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All About Vitamin C Derivatives for Your Skin

When it comes to the different skin care ingredients out there, vitamin C is often touted as an essential must-have.

And yes, vitamin C definitely does work wonders on the skin, but did you know that there are several different forms of vitamin C available in skin care?

From L-Ascorbic Acid to Ascorbyl Palmitate, here is a breakdown of the many vitamin C derivatives, as well as the different effects that they will each have on your skin.

What Does Vitamin C Actually Do For the Skin?

Before learning about the derivatives of vitamin C, you need to first understand exactly what this ingredient does for your skin.

Vitamin C is a vitamin that you consume through your diet, because this is a vitamin that your body cannot produce on its own. While vitamin C can be found in such a wide range of different foods, vitamin C deficiency rates are steadily on the rise. Currently, around 15% of adults in the USA are deficient in vitamin C. 

Here are just a few of the ways in which vitamin C can benefit your skin:

As you can see, this is an ingredient that would benefit just about everyone. However, in order to really reap its powers, you need to be using the derivative of vitamin C that is best suited to your skin.

Ascorbic Acid (AA)

You have likely already heard of Ascorbic Acid before, because this is vitamin C in its purest form. It brings the skin all of the main benefits of vitamin C, from collagen synthesis to UV protection to a reduction in hyperpigmentation.

In fact, every other type of vitamin C will need to first be converted into Ascorbic Acid by your skin cells before it can actually be used. The fact that Ascorbic Acid itself is so bio-available means that it can begin working as soon as it enters your skin, which it does so quickly thanks to its water-soluble nature.

You are probably wondering…

If Ascorbic Acid is so pure and effective, why do we even need vitamin C derivatives?

Well, although Ascorbic Acid may be the most potent form of the vitamin, it is only stable when used in formulas that consist of a very low pH, usually less than 3.5. Any higher than this and the vitamin C becomes unstable, meaning that it also has an extremely short shelf life.

This low pH can be extremely harsh on the skin, and is usually not able to be tolerated by most people, especially at a high enough concentration for the Ascorbic Acid to make a difference.

This is why the other forms of vitamin C were then developed…

Ascorbyl Palmitate (AA-PAL)

Ascorbyl Palmitate is an extremely common vitamin C derivative, and is one that you will likely see in a wide variety of different skin care products. This one is made by combining Ascorbic Acid with Palmitic Acid, and is also referred to as Vitamin C Ester on ingredient labels

Although Ascorbyl Palmitate also needs to be formulated into quite a low pH in order for it to work, this is still higher than Ascorbic Acid itself, meaning that it is likely to be better tolerated by your skin.

Wondering if there are any downsides?

Well, since Ascorbyl Palmitate tends to be more of a gentle ingredient, this means that it is not quite as potent as pure vitamin C, and also cannot properly penetrate into the surface of your skin.

This does not mean that it is useless…

In fact, the way in which it sits on the surface of your skin makes it quite the wonder ingredient when it comes to providing protection from the sun’s UV rays, while also minimizing free radical damage.

Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (TA)

Unlike Ascorbic Acid, which is water-soluble, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate is oil-soluble.

Wondering what the difference is?  

Well, being oil-soluble, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate is not only able to penetrate through the outermost layer of your skin, but it also travels into the dermis, which is a deeper layer. The dermis is where it needs to be in order to have the biggest impact when it comes to collagen production.

Illustration of the layers of human skin

Want to know why oil-soluble derivatives are able to penetrate deeper into your skin than water-soluble forms of vitamin C?

It all comes down to the way in which the outer layer of your skin consists of lipids, which are oils. These help to keep moisture in, while keeping germs and toxins out.

You likely already know that oil and water do not mix, meaning that if you apply a water-based product on to the lipid surface of your skin, it will not be able to penetrate very deeply. However, if you apply an oil-soluble product to the surface of your skin, this is able to mix in with your skin’s natural oil and work its way down much deeper.

Another benefit to this derivative is that it is extremely stable, and does not oxidize when it comes into contact with both water and air, which is another factor that sets it apart from many of the other vitamin C derivatives. In fact, the shelf life for Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate is as long as 18 months, so long as it is packaged properly.

Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (MAP)

Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate is another water-soluble, stable form of vitamin C.

Research shows that this derivative is exceptionally powerful, but still very gentle at the same time, meaning that you do not need quite as much of it in a product for it to have a strong effect on your skin.

What are its greatest benefits?

Collagen synthesis is one, but Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate is also effective at providing antioxidant protection to skin cells.

Do you suffer from hyperpigmentation? 

If so, this may be the vitamin C derivative for you, as research shows that Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate is capable of reducing the production of melanin by up to 80%, meaning that it can have a huge impact when it comes to fading hyperpigmentation and age spots.

