Olay Vitamin C Serum and Moisturizer Review

When it comes to skincare that everyone should use, regardless of age, genetics, gender, skin type, or skin concerns, vitamin C usually comes to the top of the list. (The others in my book, for the record, are retinoids OR AHAs).

The benefits of vitamin C are widespread and well-established in the dermatological and cosmetic chemistry community. Vitamin C as L-ascorbic acid in topical skincare has been proven to do everything from reducing the appearance of sunspots to evening out skin tone to helping to boost collagen production and preventing UV-induced skin damage (Cosmetic Dermatology; British Journal of Dermatology; International Journal of Pharmaceutics).

However, there are many different derivatives of vitamin C. In that regard, the top-selling and most established vitamin C serum is the 15% L-ascorbic acid, 2% vitamin E, 0.5% ferulic acid serum from Skinceuticals, i.e., Skinceuticals CE Ferulic. With the patent on this expiring in the next few years, expect to see a lot of exact dupes in the future.

But in the meantime, there are a lot of vitamin C serums that use lower concentrations of vitamin C than 15%, higher concentrations of vitamin C (I’ve seen 20%), or different forms of vitamin C (more on that below), so as to not violate the patent, but still produce an effective product. Some also claim to penetrate the skin more deeply than L-ascorbic acid (like tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate serums), or to be more stable in the presence of light, heat, and air than L-ascorbic acid serums (nearly all of them; see below). But only 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid is about 5-7 times as potent as L-ascorbic acid, meaning you need less of it for similar effects (Cosmetics and Toiletries).

Olay Vitamin C Serum and Moisturizer Review

In that regard, the Olay Vitamin C + Peptide 24 Serum and Olay Vitamin C + Peptide 24 Moisturizer are superior products on the brick-and-mortar front. For a low price point typically available only in chiefly e-commerce brands, Olay includes a superior vitamin C derivative, 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid, as well as being expertly-formulated at a pH less than 4.5 (crucial for absorption of vitamin C into the skin). Unfortunately, it doesn’t list the concentration of vitamin C, so you have to guess from the 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid on the ingredients list that it’s about 8-10% per product. It also doesn’t include vitamin E or coenzyme Q10, which “reinforce” the power of vitamin C as an antioxidant in the skin. But, for the price and convenience, it’s really a solid option for skin brightening, tightening, and spot lightening! For more, read on!

Olay Vitamin C Serum and Moisturizer Review

Pro #1: 3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid is a Superior Vitamin C Derivative

There are currently 7 different commonly-used vitamin C derivatives in skincare. Listed/ranked here from my favorite (at the top) to my least-favorite (at the bottom):

  • L-ascorbic acid. The original form of vitamin C. Typically seen at concentrations of 15% and above in peer-reviewed studies. It has been shown to brighten, lighten, and tighten the skin with about 6-8 weeks of daily use. Although it’s unstable, it can be stabilized with ingredients like vitamin E and coenzyme Q10, as well as in microencapsulated or liposomal delivery systems (Cosmetic Dermatology). It’s important to note that ALL forms of vitamin C in skincare MUST be converted, at least in part, to L-ascorbic acid in order to be effective in the skin. Using it directly is still the gold standard in vitamin C skincare.
  • 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid. This is a new(ish) form of vitamin C, a vitamin C ester. The big advantages here are, first, that it’s more stable than L-ascorbic acid. And secondly, you need less 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid to produce effects than with other vitamin C derivatives – in fact, you only need about 2% of the ingredient. In one study, a solution containing just 2% 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid was found to improve skin whitening and radiance after just 28 days of twice-daily application (Cosmetics and Toiletries). That’s about the concentration I estimate in the Olay Vitamin C products. It’s also more stable than vitamin C as L-ascorbic acid.
  • Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate. Also known as THA amongst skincare fanatics. Some companies that use tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate cite research stating it is able to penetrate both the epidermis (the uppermost layer of skin) and dermis (the deepest layer of skin), whereas L-ascorbic acid is resigned to mostly the uppermost layers of skin. Still, no matter where it is in the skin, it must be converted to L-ascorbic acid in the skin to work – an inefficient process. It has less proven effects than L-ascorbic acid used directly.
  • Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate. More stable than ascorbyl palmitate and sodium ascorbyl palmitate see below) (Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis). You still need considerably more magnesium ascorbyl phosphate than L-ascorbic acid in a serum to induce the same effects, because 15% MAP is only a portion vitamin C, and then that needs to be acidified to form L-ascorbic acid to have maximized effects within the skin.
  • Ascorbyl glucosamine. On the one hand, combining vitamin C with glucosamine should mean greater skin brightening. On the other hand, it just doesn’t hold up: According to a study in Dermatology, 5% ascorbyl glucosamine was not as effective as 20% azelaic acid in lightening and brightening age spots. I personally only use ascorbyl glucosamine as a part of my regimen once I am using 15% or higher L-ascorbic acid first.
  • Sodium ascorbyl palmitate. An altered form of ascorbyl palmitate that is even more stable than ascorbyl palmitate. Viable in both oil-in-water and water-in-oil emulsions (International Journal of Pharmaceutics).
  • Ascorbyl palmitate. Like other vitamin C derivatives, ascorbyl palmitate is more stable than L-ascorbic acid (International Journal of Pharmaceutics). You need roughly 10-20 times as much ascorbyl palmitate to have the same effects as L-ascorbic acid on the skin, because half of the molecule is fatty acid to begin with, and then it still has to be converted to active L-ascorbic acid.
Olay Vitamin C Serum and Moisturizer Review

Pro #2: The pH of Both Products is Right-On, so the Vitamin C in Them is Actually Absorbed into the Skin

As mentioned above, I am skeptical of many forms of vitamin C, because they need to be formulated at a pH of 4.0 to 4.5 to be absorbed into the skin optimally (Journal of Biochemistry; Dermatologic Surgery). 

