In the middle of studying a combination of physical and organic chemistry, I found a break where I felt I could write a story on nothing other than vitamins, some of the organic molecules in our skincare. We need them to survive and we can't make a lot of them, so we get them from our food.
Vitamins in skincare do specific jobs, and some do similar things, but work for different skin types and conditions. Most act as antioxidants, where they bond to free radicals and prevent damage to our DNA. Breaking it down below, here we have a little guide to picking what kind of vitamin may work for your skin.
A – RETINOL CLEAR
Retinoids are precursor chemical compounds to Vitamin A that are used in skincare and medicine to target conditions such as acne and improve the look of wrinkles and pores. It inhibits activity of sebaceous glands and melanocytes, so it has brightening properties, and also increases cell turnover (as an exfoliant).
Various forms of retinoids are available over the counter in creams and serums.
Retinol – The generic term for the molecule, but the most commonly used. It's mostly used for exfoliation and managing concerns such as wrinkles.
Tretinoin – This is a topical active form of Retinol, sold under the brand name Retin-A. It is only available by prescription from a medical professional, but is used for both managing wrinkles and acne.
There are also Rx only orally administered retinoids, such as isotretinoin, sold under the brand name Accutane, to assist with treating severe acne. Newer generation retinoids are replacing Retinol and tretinoin to minimize irritation.
Retinoids work especially well for those with acneic skin. Oily skinned individuals will benefit from this family of molecules for exfoliation. New users are advised to slowly build up a tolerance and breakouts may occur. It also makes skin very UV sensitive, so wearing sun protection during the day is a must.
Retinoids degrade quickly, so finding a stable form of a given molecule is difficult. Often products containing Retinol as an ingredient have to find ways to preserve the efficacy, usually with microcapsules, and these products can get very expensive.
Indeed Laboratories Retinol Reface 30mL - $34.99AUD - Priceline
A gentle, triple retinol formula.
Skin Physics Dragon's Blood Ultra Plumping Night Cream - $69.99AUD - Priceline [PR Sample]
Super hydrating night cream with microspheres of retinol.
The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid Emulsion 2% (Previously Advanced Retinoid 2%) 30mL - $17.90AUD - Adore Beauty
The Ordinary recently extended its range of retinoid products, this takes the place of the Advanced Retinoid 2% serum.
Dermalogica Overnight Retinol Repair 30mL - $132.50AUD - Dermalogica
High concentration Retinol, with a complementary buffer cream to build up tolerance to the product.
L'UNICO Regenerative Neuropeptide Night Formula 50mL - $340.00AUD - L'unico Laboratory [PR Sample]
Microcapsules of retinol and firming peptides.
Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil 30mL - $154.00AUD - Mecca Cosmetica [Purchase]
A blue hued night time facial oil with a gentle trans-retinoic ester.
B IS FOR BRIGHT
There are two molecules that the Vitamin B family give rise to in skincare, Niacinamide (B3) and Panthenol (provitamin B5). They provide two different functions.
Niacinamide – Also known as Nicotinamide, this molecule is mostly known to be a great agent for lightening areas of hyper-pigmentation and brightening overall complexion. It also aids in the treatment of acne.
Panthenol – A very common moisturising agent used in skincare, this molecule is made for wound healing. It has water-drawing properties and soothes inflammation. Bepanthen Skin Ointment, the nappy rash cream, that is recommended to be used after tattooing and/or cosmetic injections, is based on B5, as the name suggests.
B3 is a very active molecule, and has been known to cause irritation, but it is an all rounder for most skin types and concerns. B5 is best for those with dry skin prone to sensitivity.
Niacinamide can come at a little extra on the wallet and B5 is quite common.
John Plunkett's Dark Spot Eraser - $39.95AUD - Priceline
Niacinamide based hyperpigmentation treatment.
The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% - $9.90AUD - Priceline
Super budget friendly brightening serum.
The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid + B5 30mL - $12.90AUD - Priceline
Hydrating and soothing serum.
Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration - $75.00AUD - Mecca Maxima
Gel formula for 24 hour hydration.
Paula's Choice RESIST 10% Niacinamide Booster - $67.00AUD - Paula's Choice
Booster that can be used standalone or mixed into moisturiser.
The Skincare Company Hyaluronic B5 Serum 50mL - $129.00AUD - The Skincare Company [Gift]
Hydrating and anti-inflammatory serum.
