DIY Vitamin C Serum Formula

Orange_cross_sectionI’ve been using a DIY vitamin C serum for a couple of years and thought my blog readers might be interested in this topic because these serums are effective yet very easy and inexpensive to make. This post is not about fragrance, but body products are still in the scope of discussion since I have offered body products (lotions and body creams) on my site in the past. I’ll provide my vitamin C formula and ingredient source as well as suggestions for more complicated formulas.

My skin is happiest when I keep things simple, using very few products. My facial skin is not dry, but it is sensitive to fragrance ingredients so I don’t use anything scented on my face (including natural essential oils). I love natural skincare, but only products that do not contain irritating fragrant oils like citrus and mint.

We’ve all read that antioxidants are great for the skin and that vitamin C and vitamin A derivatives (retinols) are some of the most effective anti-aging ingredients. Many other antioxidants are wonderful too, as are moisturizing plant oils like raspberry seed oil, argan oil, and camellia oil. I like to use a simple vitamin C product in the morning and a plain retinol product at night.

Vitamin C comes in a number of forms with varying stability. Ascorbic acid is not stable and is best kept refrigerated in an air-proof dispensing container and used quickly. The stability of ascorbic acid can be improved by adding ferulic acid to the serum formula, but it is still not as light-stable and oxygen-stable as some other forms of vitamin C.

I’ve been using magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP) in my DIY blend because it is a more stable form of vitamin C and is gentler to skin than the very acidic ascorbic acid. MAP is a powder that is water soluble, which is preferable for me because oil and silicone in serums can make my skin break out. I use purified water as the base for MAP, and I also sometimes add niacinamide, which is a powder form of vitamin B3 that is great for skin and is also water soluble. I shake the container before each use since it is a simple water mixture and some settling can occur. Although it does not feel elegant to apply, I like this formula because it works well for my skin with no irritation, oiliness, or breakouts.

If I were to sell a water-based serum like this I would need to use a preservative because bacteria can grow in water-based products, but since this is just for my personal use I skip the preservative. I always handle it with freshly washed hands, use an airless dispenser pump, and use it up promptly. I have not had any trouble, but take note that you need to be cleanly if you don’t use preservative and you should keep the product out of sun/heat and use it up within a month.

A vitamin C serum is a great DIY project because you can tailor the formula to your needs and you can make something basic and pure that can’t be found in stores. Some of you might want to add a little glycerin for glide and moisturization, but be careful not to add too much or it will become sticky. There are many other serum ingredients you can play with and an endless number of formulas you can try (googling DIY vitamin C brings up lots of resources). Be careful if you try ascorbic acid formulas instead of MAP because ascorbic acid can burn in too high concentration, so don’t go crazy and think that more is better.

You can buy these cosmetic ingredients from several sources online. My favorite source is LotionCrafter because the owner, Jenny, is very knowledgeable and nice to work with. She also sells some inexpensive airless pump dispensers that you can use to package your product.

The combination of vitamin C and niacinamide can help reduce fine lines and fade discolorations, and it may help prevent pre-cancerous skin changes. My skin is very fair and several of my family members have had skin cancers on their faces from sun exposure, so I am especially interested in this protective aspect of vitamin C. You should, of course, see a dermatologist if you find something suspicious, but I’m hoping that vitamin C might help prevent pre-cancerous changes from taking place to begin with. And keeping fine lines at bay is always nice too. 🙂

LotionCrafter has a formulation page where they give several vitamin C formulas as well as many other body product formulas. One of their C serum formulas is modeled after the one by SkinCeuticals, which has a lot of research behind it. The formulas there take a bit more time than the very simple one I have been making, but if you have the time it could be fun and rewarding to try some.

The suggested rate for vitamin C in MAP form is up to 10%, and I’ve been using 10% with no irritation. The Lotioncrafter site says, “Unlike Ascorbyl Palmitate, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (MAP) appears to have the same potential to boost skin collagen synthesis as does Ascorbic Acid, but at lower concentrations. For those with sensitive skin or those wanting to avoid the exfoliating effects of highly acidic Ascorbic Acid, MAP may be the preferred choice.”

