If you’ve been interested in skincare for longer than 5 minutes, chances are you’ll have heard of vitamin C. As a cosmetic ingredient, it stands firmly in the hall of fame alongside retinol, hyaluronic acid, AHA’s and salicylic acid. It is recommended by almost every skincare guru and beauty influencer around.

CBD, on the other hand, is somewhat struggling to wriggle its way out of the gimmick shell. Originally emerging on to the skincare scene as a trendy new extract from – gasp! – cannabis (what would our mothers think?!), CBD has managed to forge its place as a valid, valuable skincare ingredient. It’s proven itself. It’s worked hard to get to where it is today despite scepticism and misinformation. Despite it having notable and scientifically backed skincare properties, many big industry names still roll their eyes at CBD as if it were a fad ingredient.

But why compare the two at all?

There is a considerable amount of overlap between the benefits of Vitamin C and CBD in skincare.

To fully understand these overlaps and make a comparison, it’s important to understand exactly what these ingredients are. “Vitamin C” is a blanket term for a wide variety of chemical compounds that contain or are derivatives of ascorbic acid. Your ingredients list could contain magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, sodium ascorbate, calcium ascorbate, ascorbyl palmitate, sodium ascobyl phosphate or ascorbic acid, and all of these compounds will be called “vitamin c”. Some of these compounds are mineral salts or fat-soluble derivatives, and they’re all Vitamin C.

Once of the reasons why vitamin C is so popular in skincare is due to its association with health. If you’re feeling under the weather, vitamin C supplements are recommended to help fight off colds and boost the immune system. We’re encouraged to eat oranges, cherries and bell peppers due to their high vitamin C content. There’s an entire disease named after a lack of vitamin C – scurvy – for which the name is derived from ascorbic acid.

Due to this associating with fruits, vegetables and overall health, vitamin C is considered a “natural” skincare ingredient. If it’s in my glass of orange juice, it must be natural! However, it is important to know that whereas ascorbic acid does naturally occur in nature, the isolated chemical structures used in skincare are synthesized in a lab, often from GMO corn.

There are of course many fruit and vegetable extracts that are naturally high in vitamin C, but squeezing enough of them into a skincare product with the result being potent enough for the average consumer is nigh on impossible, so the synthetic isolated compound is the weapon of choice. This falls into a bigger discussion on the definition of natural in skincare, but that’s another kettle of fish we can approach on another day!

CBD on the other hand is only just starting to grow in favour within the general public. It doesn’t have the same level of notoriety as good ol’ vitamin C. It does, however, have far superior eco-credentials if using hemp-derived CBD.

Like any chemical compound (because yes, everything is made of chemicals!), CBD can be synthesised from some other organic compound, such as citrus terpenes. This process is lengthy and results in by-products that aren’t all that great for the environment, but there is another alternative in hemp-derived CBD.

CBD – or cannabidiol – is an organic phytocompound found abundantly in cannabis sativa plants. High concentrations of CBD can be extracted from raw plant material using extremely green methods such as CO2 extraction, which has zero waste by-product. The cultivation of industrial hemp is also fantastic for the environment. Hemp is known to absorb copious amount of CO2 from the atmosphere, drastically improve soil quality, and every single part of the plant can be used, from renewable construction materials to hemp seed protein and of course, a powerful skincare ingredient.

So what about their benefits in skincare? According to the European Commission’s Cosmetic Ingredient Database – CosIng for short – vitamin C (ascorbic acid) has the following functions in skincare:

CBD (cannabidiol) on the other hand has the following functions:

These are just the EU/UK’s “official” list of cosmetic benefits for these ingredients, but it seems a little limited. Taking a quick toe-dip into the world of skincare guru’s and you’ll find a wide range of benefits claimed for vitamin C, from collagen production to skin brightening, lightening dark spots, reducing puffiness and of course, its powerful antioxidant effects. Dermatologist Dr Patricia Wexler states that “Because of its antioxidant properties, vitamin C aids in your skin’s natural regeneration process, which helps your body repair damaged skin cells.”

This sounds amazing, right?