C BUILDS COLLAGEN
Vitamin C is the key to strong skin. This molecule has multiple functions; building collagen, scavenging free radicals, brightening complexion, protection from UV damage among the few. It can be found in standalone formulas as a single molecule, or extracted from botanical sources such as the native Australian Kakadu Plum, which has been deemed the highest source of Vitamin C in nature!
There are several flavours of this molecule available, and more analogs are being developed to provide high efficacy with minimal degradation. Two stand out.
L-Ascorbic Acid – The most common form found in water based serums. Unfortunately, while it is a very active component, it doesn't have a very long shelf life, and oxidises very quickly when exposed to air and light. It has been known to be slightly irritating.
Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate – This is the newest generation C analog. It is significantly more expensive than its counterparts because it is far more stable when exposed to the elements, and due to its solubility in lipids, it can be used in a higher concentration, with less side effects.
Superox-C AF – This was developed by Lucas Meyer Cosmetics, a cosmetic ingredient manufacturer, a trademarked active of Kakadu Plum extract which has been licenced to several skincare brands.
Dry and dull skinned individuals will thank themselves for introducing C into their skincare regime. I personally have been using this molecule to keep my skin's elasticity and strength in order, and it has me amazed.
Because of Vitamin C's stability issues, some analogs come at a hefty price, and they do work.
Cinch Face Cheat/Face Cheat(er) - $39.95AUD - Priceline [Purchase/PR Sample]
Two products here. First the Face Cheat Spray, and recently, the new Face Cheat(er) cream formula for dry skin. I can't wait to try the cream.
Indeed Labs C24 30mL - $34.99AUD - Priceline
22% L-Ascorbic Acid and Hyaluronic Acid treatment.
The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% - $9.80AUD - Priceline
The most affordable Vitamin C product on the market.
Ultraceuticals Ultra C10+ Firming Serum 30mL - $110.00AUD - David Jones [PR Sample]
Potent Vitamin C serum that improves skin strength. I am currently using this wonderful product!
L'UNICO High Potency 30% Vitamin C Serum 30mL - $160.00AUD - L'unico Laboratory [PR Sample]
Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate serum. Cannot wait to try!
Evolve Skincare Active C Complex 30mL - $149.00AUD - Evolution Laser Clinics
20% Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate serum.
Lab Muffin's cheap and effective recipe for a DIY Vitamin C serum! I consider Michelle to be a good friend because she is always up to help me with my chemistry work, and she gives great advice on her blog.
E, THE RADICAL SLAYER
Vitamin E is a very popular ingredient in moisturisers because it is abundant in natural plant oils, and it basically just reacts with free radicals in your skin to protect it from DNA damage.
Tocopherols are the main molecule used and often are added into formulas as a preservative, but because they occur naturally, they are found in many face and body oils. For many years, we were told that Vitamin E oil was good for scars and stretch marks, however, clinical trials have not shown evidence to support the claim.
People who have healthy skin without any major concerns and want to manage it. Some people don't react very well to tocopherols and may experience contact dermatitis from high concentrations, however, it is important to include in your skincare! Vitamin E is great for dry skin.
Vitamin E is easy to find in most pharmacies and supermarket products.
Du'it VE+ Face Cream 50g - $11.49AUD - Chemist Warehouse [Gift]
A high concentration of Vitamin E for dry and dehydrated skin.
RosehipPLUS 100% Rosehip Oil 30mL - $19.95AUD - RosehipPLUS [PR Sample/Gift]
Pure, straight up Rosehip Oil that leaves skin moisturised with natural Vitamin E. A classic favourite of mine. Liquid gold skincare.
Swisse Vitamin E Facial Moisturiser - $14.99AUD - Priceline
Natural formula Vitamin E cream.
Farsali Rose Gold Elixir - $72.00AUD - Sephora
Luxurious dose of Vitamin E.
Josie Maran 100% Pure Argan Oil 50mL - $70.00AUD - Mecca Maxima [Purchase]
The king of all oils. Super light-weight and ultra hydrating.
Malin+Goetz Vitamin E Face Moisturiser - $73.00AUD - Mecca Maxima
An oil-free moisturiser suitable for all skin types.
I hope this post helps you find your Vitamin! If you're still not sure what is right for you, seek advice from a dermal therapist or dermatologist.
Have you tried any of these molecules or have any other product suggestions? Let me know in the comments below!
Note: Most of the products mentioned in this post were chosen based on price point and ingredients, rather than personal experience. Products that have been tried and tested by me are clearly stated. As usual, all products posted are from Cruelty Free brands.
This post is presented as a knowledge piece. Acquisition of products and/or services stated alongside each item, my thoughts are honest.
For more information, please read my Disclosure Policy.