Trying to find the best Vitamin C serum in Australia isn’t easy. There are claims and counter claims about which is the best form of Vitamin C for the skin and which is the best Vitamin C serum. This makes it very confusing.
If you’ve tried to find an answer to this, then you know that it’s a very deep rabbit hole. So many of the recommendations made are driven by vested interests. This makes it very hard to get to the truth.
The brands battle it out making claims and counter claims about why theirs is best. But most of these are just marketing claims. Cellex-C, Dr Dennis Gross, Obagi, Peter Thomas Roth, Drunk Elephant and many others all try to claim the crown once held by SkinCeuticals.
It all started with SkinCeuticals when it upped the Vitamin C game. Founder Dr Sheldon Pinnell discovered and patented the C, E and Ferulic winning combo. Dr Pinnell was a dermatologist who made a significant contribution to the science of skin care and founded SkinCeuticals. These days, SkinCeuticals is owned by L’Oreal Group and it continues to rely on much of the ground work done in the 1980s and 1990s. Some of the studies undertaken at the time haven’t been verified by further research. It’s important to know that testing was done on pig skin that has been stripped of its stratum corneum and the results were extrapolating to humans with an intact stratum corneum. A lot has changed in the world of skin care since those days.
So, if you want to find the best Vitamin C serum in Australia, be prepared to put in the work. When we look at Vitamin C serums, it’s not as simple as comparing oranges with oranges. Here I try to drown out the noise and make sense of the information we have to help you decide what is the best Vitamin C serum in Australia for you.
The good news is there are lots of great affordable Vitamin C serums available. You no longer need to drop $230 to find something that works. You’ll find Vitamin C in different formulations and at many price points. So there’s sure to be something that will work for you.
In this article, you’ll learn about the different forms of Vitamin C and what they do for the skin.
I encourage you to think beyond just L’Ascorbic Acid. Yes, it’s a good choice for many people, but not the best choice for everyone.
Why use a Vitamin C serum?
Many dermatologists and skin care experts recommend applying an antioxidant to your skin daily.
Antioxidants work by binding to free radicals of oxygen. In doing this, they prevent free radicals from attaching to your skin cells.
I often get asked why this is necessary, especially if you’re including adequate amounts of antioxidants in your diet. Unfortunately, due to biology, only a small amount of the antioxidants we get from our diet are active in the skin.
A Vitamin C serum, like other antioxidants, can soak up the free radicals caused by UV rays, environmental pollutants and natural bodily processes, preventing oxidative damage to our skin cells.
To get the maximum benefits of topical antioxidants, you need to apply them every day. Why every day? Sunlight causes the antioxidant levels in your skin to drop. To get sustained protection, you need to maintain a persistent antioxidant reservoir. One to two applications a day is best.
Vitamin C has other benefits for the skin too. So let’s look at the things topical Vitamin C does in more detail.
Benefits of Vitamin C serums
Vitamin C is one of the most researched and proven antioxidants in skin care, primarily as pure Vitamin C or L-Ascorbic Acid. As we’ve already mentioned, it protects the skin from free radical damage. But that’s not all it can do.
L’Ascorbic Acid also has been found to:
- stabilise and stimulate collagen production and thereby reduce the look of wrinkles
- lower the production of melanin and thereby brighten the skin
- reduce inflammation
- promote wound healing and skin repair
- mildly exfoliate and refine tone and texture
As an antioxidant, Vitamin C protects the skin from oxidative stress when exposed to UV light. It does this by neutralising free radicals. An easy way to see this in action is to look at a cut apple. When exposed to the air, it turns brown, looks old and starts to shrivel up. This is oxidation at work. In our skin, oxidation causes inflammation and premature skin ageing, including possibly melanoma formation.
The application of topical antioxidants, such as Vitamin C, each day can reduce damage to your skin. Sunscreens are very effective at filtering UVA and UVB rays, however they only screen out about 55% of the free radicals caused by UV exposure. Using an antioxidant serum or cream every day alongside your sunscreen gives you the best possible protection against premature skin ageing.
