Milky Dress Vita C+ Powder Review & It's Time to Get Nerdy About Vitamin C

I'm a fan of acid.  For someone who used to view chemical exfoliants with fear and distrust, I've certainly done a complete about-face on the subject; if I was at a cosmetics convention and you slid up to me whispering "Pssst hey Snow, I've got a new form of BHA derived from a kind of tree in northern steppes of Europe, and it's got twice the efficacy with half the irritation of Salicylic acid.  It's the coolest thing to happen since Mandelic changed AHAs.  It's under this trench coat, meet me outside if you wanna see it." I very well might blithely follow you, excitedly chattering about whether it's also pH dependent and whether it's commercially available yet, trench coat notwithstanding.

In addition to having AHA (Alpha hydroxy acid) and BHA (Beta hydroxy acid) in the "actives" category of my Skincare Wardrobe, I also have in my stable of acids a form of Vitamin C, called L-AA (L-ascorbic acid) and if you're a skincare fan, you've probably heard of the anti-aging powers of Vitamin C.  You've probably heard of the ridiculous $160+ price tag of some serums and expensive creams, the warnings to keep them away from light, air, and heat, making them difficult to use and prone to spoilage.

The version I use is a tenth of that cost, but it's just as annoying to use-- shuttling back and forth to the fridge, decanting small portions into other bottles, forgetting to use it for days on end because I do both my AM and PM routines half asleep, it's all aggravating.  It's tempting to latch onto other forms of Vitamin C which promise to provide the same effects but in stable formulations that won't have you pondering a mini-fridge for your skincare.  Lured by a demonstration on Korean beauty show Get It Beauty, I snatched up this powdered Vitamin C (SAP, aka Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate), amazed at how convenient it looked.  A powder that could be mixed into any, yes any, current skincare product without worrying about pH dependency, wait times, or oxidization?  Yes please!  Get in my cart!

Except that it sucked.

Milky Dress Vita C+ Powder and Korean beauty product serum
On the left, the watery serum in which I mixed the powder, and on the right is said powder displayed on the spatula.
(By the way, if you are wondering what that gorgeous bottle is, you can read more about it here: The Bottle That Stole My Heart: Sooryehan Hyo Biyeon Concentrated Brightening Essence Review.)

In this post:

  • Product Details
  • What's the fuss about Vitamin C?
  • What I'd rather use instead

Like many things that seem too good to be true, this powder was highly disappointing although I'll freely admit that it may work really well for others.  Sadly I wasn't able to test it's long-term hyperpigmentation fading abilities vs a traditional L-AA serum, and while I certainly quickly formed an (irate) opinion on the product,  I felt so grumpy toward it that I wasn't ready to devote the time to research it properly.  Now that I've spent several nights squinting at PDFs and getting cockblocked by paywalls, I'm ready to get this off my to-do list.

Just as a quick reminder: this blog uses both affiliate and non-affiliate links, and if you choose to click the fomer before you shop, your purchase may contribute a tiny amount to the maintenance of this blog. See full details at the end of this post! #receipts

Product details

Full product name: Milky Dress Vita C+ Powder
Purpose: A stable, non-pH-dependent, powdered form of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) that can be mixed into other skincare.
Scent: It's a finely milled powder, so I held my breath while the jar was open so I didn't end up with an impromptu single test subject experiment on the effects of absorbing ascorbic acid through the lungs.
Texture: Very powdery powder (heh), like powdered sugar.  Don't spill it, or take it with you on flights unless you want to get reeeeaaal friendly with the TSA.
Quantity: 5g, but the powder is so lightweight that it's more than you might think.
Rating:  2/5, it gets an extra pity star for being an interesting concept.
Price:  Around $8-20, depending if you get it directly from Korea.
Where to get it: Amazon | eBay | Jolse  | KoreaDepart | TesterKorea
Repurchase:  I literally pawned this off on as many friends as would take decants of it, just to get it off my hands.

