BeautyNerdFilter: Luck with homemade Vitamin C serums?
August 12, 2009 11:40 AM   Subscribe

BeautyNerdFilter: Luck with homemade Vitamin C facial serums? (Chemists welcome!)

I've recently found some recipes online and have been experimenting with making my own vitamin C facial serum, using l-ascorbic acid crystals dissolved in vegetable glycerin and distilled water. (A number of studies that show the topical use of Vitamin C improves the skin through boosting collagen synthesis.)


1. Could I be doing any damage by applying vitamin C directly to the skin? This morning my cheeks felt a little rough, and I started to worry that I might have done some harm!

2. Do I need to worry about the ph level?

I'd love to hear from folks who have used a similar concoction, or any chemists/cosmetic scientists who might know about possible consequences... I realize this is a fairly specialized questions-- any specialists out there with some ideas? Thanks!
posted by airguitar2 to Health & Fitness (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Let me start by saying that I own a skin care company, and I do research for other companies on formulas and digging up research papers and whatnot. (I do not sell skin care products such as serums, since I don't have "clean room" manufacturing facilities, but I have tested a number of other company's formulas.)

Vitamin C and its therapeutic benefits have been exaggerated in the media, especially the cosmetic and nutrient industry.

It's important to realize that the studies on collagen and vitamin c have generally been done on animals who *ingest* VC rather than rub it on their skin. You get more effect from remembering to eat an orange than you would rubbing the orange on your face...just fyi.

That said, there have been a limited number of studies where a 5% solution did prove to be more effective on repairing photoaged skin than a placebo. (Not much more, mind you, but a small percentage improvement.) See: Humbert PG, et al. Topical ascorbic acid on photoaged skin. Clinical, topographical and ultrastructural evaluation: double-blind study vs. placebo. Exp Dermatol 2003;12:237-244 and Collagen Metabolism: Collagen Synthesis However, no matter what the beauty companies say, there has been no study that shows Vitamin C providing any long term "anti-aging" least none that I can find in a quick scan of chemidex and other repositories. Again, there are studies that show "repair" as possible, but not "prevention".

In the "repair" studies, there is some question about whether the vitamin E combination was the thing that made it most effective, and there is some theorizing that olive oil squalene may be the best delivery modality. (Rather than kosher glycerin, which was the medium for the test referenced above.)

VitC is crazy difficult to stabilize when not in powdered form, and oxides very quickly. Once oxidized, it has zero chance of trapping free radicals, which is the whole point of these serums. If your serum becomes yellow tinged or orange tinged, throw it away. It's dead. Hence the reason that those teeny, ridiculously expensive bottles of serum are probably a waste of money. The odds are it's dead before you buy it. Thus...if you are making it, make it in very small batches, to avoid throwing most of it away.

Under no circumstances should your ascorbic be more than 10% of the total formula.

In addition, about 50% of people will find that they become photosensitive, which means that they will start to develop rashes and sunburns from even minimal sun exposure at the 10% level, with a decrease to 20% issue with a 5% formulation.

All that said; I spend a lot of time in the sun, and I avoid ascorbic formulations during the day because of it.

During the day, I use a serum that is 85% evening primrose oil with an essential blend of: lavender, clary sage, myrhh and sandalwood. Keep in mind that myrhh and sandalwood are both difficult to find from sustainable, non chemically derived sources. Both of those oils can be dangerous on skin if they were processed with solvents. Without a good source, I would stick to lavender 5%, clary sage 5% and 90% evening primrose/hemp/olive squalene/or sweet almond oil.

At night, I try to remember to smooth on a Primrose oil formulation with 5% lavender and 5% sweet orange oil, 2% basil.

If I'm breaking out, I use undiluted tea tree oil on a q-tip right on the spot.

If your skin is showing some trauma from the ascorbic acid, try using just a few drops of lavender oil in a few drops of glycerin, and that should calm your skin back down.

Hope that helps!
posted by dejah420 at 12:50 PM on August 12, 2009 [21 favorites]

This is a questions for the folks on the MakeupAlley Skincare Board (you'll need to register). There have been many discussions there regarding homemade Vit. C recipes and pH levels. Scanning through some threads, I see several recommendations to add baking soda to your serum recipe to raise the pH and make it less acidic for sensitive skin. Also recs to use pH strips to test your recipe, since raising the pH too high can make the vit C ineffective. And a few people with sensitive skin prefer a recipe that includes propylene glycol.

Some women pay $$$ for acid peels at their derms office that leave them red and irritated for days, so I doubt you have done any serious harm if your skin is just a little rough. The acid is probably irritating your skin, so try using your serum on alternate days, or experiment with pH strips and some new recipes that will be less irritating.

Also, the general thinking is that it's better to use antioxident serums like Vit C in the morning, applied under sunscreen, since daytime is when most free radical damage occurs. Then use a retinoid at night to help repair any damage.
posted by junkbox at 12:51 PM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

In doing a little more digging around, it looks like there are some interesting studies on the horizon using malpighia punicifolia, which is a west african fruit with a the highest VitC content of any fruit.

The harvesting process involves spray drying the acerola extract with maltodextrin and encapsulating it in a liposome, which should (keyword there) make this product significantly less likely to oxidize as fast.

Pre-market skin toxicology tests and in vivo tests have suggested that it is a non-irritant with a significant improvement in trapping free radicals, and the study I've seen suggests that it stimulates collagen synthesis by its role of hydroxylase cofactor and increases hydroxyproline synthesis. However, it looks like it also reduces skin pigmentation by inhibiting melanogenesis, so the ingredient will mostly likely be snapped up by companies that make skin lightening products. (A huge, huge market. One which I didn't even know about until a few years ago.)

It's made by BiopĂ´le Clermont-Limagne, and I've emailed them a sample request. If I can get it in, I'll run some tests, and tell you if it might be a better solution for the home formulator than something that oxides instantly. (Assuming the product comes to market in such a way that consumers can buy it directly...which may not happen. A lot of chemicals are difficult to get for the home formulator.) But I've tested bioactives from this company before, so I'm pretty sure they'll send me a sample.

For the record; buffering citric acid/ascorbic/etc, as suggested on those forums...very tricky to do if you want the bioactives to stay active. Ascorbic acid reacts with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to form sodium ascorbate, water, and bicarbonate...thus, it neutralizes the ascorbic, rendering it pretty much useless for doing the things you want it to be doing.
posted by dejah420 at 1:49 PM on August 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

dejah420, you are the reason AskMefi exists. Dayumn.
posted by Billegible at 11:06 AM on August 14, 2009

Wow-- AskMefi to the rescue-- again!

Junkbox, I dug around the Makeup Alley Skincare Board, and yes, it's an incredible resource. Lots of anecdotal tips on proper application. Most suggest making a new Vit. C serum every few days, since the l-ascorbic acid oxidizes so quickly through contact with light and heat. I'm keeping mine in an amber bottle in the fridge.

Dejah420, thanks for your astute comments. I read the 2003 Humbert study you mentioned, whose abstract concludes:

"It [5% topical Vitamin C cream] led to a clinically apparent improvement of the photodamaged skin and induced modifications of skin relief and ultrastructure, suggesting a positive influence of topical vitamin C on parameters characteristic for sun-induced skin ageing."

Sounds good to me! I'm going to keep playing around with it. I'm still not sure if the ph is something I need to be concerned about, either for skin irritation or effectiveness reasons. And if you do discover anything regarding malpighia punicifolia, and whether this might be even better for the home formulator than plain l-ascorbic acid crystals, I'd love to hear about it. Keep us posted!
posted by airguitar2 at 5:23 PM on August 15, 2009

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