At the top of the official list of benefits, “Antioxidant” sits right at the top for vitamin C. It is often the first ingredient that comes to mind when we think of antioxidants, perhaps because of its long-standing associating with food and supplementation.

A large number of vitamin C’s benefits can be attributed to its antioxidant properties, such as its ability to fight free radicals to prevent premature aging.

However, scientific studies have shown CBD to be an “antioxidant more potent than ascorbate (Vitamin E) or tocopherol (Vitamin E)” (Hampson et al., 1998). If what you’re looking for is a potent antioxidant, then CBD is actually your best bet.

The other key benefit of vitamin C, and where it is drastically different to CBD, is its skin-brightening and resurfacing benefits. As its name suggests, ascorbic acid is highly acidic with a pH of less than or equal to 3. For reference, our skin’s pH sits at approximately 5.5.

Acids aren’t necessarily a bad thing for your skin, but vitamin C’s acidic nature, paired with the fact that it is most effective in formulas that have a pH of 2.6 – 3.2, means that using vitamin C daily is maybe not the best idea. Gurus and skincare experts will often recommend using a vitamin C serum daily, but the reality for many people with even slightly sensitive skin is that this will potentially cause some unpleasant irritation.

CBD offers oil and sebum regulation, making it an ideal ingredient for oily skin. This comes alongside some potent anti-inflammatory benefits making CBD a prime choice for people suffering with a variety of skin woes from painful breakouts to dry, cracked and itchy skin conditions. Slightly refined versions of CBD are hypoallergenic making it suitable for the most sensitive skin type, whilst being actively soothing.

If the benefits of vitamin C you’re most interested in are linked to its antioxidant properties, but you’re not so keen on its skin sensitising side effects, consider swapping our or part-supplementing with a CBD product.

The “madeleine de Proust” is a French classical literary reference that most French people are familiar with. The story goes that Marcel Proust bites into a madeleine cake, and the sensory experience – the smell, the taste, the texture – of eating his favourite childhood treat provokes an incredibly strong sense of nostalgia by which he is completely consumed. The term is used colloquially in French to refer to sensory experiences that promote overwhelming feelings of nostalgia. 

I am particularly sensitive to these “madeleine de Proust” moments, more so with certain specific smells. The scent released from crushing cypress berries and leaves between my fingertips instantly transports me back to the garden of my childhood home in Gloucestershire. I would spend hours roaming the garden that surrounded the house, and one of my favourite early childhood activities would be picking the berries off those trees (though I never was allowed to eat them!) This momentary dissociative nostalgic state is unbelievably calming, albeit a little bittersweet, as I still miss that house and that garden even now.

Other smells induce general feelings of wellbeing, even if I can’t quite pinpoint a specific associated event. Freshly cut grass, powdery lipstick, slightly over-boiled plum jam and home-made onion gravy to name a few. 

The strongest involuntary emotional responses come from scent. When developing our flagship products, I had to decide what I wanted to achieve from the scent of these products. ASCEND skincare will never contain any artificial fragrances, so I only considered essential oils, and specifically essential oils appropriate for skincare. Firstly, I considered the essential oils as skincare ingredients, with their scent being a secondary additional bonus.  

Our Caffeine + CBD Brightening Oil Serum was easy – there’s no fragrance at all. The CO2 extracted Arabica coffee oil has such a powerful coffee scent that there was no point in trying to hide it. The first time I tried it, I was transported back to the terraces of the cafés my peers and I used to spend our spare time in as 16-year-old espresso-drinking students living in France. The unapologetically bold aroma was perfect as it was, au naturel. 

A quaint view of a small French cities main square with coffee shops and people enjoying the atmosphere and smell of fresh coffee.

Our Phyto-Retinol + CBD Night Serum Concentrate posed slightly more of a challenge. The ingredients and botanical extracts are, as the product name suggests, concentrated. I have found that a general rule of thumb when formulating is that the more potent a vegetable oil is, the stronger it smells. If it has a dark or bold colour, it’ll smell. 