Why?  Because even when added to my most watery serums, it was a sticky mess to use and clogged my skin, causing new breakouts.  This is why I never got to test the long-term hyperpigmentation fading benefits, because it was causing new acne at a rapid rate and I pulled the eject cord by the end of the week.  It might work well for someone who doesn't have clog-prone skin + cannot tolerate the slight sting of a low pH L-AA serum, but it's a hard pass for me.

Plus, after chatting with cosmetic chemist Stephen Alain Ko of kindofstephen.com and biochem nerd and skincare formulator Chel of Holysnails on the various forms of Vitamin C, I'm not all that convinced that SAP (the kind in this powder) is up to par with L-AA, despite L-AA being notoriously unstable.  I wasn't able to find much in the way of studies supporting it, other than a few which Ko advised had problematic testing methods, or control groups that had better results than the active group!

Frustrated by my lack of results, I reached out to Michelle, the chemist and blogger at Labmuffin, and she linked me to an abstract that suggests that MAP is a stronger contender for L-AA's anti-aging throne, at least on the collagen-building front.  In Regulation of collagen synthesis in human dermal fibroblasts by the sodium and magnesium salts of ascorbyl-2-phosphate, Geesin writes: "The magnesium salt of ascorbyl-2-phosphate was found to be equivalent to ascorbic acid in stimulating collagen synthesis in these assays, while the sodium salt required at least a tenfold greater concentration to produce the same effect as ascorbic acid."[1] Ten times the concentration of SAP to match L-AA's effect!

Vitamin C has a whole host of benefits for the skin, tackling wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and elasticity[2] and in addition to stimulating collagen production and inhibiting melanin production in damaged areas, it also has a protective effect against future damage by neutralizing what causes skin aging in the first place-- not gravity, but sun exposure.  Neat!

 Ready to get nerdy and possibly NSFW?  I'm going to try to avoid it, but no promises.  Huzzah, I managed to find a worksafe analogy!

References:
1. Geesin JC, Regulation of collagen synthesis in human dermal fibroblasts by the sodium and magnesium salts of ascorbyl-2-phosphate, Skin Pharmacology : the Official Journal of the Skin Pharmacology Society 1993, [link] 
2. Traikovich SS. Use of Topical Ascorbic Acid and Its Effects on Photodamaged Skin Topography, Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1999, [link]

What's the fuss about Vitamin C?

You've probably heard about free radicals, and how they're attempting to kill you with you own cells.  (Yes, that was a hyperbolic cancer reference.  What can I say, cancer is terrifying.)  You have probably heard that antioxidants help fight free radicals, but like many people who are weary from being deluged with clickbaity news articles pronouncing an assortment of conflicting messages, your understanding may be limited to things like "eat dark leafy greens" and "blueberries and pomegranates are good for you" and possibly "bacon is a carcinogen" which means you guiltily have a spinach salad for lunch after eating bacon at breakfast.  I am one of those people; my understanding of free radicals went no further than reading a book on omega fatty acids and free radicals as a young teenager in the mid-90's while working a summer job at a health food store.

So, to make this less boring to read, I'm going to use an analogy.  Imagine that there's a kid with a snack in one hand and a drink in the other.  He's balanced, with all his needs met.   A bully wearing a t-shirt that says "UV Radiation 4 Ever!" comes up and smacks the snack out of the kid's hand.  The kid still has his drink, but now he's hangry and about to go off on a tantrum.  Thankfully, Vitamin C is nearby with spare snacks, and promptly plops a fresh snack into the kid's hand before his first wail has gained top volume.  Normally, the kid (molecule) would go looking for someone else who still has their snack (2nd electron) and steal theirs, potentially setting off a chain reaction that has bad consequences for your playground (cell) but through the generosity and preparedness of Vitamin C, no damage was done, and the bully's (UV's) actions have had no lasting effect.