The suggested usage rate for niacinamide is 1-4%. Lotioncrafter says it can increase collagen synthesis, reduce fine lines, reduce discolorations, and reduce oiliness.

Posted below is a very simple formula for10% water-based MAP. The downside is that it does not perfectly dissolve, so you need to shake it up each time and you may lose a little bit to the sides of the container. I have seen good results with it though, and if you find you like formulating you could always try a more sophisticated formula later.

Simple 10% Water-Based C (MAP) serum:
2.5 grams MAP (magnesium ascorbyl phosphate)
22.5 grams purified water (distilled or reverse osmosis)
total: 25 grams

This amount fits into one of the 30 ml white airless treatment pumps sold at Lotioncrafter. You’ll need a decent gram scale to weigh it out. Lotioncrafter sells some scales, but you may have a postal scale or kitchen scale that would work if it is accurate enough. After weighing it out, sterilize a stirring utensil with some alcohol and stir the serum well until the powders dissolve. You can warm the container in your hand or in a bowl of hot water if needed. After capping, I always shake it even though I just stirred it. This formula is not appropriate to sell (you’d want something more elegant with a smoother feel and either water-free or with a preservative), but it’s fine for home use.

If the idea of topical vitamin C sounds good to you but you don’t want to mess with the DIY aspect, there are many ready-made products to choose from. My favorite is Timeless 20% Vitamin C + E Serum. Paula’s Choice also has a moderately-priced C serum, and many higher-priced brands like SkinCeuticals offer C serums. I thought the information in this post might be helpful regardless of the route you choose.

You can research the medical literature on Pubmed/Medline to find studies supporting the protective effect of topical vitamin C against UV-induced skin damage and cancer. Also the SkinCeuticals site has a page with references to medical research, as does the Paula’s Choice site.

Update 2016:
I’ve changed my vitamin C formula a bit over the years. I put the niacinamide and MAP into separate dropper bottles and I have decreased the MAP to 8% because that helps keep it from settling out of solution. I had too much MAP coming out of solution, especially in the colder winter months. Also, I’ve been alternating between Timeless vitamin C (ascorbic acid rather than MAP) and the DIY MAP.

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  1. Skincare is such an interesting topic, and I am constantly on the lookout to try new products that may benefit me through the changing years. I believe that good skincare routines and products (along with a healthy dose of good genes) have helped me maintain very good skin conditions. Due to my current employment (or lack thereof) circumstance, I’ve had to watch my budget without compromising too much on quality. I recently discovered Paula’s Choice and really like the quality of the products I’ve tried so far. I’ve never had any fragrance sensitivity issues, so the fragrance-free aspects of this brand I consider the compromise for the lower cost.

    I probably won’t try the DIY serum because I don’t trust myself to make it right. It sounds wonderful, though, so thank you for sharing!

    1. I’ve used some of Paula’s products for years because I like the fragrance-free aspect (ironically!) and because her prices are very reasonable. You have a good point about the genes factor, and sun exposure/protection is a big factor too. This DIY C version is really easy, so I thought it might be of interest. It can save a lot of money because most brands charge crazy high prices for C serums (often well over $100), though Paula’s is reasonable at $45 (sometimes on sale for less). The Non-Blonde reviewed Paula’s C serum and one by Jason (both use ascorbic acid but the Jason one does not seem to be stabilized with ferulic acid whereas Paula’s is stabilized with it, so I’m guessing Paula’s formula will stay effective longer).

  2. Hi, I have been looking for a good DIY vit C serum/toner with MAP. I would like to only use MAP and rose water. Can you suggest how much ml of each is needed to prepare a 30 ml solution? How do you apply your vit serum, a few drops on the face or by using a cotton pad and applying it generously like a toner on the face?

