinoin are similar to each other. Tretinoin is a controlled item due to its potency (It is banned in certain countries). I am not interested in the types of vitamin-A derivatives in, say Olay Regenerist, because it is too weak OR contains too little of that thing to be useful OR probably does not even have that thing. It is a marketing thing, you know…

    I am not sure what you read or told how Retinol actually works. Its primary action is to peel skin. Old skin away, new skin is magically grown. Nothing special to it. AHA and BHA and whatever chemical peels can do the same. Many people even swear that Citrus juices can do the same. I am sure you have heard it over and over. Sometimes concentrated salt solution and sunburn can do the same, these dry/kill the skin, dried/dead and black skin sloughs off, new and white skin mysteriously pops out. What a natural way. LOL! You can see this easily on the beach.

    Having said all that, only Tretinoin can touch deep down (messes with DNA). It does not work only at the surface, that is.
    Other weaklings vitamin-A derivatives could do it too, I think. But I can say about Tretinoin only because Tretinoin is an extremely well-researched drug for more than 50 years. It is one of those gold standard stuff in medicine.

    Now, can mess with DNA does not mean it whitens skin and removes wrinkles the way that most people believe or preach.
    “Old” skin still needs to come up.
    There is a reason why people on Tretinoin treatment for removing hyperpigmentation are STILL asked NOT to be under the Sun without protection.
    There is a reason why the same people who successfully remove whatever they want to have removed are STILL asked NOT to be under the Sun without protection.
    They will perpetually go on treatment otherwise. Or blame Tretinoin is shit. (The blame part is common and real story all over the world. Many people using Tretinoin have unrealistic goal and understanding.)

    Hello 

    Thanks a lot

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