The Many Forms of Vitamin C

Author Team Essentialist

We all love Vitamin C, it’s a staple for bright glowy skin.  You’ve probably noticed that it can go by different names (L-Ascorbic Acid, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Sodium Ascorbate, to name a few variations) and wondered if these different names mean the forms are actually different. The answer is yes. The derivations and compositions of the various options are different, which means more options for you.  As some people have issues with Vitamin C on their sensitive skin we’ll go through the most prevalent ones here so you can determine what is best for you.

L-Ascorbic Acid

  • Most popular and well known
  • Bioactive form of Vitamin C
  • Pure, potent, and highly effective at penetrating the skin barrier
  • Great for normal to oily skin types
  • Low concentrations of 10% for combating dull uneven skin
  • Higher concentrations of 20% (level optimal for max absorption) target hyper-pigmentation
  • High concentrations can be irritating for those with rosacea or sensitive skin
  • pH affects absorption which in turn affects efficacy
  • Low pH ~3.5 is ideal but is better tolerated by normal skin types
  • High pH ~5-6 will be less potent but better tolerated by sensitive skin types
  • Always patch test as it can cause reactions 

Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (MAP)

  • Second most widely used and known
  • A Vitamin C derivative
  • Water-soluble and has higher stability
  • One of the most stable forms of Vitamin C
  • One of the most hydrating and soothing forms of Vitamin C
  • Less irritating for those with dry or sensitive skin
  • Effective topical antioxidant that has been shown to improve inflammatory reactions in acne and prevent blackhead causing oxidation
  • Effective at balancing skin tone, correcting discoloration, has specific brightening effect

Additional forms are either mineral salts of ascorbic acid or compounds which convert to ascorbic acid when applied to the skin. Though widely used these are not as well known. Some are oil soluble, others water soluble, and they have varying pH stabilities. Each offers more stability than ascorbic acid and are still quickly and effectively absorbed which is great. Another key consideration is like MAP these are all less potent and irritating than L-ascorbic acid making them safer options for sensitive skin:

  • Ascorbyl glucoside
  • Ascorbyl palmitate (aka vitamin C ester)
  • Ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate
  • Sodium Ascorbate
  • Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate