Beauty Brands Weigh In – WWD

Beauty Brands Weigh In – WWD

As consumer interest in vitamin C continues to escalate, brands are responding with new technologies that answer some of the traditional pain points of the ingredients.

On the one hand, vitamin C is lauded for its brightening benefits; on the other, its reactive reputation and difficulty to stabilize have set off a race among brands of how to formulate effectively with the star ingredient.

According to a September report from Spate, vitamin C searches have reached a monthly volume of 1.7 million, and coupled with the term “safe,” have grown 13.5 percent year-over-year. When combined with “sensitive,” the volume has grown 31.3 percent, and it’s the top searched ingredient combined with “irritation.”

“Consumer curiosity around skin care ingredients peaked in May 2020, and there was a ton of interest across a wide variety of ingredients include vitamin C,” said Yarden Horwitz, cofounder of Spate. “Vitamin C and retinol are the top ingredients searched across face care products. Although interest in vitamin C for skin care peaked in May 2021, consumer awareness and interest in the ingredient is still bigger than before the pandemic and it’s an ingredient that’s here to stay.”

Horwitz added that while interest remains high, consumer education has given credence to concerns about skin irritation and negative side effects. “Despite being such a mainstream ingredient, consumer search behavior indicates that there are concerns,” she said. “Consumers are turning to the internet to figure out whether they should be integrating vitamin C into their daily routines.”

For Tiffany Masterson, founder of Shiseido-owned Drunk Elephant, her brand’s global expansion paved the way to address stability concerns around its C-Firma Day Serum, one of the brand’s hero stock keeping units and a stalwart since it launched. In tandem with its introduction into Ulta Beauty last month, Masterson took the opportunity to update the serum’s formulation and packaging to improve the potency of its hero ingredient.

“Most actives are delicate to a degree — retinol and peptides can also be tricky to work with — especially when they’re in higher concentrations,” Masterson said. “But vitamin C, or more specifically, ascorbic acid, which is the gold standard, is a whole other level of sensitivity due to its environment.”

The reimagined product now includes a two-part product: in the powdered form of ascorbic acid, as well as a separate vial of the formula’s liquid components. Renamed C-Firma Fresh Day Serum, the product is meant to be mixed ahead of first usage to retain its efficacy. It is now sold for $78 in Drunk Elephant’s full distribution network, which includes Sephora and Ulta, and has a shelf life of up to three years.

“Filling orders [for the serum] on a monthly basis was big for us as we were trying to control the freshness, and we always made sure to tell the consumer not to stock up on it,” Masterson said. “We did some internal testing, even with color change, it was active for up to six months. When it was sitting on a shelf and the consumer didn’t get it for three months, that’s what I was uncomfortable with.”

Matter of Fact Ascorbic Acid 20 Brightening C Serum
Photo courtesy of Matter of Fact

Other brands have found other means of stabilizing the ingredient, such as modifying formulations instead of repackaging them.

“Vitamin C, in its biologically active form, is one of the most researched ingredients. It’s sensitive to light, air and water,” said Paul Baek, founder of Matter of Fact, which launched its Ascorbic Acid 20 Brightening C Serum on Sept. 27 for $92. “Traditionally, our best practice in delivering ingredients to skin is to solubilize them, and water can dissolve a large amount of vitamin C.”

Finding a waterless way to solubilize ascorbic acid, Baek said, was a puzzle that took him over two years to solve. “There have been waterless delivery systems for ascorbic acid, but they don’t dissolve the vitamin C, so they feel sandy or gritty,” he said. “Solvent systems have to be liquid and the solvents have to be solid, and that’s been really limiting.”

Baek’s fix was to find a base that had other solid components, allowing the ingredient to dissolve seamlessly without deteriorating. “It took a lot of counterintuitive thinking, a solvent system has to be liquid in combination but that doesn’t mean all the components have to be liquid,” he said.

Other brands have opted to include alternate derivatives of vitamin C, which also purport to have less adverse side effects like irritation.


HoliFrog Sunnyside C Glow Serum
Photo courtesy of HoliFrog

HoliFrog introduced its Sunny Side Glow Serum in September for $68, which uses tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate and 3-0-ethyl-l-ascorbic acid, two derived forms of the ingredient.

The brand’s lead chemist, Justin Steinke of Evergreen Innovations, said ascorbic acid’s reputation for reactivity has pushed the market in favor of more stable ingredients.

“Ascorbic acid is unstable due to its affinity to want to react with excipients in formulations. We want something that’s reactive for the skin, but once it’s in an aqueous solution, it’s free to roam and free to react,” he said.

As such, HoliFrog’s cofounder, Emily Parr, didn’t consider using ascorbic acid in the product. “When we first approached Justin [Steinke], he said he would never recommend ascorbic acid that is anything but a powder,” Parr said. “Since we launched this product, the questions have been what the shelf life of the product is. A lot of consumers have had bad experiences with ascorbic acid, so they want to know what form the vitamin C is.”

Baek, however, said claims around vitamin C derivatives can be misleading. “They behave differently than ascorbic acid does, so it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison,” he said.

Steinke posited that the derivative’s different behavior made it a better candidate, though. “They have a time release-type of application,” he said. “You let it react slowly over time, which lowers the irritancy, but also creates a longer efficacy.”

Alpyn Beauty

Alpyn Beauty Triple-C Brightening Bounce Cream
Photo courtesy of Alpyn Beauty

Kendra Kolb Butler, founder of Alpyn Beauty, combined three different types of vitamin C, including ascorbic acid and two derivatives, in the brand’s new Triple Vitamin-C Brightening Bounce Cream, which launched this month for $49.

“For me, pound-for-pound vitamin C is the most potent antioxidant we have, it’s the gold standard of skin care,” Kolb Butler said. Her brand, which includes active ingredients foraged in Wyoming, combined the three chemical forms of vitamin C with one found in wild chokecherry.

“Each form has different properties, benefits, interactions and different levels of stability,” Kolb Butler continued. “I combined three forms of clinical vitamin C, along with my natural form. [Ascorbic acid] does have this potency I love, which is why we’ve put it in, but we’re not just using the same ingredient we were using 25 years ago.”

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