Vitamin C and sunscreen are super-powered partners. Combining them preserves collagen in your skin and reduces damage done to it. Vitamin C has been found to boost the effectiveness of sunscreen, and that means less wrinkles, sagging and discolourations.
We lose about 1% of collagen from our skin each year after the age of 20, contributing to us looking older. Vitamin C may help keep the skin firm and bouncy. Vitamin C is a co-factor in the production of procollagen mRNA, a molecule involved in the production collagen. Research indicates topical Vitamin C can have an effect on this process. But just how effective topical Vitamin C is at doing this and whether it can truly erase wrinkles is not definitive.
When it comes to skin volume and resilience, Vitamin C may help but don’t give up your retinoids and peptides.
UV rays can trigger the production of melanin in the skin and cause dark spots and uneven tone. Antioxidants don’t absorb UV but they can help reduce photodamage and abnormal skin pigmentation. Some antioxidants, including Vitamin C, are also able to inhibit tyrosinase, an enzyme in the skin that stimulates the production of melanin. Vitamin C also acts on hyperpigmentation of hair follicles.
Vitamin C inhibits Nuclear Factor Kappa B (NF-κB). This protein complex is responsible for activating a number of pro-inflammatory cytokines in our body. Vitamin C therefore may be helpful to use alongside other actives by those who have acne and rosacea. Reducing inflammation can also reduce or prevent post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Vitamin C is supports and enables the repair processes that occur in the skin while we sleep. Antioxidants help remove harmful free radicals and reduce inflammation. Left unchecked, inflammation impedes the skin’s repair and renewal processes. Vitamin C enables the skin to get to work and visibly repair damage that has occurred.
Due to Vitamin C’s low pH, it can be mildly exfoliating, but it isn’t an exfoliant. When used in a water-based serum, it can help with healthy cell turnover. But don’t rely on your Vitamin C serum to do the work of an exfoliant. You’ll still need to use a dedicated exfoliant to remove dead skin cells, especially if you’re dealing with hyperpigmentation, rough texture or breakouts.
Vitamin C is a great antioxidant, but keep in mind that all antioxidants work best when in the company of other antioxidants. We can thank Dr Pinnell for his pioneering discovery on this. Antioxidants can be unstable and can turn pro-oxidant. Pairing antioxidants better stabilises them and enables them to renew each other’s antioxidant powers. Cool, isn’t it? And this is why L’Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin E and Ferulic Acid work so well together.
Forms of Vitamin C
When trying to find the best Vitamin C serum in Australia, you need to have an understanding of the different types of Vitamin C. L’Ascorbic Acid is pure Vitamin C and is the basis of many formulations. But due to the limitations of L’Ascorbic Acid, the industry has developed derivatives of Vitamin C and these are increasingly being used in preference to L’Ascorbic Acid.
L’Ascorbic Acid is the chemically active form of Vitamin C and the one first used in skin care formulations. Because it’s been in use the longest, we know the most about it. Much research has been conducted on the cosmetic use of this type of Vitamin C in the lab and on people. Studies have shown that it provides antioxidant protection, protects collagen and brightens the skin. However to do this, it needs to be in the right concentration and it needs to be able to penetrate the skin.
Dr Pinnell and his team found that L’Ascorbic Acid is maximally effective at 20%, although keep in mind this testing wasn’t done on human skin. Anything above this is less effective and much more irritating. We don’t yet understand why this is the case. Brands claiming their formulation has 30% L-Ascorbic Acid are doing this for marketing purposes and you should be wary of any claims they make for their product.
For a topical product to deliver results, it needs to also be able to penetrate the skin. When L’Ascorbic Acid is formulated at a low pH, it can penetrate the epidermis. But being water soluble, not that much really reaches the dermis. Even so, it’s been found that L’Ascorbic Acid penetrates 15% better than other water-based Vitamin C derivatives.
