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You are here: Anti-Aging Skin Treatments > Topical Actives >

Vitamin C + E + ferulic acid: enhancing stability and effectiveness of topical ascorbic acid

Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) is one of the relatively few topical agents whose effectiveness against wrinkles and fine lines is backed by a fair amount of reliable scientific evidence (see our article on vitamin C). Unfortunately, vitamin C is relatively unstable. When exposed to air, vitamin C solution undergoes oxidation and becomes not only ineffective but also potentially harmful (oxidized vitamin C may increase the formation of free radicals). A variety of approaches have been used to try to stabilize vitamin C in water solution. Unfortunately, there are no good studies comparing the effectiveness of different stabilization methods under the conditions of real life usage. In this article, we discuss a method where vitamin C is stabilized and potentiated by the addition of vitamin E and ferulic acid.

Vitamin E is a fat soluble antioxidant. In living systems, vitamins C and E can regenerate each other and thus potentiate each other's antioxidant effects. While the capacity of vitamin E to protect vitamin C from oxidation in a water solution is relatively modest, vitamin E enhances the antioxidant effects of vitamin C when they are co-applied to the skin. Therefore, even if some of the vitamin C in a product is degraded, the remainder works better in the presence of vitamin E. Studies indicate that the combination of vitamins C and E provide better protection from UV-induced damage than either vitamin alone. On the other hand, vitamin E appears to have little effect on the ability of vitamin C to stimulate the synthesis of collagen.

Ferulic acid is a naturally occurring phenolic compound found primarily in plant cell walls. It is a potent antioxidant and may have skin benefits even when used alone. However, skin care related studies of ferulic acid focused on its ability to enhance the effects of vitamins C and E. Preliminary research indicates that ferulic acid may improve the stability of Vitamin C in water solution. Also, the addition of ferulic acid to the combination of vitamins C and E appears to increase protection from UV-induced skin damage. In one study, the addition of ferulic acid to a vitamin C + vitamin E formula almost doubled the UV-protection benefits. Whether ferulic acid affects the ability of vitamin C to increase collagen synthesis is unclear.

While the combination of vitamin C, E and ferulic acid appears to have clear advantages over vitamin C alone, a number of limitations remain. First, even though combining vitamin C with vitamin E and ferulic acid makes it more stable, some degradation still occurs and may still be a significant factor depending on the usage and storage conditions. Second, vitamin C is acidic and may be irritating for people with sensitive skin, especially at relatively high concentrations required for stimulating collagen production. There are alternatives allowing to get at least some of the benefits of stable topical vitamin C while minimizing skin irritation. (See our articles on vitamin C derivatives and anhydrous vitamin C.)

The topical combination of vitamin C (15%), vitamin E (1%) and ferulic acid (0.5%) has been patented by SkinCeuticals corporation and is available as a commercial product from and many retailers. (We are not affiliated with SkinCeuticals in any way). If purchasing this product, make sure to check the expiration date and preferably store the product in a refrigerator tightly closed. Alternatively, you can relatively easily make a C+E+ferulic formulation yourself (see DIY Anti-Aging Skin Care Infopack). However, keep in mind that C+E+ferulic combination has been patented by SkinCeuticals. This may not affect the DIY formulation as long as you do not intent to sell it. However, we are not legal experts. If you are considering the DIY route, please check with SkinCeuticals corporation and/or patent authority in your country.


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