Vitamin C has become a recommended staple in an effective skincare routine—and for good reason. The active boasts a long list of benefits including brightening and evening skin tone, protecting against free radical damage, and promoting collagen production. But while it presents itself as a miracle worker, it isn't always so great for those with sensitive skin. If you're in that camp, vitamin C might cause irritation, redness, and other uncomfortable skin woes. While it is best to speak with a dermatologist when deciding which ingredients will be most compatible and effective for your skin type, it's worth reading up on a few editor favorites. There are products that feature many of the same benefits as vitamin C but offer a more gentle touch. Below we've rounded up five vitamin C alternatives to consider if you have sensitive skin.
If you're looking to replace vitamin C with something more gentle, niacinamide is an excellent alternative. Like vitamin C, it's a potent antioxidant that can neutralize free radical production, it brightens skin, and minimizes fine lines. In Peter Thomas Roth's PRO Strength Niacinamide Discoloration Treatment, the powerful ingredient helps reduce the look of discoloration and uneven skin tone. Niacinamide is also less likely to clash with other skincare ingredients in your routine, meaning you're less apt to cause irritation. That said, while it may be better for sensitive skin, you should still introduce it gradually into your regimen and begin with the lowest percentage (typically 10 percent) to build your skin tolerance.
One of the major benefits of incorporating vitamin C into your skincare regimen is for sun protection—yet in today's world, it's not enough. "Vitamin C has been recognized as a beneficial skincare ingredient for decades, since we found that it can protect superficial skin layers from the harmful effects of UV," explains Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Dr. Loretta skincare. "In this screen-oriented 21st century, we dermatologists are now starting to focus on keeping skin protected from artificial visible light (AVL) emitted by digital screens."
Meet the Expert
Dr. Loretta Ciraldo is a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist with over 40 years' experience and the founder of Dr. Loretta skincare.
Ciraldo says AVL penetrates deeper than UV light and produces damage to fibroblasts (the cells that keep our skin firm), damage to mitochondria (the skin cell's energy source, making the skin look more lackluster), redness, swelling, and hyperpigmentation. According to Ciraldo, not only does Indian ginseng protect our skin from digital pollution, but it also boosts cellular energy and vibrancy of skin and restores skin vitality. On some ingredient lists, you'll see Indian ginseng listed as Ashwagandha, winter cherry, or withania somnifera extract.
"Saffron and turmeric are rich in carotenoids—a botanical compound that helps brighten the skin, reduce inflammation, and provides photo-protection," explains Michelle Ranavat, founder and CEO of Ranavat Botanics. "I prefer using carotenoids to vitamin C because of all the added benefits with fewer potential side effects."
Meet the Expert
Michelle Ranavat is the founder of Ranavat Botanics and taps into ancient ayurvedic traditions to inform her formulas.
Another noteworthy benefit of carotenoids that Ranavat mentions is their stability. "Unlike vitamin C, which can quickly oxidize, carotenoids stay active and effective for much longer," she notes, meaning your favorite carotenoid-infused products—like Ranavat's Radiant Rani—also boast a longer shelf life.
Viniferine—an ingredient exclusively extracted by skincare brand Caudalie from grapevine sap—is meant to lighten dark spots, acne scars, and hyperpigmentation. According to Caudalie, it does all of these things much more effectively than vitamin C. Caudalie's Vinoperfect Brightening Moisturizer also features niacinamide, so you get double the bang for your buck.
Alpha Arbutin is also a powerhouse when it comes to fading dark spots and correcting skin tone. Like vitamin C, it's an effective brightening agent, but because it has a sustained release, it's much gentler and doesn't present as high of a risk of irritation. In The Ordinary's iteration, the alpha arbutin is supported with a form of hyaluronic acid for enhanced delivery and efficacy.
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Wohlrab J, Kreft D. Niacinamide - mechanisms of action and its topical use in dermatology. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014;27(6):311-315. doi:10.1159/000359974
Davis EC, Callender VD. Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation: a review of the epidemiology, clinical features, and treatment options in skin of color. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2010;3(7):20-31.