When developing Vitamin C serums, formulators use a low pH (below 3.5) and penetration enhancers to help maximise its absorption into the skin. The low pH also helps stabilise the L’Ascorbic Acid, which is notoriously unstable and prone to oxidation. But a pH below 3.5 puts it close to that of lemon juice, and you know how irritating that can be! For anyone with a skin condition or sensitive skin, this is danger territory. Once Vitamin C has oxidised, it becomes pro-oxidant and can be damaging to the skin rather than protective.
Given L-Ascorbic Acid’s instability, this Vitamin C is best paired with other antioxidants. Formulating this way multiplies the L’Ascorbic Acid’s beneficial effects, provides more sustained activity and extends its shelf life.
L’Ascorbic Acid formulations are the most difficult to get right in skin care. They require the right concentration, the right pH, the right stabilisation, the right delivery mechanism and the right packaging. If all of these factors are not right, you could be putting your skin at risk. Make sure you’re buying a trusted brand that has the technologies to deliver on all these variables.
Once opened, you should look to use up your L’Ascorbic Acid serum within three months or when it turns orange.
Derivatives of Vitamin C
Cosmeceutical companies have been trying to address the shortcomings of L’Ascorbic Acid by introducing derivatives. These derivatives come in two major forms: salt based and non-salt based. The two most important factors with these derivatives are:
- Do they penetrate the skin?
- Do they convert to the active form of Vitamin C in the skin?
Research on this is limited. However our knowledge has progressed since the days of Dr Pinnell. Our current understanding of L’Ascorbic Acid has been built on his foundational work, but remember this research was originally done on pig’s ears, not human skin. Many decades have passed and it would be helpful to have further this earlier research validated, this time using technologies that allow us to measure its effects on people.
Just like other antioxidants, all forms of Vitamin C will provide some antioxidant protection, shielding our skin from the damaging effects of environmental stressors and preserving that all-important collagen.
So what are the other types of Vitamin C and what do we know about them?
Ascorybl Glucoside is a stable form of Vitamin C that combines Vitamin C with Glucose. When correctly formulated, it can absorb and convert to Ascorbic Acid in the skin. Because this conversion occurs slowly, this form of Vitamin C remains in the skin longer and may provide additional benefits.
Being water soluble, Ascorbyl Glucoside can be formulated as a serum.
It’s effective as an antioxidant and there’s some research to show it can also improve hyperpigmentation and uneven tone. But it does this better when combined with Niacinamide.
A concentration of 2-5% is needed to improve hyperpigmentation and at least 0.5% for antioxidant protection.
Ascorbyl Glucoside works at a pH of 5-8, which allows it to be formulated at a pH that’s compatible with the skin’s normal range. This means it’s less likely to be irritating and sensitising.
Like other Vitamin C derivatives, Ascorbyl Palmitate is stable and less irritating than pure Vitamin C.
Ascorbyl Palmitate is made by combining Ascorbic Acid and Palmitic Acid, a fatty acid, and is oil soluble. This makes it nicely emollient and more moisturising than some other forms of Vitamin C.
It doesn’t penetrate well or convert to L’Ascorbic Acid as effectively as Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate. But a modified form of this ingredient, Ascorbyl-6 Palmitate 2-Phosphate, addresses this conversion limitation.
Ascorbyl Palmitate is hydrating and kind to the skin, given it can be formulated at the skin’s natural pH of about 5.5. It’s relatively stable, but more so when encapsulated. And only 0.1-1% is needed when formulating.
Ascorbyl Palmitate provides antioxidant protection, but one study has raised the potential for Ascorbyl Palmitate to intensify UV-induced skin damage. Further research is needed to confirm this.
Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate is made using L’Ascorbic Acid and Palmitic Acid.
Palmitic Acid is a fatty acid that is naturally found in the skin and is emollient and moisturising.
Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate is oil-soluble and penetrates deeper than other Vitamin C derivatives. Interestingly, research into this derivative has found that it penetrates beyond the stratum corneum by way of hair follicles.
