3 Reasons Why Making Your Own Vitamin C Serum Isn’t Safe or Effective

Skin Care


Home made vitamin c toners; normally including vitamin c crystals or powder in a solvent such as tea or distilled water that you use for a week and discard. Trick or treat? Is this receipe worth a go?


My Dear Readers (And Noella),

Imagine walking into a Michelin three-star restaurant run by a superiorly educated chef, barging back into the kitchen, and saying, “Oh, chocolate soufflé? Well, I’ve got an oven and a bar of chocolate right here, I don’t need your fancy kitchen shenanigans.” Sure, you can make a chocolate soufflé on your own, and, sure, you don’t need to go get it from a Michelin three-star restaurant to get good soufflé, but it’s a bit insulting to suggest that you’re going to out-cook someone who’s devoted years of their life to training to make the perfect chocolate soufflé.

So it goes for beauty products, my dears. Cosmetic chemists go to school for years so that they can make expert products that are effective, safe, and long-lasting. They work day-in and day-out to make even better versions of products you’re using. They keep up on the latest in the scientific journals so they’re a wealth of knowledge about pH, preservatives, and penetration enhancers. They’re really, really devoted to making awesome products for you. That’s their job. That’s what they trained for. That’s what they’re good at.

Reading this article, I was a little shocked. Example: “Because of vitamin C’s unstable nature, cosmetic companies simply avoid using it and instead opt for vitamin E, vitamin A (retinoids) or other scientifically manufactured anti-aging ingredients that are more costly and typically not as effective.” This sentence alone is rife with inaccuracy. Retinoids and vitamin E have both been found effective, and I can promise you many companies still manufacture vitamin C.

So, I’m going to answer with a resounding “NO,” when asked if homemade products are worth it. In the case of vitamin C, I’ve got a few good reasons why. I’ll primarily talk about serums, because I can discuss our formulation more in depth, but this all goes for toners too.

Reason #1: The Wrong pH

The skin is slightly acidic, with a pH around 5.5 or 6.5, so mildly acidic products are the most beneficial (Journal of Investigative Dermatology). Vitamin C, like the L-ascorbic acid used in this recipe, penetrates the skin best at an acidic pH. In order to effectively enter the skin, it must be formulated at a pH lower than 3.5 (Dermatologic Surgery). Here’s the catch though, going too low is likely to cause irritation, sun sensitization, and dry skin. The pH of L-ascorbic acid is somewhere around 2.2 to 2.5 when mixed with water at a 5% concentration, which is going dangerously into the territory of being too low. In fact, this is similar to the pH of lemon juice, which we’re pretty adament that you don’t rub on your skin.

It’s a pretty narrow window of being acidic, yet mild, and homemade products probably won’t fall into the appropriate pH, low enough so that the L-ascorbic acid penetrates the skin, but not so low that it causes irritation and breakouts. In all likelihood, you won’t be making a product that’s an acceptable pH and are likely to end up with something irritating or ineffective. 

Reason #2: Instability

One thing this article does get right is that L-ascorbic acid is very unstable. It’s one of the most effective forms of vitamin C, but it degrades in heat, light, and air (Die Pharmazie). Temperature is one of the most important factors in how long L-ascorbic acid lasts, and lower temperatures are better for keeping it, so you’d definitely want to keep the vitamin C in a dark bottle in the refrigerator, not simply “in a dark cupboard” as the author of this article suggests (International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition; IOSR Journal of Applied Chemistry). When vitamin C products do oxidize or degrade, they change color — usually to something brownish or yellowish. And this doesn’t even consider how long it might take green tea to oxidize.

There are a few ways that vitamin C can be stabilized. Most products use ferulic acid because the antioxidant has been shown to have a stabilizing effect. We use microencapsulated L-ascorbic acid (8%), along with tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate (8%) in our FutureDerm Vitamin CE Caffeic Silk Serum. The L-ascorbic acid is actually mechanically microencapsulated, covered in a protective coating. Research (and our own testing) has shown that such protective coatings protect from oxidation and heat (International Journal of Food & Science Technology; Journal of Microencapsulation).

Reason #3: Missing Benefits

Perhaps the author of this article thinks that vitamin E is ineffective, but readers of FutureDerm might know that vitamin C and vitamin E are actually synergystic vitamins. Basically, much like the ideal relationship, they’re worth more than the sum of their parts, they’re better together than they are separate, they’re a dynamic duo that just go together like chocolate and romantic comedies. When one antioxidant is “depleted,” it can borrow an electron from the other, allowing the pair to work for longer (Cosmetic Dermatology). And while vitamin C is better for enhancing the UVA protection of sunscreen, vitamin E is better for enhancing the UVB protection (Acta Dermato Venereologica).

And vitamin C products generally have more than just vitamin C. As I mentioned before, many benefit from ferulic acid, which is a powerful antioxidant. We use an even more powerful antioxidant, caffeic acid, which we’re able to do because we microencapsulate our FutureDerm Vitamin CE Caffeic Silk Serum.

Bottom Line 

As we’ve said many times, products are formulated by professionals who spend their lives coming up with the most effective formulations. While something in your kitchen might not be dangerous, it’s still not likely to work as well as something professionally made; in the case of homemade vitamin C products, irritation and ineffectiveness will probably be the biggest issue, but even if those aren’t issues, without the right pH, formulation, and additional ingredients, it probably won’t do a lot for you. My advice? Skip the home remedy, and stick to professionally formulated products that are almost always going to do way more for your skin than something you make at home (unless, of course, you’re a cosmetic chemist with your own lab!).

Read More

When A Vitamin C Moisturizer Turns Brown, Is It Bad For Your Skin?

Why FutureDerm CE Caffeic is Better than Skinceuticals CE Ferulic

Spotlight On: L-Ascorbic Acid

Infographic: How Vitamin C Works in Your Skin

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2 thoughts on “3 Reasons Why Making Your Own Vitamin C Serum Isn’t Safe or Effective

  1. Silviana says:

    Dear Natalie,

    Thank you for the useful information you provide. The DIY is a subject that I’m really interested in and I’m very grateful for the articles on this topic.

    I have some remarks:

    The Wrong pH
    Very correct your argument, thought I think it’s quite easy to fix this problem. By buying pH test strips (cheap, relatively easy to find and very easy to use) and measure the pH of the solution. Too acidic? A buffer like sodium lactate can be used to decrease the acidity and reach a proper pH.

    The L-ascorbic acid is indeed very unstable, but because it’s also very cheap and the preparation of the solution is so fast and easy, there should be no problem to make the serum two times per month or even every week and keep it in a dark and cool environment.

    Missing Benefits
    I don’t see any reason why it’s not possible to add vitamin e or caffeic acid in the serum that it’s made home.

    Bottom Line
    I agree it’s easier and safer (at least till you get experienced with it) to buy a commercial product. But you have to acknowledge that a high percent of the people that don’t buy these products , they don’t buy it because they can’t afford it, not because they wouldn’t like to buy it . So they search for cheaper versions of the commercial products.
    I’m just saying that if you think that my arguments are reasonable maybe you shouldn’t completely discourage people to make their own serum, maybe there are still some benefits that can take from it.
    If it doesn’t make sense what I’m saying I would be really happy to hear your opinion! As you said “professionals spend their lives coming up with the most effective formulations” and I’m not one of them so I would be grateful for your feedback.

    Many thanks!

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