But, using an at-home pH strip kit, I found that the pH of both Olay Vitamin C + Peptide 24 Serum and Olay Vitamin C + Peptide 24 Moisturizer are about 4.0 – which means that it’s optimized, as far as pH goes, for delivery into the skin. Plus, the acidic ingredients like lactic acid also offer their own skin exfoliation-boosting and hydration effects.

Overall, this is a huge positive. Many of the vitamin C serums I’ve tried simply aren’t formulated at this pH level, which means you’re only getting a fraction of the benefits of vitamin C in your skincare. These products actually have it at the right pH level.

Olay Vitamin C Serum and Moisturizer Review

Pro #3: The Price is a Steal Compared to Many Other Vitamin C Serums, Especially Those in Brick-and-Mortar Stores

Both the Olay Vitamin C + Peptide 24 Serum and Moisturizer are retailing for about $30-35 MSRP at most locations. This supply should last for about 30 days, if you’re using it as the cosmetic chemists who designed it intended. Most of the time, when using a vitamin C serum, you want to use a quarter-size amount for the face and neck, and a pea size amount for the eye area.

What I see with some people when using a more pricey vitamin C serum or moisturizer is that they tend to use it sparingly. At $166 per ounce for Skinceuticals CE Ferulic — roughly six times the cost of the $35 per 1.3 ounces of Olay Vitamin C + Peptide 24 Serum – people sometimes are using the pricier serum too sparingly, not getting the full intended effects.

If you’re using a pricey vitamin C serum or moisturizer and aren’t going through a bottle or jar a month because of the cost, then, truth be told, you’re more likely to get results from using the full amount of Olay Vitamin C + Peptide 24 Serum and Moisturizer each day.

Con #1: There is No Vitamin E or Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) to Reinforce the Strength of the Vitamin C

Both vitamin E and coenzyme Q10 are known as “network antioxidants” with vitamin C – meaning, they work on the same antioxidant pathways as vitamin C. When vitamin C is exposed to pollutants, vitamin E and coenzyme Q10 can step in and reinforce vitamin C (Cosmetic Dermatology). For that reason, I really like using vitamin CE serums, or vitamin CE+Coenzyme Q10 serums, not just straight vitamin C serums.

That said, there are other benefits too. Vitamin E is naturally found within your skin, but the quality and quantity of the vitamin E produced decreases with age. Coenzyme Q-10 — also known as ubiquinone — is essential for the production of cells (Mayo Clinic). Coenzyme Q-10 levels are at their highest for the first 20 years of life and then subsequently decrease as we age. When applied to the skin, Coenzyme Q-10 has been shown to penetrate the skin layers and reduce oxidation, reduce wrinkles, and prevent UVA-irradiation damage (Biofactors). It’s antioxidant and coenzyme effects may also help prevent cell death. It’s often not found in skincare because it’s expensive and hard to formulate with, but it does have benefits when used together with vitamin C.

Olay Vitamin C Serum and Moisturizer Review

Con #2: It Doesn’t List the Concentration of Vitamin C as 3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid

This might be nitpicky, because 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid, the form of vitamin C used in Olay products, doesn’t require more than 2% in order to be effective within the skin.

However, I still wish Olay would list the concentration of 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid. Is it 2%? That’s cool, because then it’s at a concentration proven to work in peer-reviewed research. Is it 5%? That’s even cooler, and might be groundbreaking. (Time for Olay/Procter and Gamble to release some research there!)

Let’s face it, the people using Olay Vitamin C + Peptide 24 are partially casual skincare consumers perusing the shelves at Walgreens and Target, and then they’re also skincare fanatics – the kind of people who are going to intentionally choose 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid over other forms of vitamin C. Those people are going to want to know the concentration here, and I wish they would provide it for us.

Bottom Line

The 3 Things I Look for in a Vitamin C Serum:

  1. High concentration of vitamin C (15% or higher) or a derivative like 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid, like found in Olay products (check);
  2. Form of vitamin C that is proven to work in the skin (check);
  3. pH of the serum is 4.5 or less (check).

Personally, Olay Vitamin C+ Peptide 24 Serum and Moisturizer are great products in my book. While I’m still avidly using the Skinceuticals CE Ferulic serum, I’ve actually added the Olay Vitamin C + Peptide 24 Moisturizer between the serum and my sunscreen, and I love it. I think my skin looks like I’m wearing a primer, even when I’m not, and it also seems more even-toned, although I’m using a lot of products right now, so I can’t be sure it’s from this product. However, it’s a great product line and I’m happy to give it a 9/10 rating.

Ingredients in Olay Vitamin C + Peptide 24 Moisturizer

Water, Glycerin, Isohexadecane, Niacinamide, Dimethicone, Lactic Acid, Isopropyl Isostearate, Sodium Polyacryloyldimethyl Taurate, Stearyl Alcohol, 3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid*, Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-4**, Panthenol***, Sodium Lactate, Trehalose, Cetearyl Glucoside, Cetearyl Alcohol, Behenyl Alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol, Stearic Acid, Palmitic Acid, Dimethiconol, PEG-100 Stearate, Sodium Benzoate, Fragrance *Vitamin C **Peptide ***Pro-Vitamin B5.

Ingredients in Olay Vitamin C + Peptide 24 Serum

Water, Glycerin, Dimethicone, Niacinamide, Lactic Acid, Polyacrylate Crosspolymer-6, 3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid*, Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-4**, Panthenol***, Trehalose, PEG-11 Methyl Ether Dimethicone, Sodium Lactate, Sodium Benzoate, Fragrance, *Vitamin C, **Peptide, ***Pro-Vitamin B5

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