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Don’t get your oil soluble Vitamin C mixed up!

March 27, 2017

Vitamin C oil soluble

It has recently come to my attention that there is at least one brand selling a product that advertises on the front the active Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate but on the ingredients listing has Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate.

These are not the same chemical.

It took me a while to un-pick these two molecules as they have the same molecular weight and seem to have been registered under the same CAS number making it look like these could be two different names for the same molecule.

They are not the same chemical.

To make it easier for you to see what I see I’ve put the structure of the two chemicals side-by-side above.  As you can see the Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate has its four arms held out perfectly straight and long whereas the Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate has bent arms.  This may not seem like much but this can mean a potentially significant difference in solubility or ability for the skin to utilise these chemicals.

If you were in the business of engineering chemicals (a truly fascinating business to be in) you would appreciate that getting those four arms to bend like that is a bit tricky given the heart of the structure.  The fact that this is quite tricky to achieve is just one reason the Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate is so much more expensive to make. The other thing that makes it more expensive (or valuable) is its efficacy data – there is quite a bit.  There is very little efficacy data for the Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate – it might well be a good molecule with excellent dermal functionality but there is next to no proof of that.

I wanted to let you know as things like this case of mis-labelling or mistaken identity can become endemic and make it hard for the lay-person to discern what they are getting.  You’ve only got to have a few bloggers say something like ‘these are just two names for the same thing’ or whatever and BINGO, the science goes out of the window.

In terms of use of these two chemicals, here in Australia the Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate is allowed in cosmetics at concentrations up to 10% although efficacy data shows it works at concentrations of 1% or even less.  In Japan this ingredient is listed as a quasi-drug and can be used for lightening the skin at concentrations of 3% and in Korea it is listed as a functional ingredient for skin lightening at 2% concentration.  The Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate has way less safety data and is only currently allowed at concentrations of 1% or less until the safety data deficit is addressed.

As these are both Vitamin C derivatives they play in a world where 20% Vitamin C rules – at least in terms of marketing.  This 20% number relates to Ascorbic Acid which is very cheap and quite unstable. It has been found in numerous studies to improve the appearance of the skin but that its increase in efficacy stops and then starts to go backwards at 20%. Basically if you use more than 20% you get no extra benefits and actually start getting side-effects – irritation being one of them.   Other forms of vitamin C like those mentioned here act in different ways and take different pathways through the skin meaning the 20% number is far less relevant.  In fact one study carried out by the manufacturers of the Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate found it to be taken up by the cells at 10 times the concentration of Ascorbic Acid.  That, combined with its greater stability and oil solubility helps to explain why 20% is not at all needed.

The moral of this story is this,  a background in chemistry helps you to pick a good and effective cosmetic product.  For everyone else there is this blog piece 🙂

Happy buying, selling and making.
Amanda x

PS: After writing this I’ve found that even this Cosmetic Ingredient Review board have lumped these two chemicals in together when looking at their dermal penetration and have also stated that they are indeed two names for the same chemical. That is not correct and I will write to them and tell them.  I wonder how that got passed their eyes. Makes things very difficult indeed…..

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Maya permalink
    April 6, 2017 11:13 pm

    Great article, thank you.
    You mentioned that in AU there is 10% limit of Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate in a final product, but this brand has a 25% of it in their product: http://moogoo.com.au/super-vitamin-c-serum.html
    It’s actually 50% Squalane, 25% AT, 25% mixed Tocopherols.
    What’s your thought on this?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      April 7, 2017 5:32 pm

      Hi there, well my thoughts are that if AT is 25% that’s above the limit. 25% mixed tocopherols is also a lot more than the < 2% generally used but every formula is different.

  2. Kerry permalink
    May 29, 2017 4:38 pm

    Can you tell me what you think of this blog entry written: https://savantapothecary.com.au/blogs/news/vit-c-which-one-is-on-your-skin

    This particular company that sells tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate claims it is highly stable: http://www.makingcosmetics.com/Vitamin-C-tetrahexyldecyl-ascorbate_p_1014.html

    What are your thoughts on its use in a DIY product?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      May 30, 2017 8:39 am

      Hi Kerry, the first article appears to me to be very much written from the angle that will get that brand a marketing advantage. No in-depth reasoning is given for why that particular type of vitamin C is ‘good’ and everything else is ‘bad’. Just being cheap isn’t really an indicator of chemistry, it is mainly an indicator of abundance or off-patent processing (many of these ‘new’ vitamin C derivatives are still under patent and so attract a higher price as the investors attempt to capitalise on their investment and recover costs. That’s hardly about efficacy but neither does it mean the new types are rubbish). Anyway, I can’t take that post seriously as a scientist. The second one is a web description for an ingredient. I’d expect that ingredient to be stable and acceptable for use in any vitamin C product but you would have to look into the background science to see how it compared in vivo and in vitro to other types of vitamin C. It is always advisable for DIY clients to use super stable forms of vitamin C as it is likely they don’t have the expertise to optimise a formula for stability and safety – it isn’t easy. So yes, I’d use that.

