If you have been ‘into’ skincare for a while then you’ll know two things:
1. The Ordinary Brand is one of our favorites and also many dermatologists.
2. Vitamin C is a skin game changer and it makes it into our top 5 ingredients everyone can and should use.
The Ordinary, use the tag line abnormal beauty – which I love. They have an impressive if confusing arsenal of vitamin C products and formulas.
So if you want to be all about the topical vitamin C life then The Ordinary line up is a good place to start.
There are eight different products. Which includes powder, serums, creams, and ‘solutions’.
There is lots to love about The Ordinary but one of things most people don’t love is the way the label/name their products. Unless you have an understanding of chemistry the labels are essentially meaningless.
Although I would much rather have chemical names than marketing BS so I forgive them.
We love them and we want you to use their products. So, we’ve investigated the difference between The Ordinary Vitamin C products, and broken them all down.
Hopefully into understandable, and useful information. We will talk about their composition, benefits, and ideal skin-type user.
But before we dig in let’s look at why you should put vitamin C on your face and why maybe you shouldn’t.
Vitamin C And Skin
Vitamin C is an antioxidant, in fact, it is the king of antioxidants and the most abundant antioxidant in human skin. Vitamin c is an important water-soluble free radical scavenger – more on that in a moment.
Pure vitamin C is also known as L-Ascorbic acid.
There are also vitamin C derivatives, which are not as irritating but also not as effective as pure vitamin C.
In true Oridanry style, they call their products by their chemical formulations. We know this is confusing and can put you off trying their products.
Don’t worry, once you know what each product does you’ll feel super smart when you buy them. Like you’re part of the exclusive club that actually knows what magnesium ascorbyl phosphate does.
Back to vitamin C, humans can’t make vitamin C on their own which means we have to get it from our food. Fortunately, it is in plentiful supply in fruits and vegetables.
In our body as well as on our skin vitamin acts as a free radical.
Free radical may sound like some kind of hippie movement from the ’60s but in skincare being a free radical is not always a good thing.
What Is A Free Radical
Atoms contain a nucleus (at its centre) neutrons, protons and electrons.
The nucleus is surrounded by electrons that spin around it in layers. Sort of like planets orbiting the sun.
Depending on the chemical makeup of the atom it will have a different amount of electrons in each layer.
When the number of electrons in each layer is balanced that chemical is known as stable. If the layer has an unbalanced amount of electrons it becomes unstable. This is also called volatile.
Because electrons are always seeking stability they whizz around trying to find another electron to bond to.
Unstable atoms are called free radicals. Free radicals want to steal electrons. So when they encounter a cell that steals its electrons.
This means is that the free radical are no longer volatile they are stabilised. But taking an electron from another cell causes damage to that cell. This cell is now oxidised and the cell may die.
In an attempt to not die cell that lost an electron to the free radical will try to take an electron from another cell. This causes a cascade of free radical damage as each cell tries to steal an electron from another cell.
Stealing an electron here and there may not sound too bad. But during the stealing of electrons, you get the breaking and then re-making of chemical bonds. Which causes irreversible changes in the substance.
Free radicals can be good in things like making plastics. Free Radicals are also why benzoyl peroxide helps cure acne. But in the skin free radicals can react and damage proteins and DNA this causes mutations, inflammation and even cancer.
Free radicals also increase the enzymes that destroy collagen and elastin in your skin. When it comes to skin free radicals are bad news.
What Causes Free Radicals?
Free radicals are formed by normal life life breathing, making muscle, digesting food and growing hair. They are also caused by UV rays from the sun, smoking, alcohol, highly processed food and environmental pollution.
The sun, or rather damage from UV causes free radicals within 15 minutes of exposure and they continue to be made for an hour after sun exposure stops.
Some things you can do to minimise your exposure to free radical damage is to stop smoking, eat lots of vegetables, wear sunscreen and limit your sun exposure by keeping out of the sun, wear a hat and long-sleeved clothing.
The other thing that helps fight free radicals is antioxidants.
What Are Antioxidants?