We had to mask some of the stronger smelling oils whilst creating a scent profile that encourages relaxation and sleep, whilst focussing on skincare benefits first and foremost. Chamomile was a clear choice, as it is very strongly scented and well-known for its skincare benefits and sedating properties. Vetiver is an excellent skincare ingredient and also helps to promote relaxation. These two combined did an excellent job of covering any strong-smelling oils without being sensitising, but still, something was missing.  

A beautiful detail shot of a cypress tree.

Our Rebalancing CBD Lustre Face Oil presented a challenge in the opposite sense. The formula is a combination of fairly neutral-smelling oils compared to our Night Concentrate. This left us with somewhat of a blank slate. Any combination of oils was effective at creating an attractive scent profile, but nothing felt “right”. 

I was stuck for months trying to figure out what the missing element was. After what felt like years of “formulators block”, I decided to take a different approach. 

How did I want these products to make people feel? How did I want them to make me feel? 

I found the answer in Proust’s madeleine. Not literally, of course, but in the exploration of scent-induced nostalgia.  

The crushed cypress berries at my childhood homemade in into the bottle of CBD Lustre Face Oil, and the final missing element? I had to travel a little further afield, look through old childhood memories and holidays hoping to find something that would take me on a journey.  

Close up of blooming frangipani flowers.

I have a lot of South-African roots. My father grew up there, I have South African aunties and cousins dotted all over the world. My grandparents lived there for about 30 years, and I remember going out to visit them throughout my childhood.

In their garden, there was a beautiful frangipani tree that smelt divine and flowered clusters of pristine yellow and white flowers in April. My mother, grandmother and I would pick these flowers, and I kept some to press to keep in my holiday journal. When I put my nose to a bottle of Frangipani flower absolute, I was back in Port Edward picking flowers at my grandmother’s house. 

I know that scent is a highly personal thing, and I don’t expect people to have the same nostalgic reactions when using ASCEND products. I do, however, feel grateful at the opportunity to share these little snippets of my life with people through these products. Perhaps I’ll even be lucky enough to provoke a “madeleine de Proust” moment for someone whose mother always drinks chamomile tea. 

How can we make the most of our skincare products when each item seemingly has a very specific use?

Concentrated oil serums are some of the most versatile beauty products available, with a variety of uses that doesn’t stop at skincare.

Here are 6 ways your oil serums can earn their place in your skincare hall of fame.

1. Lock in hydration

Plant oils act as natural occlusives on the skin, meaning they form a breathable protective barrier. This barrier prevents trans-epidermal water loss (skin dehydration) and can help to lock moisture into your skin. Use an oil serum 3-5 minutes after applying your regular moisturiser and you’ll notice the difference. Your skin will stay hydrated for longer as all that moisture will stay locked in your skin!

Remember, this protective barrier is breathable, so well-formulated oil serums won’t clog your pores (watch out for mineral oils such as paraffin and petrolatum though, as these WILL clog your pores and suffocate your skin.

Protection + extra hydration + no clogged pores? Yes please!

2. Prime for makeup

Botanical oil serums make excellent makeup primers, especially if you’re after a dewy, glass skin look.

The serum will allow your foundation to glide on a lot smoother, reducing the opportunity for micro-exfoliation from makeup tools that can lead to skin texture issues once your makeup’s in place.

The protective barrier formed by the serum will also help to prevent makeup particles from getting stuck in your pores, reducing the risk of breakouts and blackheads from your full-glam look.

3. Facial massage

Facial massage is a great way to stimulate the facial muscles, improving the skin’s tone. It improves circulation and oxygenates the skin, promotes lymphatic drainage (bye bye toxins!), plus, it feels amazing!

Whether you’re lucky enough to have someone on hand to massage your face, or whether you’re indulging in a bit of self-care with a self-facial massage, you can boost the benefits by using a potent botanical oil serum as your facial massage oil!

You don’t need to use a lot of product to get a good slip on the skin, and the massage will help the product to penetrate further into the skin.

4. Cuticle treatment

How do you apply your serums? One popular way is to place a few drops into the palm of the hand and apply gently with the fingers in a soft tapping motion.

