The Different Types of Vitamin C in Skincare, Explained

Types of Vitamin C in Skincare

Vitamin C is among the most popular active ingredients used in skincare. It’s an antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals, minimizes signs of aging, and stimulates collagen production. It also minimizes hyperpigmentation and has anti-inflammatory benefits. But it can be irritating for sensitive skin. So basically vitamin C, though loved by everyone, is not for everyone. The good news is there are different types of vitamin C.

These are vitamin C derivatives that work a little differently but are usually gentler on the skin. That’s why I personally go for derivatives instead of pure vitamin C to use on my sensitive skin. So if you’re on the lookout for gentle vitamin C and alternatives to pure vitamin C, I’ve gathered below some of the best ones to try.

But know that there’s a ton of derivatives and vitamin C esters. Some are new and some are not widely available in skincare products. I’ve based my round-up on the ones that kept popping up in the vitamin C products I’ve come to love and comfortably use on my redness-prone skin.

Types of Vitamin C

1. Ascorbic Acid

Ascorbic acid or l-ascorbic acid is the pure form of vitamin C. It’s the most effective form when it comes to fending off signs of aging and brightening the skin.

But there are downsides to it. It’s water-soluble, so it’s not as penetrative 1. And it easily oxidizes, meaning that it goes bad when exposed to air or light.

More importantly, it requires a pH of 3.5 to be effective, which is usually too irritating for people with sensitive skin. So while pure vitamin C is the most effective form, it simply does not work for everyone.

2. Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate

Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate is one of the most stable forms of vitamin C. It has antioxidant and anti-aging benefits. But what makes it so attractive as an alternative are the additional benefits 2.

It has hydrating properties, doesn’t require a low pH level to work, and has been shown to help with inflammatory acne all thanks to its anti-inflammatory effects.

That’s why it’s suitable for all skin types, especially for people with sensitive skin. You might be familiar with this derivative from Glossier’s Super Glow Serum, which works on even the most sensitive skin!

3. Ascorbyl Glucoside

Among all the vitamin C products I’ve used over the years, ascorbyl glucoside was the one formulated into the gentlest ones like vitamin C cleansers. This derivative is the combination of ascorbic acid with a sugar molecule.

It’s water-soluble, stable, and effective. Though not as potent as ascorbic acid, ascorbyl glucoside is effective in boosting collagen, providing antioxidant benefits, and promoting a brighter skin tone.

You might be familiar with this derivative from Avene’s A-Oxitive Antioxidant Defense Serum. It’s one of the most skin-friendly vitamin C types you can use for sensitive skin.

4. 3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid

3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid has been the most popular vitamin C derivative. It’s the one in the newer vitamin C serums that tend to be more cosmetically pleasing, leaving the skin super glowy.

It’s highly stable and soluble in both water and oil. This makes it suitable for most skin types. It has antioxidant, and anti-aging benefits and possesses all those fancy skin benefits associated with pure vitamin C 3.

3-o-ethyl ascorbic acid requires a pH level of 5.4 to be effective, which is pretty skin-friendly. And it’s probably why we have these new-generation vitamin C moisturizers and serums made with a high concentration.

The Takeaway

So these are some of the most popular types of vitamin C derivatives used in skincare products. I have sensitive skin from rosacea. For me, derivatives deserve more attention than pure vitamin C. And from my experience, my skin is much happier with esters because I’m able to use my products daily without dealing with redness or irritation. If you’re like me, I’ve got an amazing round-up of the best vitamin C serums for rosacea that are all incredibly gentle.


Read Next: Best Drugstore Vitamin C Serums


  1. Al-Niaimi, F., & Chiang, N. (2017). Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical ApplicationsThe Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology10(7), 14–17. ↩︎
  2. Lee, W. J., Kim, S. L., Choe, Y. S., Jang, Y. H., Lee, S. J., & Kim, D. W. (2015). Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate Regulates the Expression of Inflammatory Biomarkers in Cultured Sebocytes. Annals of dermatology27(4), 376–382. ↩︎
  3. Chen, S. J., Hseu, Y. C., Gowrisankar, Y. V., Chung, Y. T., Zhang, Y. Z., Way, T. D., & Yang, H. L. (2021). The anti-melanogenic effects of 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid via Nrf2-mediated α-MSH inhibition in UVA-irradiated keratinocytes and autophagy induction in melanocytes. Free radical biology & medicine173, 151–169. ↩︎
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