    Also I have been reading that it is not advisable to mix a vitamin C powder and niacinamide ( please see
    What are your thoughts?

    1. Hi. MAP comes as a powder, so you can’t measure it by ml. You’ll need to get a little scale and measure it by grams. Then you can make anywhere from 1% to 10% MAP in your water of choice. It’s usually suggested to use purified water (distilled or reverse osmosis) to avoid getting bacteria into the mix. It might be better to use your rosewater separately. As for the percent, if you were weighing out a total of 20 grams, you could use 1 gram of MAP and 19 grams of water for a 5% concentration. You wouldn’t want to go stronger than 10% (you might risk irritation, and the solution won’t hold much more so you’d get too much dropping out onto the bottom of the container). You could try a 5% solution to start and move up to 10% if you do fine at 5%.

      To apply, I just shake the container, put some liquid into freshly washed fingertips, and apply.

      That’s interesting about the interaction between niacinamide and L-ascorbic acid. This is MAP, a vitamin C derivative, rather than L-ascorbic, so the interaction can’t happen in the bottle with MAP. The author says the interaction might possibly occur in your skin if you expose to sunlight right after applying a mixture of a vitamin C derivative other than L-ascorbic, but it sounds less of a risk. Still, they say that you could keep them separate and use 30 minutes apart or else use them at nighttime when you won’t be exposed to sunlight immediately after putting them on. I’ve not read that before about MAP, but it would be easy enough to mix the two in separate containers and use them 30 minutes apart or use the MAP in morning and the niacinamide in the evening. In the comments she does give thumbs up to a Paula’s Choice product that combines another vitamin C derivative (Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate) with niacinamide. The author also says, “As I’ve indicated in the post and the many responses to people in the comments section, the likelihood of a significant interaction occurring between vitamin C derivatives and niacinamide is very low. This is because the vitamin C derivative has to first convert to L-ascorbic acid inside the skin. And since this negative interaction occurs most often at a pH of 3.8, the skin’s pH is nowhere near that low. “ So she seems to be saying that it is more of a concern for L-ascorbic acid and not much of a concern for vitamin C derivatives like MAP. You still might keep them separate though; there’s no harm in doing two bottles so that you can use them at different times of day.

      Hope that helps! Good luck with it! And thanks for posting the link. That looks like an interesting site — I’d like to go poke around when I have time!

      1. Hi, Thank you so much for your prompt reply and all the information!!! I don’t have a scale but I have a set of measuring spoons so I used 1/4 tsp of MAP with 4 tsp of bottled water. for a 5 % solution. I hope that’s right. I originally tried L-Ascorbic acid before I bought MAP and even though I created a 5 % solution, I started breaking out. I do have really sensitive skin. Do you suggest adding another ingredient like aloe vera to the water and MAP solution? If so, how much would I add? I find glycerine is too sticky.

  3. Hi. Volume and weight measurements don’t come out exactly the same, but as long as you do the same thing consistently you can find something that works for you and then do it the same way to make more. That would actually be more like 5.9% (since 1 out of 20 is 5% and you did 1 out of 17). But you are still well below the max suggested level of 10% so you should be fine.

    Yes, glycerine is really sticky. I like to keep it to 1% or less of the formula when I use it, but I usually just use plain water. I’ve not tried aloe so I can’t offer help with that. If you have sensitive skin sometimes less is more. I break out with silicones so that’s why I like to make my own (sans silicone). L-ascorbic is much more irritating than MAP, so maybe you will do better with the MAP. Hope so! The owner of Lotion Crafter is really helpful too and knows more about skin care formulating than I do, so she might be another resource for you.

    1. Hi Marie,
      Sure! A good percentage to use for niacinamide is 4%, so you could just replace the vitamin C grams with water if you want. That would be 24 grams of water and 1 gram of niacinamide. But you could make any amount you want and the formula you’d use is 0.04 times the total grams (or whatever unit of measure) would equal the niacinamide, and the total grams minus the niacinamide grams equals the water grams. Good luck!

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