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Raisons d'utiliser des dérivés de la vitamine C.

Why do we use derivatives of Vitamin C?

Published January 29, 2024, by Stéphanie, Doctorate in Life and Health Sciences — 8 min read

Diminishing hyperpigmented spots, providing radiance to the complexion, preventing and protecting from the damage caused by free radicals, firming the skin, reducing the appearance of wrinkles... the vitamin C (INCI name: Ascorbic Acid) is an organic compound known for improving the appearance, texture, and tone of the skin. Unfortunately, its chemical structure predisposes vitamin C to oxidation and instability in aerobic or anaerobic conditions, despite its proven effectiveness.

  • Vitamin C is an unstable compound in aqueous solution because it is prone to oxidation, which can be identified by its color change. In its ionized form, it can rapidly degrade when exposed to light, oxygen, high temperatures, high pH, and humidity, making it difficult to formulate. A few months after opening, a serum with pure vitamin C can darken and turn deep orange or brown, indicating a decrease in its antioxidant effects. To stabilize it, it must be in an anhydrous state, in a reduced form, or formulated at a pH lower than 3.5...

  • Its hydrophilic nature does not make it optimal for penetrating the skin barrier, as the skin is protected by a lipid layer that makes it hydrophobic. This is why vitamin C requires specific conditions to effectively penetrate the skin and deliver its benefits, such as a very low pH. Indeed, pH plays a crucial role in the absorption of vitamin C.

  • Its acidic nature (pH < 3.5) can cause redness, tingling, and sometimes irritations as side effects in some people whose skin barrier is damaged, such as sensitive, dry, and dehydrated skin. However, this condition is essential if one wants to use vitamin C. Using an ascorbic acid serum with a less acidic pH will be ineffective.

  • A concentration of 20% Vitamin C is considered optimal for its penetration into the skin and to reduce the extent of its degradation. However, such a dosage can prove to be irritating.

To address these issues, derivative forms of vitamin C have been synthesized and can be selected to maintain the physiological pH of the skin around 5.5 - 6. It can be combined with other molecules to form a stable compound that can be used in skincare formulas for a long shelf life and to be less irritating as the cells must break it down to release the pure vitamin C. Here are a few examples.

  • Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (INCI name: Tetrahexyldeycl Ascorbate): This is a modified form of Vitamin C that is lipid-soluble and has a very low potential for irritability. This property makes it much more versatile. Classified as a quasi-drug in Japan and South Korea at a concentration of 2 to 3%, it is very stable in solution (it does not degrade easily) and compatible with most skin types. THD Ascorbate also promotes better skin penetration at a pH > 5 due to its chemical modification, but it must first be converted into ascorbic acid.

  • Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (INCI name: Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate): MAP is a water-soluble esterified derivative of vitamin C. It is very stable in formulations with a pH > 7 and penetrates the skin quite well, where it is metabolized into ascorbic acid. It acts as a brightening agent and antioxidant to slow down the deterioration caused by exposure to air and also to control the pH of the finished product.

  • Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (INCI name: Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate): This is the mineral form of vitamin C, which is growing in popularity. It converts into ascorbic acid when it penetrates the skin and has a lower irritant power, making it more suitable for acne-prone, sensitive, and damaged skin. However, its ability to penetrate the skin through topical application seems very limited due to its hydrophilic nature. Therefore, it must be converted by a hydrolytic enzymatic process, presumably accomplished by an alkaline phosphatase present in the skin, before it can penetrate. In addition, SAP has a much higher stability and thus protects the formulation from oxidation, a result of its chemical structure with the introduction of a phosphate group in position 2 of the cycle. It is stable in solution at ~ pH 7.

  • Ascorbyl Glucoside (INCI name Ascorbyl Glucoside): This is a stable derivative of vitamin C. However, to perform its functions, it must be hydrolyzed by cellular alpha-glucosidase to release ascorbic acid. It appears to penetrate the skin effectively, but its rate of penetration and conversion in vivo into vitamin C has not yet been determined.

  • Ascorbyl Palmitate (INCI name Ascorbyl Palmitate): This is a fat-soluble fatty acid ester, more specifically a residue of palmitic acid has been added to ascorbic acid. Due to its lipophilic property, it appears to penetrate the skin more easily. At concentrations of 0.05% to 0.1%, it is used to protect the formulation from oxidation and stabilize oxygen-sensitive ingredients in cosmetic formulations. However, at concentrations of 1 - 2%, it is used as an active agent. On the other hand, its chemical modification on carbon 6 of the cycle offers no protection to vitamin C against oxidative degradation: it is therefore less stable in the long term than other forms in topical formulations.

  • Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate (INCI name: Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate): This is a synthetic, fat-soluble form of vitamin C, where all its hydroxy groups (active sites of vitamin C) have been esterified with isopalmytic acid. When applied topically, it has shown the same physiological effects as ascorbic acid. To exert its effects, it penetrates the skin and is converted in vitro into ascorbic acid by an enzymatic reaction carried out by cytosolic esterase. It has been found to act as a precursor to vitamin C. In addition, it can be used at high concentrations in formulas without risk. In formulations, it is only stable when the pH is above 5.

  • 3-O ethyl ascorbate (INCI name: 3-O Ethyl Ascorbic Acid): This is a stable alternative to ascorbic acid with an ethyl group at position 3 on the cycle. It is soluble in both water and oil. This structural modification protects the 3-OH group from ionization and thus the molecule from oxidation, but it results in changes in its physicochemical properties. Regarding its safety of use, it is generally well tolerated: only two cases of allergic contact dermatitis have been reported in the literature to date.

In our vitamin C-based skincare products, we specifically use derivatives, namely sodium ascorbyl phosphate and tetraisopalmitate ascorbyl.


  • YAMAGUCHI H. & al. L-Ascorbic acid a-glucoside formed by regioselective transglycosylation with rat intestinal and rice seed a-glucosidases/ Its improved stability and structure determination. Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin (1990).

  • BETTERO A. & al. Stability of vitamin C derivatives in solution and topical formulations. Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis (1997).

  • KMETEC V. & al. Stability of ascorbyl palmitate in topical microemulsions. International Journal of Pharmaceutics (2001).

  • LEVINE M. & al. Topical L-ascorbic acid: percutaneous absorption studies. American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (2001).

  • SAKURAI & al. A new lipophilic pro-vitamin C, tetra-isopalmitoyl ascorbic acid (VC-IP), prevents UV-induced skin pigmentation through its anti-oxidative properties. Journal of Dermatological Science (2006)

  • STAMFORD N. P. J. Stability, transdermal penetration, and cutaneous effects of ascorbic acid and its derivatives. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology (2012).

  • LANE M. E. & al. 3-O-ethyl-l-ascorbic acid: Characterisation and investigation of single solvent systems for delivery to the skin. International Journal of Pharmaceutics (2019).

  • Barnet Products Corporation. BV-OSC (tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate), a stable, oil-soluble form of vitamin C.


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