This is, to my understanding, how Vitamin C is photoprotective; although it doesn't prevent the UV from penetrating into the deeper layers of the skin (that's what sunscreen is for, mostly), it does stand by with spare electrons ready to be donated to molecules who have non-consensually lost one of theirs via UV damage, thus negating the chain reaction of damage to the cell: "When the skin is exposed to UV light, ROS such as the superoxide ion, peroxide and singlet oxygen are generated. Vit. C protects the skin from oxidative stress by sequentially donating electrons to neutralize the free radicals."[Telang, 20133]

After reading up on it, I realized this is why I often see descriptions of Vitamin C's 'synergy' with sunscreen, or that it 'boosts' the effect.  Sunscreen attempts to filter out the UV from reaching the lower layers of the skin in the first place, and Vitamin C helps to neutralize the UV that managed to sneak through.  Vitamin C is not an alternative to sunscreen.  It can give you a sustained photoprotective effect though, which was interesting: "The half-life in the skin after achieving maximum concentration is 4 days."[4] with a maximum efficiency at a concentration of 20%.   It also mentions building up a "persistent reservoir" in skin tissue via regular application of Vitamin C for photoprotection to be effective, as UV exposure depletes the stored Vitamin C.   It also recommended that application of Vitamin C be after the sun exposure, not before, to replenish the tissue reservoir of Vitamin C lost to the UV fight.

The ways in which free radicals and UV damages the skin is a bigger topic than can be cheekily summarized in a blog post that's ostentatiously a review about a specific product, so let's leave it at that.

References:
3, 4. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology, Indian Dermatol Online J. 2013, [link]   

What I'd rather use instead

So here's the deal-- while L-AA is a pain to use, part of what makes it so effective is the fact that it's so reactive.  It's like a helicopter mom hovering nearby with snack electrons in case you need one; it's not a sustainable state-- sooner or later those snacks are going to be eaten, or they'll go cold, or mom will get tired of lurking in your doorway and tell you there's leftovers in the fridge if you get hungry later.

If you're looking for something with the most antioxidant punch, that's going to be L-AA.  There are other forms out there that are more stable, such as MAP (Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate) or THDA (Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate) but there's always a trade-off, in concentration, formulation, rate of delivery into the skin, etc.  As I mentioned earlier, there was very limited information available on the effectiveness of SAP, and that while it's a stable form before application, the few studies I found mentioned that it has to undergo a reaction within the skin to become effective, which was discussed by Ko in his post: Anhydrous Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) Serum (my emphasis):
There are many compounds made from ascorbic acid that are designed to keep the antioxidant more stable. However many of these compounds haven’t been shown to act the same way as ascorbic acid or penetrate the skin. As well, enzymes in the skin are required to convert these compounds back into ascorbic acid, and there is little evidence to show that this occurs to a large extent.
So, even without the clogging issue of the Milky Dress powder, it looks like my old faithful OST C20 is still the way to go (at least for me) although it certainly has flaws in its formulation, as Chel detailed in her post: A Rant on OST's C20 and C21.5 Serums, and Some Thinky Thoughts on Vitamin C.  Skinceuticals, of the $160+ L-AA serum fame, has cornered the market (literally, with a patent) on L-AA serums with stabilizing sidekicks Ferulic acid and Vitamin E, at the pH necessary for L-AA to do it's thing.  (You can read more about using pH dependent products here.)

Holysnails Vita Sea, OST C20 Vitamin C
Image from: What's In My Skincare Wardrobe: Actives (Prescriptions, Antioxidants, and Acids) Edition
So, although your options for an affordable sidekick-stabilized L-AA might be limited, you can absolutely make it yourself (although you can't sell it due the patent) which is how Chel got her start into the madcap world of cosmetic formulation.  If you have the patience, time, and willingness to be really neurotic about sanitation, you can DIY a sparkling fresh bottle of L-AA serum whenever you need.  As for me, I'm far too lazy for all that ... cleaning and sterilizing and cleaning and measuring and cleaning and testing and cleaning and then cleaning.  I can't quite recall the last time I cleaned my bathroom counter; I have no business mixing up skincare in my house.