Our bodies are under constant attack by oxidation – the chemical process that molecules use to extract oxygen to use it to keep us alive. When oxygen is extracted from a molecule it forces the electrons to spin out of orbit unpairing them and turns them into free radicals.
When your antioxidants get overwhelmed by free radicals oxidative stress results. Oxidative stress causes aging. Antioxidants are molecules that exist to protect against cell death by stopping the electrons from spiralling out of control and travel around scavenging and eliminating already formed free radicals to avoid excess accumulation in the body.
Simply put the theory is this:
An increase in Free radicals – causes oxidative damage – which results in cell mutations – which accelerates ageing.
So by reducing your exposure to free radicals, decreasing oxidative damage and increasing antioxidant supply you can stop, reverse, prevent and slow down the visible signs of aging.
Vitamin C has been scientifically proven to be a potent antioxidant in the skin.
Why Is Vitamin C Good For Skin?
For a substance to have an effect on your skin it needs to be able to penetrate the skins ‘ defence’ system to get into the cell so that it can interact with it.
Vitamin C is a water-based antioxidant.
The inside of the skin cells is water-based. Surrounding the cell is a permeable oily membrane that is surrounded by a watery fluid called extracellular fluid. Vitamin C can slip through the membrane and into the watery insides of a cell because it is water-soluble.
Once inside the cell, it gets to work triggering collagen production and soaking up free radical damage.
Vitamin C is an electron donor, which means it gives electrons freely to free radicals stabilising them.
But pure vitamin C known as L-Ascorbic Acid can become oxidised very quickly particularly in the presence of air, light and some metals such as copper and iron. This is why it is important to use a vitamin C product that is stabilised, encapsulated or suspended to prevent it from becoming unstable.
Oxidised Vitamin C becomes very irritating to the skin. It causes inflammation, collagen and elastin breakdown and acne.
This is why vitamin C it so hard to work within skincare formulations. There are other chemicals you can add to vitamin C to help it stay stable, those are vitamin E and Ferulic Acid. This is why you will often see vitamin C serums that contain all 3 of these ingredients.
The cult rockstar of this formulation is SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic serum. and its many imitators.
Benefits of vitamin C in Skin Care
Vitamin C has been proven to boost collagen and elastin production. It also reduces mild hyperpigmentation. Improves uneven skin tone and add brightness and smoothness to the texture of your skin. As well as being an antioxidant.
If your new to vitamin C and want to add it into your skincare routine then The Ordianry Vitamin C line is a great place to start.
The Ordinary Vitamin C Products Overview
There are 8 vitamin C products in the line up from the ordinary.
There are vitamin C derivates – these are more gentle on the skin and will cause less irritation, they will not be as potent as pure vitamin C.
Then there are direct Vitamin C. These products contain pure L-ascorbic acid – the most effective form of vitamin C – but also the hardest to stabilise and the one that will cause the most irritation.
They come in 4 different formulations including powder, serum, creams and solutions. Some are water-based and some are oil-based. There is a vitamin C in this range for everyone, you just need to know what you’re after and why.
Here is a break down of the differences between The Ordinary Vitamin C products:
The Ordinary 100% L-Ascorbic Acid Powder
If you highly prefer an L-Ascorbic acid powder application over liquid forms, then this version can be applied with a brush.
It doesn’t mix well with other skin care applications, such as sunscreen or moisturizer. So apply it before these and allow it to absorb and dry before adding moisturizer or sunscreen.
If you want to avoid clumpy texture, you can add this powder form into a water-based serum..
Substance: Fine powder with fully pure L-Ascorbic Acid
Recommended time of application: Daytime is best but if you are not using retinol you can apply it at night if you prefer.
Add 1/4 of a scoop to your filtered water or hyaluronic acid serum, blend them together in the palm of your hand, or with a clean foundation brush and smooth over your face.
Benefits: Powder pure vitamin C is complelty customisalbe allwoing you to add as much or a little as you like.
It remains effective because you only mix it up as you use it. This means it won’t oxidise before application and because it is a powder it is very stable and won’t expire quickly.
