In the way back when machine. I was perusing The Body shop and they had a little clearance vitamin C serum (this was some time in the early 2000s). I was still a teen but I liked skincare and gave it a try. I remember it initially brightening my complexion overnight but after a time it stopped working. Fast forward to 2014 when I, after reading many a skincare forum, decided to embark on adding a vitamin C serum to my already growing routine. I started with ciracle (a Korean brand) it was a 20% serum but oxidized in about a month. And I gave up for awhile because I was on the path to figuring out chemical exfoliants. I started back again in 2015 with OST C20 (another Korean brand) and this one was sticky on my skin even with only 3 drops and it was oxidizing even faster (meaning the serum color is changing from clear to orange and is becoming chemically less effective).
So I was snooping the youtube and found some reviews on vitamin C serums and I learned about stabilization and some different brands and timeless seemed like the most bang for my buck!
I know some of you are here just for the meat and potatoes. So here it is.
I initially bought this off of Amazon for about 25 dollars in July of 2015. I started using it without a low pH toner and it was alright. I experienced some mild brightening and a little extra exfoliation. But when I started pairing it with a low pH (pH 4.5) toner, the Etude House wonder pore, omg. heaven.
- After cleansing and toning I would then apply the timeless serum
- I began with using a few drops: one on the forehead, one on each cheek and spread it about my face.
- I now will use 6-12 drops as I like the extra exfoliation I get.
- Scent: slightly sour, but nothing that really bothered me
- Sensations: a slight warming sensation the longer I left it on alone.
- Time before completing the rest of my routine about 10~20mins depending on what is going on
- The idea behind waiting to apply the rest of my routine is to give the ascorbic acid plenty of time to get into the skin. Even thought the serum is at a low pH of 2.4, as soon as it is applied to the skin (who’s pH is around 5.5 to the best of my knowledge) that low pH will start to rise and past the 3.5 point ascorbic acid can’t do it’s bizness.
- immediate effect: none really
- long term effect: I get brightening/evening of my skin tone, not like I’m getting shades lighter, just an overall brightness. I can’t say I feel like my skin has experienced a sudden boost in collagen but more of a general state of smooth. I treat this as more of an investment in my future looks i.e. delaying the wrinkle onset.
- How quickly did it oxidize? for me I kept it refrigerated for the first three months and didn’t notice any oxidation. Even at the 5 month mark there wasn’t much change in the serum to where I could visually see that it was different from when I first used it. It wasn’t until the 6th or 7th month mark that I noticed a slight tinge of yellow and not as much of a warming effect when I used it, but this is waay past the recommended use of this product.
How does Timeless say you should use this product?
Link to their website timeless website
Link to the Vitamin C serum timeless vitamin C + FE serum
Exert from Timeless website about the vitamin C serum
Contains Vitamin C, an antioxidant that evens skin tone and helps build collagen. Also contains vitamin E and Ferulic Acid, used to extend the life and effectiveness of vitamin C. We use a 20% concentration of L-ascorbic acid for maximum benefit. Our product is guaranteed fresh and effective for 3 months.
– dries fast and clear
– natural and paraben free
– cruelty free
– more actives, less chemicals
– no color dye added.
– no fragrance added.
– made in the USA
application: Apply 2-3 drops to fingertips and smooth evenly onto cleansed skin morning and night. For external use only. Sunscreen use recommended after application.
Warning: product will cause exfoliation. Not recommended for oily skin since it contains vitamin E.
ingredients:Water, Ethoxydiglycol, L-Ascorbic Acid, Propylene Glycol, Alpha Tocopherol, Polysorbate 80, Panthenol, Ferulic Acid, Sodium Hyaluronate, Benzylalcohol, Dehydroacetic Acid.
NOTE: Serum may be cloudy upon receipt. This is due to the product just being manufactured and will dissipate in several weeks. When oxidized, the serum will turn either brown or red. Refrigeration storage is recommended to extend the shelf life of the serum and slow down the oxidation process.
expires 3 months from date of purchase, can be extended with refrigeration storage.
And when I emailed timeless I got a little more information about formulation and storage
The 20% Vitamin C+E Ferulic Acid, when freshly manufactured the serum is cloudy and thick in appearance with slight yellowing due to the Ferulic Acid. As the serum begins to age it starts clear up, then begins with hints yellowing. The serum can change back to a cloudy state when refrigerated or temperatures are cold, this is normal. As the serum ages it will continue to change in color. Expiration is approximately 3 months without refrigeration and 5 months with refrigeration. We advise customers that refrigeration is recommended, as mentioned on the box, to extend the shelf life of the serum and slow down the process of oxidation. When oxidized the serum turns red/brown in color and is good to use until then.
The main takeaway I get is that I could potentially use this bottle for 5months. Which I no longer intend to draw it out that long, but for those who have sensitive skin and can only use a few drops a day, I think its is an important point that makes this serum much more cost effective.
Would I recommend this product to the world?
Yes, omg yes. In learning more about the research behind topically applied vitamin C I can’t believe I spent most of my life without it. I recommend this to all my friends. You can often see this little bottle show up in my skincare routine photos I share on instagram.
Anyone I wouldn’t recommend this to? Well as with any cosmetic, I recommend people check the ingredients list before patch testing and naturally before going full-tilt in use of the product. I know some people who are sensitive to vitamin e, which is a component of this serum. I would tell those people to use this with caution.
My last bit of personal persuasion
I would like to note Timeless DOES NOT recommend keeping their serum past the 5month mark. It was a personal decision to keep using it since it wasn’t fully oxidized in my opinion, but since have a fresh refill (from their memorial day sale) I’ve already moved over to using it. I just kept the original serum for this post. I like the fresh serum better anyway.
Science & Research
This is more… MY meat and potatoes. Growing up I knew vitamin C was important because Flintstone vitamins said so. Progressing through school you come to learn more about Vitamin C and how, due to our inability to make it, we must consume it. This usually occurred during history lessons and talking about Scurvy. Nonetheless I wonder:
- Why is Vitamin C important for my skin? What does it do there?
- Why is topical Vitamin C application beneficial (is there research behind: enhanced UV protection, Skin tone/hyperpigmentation lightening, and collagen increase claims?)
- What does Ferulic Acid do for my vitamin C serum?
This leads me to look at some research by Dr. Pinnell, the man behind the skinceuticals vitamin C serum (aka the $163 serum I can’t afford) as well as spending an inordinate amount of time snooping sciencediret and pubmed. Now some of the research is behind paywalls, so you may have to use university access or flat out pay for it, I’ll note in the citations.
Why is Vitamin C important for my skin?
Our skin predominately utilizes L-ascrobic acid, but I’ll be referring to it as Vitamin C. Vitamin C that is brought into us through our diet (either through food or supplements) makes its way to our skin cells. At that point it resides in the aqueus environment of the cell (the inside of the cell) and works as an antioxidant. Vitamin E (α-tocopherol) that is ingested makes it way to our skin similarly, but in skin cells, it protects the lipid structures such as the cell membrane (1).
What’s really interesting is that vitamin C and E work synergistically (i.e. they work together). How does this work? When Vitamin E becomes oxidized by free radicals, Vitamin C regenerates the vitamin E in the cell membrane so it can continue to capture those free radicals (1). We’re not the only ones to use Vitamins C & E in this manner, plants use them in the same way to protect themselves from some of the damaging effects of sunlight (4).
So what’s up with radicals and sunlight? I’m sure most of my readers know the issue with sunlight is the UV radiation that comes along with it. That UV light we know helps us convert 7-DHC to vitamin D, but we only need a few mins of sunlight to make all we need. So what happens as we get more and more UV exposure? Photodamage, which we can link to acute inflammatory reactions, such as eythema, sunburn, and more long term issues such as skin aging and skin cancer (3). Suncreens are important to help minimize UV related damage, but none are 100% effective. That is why supporting internal cellular mechanisms are important in my opinion. One of these cellular mechanisms is via antioxidants; Vitamins C & E.
So why is topical Vitamin C application beneficial?
We get it in our skin from eating fruits and vegetables already, why do I need extra? Well for starters, there’s a limit to how much Vitamin C we can absorb in the gut. I won’t get too into it, but essentially taking grams and grams of Vitamin C doesn’t mean you’re body can actually absorb and even use all of it. If you’d like to learn more, check out this page from the US National Institutes of Health.
But what if you could get more Vitamin C & E to your skin? Wouldn’t that be a good thing? Replenishing those vitamins that have been oxidizied so you can protect yourself a little better? I think so. It has been shown that topical applications of Vitamin C & E supplement our skin’s antioxidant pool (1). It was even shown that in the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of skin) the presence of these antioxidants provided a 4-fold protection, in using just a serum of 15% ascorbic acid and 1% α-tocopherol (1) Additionally, not only is it protecting against erythema and apoptois (i.e. sunburn) some protection against UV-induced DNA mutations were provided as well. And that is HUGE to me because mutations in the DNA of our cells can lead to cancer (1).
What if my skin is already photodamaged?
So you’re a human on planet earth and you maybe have some fine lines or even wrinkles. And you’ve been alive along enough to maybe even get some hyperpigmentation or age spots. Well in addition to providing some UV protection, topical applications of vitamin C have been touted and advertised as being a method of helping increase collagen production as well as be a way to lighten hyperpigmentation and brighten skin tone.
One of the issues with topically applied ascorbic acid, is that the actual penetration of vitamin C is low (6) This is probably most evident in the anecdotal reviews on skin tone brightening and PIH lightening reviews, i.e. it takes months to work. And this would mostly likely be supported in that the compound itself, even when stabilized by vitamin E and ferulic acid is still not 100% stable. This to me is fine because I still incur a photo-protective benefit, i.e enhanced UV protection from topically applied vitamin C which helps to prevent future damage. What was found to help increase percutaneous delivery of this antioxidant, was to lower the pH of the solution that was applied. According to most studies a pH below 3.5 is necessary for protonation of ascorbic acid allowing for increased percutaneous delivery. I did email Timeless, asking what their pH was, as I only have some fancy litmus paper at home, and they report to formulate their serum to have an approximate pH of 2.4.