At $15 a bottle, I'd rather just pick up a bottle of OST C20 and not cry salty tears over it oxidizing if I've spaced out and left it on my bathroom counter one too many times.  The C20 pictured above is my third empty bottle, and if I wasn't currently on a mega prescription of azelaic acid and tretinoin ... wait a second, I'm technically not on said prescription right now for "photosensitization in the summer" reasons, and since Vitamin C is photoprotective and would boost the efficacy of my sunscreen, I think I'm going to snap myself up a fourth bottle of this for the sunny summer months.

Where to get OST C20 Vitamin C Serum: Amazon | eBay | Jolse | KoreaDepart

Have you experimented with non-L-AA forms of Vitamin C?  Hit me up on Facebook or Twitter and let me know!

Have something you'd like to share with me in general?  Snap a pic and tag me on Instagram at @snowwhiteandtheasianpear because I'd love to see it!

All the best,
-Cat

**Disclaimer: All products reviewed/mentioned in my blog, are 100% purchased with my own money, with a single exception of a press sample I tested & reviewed in 2015 which swore me off of them forever.  This blog contains both affiliate and non-affiliate links, and clicking the former before you shop means that this blog may receive a small commission to assist in this blog supporting itself.  Please see my Contact Info & Disclaimer policy for more information.

33 comments

  1. What do you think of the timeless C+E+FE serum? Word was they got around the Skinceuticals patent by formulating at pH 2.4!

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    1. I do believe the Skinceuticals one has a pH specification in their patent so that would make sense if they did, but dang that's low. My oxidized, irritating, orange-y OST C20 was that low, so I wonder how harsh it is to use.

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    2. I can speak to the Timeless serum! I switched to the Timeless serum after using OST 21.5 for 6 months. For reference, I have fairly resilient oily skin, and use a AHA+BHA+VitC nightly. I found the Timeless serum to make me slightly more prone to mild overexfoliation, so I've had to take a day or two off every couple weeks. However, it is much less sticky, and I haven't experienced any tingling or burning with it. I've been very happy with the hyper-pigmentation fading effects as well! I'm not switching back to OST, and I really do suggest giving it a test - it's so cheap, and you should know with a patch test whether your skin hates it.

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  2. Glad you reviewed this! I was ready to put this in my cart. I'm curious too about the Timeless serum, but also about the Melano CC essence. SO far I've used the C20 serum with good results, can't complaint about it, since it lasts a lot keeping it in the fridge.

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    1. Glad it was helpful! I think if you can find things that are at all good concentration and a good pH, no reason not to explore different things to find ou what works for you. :) I do know of people who liked the Milky Dress more than the OST, so it all comes back to YMMV, eh? That YMMV ... always has to have the last word, heh. ;)

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  3. I currently use a similar product, the philosophy turbo booster c powder, which is an 99.8% ascorbic acid powder, and I love it. I find application messy and inconvenient, but the results are great. My skin is legitimately glowing the next day and no clogging! It is super sticky, though, but so is the C20 serum. I can't totally prove it, but I also got the feeling so far that in powder form, the ascorbic acid seems more stable. At least, it hasn't turnt orange or shown any other signs of oxidizing yet. Then again, I have no idea what it looked like if the powder oxidized.

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    1. That's awesome that it's working for you! It's too bad that I wasn't able to use this one long-term to judge how effective it was, because it would have been a great experiment. :)

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  4. Thank you so much for this review and VERY informative post. I love your blog for both its information-dense writing and its very accurate and entertaining analogies. :)

    You mention Skinceuticals having the patent on "L-AA serums with stabilizing sidekicks Ferulic acid and Vitamin E" - which surprised me. I was under the impression that my Timeless 20% Vitamin C + E Ferulic Acid Serum had that combo. (Not sure if it's ok to link to the Timeless product, but I can if needed.) Do you know if in fact the Timeless has the same benefits as the Skinceuticals?

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    1. IIRC it's the pH that's the important part, because the Skinceuticals one has a pH component of their patent and the Timeliness is just shy of that at 2.4?

      I'm glad that it was informational *and* entertaining ;)

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  5. that play ground description really improved my understanding of how vitamin c works. awesome post as always

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    1. Sometimes free radicals just need a time-out and a snack, eh? ;)

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  6. Great post! Sometimes skincare is really confusing... so it's nice to see some sunshine (ha!) shined on the subject of Vitamin C.

