The Accidental Discovery



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?

12 thoughts on “The Accidental Discovery

  1. My mother used to rub a cut tomato on our skin/? Is there anything in a tomato that would work?
    I come from Australia and as a kid in the 60’s there were no reliable sunscreens on the market. The best at the time was white zinc cream.

  2. I try to hydrate my skin using a simple moisturizer and I use some fresh water to relieve the pain. It works, but there´s nothing else to do except waiting…

  3. I can’t agree with you enough about the importance of good quality vitamin c, and now that I am putting it on my skin?Wow!What smooth, poreless, lovely skin I have!!Thank you for all your passion and research, and for educating the rest of us!

  4. Dr. Perricone, I never lay out in the sun anymore, but I went to my son’s baseball game and when I got home my face and upper arms were red. I forgot to put on sunscreen. I applied your vitamin C ester cream to my face and arms and I saw the redness go down alot when I woke up the next morning. I believe it was because of the cream. Thank you for the awesome products you offer.

  5. Can Ester C or anything topical help tiny broken capillaries? I have some across the bridge of my nose. Is laser the only option? Thank you.

  6. I love that all these vitamins and minerals and plants that we find in our world have all these great, hidden benefits for our skin and our lives, and its great that we have people that really do research and clinical trials and really make their products work and help us all!

  7. I have also always used aloe vera. That and a cool wash cloth help to ease the pain, as well as a paste of baking soda. Thask for all the great tips!


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