Monday, 23 October 2017 19:46

Knowing Which Corrective Serum or Treatment to Recommend: Vitamin C, Peptides, or Retinoids?

Written by   Sara Fulton, co-founder and president of Vivant Skin Care

When clients seek professional skin care, they also expect comprehensive infor­mation on their skin condition and advice on how to maintain healthy skin, including product recommendations. Making the best recommendations tailored to their specific needs will not only improve their skin condition, but also bolster confidence in the professional’s technical knowledge and, ultimately, keep them coming back.

Here is a guide to help professionals understand the differences between some of the most common corrective ingredients.



Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that is used in non-prescription topical skin care to treat photodamaged skin, promote collagen formation, and slow collagen degradation. Prolonged use of vitamin C products has demonstrated the ability to rejuvenate skin and provide a variety of health benefits without discriminating among skin types. While it is not a replacement for sunscreen, its antioxidant properties provide it incredible potency to repair and scavenge free radicals, helping to prevent and treat ultraviolet-induced photodamage.1 Vitamin C also acts as a natural moisturizer and can incur wound-healing features by promoting keratinocyte differentiation, stimulating the formation of the epidermal barrier, and re-establishing the stratum corneum.2 Mainly, vitamin C has been attributed to improving discoloration and brightening skin, effectively reducing fine lines and wrinkles by inhibiting tyrosinase – an enzyme attributed to producing pigment in the skin.2 Dissenting claims have questioned the efficiency of vitamin C penetration. However, even at the epidermal level, it can, if formulated correctly, facilitate skin turnover to brighten the skin. Clients in their 20s can start a preventative skin care program and clients in their 30s or older can use vitamin C to see a gentle refining of the skin texture. Vitamin C will not directly address the needs of acne-prone clients.


The result of the breakdown of collagen creates different peptides, which are short sequences of variations of the 20-amino acid code that are the building blocks of all protein. Peptides send a “message” to the skin that it has lost collagen and needs to generate more. Therefore, synthetic peptides can be used to stimulate the production of collagen, making skin look younger and wrinkle-free, rebuilding the dermal matrix. Synthetic peptides were recently popularized in the cosmetic industry and are highly effective tools against pre-mature aging.3 While there are numerous peptides of various classes, each has a unique, defined role. Specific peptides possess the ability to mimic or prolong the effects of Botox treatments. Most peptides cannot penetrate the skin by themselves and, so, are conjugated to fatty acids through a process known as palmitoylation, which improves the penetration factor by tenfold.3 Effective peptide-based products possess incredible capabilities of promoting healing; reducing wrinkle intensity; and improving skin tone, texture, color, and softness, while boosting collagen production. Used in anti-aging products, peptides work on the client’s tone and fine lines. While peptides do not address acne or rosacea directly, they can assist with the redness and inflammation from acne scarring.


Since its debut in the 1960s, vitamin A has been the gold standard of the skin care industry. Derivatives of vitamin A are known as retinoids, which are prescription strength, and retinols, a less aggressive form are usually purchased over the counter.4 While vitamin A is a highly effective treatment for acne vulgaris, it is also an incredibly potent anti-aging treatment. Other derivatives of vitamin A, such as vitamin A propionate, accelerate the natural skin renewal cycle from 30 days to between 10 and 15 days, promoting cellular proliferation and collagen synthesis. Prolonged application of topical vitamin A derivatives have been demonstrated to increase dermal thickness and stimulate collagen production, significantly reducing facial wrinkles for a youthful complexion.5


In summary, vitamin C is an incredibly effective preventative because of its unique ability to scavenge free radicals. It is ideally a first line of defense against premature aging before and after visible signs occur, especially for younger individuals. Vitamin C can be combined with other ingredients, such as tea extracts, to amplify its beneficial effects and protect aging skin.1 However, vitamin C requires continuous use for optimal results. Peptides are known to be less aggressive than retinol products and are, therefore, the best anti-aging care for individuals with sensitive skin types or those who are new to anti-aging treatments. Moreover, they are highly versatile ingredients that can be combined with other ingredients. Vitamin A, on the other hand, continues to be the gold standard of the skin care industry due to powerful acne relief, anti-aging, and pre-conditioning for bleaching products. Adverse effects to the aggressive treatment of vitamin A include redness and irritation; therefore, each Fitzpatrick skin type must be acclimated and pre-conditioned before using the product. However, the results are worth the time spent prepping the skin. Discontinued treatments do not reverse the effects, but simply cause the aging process to begin again. Aside from the skin condition of each client, treatments can be incredibly effective, given the patience and dedication to a strategized regimen.

1 Goldfaden, G. (2009, May). Revitalizing Aging Skin with Topical Vitamin C. Life Extension Magazine.
2 Michels, A. J. (2011, September). Vitamin C and Skin Health. Linus Pauling Institute.
3 Lintner, K. (2007, October). Peptides, Amino Acids and Proteins in Skin Care? Cosmetrics & Toiletries, 122(10), 26-32.
4 Buchanan, P. J., et al. (2016). Retinoids: Literature Review and Suggested Algorithm for Use Prior to Facial Resurfacing Procedures. Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery, 9(3), 139–144.
5 Kong, R., et al. (2015). A comparative study of the effects of retinol and retinoic acid on histological, molecular, and clinical properties of human skin. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 15(1), 49-57.

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