    Wondering about your thoughts on Niod's vitamin C serum?

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    1. I'm not familiar with it, but any L-AA Vit C serum should have a good concentration and a good pH. :)

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  7. How much do I love your thorough and well played analogies (dirty and/or clean - I'll take them all!). Your blog spoils me - like high-maintenance sugar-daddy spoiling... in the same manner I get hulk-angry at blogs that spout fluff and crap and tout it as being 'science.'

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    1. Haha, glad to hear it because I'll control my urge to create analogies when I'm dead at this rate!

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  8. Thank you for the very informative blog!!
    In regards to vitamin c serum, if I am using a treatment essence, which should be apples first?

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    1. Is it an L-AA vitamin C serum that is pH dependent? If so, check this post out for details on what order to put things in: http://www.snowwhiteandtheasianpear.com/2015/01/skincare-discovery-putting-your.html

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  9. Have you tried HABA's brightening products? Their VC lotion and White Lady have SAP in them, and their whitening squalene has the oil soluble version (forgot the name, sorry!). I haven't tried it yet since I'm still working through what I have now. I read somewhere SAP is better for acne and MAP is better for anti-aging, but I'm not sure how accurate that is.

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    1. I have not, but I think MAP is the next thing I'd try if I was going to stray from L-AA, since SAP was a bust for me.

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  10. This post had me in fits of giggles "but it's just as annoying to use-- shuttling back and forth to the fridge, decanting small portions into other bottles" - story of my life! ;)

    Have you tried the Drunk Elephant C Firma Day Serum? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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    1. Right? So inconvenient to use. I haven't used Drink Elephant, but I know blogger The Beauty Imprint uses their products. :)

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  11. If I am using a vitamin c serum and a treatment essence (SK-II or Missha), which should I apply first?

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    1. Hi Judy,

      It really depends on whether your Vit C is an L-AA and therefore pH dependent or not. If it is, I recommend checking out this post as it will answer the question about the Vitamin C and the First Essence, complete with visuals! http://www.snowwhiteandtheasianpear.com/2016/05/k-beauty-on-amazon-rebuilding-15-step.html

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  12. I just wanted to say how appreciative I am of your INCREDIBLE blog! I'm in somewhat the same boat...a skincare nerd with a lifelong acne affliction who is slowly falling deeper down the science and chemistry hole (which is hilarious, because i had to beg-borrow-and-steal my way through science class in high school, much to the chagrin of my mother in the medical industry, buuuut I digress) — and every time I go to learn about a new topic, you've already written an incredibly informative post about the exact subject and answered all of my questions! It takes me hours of scouring the rest of the internet to feel as informed as I do after reading just one of your posts. Thank you for this amazing resource!

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    1. Aww, thank you! I also had no idea I would end up being so transfixed by the chemistry of skincare after suffering through math and sciences in high school, haha!

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  13. I can't find the Sooryehan Hyo Biyeon Concentrated Brightening Essence anywhere. :( That bottle is glorious.

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    1. So, I went off on a hunt for you, digging through the Hwahae app and then Naver, and saw a notice that it was out of stock/discontinued. Whether this means it's actually discontinued or just OOS is hard to say, because there's been a pattern of shops and brands calling things 'discontinued' when in fact they're just out of stock or delayed production.

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  14. Have you tried the AA-2G form? I found it relatively effective.

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  15. Hi Cat,
    Have you tried the Let's Cure C-Ster High Performance Powder (what a long name) yet? It is 100% Ascorbic Acid. I also heard that the vitamin C powder from Philosophy is very popular too.

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  16. I see ascorbic acid listed as "L-ascorbic acid" and also just "ascorbic acid", are they one and the same?

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    1. In terms of products, you mean? I would err on the side of caution, because while L-AA is a form of ascorbic acid, not all ascorbic acid is L-AA. :)

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  17. Hi! This is a fabulous post! Question though, (I tried to find the answer on my own but failed), do you know anything about the Klairs Vitamin C Serum?

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