Navigating the World of Topical Vitamin C: Maximizing Benefits and Overcoming Oxidation

Christopher Chu M.D.
January 26, 2024

Vitamin C is the current superstar in the beauty world. It's not just an essential vitamin for your health, but a great ingredient for your skin too. We all love its promises of a brighter, youthful complexion, but there's a catch – it's all about how you use it. Let’s chat about vitamin C oxidation, why all vitamin C products are not the same, and how to pick the perfect topical vitamin C for your skincare routine.

Vitamin C has a variety of benefits.

  • Fights pesky free radicals causing oxidative stress.
  • Promotes collagen production.
  • Evens out skin tone and fading dark spots.


The problem comes down to choosing the right product. With so many on the market, how can we maximize efficacy while keeping not only our skin plump, but our wallets as well.

The Oxidation Conundrum:

The biggest issue with topical vitamin C is oxidation. While vitamin C has many benefits when used correctly, expose it to air, light, or heat, and it oxidizes. Once oxidized, it loses its effectiveness and can also irritate your skin. You’ll notice oxidation when the vitamin C serum changes from a champagne color to a rust brown color.


Why Formulation Matters:

In the world of Vitamin C, how it's packaged and formulated matters.


Stable Vitamin C Derivatives: Go for serums with ingredients like magnesium ascorbyl phosphate or ascorbyl palmitate. They're the more reliable, more stable cousins of Vitamin C.

Appropriate Packaging: Seek those sleek airless pumps or dark bottles to keep thelight and air out. Another option is packages in small ampules that ensure your topical vitamin C is fresh.

Concentration and pH Levels: Aim for 10-20%concentration and a pH below 3.5 for that sweet spot of effectiveness, especially if your skin is more on the sensitive side.

Synergistic Combinations: Vitamin C plays well with others. Teaming it up with antioxidants like Vitamin E and ferulic acid can help stabilize the vitamin C.

Proper Storage: Treat it like a fine wine – store in a cool, dark place for the best shelf life.


Choosing the Right Product:

Picking a Vitamin C serum isn't about just grabbing the strongest one on the shelf. Think about what your skin loves, the pH level, and what else is in the mix. The right formula makes all the difference in nailing those skin goals. At Pure Dermatology, our favorite products are the ISDIN's version of vitamin C, in which it comes in small ampules so every three applications are fresh, or SkinBetter's vitamin C product, which comes in a vacuum pump to protect from oxidation.



Topical Vitamin C is a real game-changer for your skin, but only if choose and take care of your products carefully. Understanding its oxidation tendencies and choosing wisely means you can enjoy all the glowing benefits without needlessly spending money. Ready to get on the Vitamin C train? Dr. Christopher Chu, MD, and Dr. Chelsey Straight, MD, at Pure Dermatology can help you board. Book an appointment at our clinic and let's get your skin glowing.