One bright, sunny August morning, I had taken a particularly long run. By late afternoon, my face had turned bright red from painful sunburn. It occurred to me that since vitamin C was a powerful antioxidant, perhaps it would also act as an anti-inflammatory to help resolve the burn more rapidly. That night, I made a solution of vitamin C tablets in water and patted my face. At first it stung, but the discomfort subsided and I was able to sleep. In the morning, the burn was definitely better. The swelling and redness had gone down, if not disappeared entirely. Another portion of my body where I didn’t use the vitamin C was still quite red and tender. The vitamin C had definitely helped, but had not relieved the discomfort entirely. The vitamin C solution showed potential, but there was still work to be done.
Several years later, I returned to the use of vitamin C with a new approach. I reasoned that the solubility of the vitamin C molecule (L-ascorbic acid) interfered with its anti-inflammatory effects. Ascorbic acid, the natural form of vitamin C, is water-soluble. Ascorbic acid cannot penetrate the surface of the skin, which repels water-soluble substances. The acidity of the vitamin C also diminished the anti-inflammatory effects. Ascorbic acid lives up to its name. It is very acidic, which can be irritating to the skin. Then there is the problem of potency. Ascorbic acid is fragile and unstable and it breaks down rapidly. When formulated into a solution, ascorbic acid loses its strength within twenty-four hours. I set out to find a form of vitamin C that would be non-irritating, fat soluble, and retain its strength in skincare preparations.
My search led me to a compound known as vitamin C ester. It is composed of the basic vitamin C molecule joined with palmitic acid—a fatty acid derived from palm oil. Vitamin C ester is completely non-irritating and can even be used on an open cut without causing stinging. This in itself was a quantum leap from the burning and irritation caused by topical ascorbic acid. More important, vitamin C ester is fat soluble, making it easily absorbed by the skin and the cell plasma membrane. The antioxidant power of vitamin C ester at the cell plasma membrane provides key protection at a critical time. Research done by Procter & Gamble scientists found that vitamin C ester is absorbed more quickly and achieves levels six to seven times higher in the skin than ascorbic acid.
I tried vitamin C ester formulations on sunburns. This time, I got the results I had been looking for years earlier in my simple ascorbic acid experiment. Using a UV lamp, I created small sunburns on the forearms of test subjects. I supplied half of the group with a cream containing vitamin C ester and the other half with the same cream without the fortification of the antioxidant vitamin. Within a day, the burns treated with vitamin C ester were less red. Those managed with the other cream stayed red for days.
Today, my patients use vitamin C ester–fortified cream at night to repair the damage inflicted by the daily doses of free radicals in their environment and diet. I have seen patients who have spent twenty years enjoying outdoor activities without sun protection who now have premature lines, wrinkles and discoloration on their faces. After using vitamin C ester for thirty days, the improvement was remarkable. Their skin glowed and the crow’s feet were diminished; in some cases they actually disappeared. Many of my patients also enjoy the use of Perricone discounts to make the creams less expensive, allowing for more to spend on their favorite activities.
What do you do to soothe your skin when you get a sunburn?