One final benefit of Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate is…

This ingredient has anti-inflammatory properties, making it fantastic for those who have sensitive skin. In addition to providing all of its other benefits, this derivative will also calm and soothe your skin, reducing any redness and irritation.

Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate (ATI)

Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate is one of the newer forms of vitamin C, and is created by blending together Ascorbic Acid with Isopalmitic Acid. 

What makes this one different?

To begin with, this derivative is oil-soluble, meaning that it will penetrate faster and deeper into your skin.

Once it is in, it has the same benefits as Ascorbic Acid, from the way in which it boosts collagen production to the way in which it can lighten dark spots.

However, unlike the many other vitamin C derivatives, Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate is not as gentle…

This ingredient has been shown to often irritate skin, especially if you have sensitive skin, and can often lead to allergic contact dermatitis

Wondering whether your skin will be able to tolerate this ingredient?

It all depends on whether or not you already use a vitamin C product. If you do, then chances are that your skin will already be used to the ingredient’s side effects, and this one will not cause any problems. However, if you are new to vitamin C, then you will likely be best off opting for one of the other derivatives instead.

Ascorbyl Glucosamine (AG)

It is important to be acquainted with all of the different derivatives of vitamin C if you are looking to incorporate this ingredient into your skin care routine. However, Ascorbyl Glucosamine is one that you may not come across for a while.


Because research into this derivative is still quite limited. This means that although its skin-boosting effects are pretty much known, seeing as they are similar to the other derivatives of vitamin C, its side effects remain unknown, which could be problematic for those with sensitive skin.

What is this ingredient made from?

It consists of a combination of Ascorbic Acid and Glucosamine.

Never heard of glucosamine before?

This compound is most commonly used when it comes to joint care, but there is now an increasing amount of research that suggests that glucosamine also brings with it a variety of skin benefits, including decreasing skin pigmentation and reducing the visibility of fine lines and wrinkles. 

As you can imagine, this means that it works quite well with vitamin C, but due to the limited research, this is a derivative that you should probably hold off on using for a while.

Ascorbic Glucoside (AA-2G)

Ascorbic Glucoside is a water-soluble derivative made from a mixture of Ascorbic Acid and Glucose, and breaks down into pure Ascorbic Acid once it has been absorbed by the skin.

How does Ascorbyl Glucoside compare with the other vitamin C derivatives?

Well, being water-soluble, it does not penetrate into your skin very deeply, but still brings the surface of your skin plenty of benefits.

Its antioxidant properties are strong, meaning that it is fantastic at neutralizing free radicals, while also protecting your skin from UV damage.

There is one way in which Ascorbic Glucoside really stands out…

Research shows that when this derivative is combined with niacinamide, which is also known as vitamin B3, it becomes even more powerful. 

Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (SAP)

Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate is one of the most stable derivatives of vitamin C, and is also one of the most bio-available, meaning that your body is able to make use of it at a far faster and greater rate.

Being water-soluble, the amount at which this ingredient penetrates into your skin is limited, but it still has some fantastic effects on the surface of your skin.

One of the greatest benefits of Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate is the way in which it brightens up the skin tone by limiting the production of melanin, meaning that it can really help with hyperpigmentation.

It also has exceptionally strong antimicrobial effects, especially when it comes to acne. In fact, research shows that just a 1% concentration of Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate will fight against acne for eight hours, so imagine what a higher concentration would be able to do!

Not only does Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate fight against the acne-causing bacteria on the surface of your skin, but it can also reduce sebum oxidation by up to 40%.

Wondering what sebum oxidation is?

It’s when your skin’s natural oils end up oxidizing, which can happen for a number of reasons, with everything from sun exposure to pollution causing this.

What does this do to your skin?

One of the most common results of sebum oxidation is acne, due to the way in which the oxidized sebum clogs up the pores and triggers an inflammatory response.

Illustration of acne formation

If you suffer from acne and are already using treatments containing either benzoyl peroxide or antibiotics, Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate could be well worth a try. This is a comparable ingredient when it comes to the acne-fighting benefits that the other two bring, but does not have the same side effects. Research actually shows that there are pretty much no side effects at all when it comes to using Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate for acne, which cannot be said for benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics.

As you can see, there are so many vitamin C derivatives out there, and there are actually even more than this list covers.  

This can make it quite tricky to choose the right form of vitamin C for you, but the key here is to identify the skin issues that you are trying to target with vitamin C, so that you can then choose the derivative that will tackle these the best.

Don’t forget…

While some vitamin C derivatives are much more stable than others, you are still best off opting for products that are contained in opaque packaging with a pump dispenser, as this helps to prevent the amount of light and air that the vitamin C is exposed to.

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