But even though it can travel deeper, there’s less risk of irritation than pure Vitamin C. Like other derivatives, Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate needs to convert to Ascorbic Acid in the skin to deliver its benefits.
The limited research data available indicates it can do everything L’Ascorbic Acid can do, including providing environmental protection, inhibiting dark spots, repairing sun damage and boosting collagen synthesis. When compared with L’Ascorbic Acid, it’s been found to remain in the skin 40-80 times longer, absorb 10 times faster and be up to four times more effective.
Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate is particularly good at suppressing UVB-induced hyperpigmentation and promoting hydration. It also works on the inhibiting lipid peroxidation, which is helpful for those with oily skin and prone to breakouts.
Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate is one of the most stable derivatives available, however it needs to be at a pH below 5.
It can be used at higher concentrations with less irritation than pure Vitamin C. But the concentration is restricted in Australia (10%), Japan (3%) and Korea (2%).
It doesn’t exfoliate the skin and is well tolerated even by those with sensitive skin.
Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate is often confused with Tetrahexydeyl Ascorbate and, while they have many similarities, they’re two different forms of Vitamin C.
Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate
This form of Vitamin C is water soluble but can be formulated in an oil base. The antioxidant protection it provides isn’t as strong as that of L’Ascorbic Acid, however it’s highly hydrating, more than any other form of Vitamin C.
Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate may also protect against lipid peroxidation, which may make it a better choice for those who have oily skin and experience breakouts.
It’s known for visibly brightening the skin and improving uneven tone and discolourations. Based on lab tests, it may increase collagen production too.
Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate can be formulated at pH of 5-6, making it more skin compatible. It’s soothing, hydrating and anti-inflammatory, which makes it more suitable for those with dry, sensitive or rosacea skin. It may even help reduce acne by preventing sebum oxidation and calming inflammation.
Again it’s easier to formulate with due to its greater stability. It can deliver antioxidants benefits when used at a concentration of 0.1-2%. However 5–10% is needed to fade post-acne marks or improve skin firmness.
Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate
This is a stable Vitamin C that can be used in water and oil formulations. It doesn’t penetrate as well as L’Ascorbic Acid, but at a concentration of 3% it can help with discolourations and at 5% with wrinkles.
Enzymes in the skin convert it to pure Vitamin C, but we don’t know how effectively this occurs. It’s been found to be particularly helpful for those with acne and works well to reduce and prevent acne breakouts at just 1%. Lab and human studies have shown it has a strong antimicrobial effect, in particular against Propionibacterium acnes, the bacteria that causes acne. I wouldn’t rely on it as an acne treatment of itself, but you could use it alongside your other treatments.
Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate also protects the skin from UV damage, reduces hyperpigmentation and may increase collagen production, but less so than L’Ascorbic Acid.
Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate is stable up to a pH of 7, but it’s penetration may be limited. It’s hydrating and soothing, making it an option for those with dry, sensitive skin and rosacea skin.
This is one of the newest and most exciting forms of Vitamin C. The limited studies we have indicate that Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate may be as effective as L’Ascorbic Acid.
It’s a stable, oil-based Vitamin C that can deeply penetrate the skin. It only needs to be used in low concentrations (1%) to deliver its benefits and it doesn’t cause irritation.
Tetxtrahexyldecyl has been found to reach the dermis. It has the highest conversion rate to L’Ascorbic Acid in the skin of all the Vitamin C derivatives, according to in vitro research. Once it converts in the skin, it can do everything L’Ascorbic Acid can do: provide antioxidant protection, reduce melanin production (by 80% +) and boost collagen synthesis.
Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate is gaining in popularity, given its stability and penetration. Vitamin C that can reach the dermis is better able to stimulate collagen production. Like L-Ascorbic Acid, it can trigger the production of glycosaminoglycans in your skin, naturally occurring compounds that bind and hold on to water. Also in its favour is that it’s less irritating, although its potency cannot be measured in the same way as for L-Ascorbic Acid. It’s claimed to be an exceptional tyrosinase inhibitor and therefore particularly helpful in brightening skin. As this is a relatively new ingredient, it doesn’t have the same level of evidence as L-Ascorbic Acid.
Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate is a great allrounder. It packs a punch, but without being as irritating as L’Ascorbic Acid.
Tetrahexydeyl Ascorbate is often confused with Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate and, while they have many similarities, they’re two different forms of Vitamin C.
3-O Ethyl Ascorbic Acid
This is a new generation form of Vitamin C that’s an etherified derivative of the famous Ascorbic Acid. In creating the 3-O Ethyl Ascorbic Acid, the Ascorbic Acid molecule is modified to increase stability and enhance penetration. This is done by adding an ethyl group at the third carbon position.
Being highly stable and soluble in both water and oil, this form of Vitamin C is easy to formulate with. It can be used at a pH of 5-6.5, which puts it right in the zone for skin compatibility.
Ethyl Ascorbic Acid works as an antioxidant and, based on manufacturer data, is more potent as an antioxidant than L’Ascorbic Acid. It fights free radicals caused by UV rays, pollution and blue light and slows down the damage they cause, such as breaking down collagen.
There’s some research data to indicate it can penetrate the skin, even better than Ascorbyl Glucoside. However, to date, we only have manufacturer data to show it converts to Ascorbic Acid in the skin (at a rate of 86%) and it boosts collagen production.
Ethyl Ascorbic Acid has been shown to fade dark spots and brighten tone. Ethyl Ascorbic Acid inhibits tyrosinase, an enzyme in the skin needed for melanin production, even more effectively than L’Ascorbic Acid. A clinical study on people found that only 2% is needed to improve skin tone and lighten the skin. This makes it particularly suitable for those with acne marks, sun spots, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, uneven tone and melasma.
Because Ethyl Ascorbic Acid releases in the skin in a slower and more sustained way, it may provide longer lasting benefits.
This derivative may have other benefits too. Ethyl Ascorbic Acid is anti-inflammatory, it reduces Interleukin 6which can be helpful for those concerned about ageing, as well as acne, redness, rosacea or other skin conditions.
Above I’ve discussed the better known and more commonly used Vitamin C derivatives. All of these derivatives are more stable and less irritating than L’Ascorbic Acid. But it doesn’t mean they won’t deteriorate or potentially cause a skin reaction.
Derivatives have their own pros and cons, just like L’Ascorbic Acid. One of the other benefits of these is that generally they can be paired with other skin care actives, such as AHAs, Peptides and Retinol.L’Ascorbic Acid, on the other hand, prefers to keep its own company.
Comparing forms of Vitamin C
Getting a little confused? Like all areas of science, as our knowledge base grows so does our understanding. We don’t always have a perfect answer to all things.
In the future, we’ll hopefully have more data to call on when looking atVitamin C derivatives and how they compare with pure Vitamin C. For a quick reference summary on what we currently know, you can check out our Vitamin C Comparison Table.
Best Vitamin C serum
Want to know which is the best Vitamin C serum in Australia?
The short answer is there isn’t a single best product.
The long answer is that the best product depends on many factors, including:
- your primary skin concern
- your skin type
- your skin care routine
- your product preferences
There are pluses and minuses when it comes to Vitamin C serums. I’ve outlined the different Vitamin Cs available so you get a better understanding of their benefits and limitations. This is why finding the best Vitamin C serum in Australia requires you to think about what will work best for you.
The benefits of L’Ascorbic Acid tend to get overplayed while those of Vitamin C derivatives get underplayed. Know that Vitamin C isn’t the only antioxidant that can neutralise damage caused by radical oxygen species.
Consider the form of Vitamin C and what formulation type that would work best as part of your skin care routine. Consistency and frequency are two important factors when it comes to skin care results. If your serum is sitting on your bathroom vanity and you don’t have time to use it in the morning, then switch to a cream. An unused serum will deliver zero results, guaranteed.
