The 3 Best Vitamin C Alternatives for Sensitive Skin

Let’s talk about the 3 Best Vitamin C alternatives for sensitive skin. Vitamin C offers major benefits like antioxidant boosts, collagen production, and adding brightness to skin. However,  it can sometimes cause redness, flushing, stinging,  and irritation, especially if you have dry skin or acne. So, in this blog, we’re sharing 3 alternatives to vitamin C. And yes, some say these work even better than vitamin C! But, before we get into the specifics, let’s talk about what vitamin C does. That way, we can better explain the nuances between vitamin C and its alternatives.

What are the benefits of vitamin C?

Vitamin C is brightening.

Vitamin C is a tyrosinase inhibitor. Tyrosinase is an enzyme that our skin naturally produces. It allows our skin to make pigment, but sometimes, pigment can be made unevenly. You’ll see this with things like hyperpigmentation and melasma. Fortunately, vitamin C hinders tyrosinase from working. In turn, it helps with evening the skin and decreasing dark spots. On top of that, vitamin C is an antioxidant. So, it protects the skin from free radicals, which are molecules in the air or the body that damage the skin. 

Vitamin C is necessary for collagen production.

Vitamin C is necessary for creating collagen, the strong stuff in our skin that makes it bouncy. Our bodies need vitamin C to complete the process of collagen production, but our bodies cannot make it on their own. That’s why vitamin C is necessary in our diets, and it’s a wonderful ingredient for skincare. 

So, what if you can’t use vitamin C. What are you supposed to do?

Fortunately, there are a couple of ingredients that work very well if not better than vitamin C. We’re going to get into the science of these three different ingredients, how they work, and how to put them in your routine.

Ubiquinone CoQ10

Ubiquinone is oil soluble whereas vitamin C or “L-ascorbic acid” is water soluble and more potent. Because it’s oil soluble, ubiquinone absorbs beautifully into the skin. Our skin has a fatty acid lipid barrier. This is called the acid mantle, and it is a protective layer of oil on your skin.

Ubiquinone dissolves in this oil and supports the skin. Furthermore, it decreases the activation of MMP (Matrix metalloproteinases). MMPs are enzymes that break down collagen, and likewise, they cause fine lines, wrinkles, etc. MMP enzymes speed up reactions by breaking things down. We don’t want MMPs to destroy our collagen so ubiquinone prevents this from happening. It also works alongside other ingredients to hydrate, plump, and protect the skin.

Ubiquinone is a superpower antioxidant. Similar to vitamin C, ubiquinone goes around looking for free radicals. Ubiquinone allows itself (instead of your skin) to be damaged by free radicals . 


Essence Toner from Glow Recipe Here - $38 

This toner contains ubiquinone, rice water, beta-glucans, glycerin, and cloudberry extract. Yes, the cloudberry extract contains vitamin C, but it’s a different form of vitamin C that is naturally found in the fruit. It’s not L-ascorbic acid, the type of vitamin C that can burn the skin.


Pycnogenol comes from pine trees, and it’s a very special ingredient. Cassandra’s favorite pycnogenol is the 5% pycnogenol from The Ordinary. It’s extracted from pine trees, and it's a water-free, oil-soluble formula. Pycnogenol is a super antioxidant, and it works very well.

Pycnogenol The Ordinary's Anhydrous Serum - $11.50


Urban&And Pine Moisture Morning Cream - $19.90

This moisturizer has pine extract, which naturally has pycnogenol. You can use this as an antioxidant serum, especially if you live in a polluted city. This can help scavenge free radicals on the skin and get rid of them. This does have an orange tinge, but once you can rub it in, it disappears.

This is a gel moisturizer whereas the one from The Ordinary is more of an oil serum. This cream layers so well with the Cloudberry Serum. It has amazing benefits like hydration and absorbability. This is a wonderful gel formula that gives your skin a nice, glassy glow. 

This is an excellent choice for dehydrated skin, especially because pycnogenol can be layered with so many other things, including hydrating serums and essences. Plus, it layers well underneath sunscreen. And because it’s an antioxidant, it boosts sunscreen too.

There have been comparative studies on pycnogenol and vitamin C, and some say that pycnogenol is an even more powerful antioxidant than vitamin C.  While pycnogenol is not known to increase collagen production,  pycnogenol has been shown to bind collagen and elastin. Pycnogenol prevents collagen from breaking down. So, whereas vitamin C creates new collagen, pycnogenol prevents it from breaking down.

This is why it’s such a great replacement or alternative to vitamin C.

Alpha Arbutin

Alpha arbutin actually comes from hydroquinone, but you need a prescription for hydroquinone. Hydroquinone helps with problems like pigmentation and melasma. You can also use it for dark under eyes due to pigment, fluid retention, or both. However, hydroquinone can cause rebound pigmentation, meaning it can cause pigmentation to come back worse. 

That’s where alpha arbutin comes in. It’s much more gentle. Alpha arbutin is fantastic because it has many of the same benefits as hydroquinone, but it’s much gentler on the skin. Alpha arbutin suppresses the production of melanin, and it is a great option for things like dark spots and dark eye circles as well. 


Alpha Arbutin Serum Inkey List - $13

Although alpha arbutin works great for uneven pigmentation, it does not influence collagen production the same way ubiquinone, pycnogenol, or vitamin C does. But, you can get amazing benefits from using alpha arbutin, especially when you use it alongside antioxidants, pycnogenol and CoQ10. For example, the three products below are a power trio.

  1. Essence Toner from Glow Recipe
  2. Alpha Arbutin The Ordinary Serum
  3. Urban&And Pine Moisture Morning Cream

Here are other recommendations for alpha arbutin products as well

Alpha Arbutin Serum Inkey List - $13 


Alpha Arbutin Beauty Of Joseon Serum

This is a great K beauty option.