Topical Vitamin C for Skin RejuvenationJune 2016
By Robert Goldfaden and Gary Goldfaden, MD
With advancing age, your skin progressively loses vitamin C.1 That spells trouble for the skin’s underlying architecture, resulting in visible wrinkles, age spots, and fine lines.
Vitamin C supports firm and youthful skin by boosting collagen synthesis,2,3 decreasing photodamage,4,5 and exerting anti-inflammatory activity.6
In this article, you will learn about three of the most stable forms of vitamin C—and how their diverse biological activities in the skin protect against photoaging and common skin disorders to leave behind a more youthful appearance.
More Stabilized Forms of Vitamin C
Since humans lack the enzyme necessary for synthesizing vitamin C, they must obtain it through oral ingestion or topical application.7 Topical application has shown to be superior for replenishing skin concentrations of vitamin C.6
Scientists have identified three vitamin C derivatives—magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, sodium ascorbyl phosphate, and ascorbyl glucoside—with improved stability that efficiently convert to L-ascorbic acid in the skin to leave it firmer, healthier, and more youthful.8,9
Prevent and Repair Sun-Damaged Skin
Chronic exposure to the damaging rays of the sun induces unfavorable changes to the skin’s structural framework, leading to premature aging visible as wrinkles, age spots, and spider veins.10,11 Research indicates that all three stable forms of vitamin C protect against sun-induced aging (photoaging) by:
- Scavenging reactive oxygen species that increase the expression of enzymes responsible for breaking down collagen and elastin—the proteins comprising most of the structural framework that keeps skin firm and resilient.12,13
- Inhibiting lipid peroxidation that damages membranes of the skin cells and alters their functional integrity.14,15
- Reducing the inflammatory response to ultraviolet radiation that triggers DNA damage, programmed cell death by apoptosis, and immunosuppression.12,16
In addition to protecting against the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays, these three forms of vitamin C also initiate the repair process of sun-damaged skin. They are broken down to L-ascorbic acid, which acts as a co-factor in enzymatic reactions responsible for stimulating new production of collagen that boosts the skin’s healing capacity.17
Owing to its unique molecular structure, each form of vitamin C stands out from the rest for a specific skin benefits. Let’s now take a look at how each of these ascorbate compounds benefit the skin.
Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate Restores Skin Hydration
As the years pass, our skin loses its ability to retain moisture. This happens as the skin’s barrier function weakens under the assault of ultraviolet radiation and environmental stressors. The result is dry, flaking, and crepey skin.18 Research has shown that magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP) enhances the skin’s ability to retain water, in turn making it visibly softer and smoother.19,20
In a controlled clinical study, human volunteers applied topical magnesium ascorbyl phosphate to their forearm skin daily for four weeks. Researchers used two techniques called corneometry and cutometery to objectively measure skin hydration. By these measures, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate significantly increased hydration in both the outer and deeper layers of the skin, thereby demonstrating sustained effects.19 This finding was later confirmed in yet another trial.20
Ascorbyl Glucoside Fades Excess Pigmentation
Hyperpigmentation reflects the abnormal output of the skin’s main pigment melanin.21 This creates an uneven skin tone that can add years to your appearance. To make matters worse, effective treatments are accompanied by undesirable side effects.22,23
Human studies have shown that ascorbyl glucoside safely modulates common forms of hyperpigmentation such as age spots and difficult-to-treat melasma.24-26 This stems from its ability to block the action of tyrosinase, a key enzyme involved in the formation of new melanin.27,28
In one clinical trial, patients aged 30 to 50 suffering from facial hyperpigmentation applied a topical formula comprising ascorbyl glucoside to one side of their faces daily for four weeks. At the end of the study, the treated side of the participants’ faces showed a significant reduction in total area of hyperpigmented spots. Additionally, 70% of subjects treated with ascorbyl glucoside reported lighter skin compared to 16.6% in the untreated group.25
In another study, scientists enlisted volunteers who applied a cream containing ascorbyl glucoside to their face twice daily for three months. The total area of age spots was assessed at baseline, and then 14, 28, 56, and 84 days after application. Researchers observed that within two weeks, total area of age spots decreased by an average of 14.2%, and after three months, this parameter further improved to 21.2%.26
Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate Alleviates Acne
Although acne is associated with younger individuals, this inflammatory skin disorder affects 15.3% of women and 7.3% of men aged 50 and older.29 The development of acne is characterized by the excessive production and oxidation of sebum—the skin’s natural oil—that generates inflammation and is a breeding ground for bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes).30 This culminates in inflamed blemishes and lesions on the skin.
Sodium ascorbyl phosphate gained traction as a potential treatment for acne after it was found in laboratory investigations to strongly inhibit the growth of P. acnes and prevent sebum oxidation by up to 40%.31 The next step was to determine its efficacy in humans.
In a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial, 50 patients with mild to severe acne applied sodium ascorbyl phosphate or a placebo twice a day to their acne lesions for 12 weeks. Scientists found that treated patients saw greater improvements on several acne rating scales. Also, the treatment group’s lesion count decreased by 21%—while the placebo group’s diminished by 7%.32
Researchers then tested sodium ascorbyl phosphate versus benzoyl peroxide—a widely prescribed and effective acne treatment agent—on acne patients over a 12-week period. They discovered that twice-daily application of sodium ascorbyl phosphate resulted in good or excellent skin improvement in 76.9% of patients, compared to 60.9% in the benzoyl peroxide group. The research team concluded that sodium ascorbyl phosphate has “excellent efficacy in the treatment of acne vulgaris.”31
Ferulic Acid Enhances Vitamin C Effects
The potent free radical scavenger ferulic acid often makes an appearance alongside vitamin C in topical preparations and for good reason. It has been shown to slow the breakdown of vitamin C and enhance its protective effects against ultraviolet damage. When added to a combination of vitamin C and E, ferulic acid doubled photoprotection, increasing it from 4-fold to 8-fold.33
Vitamin C in its primary form of L-ascorbic acid has a proven track record for improving aging skin. Scientists have now identified more stable forms of vitamin C including:
- Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate
- Sodium ascorbyl phosphate
- Ascorbyl glucoside
These advanced forms of vitamin C have been combined with ferulic acid into a topical formulation that offers comprehensive protection against photoaging and combats common skin disorders to restore youthful skin.
Gary Goldfaden, MD, is a clinical dermatologist and lifetime member of the American Academy of Dermatology. He is the founder of Academy Dermatology in Hollywood, FL, and Cosmesis Skin Care. Dr. Goldfaden is a member of Life Extension’s Medical Advisory Board. All Cosmesis products are available online.
If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.
- Rhie G, Shin MH, Seo JY, et al. Aging- and photoaging-dependent changes of enzymic and nonenzymic antioxidants in the epidermis and dermis of human skin in vivo. J Invest Dermatol. 2001;117(5):1212-7.
- Nusgens BV, Humbert P, Rougier A, et al. Topically applied vitamin C enhances the mRNA level of collagens I and III, their processing enzymes and tissue inhibitor of matrix metalloproteinase 1 in the human dermis. J Invest Dermatol. 2001;116(6):853-9.
- Burke KE. Interaction of vitamins C and E as better cosmeceuticals. Dermatol Ther. 2007;20(5):314-21.
- Farris PK. Topical vitamin C: a useful agent for treating photoaging and other dermatologic conditions. Dermatol Surg. 2005;31(7 Pt 2):814-7; discussion 8.
- Humbert PG, Haftek M, Creidi P, et al. Topical ascorbic acid on photoaged skin. Clinical, topographical and ultrastructural evaluation: double-blind study vs. placebo. Exp Dermatol. 2003;12(3):237-44.
- Telang PS. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2013;4(2):143-6.
- Naidu KA. Vitamin C in human health and disease is still a mystery? An overview. Nutr J. 2003;2:7.
- Austria R, Semenzato A, Bettero A. Stability of vitamin C derivatives in solution and topical formulations. J Pharm Biomed Anal. 1997;15(6):795-801.
- Balaguer A, Chisvert A, Salvador A. Environmentally friendly LC for the simultaneous determination of ascorbic acid and its derivatives in skin-whitening cosmetics. J Sep Sci. 2008;31(2):229-36.
- Knaggs H. A new source of aging? J Cosmet Dermatol. 2009;8(2): 77-82.