Also keep in mind that you need to top up topical antioxidants daily as sunlight causes antioxidant levels in your skin to drop. Sustained protection requires the maintenance of an antioxidant reservoir.
Best Vitamin C cream
Many people get hung up on their Vitamin C having to be in a serum base. If you prefer to use a serum, go for it. But if you like a simple skin care routine or don’t have the time to wait for different layers to absorb, you can opt for a cream.
Cream formulations can be effective too. As I’ve already mentioned, consistency and frequency are key. A human clinical trial demonstrated that a 5% L’Ascorbic Acid cream could significantly improve photo-damage and photo-ageing. So you don’t need to worry that a cream won’t be effective.
Vitamin C buying tips
I hate giving people rules, so I won’t. But here are some things I do that you may find helpful:
- I use Vitamin C products that are paired with other effective antioxidants.
- I don’t use L’Ascorbic Acid above 20%. The most important factor for photoprotection is maintaining a reservoir of Vitamin C in the skin. You don’t need to be using the maximum concentration to see results. Applying a lower concentrations twice a day can reduce irritation and build a healthy reservoir.
- I like and use other forms of Vitamin C and not just L’Ascorbic Acid. When using an L’Ascorbic Acid formulation, I regularly take a break from it and use other forms. This keeps my sensitive skin happy and my barrier healthy.
- I don’t use a serum that’s oxidised. I know it’s hard to throw out a serum you’ve paid good money for before it’s finished, but you don’t want to be using something that’s become Dehydroascorbic Acid.
- I don’t use an L’Ascorbic Acid serum at the same time as a peptide product. Stick with a neutral pH Vitamin C serum if you’re layering with more delicate creatures such as peptides, growth factors or other products that are affected by a low pH.
- I only use and recommend brands that are science driven and invest in their research and development. That way, I know the formulating team has developed a product that will deliver the best possible results irrespective of the form of C and irrespective of the product type.
- I choose products that are correctly packaged. Antioxidants are affected by light and air. Look for products that come in opaque and air-restricted containers.
So now you know how to find the best Vitamin C serum in Australia, happy shopping.
Vitamin C all-time faves
Here are some of my top picks that offer the following benefits:
- Antioxidant protection
- Brightening and depigmenting effects
- Anti-inflammatory and healing effects
- Collagen preservation/production
Antioxidants: 20% L’Ascorbic Acid, Niacinamide (B3), Vitamin E and Ferulic Acid.
Other actives: Glycerin, Panthenol, Hyaluronic Acid and Sodium PCA.
Antioxidants: Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate, Vitamin E, Tomato Fruit Extract and Squalene.
Other actives: Phytosetrols and Squalane.
Antioxidants: Ascorbyl Glucoside, 3-O Ethyl Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Sodium Ascorbate, Ferulic Acid and Vitamin E.
Other actives: Glycerin, Pumpkin Fruit Ferment Filtrate, Hyaluronic Acid, Squalane, Evening Primrose Oil, Linoleic Acid, Linolenic Acid, Tamarind Extract and Radish Root Ferment Filtrate.
Antioxidants: Tetrahexyldecy Ascorbate, Ectoin and Retinol.
Other actives: Glycerin, Squalane, Cyclotetrapeptide-24, Glycosaminoglycans, Hyaluronic Acid, Linoleic Acid, Glycine Soja and Phospholipids.
Antioxidants: Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, Vitamin E, Panax Ginseng.
Other actives: Jojoba, Squalane, Ethyl Linoleate and Maracuja Oil.
Antioxidants: Tetrahexydecyl Ascorbate and Vitamin E.
Other Actives: Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Hyaluronic Acid and Glycerin.
Antioxidants: Niacinamide (B3), Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate and Lavender Oil.
Other Actives: Glycerin, Hyaluronic Acid, Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-4 (Matrixyl) and Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7 (key active in Matrixyl 3000).
I hope this article has given you the knowledge to find the best Vitamin C serum in Australia for you.
Yours truly in better skin