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Vitamin C for Sensitive Skin: Ascorbic Acid or Derivatives?

Posted by Lara Schimweg on
Vitamin C Serum

Let's talk about vitamin C. How well tolerated is vitamin C for sensitive skin? Which vitamin C is effective? You shouldn't spend money unnecessarily. If so, it should be effective.


Ascorbic Acid

Vitamin C derivatives:

Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate

Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate

ascorbyl glucosides

Ascorbyl Palmitate

Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate / Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate

ethyl ascorbic acid

Effect: lightens pigment spots and pimple marks, antioxidant

Compatibility: Varies depending on the derivative used

Is vitamin C good for the skin?

👉 Does every skin need a vitamin C product? no

It's a nice addition. Vitamin C makes the skin more robust. Depending on which vitamin C is used in the product, it can also lighten pigment spots and pimple marks, strengthen collagen and have a strong antioxidant effect. Vitamin C also enhances the effects of sun protection. That is why it is often used in sunscreens .

The pure vitamin C, the ascorbic acid (Inci: Ascorbic Acid) is the most effective and lightens pigment spots - a very strong antioxidant. Therefore, most advertised with radiant skin.

However, there are a few things to consider, especially if you have sensitive skin. If you don't want to use vitamin C, that's okay too.

Is Vitamin C Good for Sensitive Skin?

Ascorbic acid is not tolerated by every skin. In general, strong active ingredients are usually not so well tolerated . Especially if you have sensitive skin or rosacea , ascorbic acid is not ideal. Also, the juice from the lemon , which contains natural vitamin C, is not a bland idea. This is not healthy for any skin. In the worst case, you'll get a burn because the juice is way too acidic.

As an ingredient , ascorbic acid is unfortunately very unstable and must be packaged airtight and lightproof. Otherwise, this active form of vitamin C would simply break down and be completely useless. Ascorbic acid is also available in powder form. Here the vitamin C is stable but very difficult to dose. Ascorbic acid is a really strong active ingredient that you should not carelessly add to creams, masks, peelings and the like as a powder. Even if you can buy such products anywhere. Don't be fooled by "pure pure ingredients with no toxins" marketing here. The fact is: skin has to get used to every vitamin C. Some skin will not cope with pure ascorbic acid even after getting used to it. And that's okay too.

Some vegetable oils contain natural vitamin C. That's significantly milder. However, this is not enough if you want to address hyperpigmentation and is not as powerful an antioxidant. You can't expect that in this case. A little tip at this point could be Tamanu oil for you if you don't want to use a vitamin C product. Many report that it makes pimple marks fade, but this has not been scientifically proven.

What is the best vitamin C serum?

Tips: If you really care about finding a good vitamin C product:

  • Save your money if you see ascorbic acid in the inci and it is packaged as a serum with a dropper, toner or spray bottle. Nothing will have a lasting effect here. Just the hole in your wallet.
  • How well tolerated vitamin C is also depends on the pH value and whether it is dissolved in water or in fat. Products in which the vitamin C is dissolved in oil or which are not too acidic are milder.
  • Incidentally, inactive vitamin C derivatives are not only significantly better tolerated by sensitive skin. They are also more stable. But watch out, there are also a few myths and marketing tricks regarding the wording. Which derivative makes sense and for which skin you can find out below.

Vitamin C for rosacea / couperose

Skin care for rosacea is also individual with vitamin C. It can reduce skin stress. Few people with rosacea can tolerate (high doses of) ascorbic acid.
With rosacea, if you want to use vitamin C, you should always use vitamin C derivatives. And be aware that you're better off using vitamin C as a standalone product. Vitamin C is simply added to many creams. If you don't notice this when shopping, it can quickly happen that you use vitamin C several times and react even more with redness.

Rosacea is a skin condition characterized by redness

Rosacea care: avoid triggers and reduce redness

Woman with rosacea: Flat areas of redness on the cheeks and eyelids

What is rosacea or couperose: treatment and experiences

Alternative: Vitamin C derivatives

There are some vitamin C derivatives, i.e. derivatives of pure ascorbic acid. Under certain circumstances, these can be converted to ascorbic acid.

Derivatives are much more tolerable than pure ascorbic acid. However, the effectiveness is not nearly as well documented as with pure vitamin C. Laboratory studies (in vitro) predominate with the derivatives. There are not always comprehensive studies with humans (in vivo). However, that would be important in order to understand the effect of a vitamin C derivative.

First it would have to be proven that the vitamin C derivative is also absorbed in the skin. It should also be shown that the vitamin C derivatives in the skin can be converted into pure ascorbic acid. And then it is questionable whether the amount that was actually converted in the end is sufficient. In most cases, there is significantly less ascorbic acid in the skin than with pure ascorbic acid products. This is because the amount converted to ascorbic acid varies from derivative to derivative. And this point has to work. Because only if it penetrates the skin and a certain amount is converted does a tolerable derivative come close to the effect of ascorbic acid.

In addition, it is difficult to find studies on derivatives that are independent of manufacturers. Nevertheless, it makes sense to include these results in the assessment. Just know that the effectiveness of derivatives is difficult to test. There are pros and cons everywhere. Depending on what your goal is, it makes sense to choose one or the other vitamin C derivative or a combination.

Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate

Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate is a very stable vitamin C derivative . It scores with combination skin and very oily skin. For example, sodium ascorbyl phosphate works at 1% against acne bacteria and at 5% against inflammation in acne vulgaris. It is actually comparable in effect to 5% benzoyl peroxide . If you're thinking about using this vitamin C derivative for acne, discuss the idea with your dermatologist. Maybe it makes sense in your case as a supplement to other therapies? Incidentally, studies on humans have also shown that sodium ascorbyl phosphate has a strong antioxidant effect. It has been confirmed in laboratory studies to strengthen collagen. Unfortunately, sodium ascorbyl phosphate is only slightly absorbed by the skin. Furthermore, there is no data regarding the sufficient conversion into ascorbic acid. However, you can find it in a lot of products on the market. If you have a lot of pimples or acne it may be worth trying.

Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate

This is the most stable vitamin C derivative . It works well against hyperpigmentation and is also suitable for sensitive skin. But it has the disadvantage that it is not as powerful an antioxidant. You will primarily find it in aqueous serums or lotions, as Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate is only soluble in water. A nice idea if you want to start. However, it will not work as strongly as other derivatives.

ascorbyl glucosides

Ascorbyl Glucoside is also a really stable derivative . Laboratory studies have shown that Ascorbyl Glucoside can really penetrate the skin. However, studies with real people are still needed here. After all, studies with humans have already shown that it can really be converted into effective ascorbic acid in the skin. Ascorbyl Glucoside has an antioxidant effect , fades hyperpigmentation and also strengthens collagen fibers . This makes it one of the most effective of the well-known derivatives.

Ascorbyl Palmitate

If only this vitamin C derivative is present in a vitamin C product, you can save yourself the money . Why?

Ascorbyl Palmitate is not exactly stable . No increased ascorbic acid could be detected in the skin after use. While it is oil-soluble, oils can help vitamin C penetrate the skin better. Nevertheless, you ca n't expect too much from this derivative in terms of effects. It probably takes a very large amount to produce efficacy, and even that would need to be studied. In such small amounts as it is used in some serums on the market, it does not work against hyperpigmentation. And that's why there are more promising derivatives than Ascorbyl Palmitate.

Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate or Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate

Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate or Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate could be completely new and promising . Both names are used synonymously. One or the other can be in the INCI list . This vitamin C derivative is oil soluble and extremely stable . It penetrates the skin and converts into pure ascorbic acid. It has also been shown that they fulfill all the positive effects of vitamin C. It can lighten hyperpigmentation, strengthen colleagues and has a strong antioxidant effect. So far, these results can only be traced back to laboratory studies. There is only one very small human study that tested positive, and it tested a product that also contained pure ascorbic acid. Therefore, it is of course questionable whether the ascorbic acid also played a role here. Therefore, relevant studies are still pending.

Nevertheless, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate or ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate remains a really promising stable vitamin C derivative , which alone can possibly have a similar effect to ascorbic acid without irritating. And in any case, it is better tolerated than ascorbic acid. And so may be an option for sensitive skin if pure vitamin C products don't work for you.

ethyl ascorbic acid

Ethyl Ascorbic Acid is a very stable derivative that is soluble in both oil and water. According to animal studies 😢, this derivative is believed to be more effective than Ascorbyl Glucoside. It has been shown to be absorbed into the skin and converted to ascorbic acid. And it turns out that significantly more ascorbic acid is produced than with other derivatives. This makes ethyl ascorbic acid potent and very effective . Like tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, ethyl ascorbic acid also has a strong antioxidant effect and strengthens collagen . Ethyl ascorbic acid clearly has the strength there when it comes to the effect against hyperpigmentation . Not much is known about tolerability to ascorbic acid. It is definitely a more potent compound than the other derivatives. So it may be that sensitive skin doesn't get along so well with it. When in doubt, just try it out. If you are particularly interested in lightening pigment spots, it is definitely a promising substance.


Vitamin C is not a must in your routine. You can also use products made with licorice root or rice . These two substances work very gently against hyperpigmentation and at the same time have an antioxidant effect. However, you cannot expect them to be as effective as good vitamin C products.

If you want to try vitamin C, use derivatives if you have sensitive skin. These are milder than pure vitamin C, ascorbic acid.

There are many derivatives and each has its advantages and disadvantages:

  • If you are new to vitamin C , you can try Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate . If it is enough for you that the effect takes significantly longer compared to other derivatives. The antioxidant effect is really much weaker. It is tolerable, but you cannot expect the same effects as ascorbic acid.
  • You can increase yourself with a product that contains Ascorbyl Glucoside . You can also use products in which several derivatives are well combined .
  • On the other hand, if you want a compatible all-rounder , look for a product with tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate or ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate .

This topic clearly depends on your individual goal.

Have you already had experience with vitamin C derivatives or with ascorbic acid?

Lara Schimweg

about the author

Lara Schimweg is the founder of Xeno and develops the skin care products. She studied sports science and health research and is a trained health worker. Lara already mixed her first cream 20 years ago and deals with skin care and ingredients . Lara has rosacea and very sensitive skin.

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