- Jansen R, Wang SQ, Burnett M, et al. Photoprotection: part I. Photoprotection by naturally occurring, physical, and systemic agents. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2013;69(6):853.e1-12; quiz 65-6.
- Miyai E, Yanagida M, Akiyama J, et al. Ascorbic acid 2-O-alpha-glucoside-induced redox modulation in human keratinocyte cell line, SCC: mechanisms of photoprotective effect against ultraviolet light B. Biol Pharm Bull. 1997;20(6):632-6.
- Kobayashi S, Takehana M, Kanke M, et al. Postadministration protective effect of magnesium-L-ascorbyl-phosphate on the development of UVB-induced cutaneous damage in mice. Photochem Photobiol. 1998;67(6):669-75.
- Nayama S, Takehana M, Kanke M, et al. Protective effects of sodium-L-ascorbyl-2 phosphate on the development of UVB-induced damage in cultured mouse skin. Biol Pharm Bull. 1999;22(12):1301-5.
- Kobayashi S, Takehana M, Itoh S, et al. Protective effect of magnesium-L-ascorbyl-2 phosphate against skin damage induced by UVB irradiation. Photochem Photobiol. 1996;64(1):224-8.
- Kumano Y, Sakamoto T, Egawa M, et al. In vitro and in vivo prolonged biological activities of novel vitamin C derivative, 2-O-alpha-D-glucopyranosyl-L-ascorbic acid (AA-2G), in cosmetic fields. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 1998;44(3):345-59.
- Pinnell SR. Regulation of collagen biosynthesis by ascorbic acid: a review. Yale J Biol Med. 1985;58(6):553-9.
- Wang YN, Fang H, Wang HM, et al. Effect of chronic exposure to ultraviolet on skin barrier function. Zhejiang Da Xue Xue Bao Yi Xue Ban. 2010;39(5):517-22.
- Campos PM, Goncalves GM, Gaspar LR. In vitro antioxidant activity and in vivo efficacy of topical formulations containing vitamin C and its derivatives studied by non-invasive methods. Skin Res Technol. 2008;14(3):376-80.
- Campos PM, de Camargo Junior FB, de Andrade JP, et al. Efficacy of cosmetic formulations containing dispersion of liposome with magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, alpha-lipoic acid and kinetin. Photochem Photobiol. 2012;88(3):748-52.
- Ortonne JP, Bissett DL. Latest insights into skin hyperpigmentation. J Investig Dermatol Symp Proc. 2008;13(1):10-4.
- Gonzalez N, Perez M. Natural cosmeceutical ingredients for hyperpigmentation. J Drugs Dermatol. 2016;15(1):26-34.
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- Taylor MB, Yanaki JS, Draper DO, et al. Successful short-term and long-term treatment of melasma and postinflammatory hyperpigmentation using vitamin C with a full-face iontophoresis mask and a mandelic/malic acid skin care regimen. J Drugs Dermatol. 2013;12(1):45-50.
- Hakozaki T, Takiwaki H, Miyamoto K, et al. Ultrasound enhanced skin-lightening effect of vitamin C and niacinamide. Skin Res Technol. 2006;12(2):105-13.
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- Ebanks JP, Wickett RR, Boissy RE. Mechanisms regulating skin pigmentation: the rise and fall of complexion coloration. Int J Mol Sci. 2009;10(9):4066-87.
- Collier CN, Harper JC, Cafardi JA, et al. The prevalence of acne in adults 20 years and older. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2008;58(1):56-9.
- Williams HC, Dellavalle RP, Garner S. Acne vulgaris. Lancet. 2012;379(9813):361-72.
- Klock J, Ikeno H, Ohmori K, et al. Sodium ascorbyl phosphate shows in vitro and in vivo efficacy in the prevention and treatment of acne vulgaris. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2005;27(3):171-6.
- Woolery-Lloyd H, Baumann L, Ikeno H. Sodium L-ascorbyl-2-phosphate 5% lotion for the treatment of acne vulgaris: a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2010;9(1):22-7.
- Lin FH, Lin JY, Gupta RD, et al. Ferulic acid stabilizes a solution of vitamins C and E and doubles its photoprotection of skin. J Invest Dermatol. 2005;125(4):826-32.