Carbomer Chemistry: Putting the C in Vitamin C

Nutritional OutlookNutritional Outlook Vol. 27 No. 4
Volume 27
Issue 4

The value of optimizing vitamin C with carbomers to create sustained release formulations.

 Photo ©

Photo ©

Over half of consumers in the USA1 take dietary supplements for improved health. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, immune support supplements were further thrust into the limelight. This increasing market interest following the pandemic, combined with the rise of wellness culture, means that consumers are taking a closer look at preventative measures that can guard against illness. In fact, according to FMCG Gurus’ Top 10 Trends for 2024 report,2 consumers are prioritizing prevention over cure and are looking for ways to improve their overall well-being, even in the absence of symptoms.

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a popular supplement that supports immune cell growth and repair. The water-soluble vitamin is not produced by the body and can only be obtained through ingestion. As the vitamin C market grows, formulators must consider consumers’ lifestyle and health needs holistically to differentiate their nutraceutical products in a crowded market. In order to be successful, this requires navigating common challenges vitamin C poses, such as poor stability and gastrointestinal irritation.

Combining vitamin C with sustained-release excipients or modifying the delivery system through particle engineering are key tactics formulators can employ to optimize formulations and differentiate products within the market.

Navigating a sea of vitamin C

In the competitive landscape of vitamin C supplements, nutraceutical companies should focus on customer-centric solutions to entice discerning consumers. Another factor that nutraceutical companies need to address to differentiate themselves from the crowd is a growing skepticism toward claims made by the health industry, which are sometimes seen as sensationalized to justify premium prices. In response, brands must go beyond simply listing the potential benefits of their nutraceuticals and back up claims with clinical studies to win over customer confidence.

A need for trust is another key trend. Consumers prefer 100% natural products that contain trusted ingredients, such as vitamins and minerals, and are proven to be highly effective. To establish credibility and connect with their target audience, supplement manufacturers must introduce products with recognizable, scientifically backed ingredients and excipients that ensure proper absorption. Another aspect of building trust is transparency. This entails making the nutritional information understandable without using excessive scientific jargon.

Finally, to connect with customers and differentiate themselves within the sea of competition, nutraceutical companies should focus on the science, providing high quality, consumer-focused products with efficient absorption and reduced side-effects.

Addressing formulation challenges

While the body’s immune system can be strengthened by vitamin C, there are challenges associated with the compound that must be addressed during the formulation stage. For example, the stability of vitamin C can be greatly impacted by environmental factors such as heat, light, and oxidation, leading to degradation during production or storage. Stability issues can lead formulators to increase dosages to make up for losses due to degradation. However, high doses of vitamin C can cause gastrointestinal issues.

Currently, there are a number of solutions on the market that help to stabilize vitamin C. These focus primarily on protecting vitamin C from degradation, and provide a prolonged, slow-release effect to avoid irritating the digestive tract.

Optimizing vitamin C formulations

Particle engineering is one approach to optimize formulations, tackling the stability challenge posed by vitamin C by employing delivery systems that will protect the compound. These approaches, including liposomes, microcapsules, chelates, and nanolipid carriers, work by coating the vitamin C with materials such as fats, lecithin, or maltodextrin to shield vitamin C from oxidation, providing stability and ensuring the vitamin C is released in the correct part of the digestive tract.

For example, microencapsulation methods work by enclosing the bioactive compound within small capsules that have a water-dispersible coating. These capsules safeguard the vitamin as they travel through the digestive system, ensuring stability and protection from degradation.

Another vital tool in the formulator’s arsenal is sustained-release excipients, including xanthan gum, acacia gum, cellulose, and carbomers. These ensure controlled and prolonged release over time, minimizing undesired gastrointestinal side effects associated with a high concentration of vitamin C being released in a spike. Sustained-release excipients mitigate this issue without compromising on dosage, enhancing the customer experience.

Not all sustained-release excipients have the same properties, however, and there are some factors to consider when choosing an excipient for vitamin C. For example, cellulose-based excipients such as hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC) may require a high dose of excipient (15-20%) to achieve sustained-release. This can lead to additional challenges such as increased tablet size and reduced active strength. Carbomers, meanwhile, are a standout choice for developers wishing to produce sustained-release formulations without compromising on tablet size.

Carbomer science

Carbomers are acrylic acid polymers that act as effective excipients in vitamin C formulations. One of the primary benefits of using carbomers is their capacity to provide extended release of the vitamin into the body over 8-12 hours, even at low doses, which ensures sustained absorption and fewer side effects. This will improve the consumer experience by decreasing the size of tablets that need to be ingested, as larger tablets can cause distress. Studies have demonstrated that formulations containing as little as 5% carbomer polymer can effectively and consistently deliver a 500 mg dose of vitamin C.

Not only do carbomers provide extended release for vitamin C at low doses, they also improve tablet uniformity, and when formulating vitamin C tablets with carbomer polymers, manufacturers can achieve low friability at reduced compression forces. This is in stark contrast to other formulations which require higher compression forces but do not yield a good enough tablet integrity, leading to increased wastage and dosage variability.

Consistency is key in pharmaceutical manufacturing. Unlike HPMC, which is derived from natural cellulose and subject to variations, synthetic carbomers are manufactured under controlled conditions, resulting in a highly consistent product. Ensuring uniformity in manufacturing will keep each dose of vitamin C as effective as the last.

Multi-pronged approach

The path to successful vitamin C supplements lies in choosing the right technique to improve life for formulators and consumers. In some cases, the solution can even be a combination of techniques. For example, there is a scope to combine particle engineering approaches such as microencapsulation that enhance delivery and stability with excipients like carbomers that offer longer release. The result will be a vitamin C supplement that is well differentiated in the market and optimized for patient experience.

Putting the consumer first

As the nutraceuticals industry advances, the notion of wellness is becoming more extensive and now includes science-based and trusted ingredients. It is clear that taking into account consumer preferences and addressing these at the formulation stage is the best way for companies to differentiate themselves within the market. In the case of vitamin C nutraceuticals, this means fulfilling promises by using high-quality ingredients that make it easier to consume supplements with minimal side effects.

Armed with a powerful sustained-release excipient that is backed by reliable data and provides consistent performance, formulators are well equipped to develop a vitamin C product uniquely tailored to consumer preferences.


  1. CDC. Products - Data Briefs - Number 399 - February 2021.
  2. Top Ten Trends for the 2024 Webinar. FMCG Gurus. (accessed 2024-04-16).
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