Once you’ve applied your serum, use the leftover oil on your palm and rub it into your cuticles for a nourishing nail treatment! Over time your nails will become stronger and the cuticles will soften. Your hands will look and feel better too!

Our hands are our most valuable tools, so they deserve a little luxury TLC, don’t you think?

5. Split-end saviour

As our hair, skin and nails are essentially made up of the same protein building blocks, it makes sense that what’s good for your skin will also be beneficial to your hair!

This is very much the case with natural plant-based oil serums! Next time you apply your serum, add a few extra drops and rub into the tips of your hair that need the most love and attention. The vitamins and minerals present will help to strengthen the hair whilst the essential fatty acids will replenish whilst adding lustre and shine.

6. Brow growth treatment

Did you over-pluck your eyebrows in high school? You’re not alone. For years now since the bushier brow trend took over, we’ve been trying to find ways to boost our natural brow game.

Plant-based oils are a great way to help improve the health of your hair follicles and stimulate healthy hair growth. Try paying particular attention to your brow area next time you’re applying your serum, using light massage to stimulate the follicles.

This principle also works if you’re trying to grow a fuller, bushier beard!

Whether you’ve been looking to avoid animal by-products in your cosmetics and skincare for a while, or you’re fresh on the scene of vegan beauty, there are usually a few standout ingredients that you’ll know to avoid. Beeswax, honey and lanolin are some of more common and most well-known non-vegan skincare ingredients and can be easily avoided if you get a basic understanding of how to read cosmetic labels.

However, there are animal by-products hidden in manufacturing processes and raw materials that aren’t obvious at all, and often can’t be confirmed without the manufacturer confirming their ingredient origins.

Here are 8 common skincare ingredients to watch out for that might not be vegan.

A bundle of various tone eggs.

1. Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is used in a variety of formulas as a thickening and binding agent. There are different types of xanthan gum for producing either clear or opaque gels.

Clear xanthan gum is often processed using egg whites, so check with the manufacturer of your products if you’re wanting to be strict about avoiding any including of animal products in your cosmetics and skincare.

 

1. Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is used in a variety of formulas as a thickening and binding agent. There are different types of xanthan gum for producing either clear or opaque gels.

Clear xanthan gum is often processed using egg whites, so check with the manufacturer of your products if you’re wanting to be strict about avoiding any including of animal products in your cosmetics and skincare.

 

2. Emulsifiers

There are many different types of emulsifiers available on the market. They are processed from fatty acids and often sourced from inexpensive and abundant vegetable sources such as palm, rapeseed and coconut.

However, it is not uncommon to find emulsifiers that are made using animal fats. Tallow, derived from cow or sheep fat, is used to make harmless-sounding emulsifiers and texture agents such as cetearyl alcohol and glyceryl stearate. 

It’s impossible to tell just looking at your products’ ingredients lists whether the emulsifiers used in a cream or lotion are derived from animal or vegetable fats, so check with the manufacturer to make sure you’re not accidentally putting something on your skin you’d rather avoid!Did you know that keratin is most commonly made from pig hair? Cosmetic keratin seems glamorous but is in fact a slaughterhouse by-product.

 

Close up of a cow in a busy cow shed.

3. Lactic Acid

Lactic acid gives us a clue to its potential animal origins in its name. “Lactic” makes us think that lactic acid is derived from milk, and this is a stretched truth but not always the case.

Naturally-derived lactic acid is produced as a by-product of fermentation of different carbohydrates such as glucose, sucrose and lactose. Sometimes, the lactose used in the fermentation process will come from dairy products.

Companies should be able to tell you whether the lactic acid present in their formulas is derived from dairy, purely vegetable sources, or chemical synthesis.

 

3. Lactic Acid

Lactic acid gives us a clue to its potential animal origins in its name. “Lactic” makes us think that lactic acid is derived from milk, and this is a stretched truth but not always the case.

Naturally-derived lactic acid is produced as a by-product of fermentation of different carbohydrates such as glucose, sucrose and lactose. Sometimes, the lactose used in the fermentation process will come from dairy products.

Companies should be able to tell you whether the lactic acid present in their formulas is derived from dairy, purely vegetable sources, or chemical synthesis.

