Chances are that if you happen to have a sweet spot for skincare as we do, you've probably already heard of the incredible benefits of vitamin C for our skin.
If you pay attention to the ingredients we use to formulate our C-Cleansing balm, our Muse Oil or any other products that can infuse vitamin C into the skin you will most likely not see any explicit forms of vitamin C in the list. The reason is the following: we use ingredients like Amla, Sea buckthorn Berries & Camu Camu berries to do so which are all natural sources of this super-nutrient.
There are a ton of products on the market that do often list “vitamin C” on their ingredient list or “ascorbic acid” which is an indicator that they have chosen to use a lab-made, or as we call, “franken-made” version of it.
Is there really a difference and are they both equally as effective in brightening, chemically exfoliating & stimulating collagen?
Let’s start by giving you some of the main incredible benefits that it can offer to your skin.
- It has powerful skin-preserving benefits which can slow down the skin’s natural aging process.
How? Vitamin C is a very powerful type of antioxidant that helps arm skin cells against environmental stressors, otherwise referred to free-radical oxidative stress (found to be the second cause of aging!)
2. It helps firm the skin and keep it elastic.
How? Vitamin C is actually necessary for collagen synthesis which means it is actually necessary for firm, bouncy skin. Collagen slows down with age, so complimenting it with vitamin C should help ensure it continues to produce a solid amount of collagen.
3. It helps reduce sun-damaged skin, dark spots & hyperpigmentation.
How? It helps improve the absorption of iron from our diet. When iron deficiency is the cause of dark spots or hyperpigmentation, better absorption of iron allows for better-oxygenated cells and less dark spots.
Vitamin C, applied topically is absorbed deep into the layers of the skin where melanin-producing cells are, and inhibits its production. In this process, the appearance of dark spots will slow down & those already present should lighten in pigment.
4. It helps prevent dead skin cell build-up, brighten the skin and allow for light reflection to bounce off the skin creating what we call: the ultimate glow.
How? Vitamin C actually acts as a gentle, chemical exfoliator which helps exfoliate dead skin cells that can be the cause of a dull complexion (or even pore congestion!)
Now that we’ve established the basics, let’s explain why synthetic & natural sources of vitamin C are not equal & answer which is the best form in our opinion for optimal results for our skin.
Synthetic Vitamin C vs. Natural forms
Natural sources of nutrients can come from plants, fruits, seeds, roots & other botanical ingredients. The natural form of vitamin C mainly comes from citrus fruits, red peppers, & berries, plus these sources usually offer so much more than this one super nutrient itself: many more phytonutrients come along with it.
On the other hand, synthetic vitamins are lab-made, likely more cost-effective for companies, processed ingredients such as corn syrup or acetone. They don’t offer the same nutritional value & usually are not created to offer more nutrients along with them. They are often combined with other synthetic ingredients that allow these natural forms to be absorbed by our bodies, and for them to, well, know what to do with them once applied onto our skin or ingested.
Why do most companies use synthetic vitamin C rather than its natural form?
Simple, because this vitamin is sensitive to heat. If a product with natural vitamin C is exposed to heat, it can be damaged, go rancid and lose any benefits it had to offer. Synthetic vitamin C, on the other hand, is much less vulnerable than its natural form and can go through pasteurization without going bad. (hence, why you can often see ascorbic acid, a synthetic form of vitamin C in orange juice for example.)
Companies often use the synthetic form as a means of creating more product, with longer shelf-life and as a more cost-effective way to include vitamin C in product formulas. These same companies can often increase their profits, or offer their products at a much lower price than the natural, unprocessed form of vitamin C. Their products are in return more stable, last longer on shelves before being purchased without going bad, and are less sensitive to light or heat.
Here are a few of the synthetic forms of vitamin C that skincare products often include:Ascorbic acid
Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate
Ascorbic acid polypeptide
Sodium ascorbyl palmitate
Sodium ascorbyl phosphate
Of these, L-ascorbic acid is thought to be the best, as the skin easily absorbs it. The others are often combined with fatty acids, sugars, or minerals to provide additional benefits or to increase absorption, though we have little evidence showing the combinations to be effective.
It should be rather clear as to why we think natural forms of all nutrients, in this case vitamin C are better than any synthetic form. While both seem rather identical in their molecular structure, yes synthetic vitamin C can serve your skin benefits but the bioavailability (how capable our bodies are of recognizing & knowing what to do with nutrients ) is not proven to be the same.
A study from 2001 found that applying vitamin C topically can be quite tricky. It found that L-absorbic acid had to be formulated at the precise pH level of 3.5 or less to actually be recognized and absorbed into the skin for any benefits at all. This study also found that other types of synthetic vitamin C such as magnesium ascorbyl phosphate and ascorbyl-6-palmitate weren’t capable of even penetrating into the skin and didn’t increase the skin’s levels of vitamin C at all.
Aside from bioavailability of synthetic forms of vitamin C, stability has also been found to be an issue. While L-ascorbic acid has been said to be the best synthetic form of vitamin C in terms of results & delivering benefits, it is the least stable of them all. So while the form that has been found to actually give results is hard to keep stable and can burn the skin when rancid, the other forms have been found to actually even stay at the top of the skin with little to no benefits at all.
In summary, although product’s ingredient lists may say that you’re getting some for of vitamin C, your skin may not be receiving any benefits at all.
The benefits of using a natural source of vitamin C like berries, fruits, & other natural sources:
Natural vitamin C contains much more than just absorbed acid, it contains bioflavonoids and enzymes which are said to help the skin and body recognize and take in nutrients as they are meant to be taken, & actually, help the body do what they’re meant to do with them.
The beauty of natural ingredients that include vitamin C is that they actually offer a range of additional nutrients that work with vitamin C to truly offer tangible results and benefits in our skin.
For example alma berry, Rosehip seed oil and Camu camu berries which are one of our main sources of vitamin C when we formulate our products, has incredible antioxidants, phytonutrients, minerals that help protect, nourish & preserve youthful-looking skin.
By harnessing the powerful tools that nature has given us like these, we don’t see any value in adding synthetic versions of any nutrients at all nor combining any of our natural ingredients to “fraken-made” components that will help absorption: our bodies recognize and know what to do best with natural ingredients and natural forms of nutrients.
The bottom line is, the choice is always yours to make. While some swear by synthetic forms of vitamin C, we profoundly believe in nature, and that our bodies are made to flow with it. We have seen tangible, visible results with the natural form of vitamin C within a matter of weeks and the slightly shorter shelf life of 6 months after opening the product seems like a very little price to pay for fresh, bioavailable and equally effective sources of vitamin C.
Anitra C. Carr, Margreet C. M. Vissers, “Synthetic or Food-Derived Vitamin C—Are They Equally Bioavailable?” Nutrients, November 2013; 5(11):4284-4304, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3847730/.
Mangels AR, et al., “The bioavailability to humans of ascorbic acid from oranges, orange juice and cooked broccoli is similar to that of synthetic ascorbic acid,” J Nutr., June 1993; 123(6):1054-61, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8505665.