I’ve never completely subscribed to the theory that you get what you pay for. After all, my all-time favorite jeans cost way less than $100. The mascara I just can’t quit is a drugstore staple. The most reliable car I’ve ever owned was the one with the lowest sticker price!
Meet the Experts
Rachel Nazarian is a New York City board-certified dermatologist.
But then, there’s vitamin C. Specifically, skincare products that contain this potent antioxidant. For a long time, I’ve thought it imperative to shell out a pretty penny for skincare products with vitamin C for various reasons.
For one thing, vitamin C is a skincare VIP. “This water-soluble vitamin is necessary for many aspects of skin health,” says New York City board-certified dermatologist Rachel Nazarian. For example, vitamin C works with sun protection by neutralizing free-radical damage, a type of damage triggered by ultraviolet A rays and many other environmental stressors. In addition, it can help with pigment, uneven skin tone, and even collagen production. “It’s really one of the most important vitamins when discussing skin health,” says Nazarian, “and can be used topically for various skin benefits because it is a wonderful antioxidant, aside from improving the appearance of wrinkles, pores, and fine lines, it can also improve pigmentation and sun damage… that’s why it’s so loved.”
Many different types of vitamin C are available — many products use different forms, with various multi-syllabic names — and worse still, vitamin C is notorious for being finicky. “Depending on which form, they differ from each other because of irritation profile, and their ability to stay stable when combined with other ingredients or if they’re not packaged correctly (i.e., ideal pH, optimal absorption behavior, etc.).” Dr. Nazarian further breaks down a few of the most commonly used forms.
- L-ascorbic acid is very commonly used, but it’s very easily neutralized and made inactive when exposed to light or air because it’s incredibly unstable… this is the one that turns brown and dark as it oxidizes.
- Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate (THD ascorbate) is a great form to look for because it’s much more stable and less likely to irritate your skin.
- Sodium ascorbyl phosphate and ascorbyl methylsilanol pectinate are two other commonly seen forms. The hitch here is that these need to be converted to the most active form of vitamin C… so they’re not as potent.
Okay, so this is where the whole price thing comes in. For a long time, this was one area where I shelled out big (BIG!) bucks for the same one or two cult-fave vitamin C products — thinking it was the only way not just to be slathering on something that would keep its promises since this ingredient was so finicky.
I’d end up rationing my use of it though – dabbing it on every other day, even though my skin can handle it daily and Nazarian recommends using it daily and continuing over the long term — and the one time I goofed and spilled it all over the counter?! TEARS, legit tears.
A few months ago, I ran out of my super-spendy C serum and couldn’t bring myself to reorder. So then, I decided to switch it up and started using the Sunday Riley C.E.O. 15% Brightening Serum every morning, which isn’t drugstore inexpensive but is way more in my sweet spot, price-wise. But even more importantly, the C.E.O. Serum uses tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, which is blissfully stable so that it will keep its potency. Huzzah! And since Nazarian recommends using a vitamin C that’s concentrated at least 10%, this definitely exceeds that. (It also has glycolic acid, which is a great ingredient for improving skin texture.)
After a month of daily use of the C.E.O. Serum plus the C.E.O. Afterglow Brightening Vitamin C Gel Cream (both before sunscreen), I’ve been blown away by how well they’ve worked—at least as well as or probably better than the one that cost me twice as much, and this one smells much much better, to boot. My skin has that smooth, brightened glow I hope for, and even some of my most stubborn dark spots seem lighter. Not to mention that the air-tight packaging of the serum means I haven’t been terrified of spills.
The whole thing is a win-win; I’m spending less money but getting exactly what I have wanted all along. Now, if someone could find me a replacement for a certain bond-building hair product that my hair can’t seem to get enough of, I’ll be all set….
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