I’ve been pretty happy with my skin on a combo of AHAs, BHA, rose hip oil, oil cleansing, peeling gels and humectant-ful moisturisers, but I recently received a bottle of Obagi Professional-C Serum (15%) to review and added it to the mix thinking, what harm could it do?
Unfortunately, it turns out that the harm it did is make me realise I can’t go back to being without vitamin C serum. Gah. Here’s why:
Vitamin C fixes all sorts of problems, like wrinkles (it promotes collagen synthesis), inflammation, hyperpigmentation (acne scars and sunspots, for instance) and sun damage (it protects from UV and contains antioxidants to mop up free radicals) (see this old post for more deets on Vitamin C). It’s good for pretty much any skin.
But this one-size-fits-all treatment doesn’t get as much love as other good-for-everyone treatments, like hydroxy acids and retinol. That’s probably because it’s pretty unstable, which means you either need to DIY (fun, but time-consuming to track down all the stuff you need to buy, even before you get to the mixing stage, and messy and dishwashing and argh) or pay more for a well-formulated product that needs frequent replacement. There’s also the problem of it smelling a bit funky as it goes off, and the fact it doesn’t play nice with other skincare staples, so it’s harder to fit into a skincare regimen.
Obagi Professional-C Serum (15%) has a straightforward ingredients list, which is actually really easy to analyse, because everything has an obvious purpose:
Vitamin C: There are two forms of vitamin C in this serum – there’s L-ascorbic acid, which is the classic form of vitamin C, and is typically quite difficult to stabilise but is also very potent. There’s also ascorbyl glucoside, which gets broken down by enzymes in the skin to ascorbic acid. There hasn’t been much peer-reviewed research done into how it compares,
The other stuff: Propylene glycol is not toxic (that’s ethylene glycol, which is also the thing in antifreeze – this guy does totally different stuff). It’s actually a really good humectant and penetration enhancer (that is, it helps the active ingredients get into the skin). Alcohol is also a good penetration enhancer. Water is there because ascorbic acid dissolves in water, while the fragrance is there to hide the unavoidable “off” smell of vitamin C serums turning to useless junk.
I’ve been using it for about a month now and it’s still pale yellow, which is a good sign that the blue glass bottle, the seal on the lid and the formulation are holding up well! It’s a bit sticky on application (probably the propylene glycol’s fault), but I was seeing results after the first application – the glowiest skin I’ve ever had! It was even more impressive since I’d been using AHA and retinol religiously immediately before that, so the baseline was already quite high.
Of course, there’s a downside! The biggest drawback to the Obagi serum is its price – a pearl-clutching $79.95 for 30 mL (a slightly friendlier price of $66 for the 10%, and $99 for the 20%). This is bearable because you don’t need much at all – the packaging tells you to apply 5-7 drops, but I found I could use less (about 3-4 drops). This is also pretty much the standard price for any decent vitamin C serum in Australia (possibly even on the cheap side) – if it’s significantly cheaper, it’s likely less potent or poorly formulated.
The packaging also recommends you apply it in the morning under make-up, which makes sense since vitamin C has sun protection properties, but I wasn’t game (oily + sticky = probably not a great idea. I’ll gather the courage soon, I’m sure).
If you’re not in the market for a pricey serum and you’re willing to get your hands dirty, you can always try vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) powder. No, not smooshing crushed tablets onto your face (though that works too), but mixing in vitamin C powder into a lotion as you need it – when dry, L-ascorbic acid is actually quite stable. I haven’t tried it myself yet, but there are some DIY tips on MakeupAlley here and more info on this Skincare Addiction link – unfortunately it’s a bit fiddly, but that’s the trade-off!
Have you tried vitamin C? Were you as impressed as I was? If you’ve DIY’ed, how fiddly is it – honestly? Let me know!
This product was provided for review, which did not affect my opinion. For more information, see Disclosure Policy.