The third and last in my Chef’s Knife series is the humble and common Vitamin C Serum. It is an over the counter product, unassuming, and widely available. There are more formulations than letters in the alphabet, and I do not have the time or energy to test every single one. What does it do? It prevents and treats free radical based sun damage to the skin. Think of it as a protective layer under your sunscreen that interferes with the sun’s rays, filtering it before it is able to damage your skin’s DNA. This makes it an ideal tool to help treat pigment irregularities and sun damage. Furthermore, as the Vitamin A derivatives (see First Chef’s Knife) and skin lighteners (see Second Chef’s Knife) are sun sensitizing, this is especially needed when doing treating sun-damaged skin.
Vitamin C Serum also has an effect that I cannot fully explain, which is an improvement in skin texture. It makes the skin look and feel smoother with less surface irregularity, even when used in the absence of Vitamin A and Hydroquinone. I have no idea why, and I do not spend much energy on asking “why” when I can just enjoy the results.
As Vitamin C Serum is always an over the counter product (never requires a prescription unless it is formulated with a prescription ingredient), there are hundreds “flavors” available. What you need to know is that they are not all equal, and that formulation matters. Vitamin C is relatively unstable in solution, so it is usually formulated with ferulic acid to stabilize it. Even then, it has a tendency to get some discoloration, which should not affect the results, though you do not want to let this sit on the counter for too long. This is where the medical-grade products differ from the drug store (or amazon) products. They are made as a medical product and have the support of the companies that stand behind them. Next year’s supply is the same as last year’s, and this matters a lot. You cannot tell what is in the bottle you get online, as counterfeit products are common, and it is very hard to tell the difference between an effective and ineffective product.
Sticking with medical-grade products takes the uncertainty out of the equation, and is the reason we offer two options. First on the list is the Obagi Professional C Serum 15%. The second on the list is the Skin Ceuticals C E Ferulic. Both are great products at two different price points. The Obagi is around $100, and the Skin Ceuticals is $166 today. I emphasize “today” because Skin Ceuticals is constantly increasing their prices, and though I think that the C E Ferulic is better than the Obagi Professional C 15% (and Skin Ceuticals has published a head to head study showing this) at some point, its price may increase past its value. I offer both in my office as the only two Vitamin C Serum products because they are both good, and I have used both on my face, and think both are great at what they do. One is more expensive because they have shown that it works better, but “better” comes at a cost, and it may not be for everyone.
How to Apply Vitamin C Serum
I have my patients apply their Vitamin C Serum of choice as their first step after washing and toning their face in the morning. The one exception to this is when they are using 4% Hydroquinone pads (see Second Chef’s Knife). People that are on the pads apply their Vitamin C Serum of choice after the pads, as I do not want the pads to rub the precious Vitamin C off. After that, you can proceed with your sunscreen and makeup (if needed).
It can be used year-round and will always be a product that I rely heavily on in my minimalist skin care regimen.