 

Close up of a rooster.

4. Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is often touted as a “vegan alternative” to moisturising agents such as lanolin. 

A little known industry secret is that a lot of hyaluronic acid on the market is sourced from rooster combs! Roosters have less economic value than hens, so sourcing the expensive active ingredient is a way to make them more financially “viable”.

Hyaluronic acid can also be produced by bacterial fermentation, but it’s always safe to check to make sure you’re not inadvertedtly using poultry-derived ingredients.

4. Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is often touted as a “vegan alternative” to moisturising agents such as lanolin. 

A little known industry secret is that a lot of hyaluronic acid on the market is sourced from rooster combs! Roosters have less economic value than hens, so sourcing the expensive active ingredient is a way to make them more financially “viable”.

Hyaluronic acid can also be produced by bacterial fermentation, but it’s always safe to check to make sure you’re not inadvertedtly using poultry-derived ingredients.

Happy pigs in a muddy peg pen.

Did you know that keratin is most commonly made from pig hair? Cosmetic keratin seems glamorous but is in fact a slaughterhouse by-product.

5. Keratin

One of the most common animal-derived ingredients in the beauty industry is keratin. Present in a variety of products from shampoos to skin-strengthening creams, keratin helps to rebuild and support the bonds of our skin and hair.

More brands are cottoning on to the less-than-luxurious origins of one of the beauty industry’s favourite ingredients, opting instead to use “photo-keratin” or “vegetable keratin” in their formulas, which is instead derived from wheat, soy and corn proteins.

As a rule of thumb, if you see “keratin” in your ingredients list, it’s come from a slaughterhouse. Vegan beauty enthusiasts should look out for formulas containing “hydrolyzed wheat protein” or similar ingredients instead.

 

5. Keratin

One of the most common animal-derived ingredients in the beauty industry is keratin. Present in a variety of products from shampoos to skin-strengthening creams, keratin helps to rebuild and support the bonds of our skin and hair.

Did you know that keratin is most commonly made from pig hair? Cosmetic keratin seems glamorous but is in fact a slaughterhouse by-product.

More brands are cottoning on to the less-than-luxurious origins of one of the beauty industry’s favourite ingredients, opting instead to use “photo-keratin” or “vegetable keratin” in their formulas, which is instead derived from wheat, soy and corn proteins.

As a rule of thumb, if you see “keratin” in your ingredients list, it’s come from a slaughterhouse. Vegan beauty enthusiasts should look out for formulas containing “hydrolyzed wheat protein” or similar ingredients instead.

 

6. Squalane

This falls more under the domain of “morbid fun facts”, as it’s actually quite difficult to source non-vegan squalane in the UK. Squalane helps to balance the skin’s moisture levels without blocking pores due to its chemical similarity to the skin’s own natural oil, sebum.

Historically, squalane has been extracted from shark livers (ew!), but most commonly now it is derived from olives.

7. Glycerine

Glycerine, like many cosmetic emulsifiers, can be derived from either vegetable oils or animal fats. Again, it is impossible to know just by looking at the label whether the glycerine in a product is vegan-friendly, so make sure you check in with the manufacturer to make sure.

Horse and cow in a field.

8. Collagen

Like keratin, collagen is a beauty industry buzzword. Decreasing levels of collagen is one of the main factors in visible signs of ageing such as fine lines, wrinkles, and loss of skin elasticity.

Brands will infuse their products with collagen to boost the skin’s collagen content and temporarily improve the appearance of these signs of aging. 

Collagen is also a slaughterhouse by-product, sourced from the ligaments and connective tissue of cows, horses, pigs and rabbits.

Plants don’t contain collagen, so for a vegan collagen boost, look for botanical collagen-boosting extracts like faex, rosehip and sea buckthorn.

8. Collagen

Like keratin, collagen is a beauty industry buzzword. Decreasing levels of collagen is one of the main factors in visible signs of ageing such as fine lines, wrinkles, and loss of skin elasticity.

Brands will infuse their products with collagen to boost the skin’s collagen content and temporarily improve the appearance of these signs of aging. 