      • Kerry permalink
        May 30, 2017 10:52 am

        Thanks so much for your response. I’m glad I happened upon your blog. It’s great to find information from someone who actually knows their stuff.

  3. kezinda permalink
    August 24, 2017 6:53 am

    👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼

  4. Kim permalink
    May 8, 2018 3:18 pm

    Hello! I don’t know if this is thread is still being followed or watched, but holy vitamin C debaucle Batman! I just found this post, after ordering some Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate to put in my lotion (diy – totally not a chemist, but do a lot of research and totally appreciate this post) and now realize I have a ton of questions, because many DIY sites interchange the names of the two (Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate aka Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate – so they say) or if they don’t interchange, I think they have the wrong use amount or are using the results for Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate in their description of Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate. Arrgghhh! Good grief Charlie Brown.
    So my biggest concern is if what I bought is truly Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, should I even use it at the amount they are stating, which seems like it may be for the other one, and if that’s the case, what is the correct amount for tetrahexyldecyl? I will also call the site, Lotioncrafter, here in the USA, to ask if she realizes she may have some information incorrect in regards to the results and amounts she lists, even if she realizes they are 2 different things.
    BTW, I HAVE SUPER SENSITIVE SKIN. I can’t use ascorbic acid anymore. I seem to be able to use MAP ok, but thought I’d bump things up a bit, but have read that these other two could be irritating to sensitive skin. Is this true for both of them or am I not reading the right info for each of them out there, since some people are saying they are the same thing?
    I so appreciate any help or if there is a better way to contact you for more in depth discussion of this? Thanks!!!

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      May 10, 2018 10:52 pm

      The issue with the tetrahexylgecyl ascorbate is the lack of data behind it vs ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate, especially applied, cosmetic data. It might be that they are interchangeable but from the limited information I’ve seen it appears not. I would not be surprised if more people don’t recognise the difference between these two molecules, after all, they have the same number of elements in them, they are just arranged differently – seems like no big deal on paper but…… With regards to sensitive skin, it is always possible that it is the low pH that triggers a reaction when you use ascorbic acid. Otherwise it could be the oxidation products as ascorbic acid serums do tend to oxidise quickly and the oxidation by-products are more irritating than the acid its self. It would be interesting to identify what it is or whether it’s the actual vitamin C its self – which I would have thought was unlikely but I don’t know if it is impossible.

      • June 16, 2018 9:47 am

        Hi, thanks so much fof this article as if has helped me work out the difference in price for the two chemicals. I formulate with ascorbyl tetraisopalmitaten ATIP at 1% . As a raw material, it is VERY expensive. Cost me arohnd $100 for 17ml… the other chemical tetrah…. is much cheaper at 30ml for 50. I will stick with what i know to be proven by data, which is the ATIP.

        The literature in the web is confusing as they lump these two together and its hard, as a formulator, to trust suppliers and other skincare manufacturers to market this correctly.

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
        June 16, 2018 12:51 pm

        Hi Wei, glad the information helped. It was quite hard to find the right information as everywhere you look the wires seem to be crossed. I had to check back the structure in the patent data and then cross reference that with the structure of the other chemical.

  5. Kim permalink
    May 9, 2018 7:09 am

    Kim again. Sorry, but I was also curious if the Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate is an ether or an ester? The diy sales pages call it an ester, but the cosmetic ingredient review board paper calls it an ether. My organic chemistry is 30 years old, so I can’t remember enough to recognize it from your pictures of the chemicals, ha! Thanks.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      May 10, 2018 10:49 pm

      HI there, This thread is still going – well I’m still looking. An ether is R-O-R whereas an ester group is R-C=O-O-R so the carbon is double bonded to an oxygen then attached to the rest of the chain via another oxygen. I would say that it’s an ester as there are the C double bond oxygen groups in the chains but I could be wrong. I’m not sure it really matters, it’s the carbon tail chain arrangement that is crucial to the difference between the two chemicals.

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