Why Your Oil-Based Vitamin C Serum May Be Sabotaging Your Skin

Why Your Oil-Based Vitamin C Serum May Be Sabotaging Your Skin

Liudmila Busch

Most of us believe that a skincare product is either well formulated and effective, or poorly formulated and ineffective.

Those do seem like the only two logical options, don't they?

But there's actually a third option: skincare that is well formulated but still ineffective (and sometimes even harmful).

How Good Serums Can Lead To Bad Outcomes

You may be thinking, "Hold on, if it's well formulated then by definition it's going to be effective."

And you'd be right if not for the very thing that we're all fighting back against: time.

In the skincare industry, bottles sit on retail shelves and in warehouses for months and often years before sale, aging at anywhere from room temperature (far from ideal) to the hot oven-like temperatures of tractor trailers and warehouses.

In this way, there are many vitamin c serums that are formulated well but, with rare exceptions, are preserved poorly as they sit in inventory for a long, long time.

As a result, the serum you open may be but a distant, ghoulish relative of what was originally created.

Why Serum-Induced Flare Ups Are More Common Than You Think

Think back to your own experiences: Have you ever had a routine you loved that seemed to be treating your skin well, only to find that one day your skin suddenly acted up?

Perhaps it was a breakout. Or maybe you couldn't seem to get your usual even-toned glow. Or your fine lines were no longer responding. Or that discoloration you were working on just stopped fading.

You may have blamed it on hormones. Or diet. Or stress. That is, until you took a break from your products.

If this sounds familiar, there's a very good chance that you've been the victim of a bad bottle, denatured and degraded before it ever touched your skin. Yet, because you'd previously used the product without issue, it's almost impossible to pinpoint the culprit.

So you start frantically searching the internet for advice—for a new product. And you start replacing your old products haphazardly in hopes of once again finding some combination that works.

Pretty soon, your skin is even angrier than before, and without realizing it, you've thrown the baby out with the bathwater as you scramble to find a new brand, even a new routine, that your skin will love again.

Dermatologists Agree: Oil-Based Serums Can Be Trouble

There's a pretty good chance this whole fiasco ends up with a trip to the Dermatologist. But even if it doesn't, it may lead you to give up on certain types of products, or even question your routine altogether.

To think: this whole tragic fiasco, all because of one denatured bottle. And because of the way conventional skincare products are treated—retail shelves, warehouses, tractor trailers—this exact story is bound to happen to each of us sooner or later.

Which is why your well-meaning Dermatologist sees this problem relatively often, and so naturally misidentifies the cause as being the whole product category (oil-based serums) rather than something a bit more nuanced.

This is also why so many of us have trouble settling on a routine for very long. Inevitably we hit a bad bottle, our skin gets angry, and our whole world is thrown into chaos.

And it's why so many of us wind up with breakouts after using oil-based skincare, even though we may have used those same products for months or years without issue.

It's true that oil-based skincare is notoriously difficult to keep fresh. It degrades and spoils like any other oil.

So we end up going to the Derm, and the Derm who has seen this a hundred times says, "Are you using an oil-based serum?" "Yes, how did you know?" "I see this all the time, stop using that."

And so it goes with millions of us who give up on oil-based serums.

Why A Good Oil-Based Vitamin C Serum Is Still The Best Thing Going For Your Skin

But your skin doesn't secrete water in order to protect itself. Your skin secretes an oil called sebum. That is how your skin nourishes itself. Not with water, but with oil. It's an undeniable, naked truth.

And water-based products can't effectively penetrate that same oil barrier. So all that L-ascorbic acid dissolved into water-based C serums does is, well, nothing much.

The vitamin C you should look for is an esterized, lipid-soluble form called Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate (or its near-twin Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate) that penetrates deeply to go to work at the cellular level. Water-based vitamin C simply doesn't compare.

But if this weren't the case, and water-based vitamin C actually was effective, you could take cheap vitamin C powder (that's what L-ascorbic acid is), mix it with some distilled water, and rub it all over your face for whatever concentration "vitamin C serum" you want.

That's what most companies do anyway. They dissolve a few cents' worth of vitamin C powder into their bottle and mark it up 1000% or more.

Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate, meanwhile, costs hundreds of dollars for a few ounces. A decent serum costs money because it's expensive to make. A poor serum costs money because it's expensive to market.

That's why anyone who wants the healthiest-looking skin should use quality oil-based skincare and penetrating creams. They actually get below the sebum and into the tissue itself.

Furthermore, when you wash, those lost oils need to be replaced with nourishing non-comedogenic (meaning non-pore-blocking) oils. Otherwise, your skin ends up more exposed to environmental stressors than before.

Oil-based skincare not only delivers the nourishment your skin craves but it lays a new, balanced, protective layer on top of it.

This process also keeps your own sebum production from going haywire trying to make up for all that stripped oil, which, rather intuitively, helps regulate your skin's own oil production and prevent angry breakouts.

But none of this matters if the oil-based serum you use is either poorly formulated or poorly preserved.

Ensuring Your Oil-Based Vitamin C Serum Is Non-Comedogenic and Nourishing

That's why I always recommend premium, cold-preserved skincare (not to be confused with cold-pressed, which is a form of oil extraction rather than a method of preservation). Cold-preserved products arrive with the formula as it was intended, and, as a bonus, don't carry the chemical preservatives lurking in most skincare products.

The good news is that the growing popularity of skincare fridges (aka "beauty fridges") reflects a growing awareness among consumers that something is amiss. The bad news is that, just as you can't un-spoil a rotten banana by putting it in your kitchen fridge, you can't refresh a denatured serum by putting it in your beauty fridge.

And, at least for now, Wild Ice Botanicals is the only company I know of that is offering this level of care and dedication. And why not? If we as a society can chill the canned coffee near checkout counters, surely we can do our skin the greater favor.

But, as you can probably imagine, chilling for freshness is a very difficult way to run a skincare company, at least until the industry catches up. It's never easy being the first mover in any industry, and beauty is no exception.

As a result, Wild Ice can't easily go into retail stores (unless the store agrees to use a special chilled display), or use third-party fulfillment centers or distribution centers (like Amazon), or outsource production to a third party manufacturer.

The reason? None of them offer cold preservation. The skincare industry suffers from a form of inertia commonly known as "lock-in."

And while bucking norms and breaking molds has been difficult, we wouldn't have it any other way. We truly believe in putting customer needs first.

And besides, I don't think there's anything more fun and rewarding than watching our line consistently deliver confidence to our happy customers as they enjoy showing off their naturally beautiful skin.

Mila Founder of Wild Ice Botanicals

Mila (pronounced 'mee-luh') is the founder of Wild Ice Botanicals, a clean & natural skincare company dedicated to using cold preservation to deliver fresh products free of chemical preservatives so that women of all ages and skin types can confidently look their natural best.