If you’ve been interested in skincare for longer than 5 minutes, chances are you’ll have heard of vitamin C. As a cosmetic ingredient, it stands firmly in the hall of fame alongside retinol, hyaluronic acid, AHA’s and salicylic acid. It is recommended by almost every skincare guru and beauty influencer around.
CBD, on the other hand, is somewhat struggling to wriggle its way out of the gimmick shell. Originally emerging on to the skincare scene as a trendy new extract from – gasp! – cannabis (what would our mothers think?!), CBD has managed to forge its place as a valid, valuable skincare ingredient. It’s proven itself. It’s worked hard to get to where it is today despite scepticism and misinformation. Despite it having notable and scientifically backed skincare properties, many big industry names still roll their eyes at CBD as if it were a fad ingredient.
But why compare the two at all?
There is a considerable amount of overlap between the benefits of Vitamin C and CBD in skincare.
To fully understand these overlaps and make a comparison, it’s important to understand exactly what these ingredients are. “Vitamin C” is a blanket term for a wide variety of chemical compounds that contain or are derivatives of ascorbic acid. Your ingredients list could contain magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, sodium ascorbate, calcium ascorbate, ascorbyl palmitate, sodium ascobyl phosphate or ascorbic acid, and all of these compounds will be called “vitamin c”. Some of these compounds are mineral salts or fat-soluble derivatives, and they’re all Vitamin C.
Once of the reasons why vitamin C is so popular in skincare is due to its association with health. If you’re feeling under the weather, vitamin C supplements are recommended to help fight off colds and boost the immune system. We’re encouraged to eat oranges, cherries and bell peppers due to their high vitamin C content. There’s an entire disease named after a lack of vitamin C – scurvy – for which the name is derived from ascorbic acid.
Due to this associating with fruits, vegetables and overall health, vitamin C is considered a “natural” skincare ingredient. If it’s in my glass of orange juice, it must be natural! However, it is important to know that whereas ascorbic acid does naturally occur in nature, the isolated chemical structures used in skincare are synthesized in a lab, often from GMO corn.
There are of course many fruit and vegetable extracts that are naturally high in vitamin C, but squeezing enough of them into a skincare product with the result being potent enough for the average consumer is nigh on impossible, so the synthetic isolated compound is the weapon of choice. This falls into a bigger discussion on the definition of natural in skincare, but that’s another kettle of fish we can approach on another day!
CBD on the other hand is only just starting to grow in favour within the general public. It doesn’t have the same level of notoriety as good ol’ vitamin C. It does, however, have far superior eco-credentials if using hemp-derived CBD.
Like any chemical compound (because yes, everything is made of chemicals!), CBD can be synthesised from some other organic compound, such as citrus terpenes. This process is lengthy and results in by-products that aren’t all that great for the environment, but there is another alternative in hemp-derived CBD.
CBD – or cannabidiol – is an organic phytocompound found abundantly in cannabis sativa plants. High concentrations of CBD can be extracted from raw plant material using extremely green methods such as CO2 extraction, which has zero waste by-product. The cultivation of industrial hemp is also fantastic for the environment. Hemp is known to absorb copious amount of CO2 from the atmosphere, drastically improve soil quality, and every single part of the plant can be used, from renewable construction materials to hemp seed protein and of course, a powerful skincare ingredient.
So what about their benefits in skincare? According to the European Commission’s Cosmetic Ingredient Database – CosIng for short – vitamin C (ascorbic acid) has the following functions in skincare:
- Buffering (= can alter the pH of a product)
- Skin conditioning
- Fragrance (weird, I know)
CBD (cannabidiol) on the other hand has the following functions:
- Skin conditioning
- Skin protecting
These are just the EU/UK’s “official” list of cosmetic benefits for these ingredients, but it seems a little limited. Taking a quick toe-dip into the world of skincare guru’s and you’ll find a wide range of benefits claimed for vitamin C, from collagen production to skin brightening, lightening dark spots, reducing puffiness and of course, its powerful antioxidant effects. Dermatologist Dr Patricia Wexler states that “Because of its antioxidant properties, vitamin C aids in your skin’s natural regeneration process, which helps your body repair damaged skin cells.”
This sounds amazing, right?
At the top of the official list of benefits, “Antioxidant” sits right at the top for vitamin C. It is often the first ingredient that comes to mind when we think of antioxidants, perhaps because of its long-standing associating with food and supplementation.
A large number of vitamin C’s benefits can be attributed to its antioxidant properties, such as its ability to fight free radicals to prevent premature aging.
However, scientific studies have shown CBD to be an “antioxidant more potent than ascorbate (Vitamin E) or tocopherol (Vitamin E)” (Hampson et al., 1998). If what you’re looking for is a potent antioxidant, then CBD is actually your best bet.
The other key benefit of vitamin C, and where it is drastically different to CBD, is its skin-brightening and resurfacing benefits. As its name suggests, ascorbic acid is highly acidic with a pH of less than or equal to 3. For reference, our skin’s pH sits at approximately 5.5.
Acids aren’t necessarily a bad thing for your skin, but vitamin C’s acidic nature, paired with the fact that it is most effective in formulas that have a pH of 2.6 – 3.2, means that using vitamin C daily is maybe not the best idea. Gurus and skincare experts will often recommend using a vitamin C serum daily, but the reality for many people with even slightly sensitive skin is that this will potentially cause some unpleasant irritation.
CBD offers oil and sebum regulation, making it an ideal ingredient for oily skin. This comes alongside some potent anti-inflammatory benefits making CBD a prime choice for people suffering with a variety of skin woes from painful breakouts to dry, cracked and itchy skin conditions. Slightly refined versions of CBD are hypoallergenic making it suitable for the most sensitive skin type, whilst being actively soothing.
If the benefits of vitamin C you’re most interested in are linked to its antioxidant properties, but you’re not so keen on its skin sensitising side effects, consider swapping our or part-supplementing with a CBD product.