DIY Vitamin C Serum Formula

Orange_cross_sectionI’ve been using a DIY vitamin C serum for a couple of years and thought my blog readers might be interested in this topic because these serums are effective yet very easy and inexpensive to make. This post is not about fragrance, but body products are still in the scope of discussion since I have offered body products (lotions and body creams) on my site in the past. I’ll provide my vitamin C formula and ingredient source as well as suggestions for more complicated formulas.

My skin is happiest when I keep things simple, using very few products. My facial skin is not dry, but it is sensitive to fragrance ingredients so I don’t use anything scented on my face (including natural essential oils). I love natural skincare, but only products that do not contain irritating fragrant oils like citrus and mint.

We’ve all read that antioxidants are great for the skin and that vitamin C and vitamin A derivatives (retinols) are some of the most effective anti-aging ingredients. Many other antioxidants are wonderful too, as are moisturizing plant oils like raspberry seed oil, argan oil, and camellia oil. I like to use a simple vitamin C product in the morning and a plain retinol product at night.

Vitamin C comes in a number of forms with varying stability. Ascorbic acid is not stable and is best kept refrigerated in an air-proof dispensing container and used quickly. The stability of ascorbic acid can be improved by adding ferulic acid to the serum formula, but it is still not as light-stable and oxygen-stable as some other forms of vitamin C.

I’ve been using magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP) in my DIY blend because it is a more stable form of vitamin C and is gentler to skin than the very acidic ascorbic acid. MAP is a powder that is water soluble, which is preferable for me because oil and silicone in serums can make my skin break out. I use purified water as the base for MAP, and I also add niacinamide, which is a powder form of vitamin B3 that is great for skin and is also water soluble. I shake the container before each use since it is a simple water mixture and some settling can occur. Although it does not feel elegant to apply, I like this formula because it works well for my skin with no irritation, oiliness, or breakouts.

If I were to sell a water-based serum like this I would need to use a preservative because bacteria can grow in water-based products, but since this is just for my personal use I skip the preservative. I always handle it with freshly washed hands, use an airless dispenser pump, and use it up promptly. I have not had any trouble, but take note that you need to be cleanly if you don’t use preservative and you should keep the product out of sun/heat and use it up within a month.

A vitamin C serum is a great DIY project because you can tailor the formula to your needs and you can make something basic and pure that can’t be found in stores. Some of you might want to add a little glycerin for glide and moisturization, but be careful not to add too much or it will become sticky. There are many other serum ingredients you can play with and an endless number of formulas you can try (googling DIY vitamin C brings up lots of resources). Be careful if you try ascorbic acid formulas instead of MAP because ascorbic acid can burn in too high concentration, so don’t go crazy and think that more is better.

You can buy these cosmetic ingredients from several sources online. My favorite source is LotionCrafter because the owner, Jenny, is very knowledgeable and nice to work with. She also sells some inexpensive airless pump dispensers that you can use to package your product.

The combination of vitamin C and niacinamide can help reduce fine lines and fade discolorations, and it may help prevent pre-cancerous skin changes. My skin is very fair and several of my family members have had skin cancers on their faces from sun exposure, so I am especially interested in this protective aspect of vitamin C. You should, of course, see a dermatologist if you find something suspicious, but I’m hoping that vitamin C might help prevent pre-cancerous changes from taking place to begin with. And keeping fine lines at bay is always nice too. 🙂

LotionCrafter has a formulation page where they give several vitamin C formulas as well as many other body product formulas. One of their C serum formulas is modeled after the one by SkinCeuticals, which has a lot of research behind it. The formulas there take a bit more time than the very simple one I have been making, but if you have the time it could be fun and rewarding to try some.

The suggested rate for vitamin C in MAP form is up to 10%, and I’ve been using 10% with no irritation. The Lotioncrafter site says, “Unlike Ascorbyl Palmitate, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (MAP) appears to have the same potential to boost skin collagen synthesis as does Ascorbic Acid, but at lower concentrations. For those with sensitive skin or those wanting to avoid the exfoliating effects of highly acidic Ascorbic Acid, MAP may be the preferred choice.”

The suggested usage rate for niacinamide is 1-4%. Lotioncrafter says it can increase collagen synthesis, reduce fine lines, reduce discolorations, and reduce oiliness.

Posted below is the very simple formula I have been using. The downside is that it does not perfectly dissolve, so you need to shake it up each time and you may lose a little bit to the sides of the container. I do see good results with it though, and if you find you like formulating you could always try a more sophisticated formula later.

Simple Water-Based C and B3 serum:
1 gram niacinamide (vitamin B3)
2.5 grams MAP (magnesium ascorbyl phosphate)
21.5 grams purified water (distilled or reverse osmosis)
total: 25 grams

This amount fits into one of the 30 ml white airless treatment pumps sold at Lotioncrafter. You’ll need a decent gram scale to weigh it out. Lotioncrafter sells some scales, but you may have a postal scale or kitchen scale that would work if it is accurate enough. After weighing it out, sterilize a stirring utensil with some alcohol and stir the serum well until the powders dissolve. You can warm the container in your hand or in a bowl of hot water if needed. After capping, I always shake it even though I just stirred it.

This formula is not appropriate to sell (you’d want something more elegant with a smoother feel and either water-free or with a preservative), but it’s fine for home use. If you’ve already tried some DIY formulas, maybe you can share your experiences with us here. And if the idea of topical vitamin C sounds good to you but you don’t want to mess with the DIY aspect, there are many ready-made products to choose from (Paula’s Choice added a moderately-priced C serum to her line last year, and many higher-priced brands like SkinCeuticals have offered them for years). I thought the information in this post might be helpful regardless of the route you choose.

You can research the medical literature on Pubmed/Medline to find studies supporting the protective effect of topical vitamin C against UV-induced skin damage and cancer. Also the SkinCeuticals site has a page with references to medical research, as does the Paula’s Choice site.

Update 2016:
I’ve changed my vitamin C formula a bit over the years. I’m now putting the niacinamide and MAP into separate dropper bottles and I have decreased the MAP to 8% because that helps keep it from settling out of solution. I had too much MAP coming out of solution, especially in the colder winter months. Also, I’ve found a commercial vitamin C (ascorbic acid rather than MAP) that is reasonably priced and good quality: Timeless. I’ve been alternating between that and the DIY MAP.