Collagen is also a slaughterhouse by-product, sourced from the ligaments and connective tissue of cows, horses, pigs and rabbits.

Plants don’t contain collagen, so for a vegan collagen boost, look for botanical collagen-boosting extracts like faex, rosehip and sea buckthorn.

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Myth: CBD is another gimmick ingredient that has no skincare benefits

CBD is a potent antioxidant, meaning it can help to fight off free-radical damage caused by pollution, smoking, alcohol, exposure to chemicals, or your body’s own natural metabolic processes. Skin damage caused by free-radicals is an important factor in premature signs of ageing such as fine lines and wrinkles.

Specifically in skincare, CBD and hemp are known to help balance overly-oily skin by regulating the skin’s production of its natural oil, sebum. For skin that suffers from feeling greasy, with clogged pores and prone to blemishes, CBD could be the all-natural solution that can help to achieve balance without stripping your skin. This is particularly beneficial if, like many, you have a combination of oily and sensitive skin, where the use of acids to help control oil production is just too harsh for your skin.

Discover the ASCEND range and see how CBD skincare can work for you!

Myth: Crystal isolate is better because CBD oil is full of impurities

Cannabis Sativa Plant close up of buds.
CBD is a relatively new ingredient in mainstream skincare formulas. It can be difficult at times to know the difference between the different types of CBD available and figure out for ourselves what is marketing, and what is science.

The most common type of CBD you’ll find is isolated CBD. This is often referred to as “Pure Crystal CBD”, and claimed to be better for skincare as it contains nothing other than the isolated CBD molecule. Sometimes this isolated CBD is manufactured totally synthetically in a lab, despite the fact that the compound in found in abundance in industrial hemp.

CBD is a relatively new ingredient in mainstream skincare formulas. It can be difficult at times to know the difference between the different types of CBD available and figure out for ourselves what is marketing, and what is science.

The most common type of CBD you’ll find is isolated CBD. This is often referred to as “Pure Crystal CBD”, and claimed to be better for skincare as it contains nothing other than the isolated CBD molecule. Sometimes this isolated CBD is manufactured totally synthetically in a lab, despite the fact that the compound in found in abundance in industrial hemp.

“CBD Oil” is simply a mix of CBD molecules suspended in a vegetable oil, such as hemp seed oil. These oils can either contain isolated CBD or full-spectrum extracts. 

Crystal isolate CBD is the ultra-purified crystal form of the CBD molecule that is, as the name suggests, isolated from any other cannabinoids and terpenes that would otherwise be naturally present in cannabis extracts. It has many of the same benefits as non-purified extracts and is suitable for a wide range of cosmetic and topical applications.

“Full-Spectrum” extracts contain CBD as well as an abundance of other beneficial cannabinoids and terpenes that are extracted alongside CBD. These should not be seen as “impurities”, but as complementary botanical compounds that work synergistically with the key CBD molecule. Some companies will choose to strip out these compounds for a variety of reasons. We choose not to, so that we can present our extracts as nature intended.

The CBD extracts we use are grown and extracted in Europe, and undergo rigorous third-party testing to make sure they meet our quality standards.

Myth: there's no CBD in here at all!

The CBD industry has often struggled with transparency, especially since some supplements from reputable Highstreet stores were found to contain either extremely low levels of CBD, or illegally high levels of THC, the cannabinoid responsible for the psychoactive effects associated with cannabis. In skincare, consumers can often struggle to compare products effectively as many brands refuse to disclose how much CBD is actually in their products.

We want to try and improve the standards and encourage consumers to demand transparency. Every single batch of ASCEND skincare products is tested to make sure that the amount of CBD you pay for is the amount that you receive. In fact, we purposely understate how much CBD is in each bottle, just to be on the safe side.

How can you be sure of this?

We have every individual batch of ASCEND products tested by third-party laboratories. Using precise gas chromatography techniques they are able to measure how much CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids are present in the exact product you’ve received. This is called a Certificate of Analysis (COA) and is something we provide as standard. You can find this COA and much more product information listed by batch number on our product pages.

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