Downside: Does not mix well with some product formulations and can form clumps.
Ascorbic Acid 8% + Alpha arbutin 2%
If you prefer using an oil and dark spots AKA as hyperpigmentation is an issue for you.
This vitamin C version might be best for you. It is an oil serum that also brightens your skin, using the ingredient Alpha Arbutin. In turn, you will likely see dark spots fade and reduced red tones on your face.
Substance: Oil formulation that contains alpha arbutin as well as L-Ascorbic Acid
Recommended time of application: Daytime and evening
Benefits: Easy-absorbent oil-based formula. Brightens the skin and fades hyperpigmentation due to the addition of alpha-arbutin.
Downsides: Does not mix well with water,relatively lower level of vitamin C, can be irritating.
Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12%
For all skin types, including the hypersensitive peeps, this oil serum is quickly absorbent.
It also contains a derivative of Vitamin C, called Ascorbyl Glucoside, making it very water-friendly.
.So, the application is more pleasant than the other Vitamin C products by The Ordinary. Keep in mind, though, that there is fewer pure L-Ascorbic acid here, so this oil is not as powerful as the others.
Substance: Lightweight oil with lower levels of pure L-Ascorbic Acid but Ascorbyl Glucoside
Recommended time of application: Daytime and evening
Benefits: Blends well with water, brightens skin, minimizes risks of wrinkles
Downside: Compared to others on the line, this one is less effective
Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F
Those who have a dry skin type may find this product more useful, while also helping you fight against aging.
Another form of Vitamin C in oil. This one stands out due to its key ingredient, Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate.
Also, its main benefit is being oil-soluble, which helps to get into your skin faster than other Vitamin C forms.
Lastly , Vitamin F is not a true vitamin. Instead, it means fatty acids, simply a group of effective moisturizing ingredients.
Substance: Lightweight oil with Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate
Recommended time of application: Daytime or evening or both
Benefit: Vitamin F allows for extra intense moisturization of the skin
Downside: Might not be suitable for very oily skin type due to Vitamin F
Ethylated Ascorbic Acid 15% Solution
Considered more stable and gentler on the skin than L-Ascorbic Acid, this oil solution can help to treat those with dark spots.
There’s little knowledge still on whether it is effective as an antioxidant.Compared to all other products on The Ordinary’s Vitamin C line, this fella is the least recommended.
Substance: Lightweight oil with Ethylated Ascorbic Acid
Recommended time of application: Daytime or evening or both
Benefit: Possibly fades dark spots
Downside: The research on Ethylated Ascorbic Acid has been done by The Ordianry so we need to take it with that knowledge. They may have over emphasised the benefits, until more independent research is done.
Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate 10%
If you have sensitive skin or new to applying Vitamin C daily then you can consider this solution.
Although not as powerful and effective as the others, it is more gentle on the skin, even if you have normal skin.
Substance: Lightweight cream containing Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate a vitamin c derivative.
Recommended time of application: Both daytime and evening
Benefit: One of the gentlest forms of Vitamin C
Downside: Not as effective in brightening dull skin
Vitamin C Suspension 30% In Silicone
If you are a fan of silicone ingredients then this Suspension version with silicone is a good choice.
In particular, those who have been using The Ordinary products for years can consider this product.
Substance: Silky and smooth cream with L-Ascorbic Acid
Recommended time of application: Evening
Benefits: Silicon additives, effective for seeing more dramatic and quick results
Downside: Can make sunscreen pill due to its high silicon content and not suitable if you silicon sensitive.
Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
If you desire quicker visible results but dislike products with silicones, then this Vitamin C model might suit you best.
We recommend you mix it with another serum that contains hyaluronic acid.
Substance: Grainy cream with L-Ascorbic Acid. This is the closets of the vitmain c range that feel like a serum.
Recommended time of application: Evening
Benefits: Contains hyaluronic acid to hydrate the skin. Very potent effective serum
Downside: The sand-like, grainy texture of this formula can be unpleasant. If you have very sensitive skin it can feel like it is causing micro tears. It can also cause a mild stinging sensation due to its potency.