In addition, I prefer using ascorbic acid over other compounds that brighten hyperpigmentation is that topically applied ascorbic acid doesn’t appear to fully inhibit tyrosinase activity within melanocytes (which are the cells responsible for producing melanin) (6) it just slow it down. Since one of methods for our bodies to protect itself from UV radiation is to produce the pigment melanin. I’d rather no entirely inhibit that activity and I’m more than willing to take the slow road that gives me more UV protection.
So what about collagen production. In researching this it would seem that micro-needling/dermarolling in conjuction with use of a topical vitamin C serum might be more effective, but I’m going to focus on only topical since there does seem to be some benefit in simple topical application to increasing collagen production. In the first study I looked to they found that there was some collagen production increase, which was most evident in post-metapausal women who lacked sufficient dietary intake intake of vitamin C (7). While in the last study I will cite, they used ultrasound to measure the skin thickness over time across a variety of ages. The women in this study all used the same vitamin C serum (which was only 5% LAA) for the 60 day duration. There was a significant increase in collagen synthesis over all ages and they did conclude that this topical application was highly-efficient as a rejuvenation therapy (8)
What does Ferulic Acid do for my Vitamin C Serum?
So what is it? Yet again, it’s another antioxidant found in plants, also known as hydroxycinamminic acid. It was found to help reduce ROS (reactive Oxygen Species) which made it a attractive additon to vitamin C and E serums (4) Although, the exact mechanism for how ferulic acid interacts with vitamins C and E in topical applications, adding 0.5% ferulic acid to a 15% Vitamin C and 1% vitamin E serum, doubled the photoprotection of the serum from 4-fold to 8-fold (4) Its surmised that this increase in photoprotection might be due to ferulic acid acid as a sacrificial substrate (2). It also appears that the addition of this plant antioxidant doesn’t impede the inhibition of thymine dimer formation and p53 activation, which aforementioned were all possible precursors to DNA mutation and the possibility of cancer formation.
Based on the evidence from research
- Yes timeless has used the correct formulation of Vitamin C for the serum and it’s at the right pH
- Yes I would say Vitamin C + FE serums do provide additional UV protection
- In addition to protection I would have to say that, even though it may take longer to brighten skin tone and increase collagen, it does appear that a topical vitamin C serum is effective!
In the end, you don’t have to take my word for it ^_^. I provide references below
UV photoprotection by combination topical antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E.
Lin JY, Selim MA, Shea CR, Grichnik JM, Omar MM, Monteiro-Riviere NA, Pinnell SR.
J Am Acad Dermatol. 2003 Jun;48(6):866-74.
*Abstract link only
A topical antioxidant solution containing vitamins C and E stabilized by ferulic acid provides protection for human skin against damage caused by ultraviolet irradiation.
Murray JC, Burch JA, Streilein RD, Iannacchione MA, Hall RP, Pinnell SR.
J Am Acad Dermatol. 2008 Sep;59(3):418-25. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2008.05.004. Epub 2008 Jul 7.
*Abstract link Only
Protective effects of a topical antioxidant mixture containing vitamin C, ferulic acid, and phloretin against ultraviolet-induced photodamage in human skin.
Oresajo C, Stephens T, Hino PD, Law RM, Yatskayer M, Foltis P, Pillai S, Pinnell SR.
J Cosmet Dermatol. 2008 Dec;7(4):290-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1473-2165.2008.00408.x.
*Abstract link only (also not referenced but an interesting read)
Ferulic acid stabilizes a solution of vitamins C and E and doubles its photoprotection of skin.
Lin FH, Lin JY, Gupta RD, Tournas JA, Burch JA, Selim MA, Monteiro-Riviere NA, Grichnik JM, Zielinski J, Pinnell SR.
J Invest Dermatol. 2005 Oct;125(4):826-32.
- Topically Applied Vitamin C Enhances the mRNA Level of Collagens I and III, Their Processing Enzymes and Tissue Inhibitor of Matrix Metalloproteinase 1 in the Human Dermis1
Nusgens, Betty V.Humbert, Philippe et al.
Journal of Investigative Dermatology , Volume 116 , Issue 6 , 853 – 859
- Cosmeceuticals for Hyperpigmentation: What is Available?
Sarkar, Rashmi, pooja Arora, and K Vijay Garg.
Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery. 2013; 6(1): 4-11
- Topically Applied Vitamin C Enhances the mRNA Level of Collagen I and III, Their Processing Enzymes an Tissue Inhibitor of Matrix Metalloproteinase 1 in the Human Dermis
Betty V. Nusgens, Alain C. Colige, Charles A. Lambert, Charles M. Lapiere
Journal of Investigative Dermatology, Volume 116, issue 6, 853-859.
- The role of vitamin C in pushing back the boundaries of skin again: and ultrasonographic approach
Crisan, D. Roman, I. Crisan, M. Scharffetter-Kochanek, K, Badea, R.
Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology 2015: 8 463-470
Lastly, after hearing about how much I liked their serum, timeless has offered three of my readers the chance to try it, or any (1) product of their choosing from the timeless website. This giveaway is open internationally!