Deciem Breakdown Their Vitamin C Products. Watch The Video
FAQ About Vitamin C
Can I Use Vitamin C and Niacinamide Together?
No. The Deciem website does not recommend using direct vitamin C or its derivatives with niacinamide. This is because of the formation of a salt complex that cancels out the effectiveness of both products.
What Is The Best Vitamin C For Me?
If you haven’t used vitamin C before then you should start is with a derivate. They are more gentle and cause less irritation. Once your skin gets used to using vitamin C you can introduce one to the direct formulations.
Use the chart in this article as a guide to choosing the right vitamin c product for you.
You can also watch the video made by Deciem about their vitamin C products.
When Should I Use Vitamin C in My Skincare Routine?
The recommended wisdom is:
Use vitamin C in the morning.
This is because it is an antioxidant and has sunscreen boosting properties. The truth is you can wear vitamin C in the morning or at night.
It is a good idea to not mix it with active acids like AHAs – glycolic acid or BHA – salicylic acid, retinol or niacinamide with vitamin C at the same time.
This is because they can react with each other and cause irritation but also render each other ineffective.
When using active ingredients in your skincare its a good idea to use them separately. Either one in the morning and one at night or allowing enough time between applications.
How To Use Active Ingredients In The Same Routine
Uisng acitve ingredients mixed together is never a good idea, but you can use them one after another.
Allow one to absorb and dry completely before applying another active ingredient.
This means if you want to use vitamin C with hydroxy acids then leave 30 minutes between each application.
Can I Use Vitamin C and Retinol Together?
You can use them together, but you have to leave a 30-minute gap between each. This is because they both work optimally at different pH levels.
If you are going to use them together I recommend using them at night and applying the vitamin C first, waiting 30 minutes and then applying the retinol.
Can I Use Vitamin C every day?
Yes, in fact you can wear it twice a day. Morning and night if your skin can tolerate it.
Can I Mix Vitamin C Powder With Water?
Because vitamin C is water-soluble (this means it dissolves in water) adding it to water is great. You will need to use it straight away as it will start to oxidise quickly.
This is one of the great things about vitamin C powder. It is completely customisable and maintains its potency.
It can be ‘stingy’ to apply vitamin C powder directly to your skin when mixed with only water. We recommend adding the powder into a water-based hyaluronic acid serum.
You could also dissolve it in water and then mix that into your moisturizer.
Can I Use Vitamin C and Hyaluronic Acid Together?
Perfect combination! Just add it straight into your hyaluronic acid serum and you’re all set.
Can I Use vitamin C with AHAs or BHAs?
Because these are all ‘active’ ingredients its not a good idea to mix them together direct. You can use them at the same time you just have to separate them by 30 minutes.
As with retinol these ingredients do their best work at different pH levels.
So, you need to allow your skin enough time to fully absorb the product and then return to its normal pH before applying the next ingredient.
Mixing actives together at the same time is risking irritation. It may also neutralise the effectiveness of the ingredients.
Vitamin C vs Vitamin E
Both of these vitamins are antioxidants – meaning they fight free radical damage. Vitamin C is water-soluble so it is good for all skin types. Vitamin E is oil soluble. Both can donate electrons but vitamin E can only give one electron.
Together they form a stabilising circuit. This is why you will often see vitamin C combined with vitamin E in formulations.
Final Thoughts on Vitamin C
Vitamin C can be a total skin-changer. Most people can benefit from adding vitamin C to their skincare routine. There are hundreds of formulations that contain vitamin C and/or its derivates.
You do need to look for stabilized vitamin C otherwise it can oxidise and cause more problems than benefits. The Ordinary has an impressive line of vitamin C products that are well formulated and at wallet friendly prices.
If your skin is looking a little dull and you feel like it could do with a boost then you can’t really go past vitamin C.
Don’t forget to put on a broad spectrum sunscreen SPF 30 and stay out of the direct sun.