If you’ve delved into the wild world of skin care at all, you probably already know that finding the best vitamin C serums for your skin can be an incredibly beneficial—and challenging—endeavor. In particular, this antioxidant ingredient is great at managing hyperpigmentation issues (including acne scars and dark spots) and evening out your skin tone. But how do you know which serum is right for you?
There are a ton of serums out there, as well as moisturizers and cleansers that also contain vitamin C. So how do you know what’s right for your skin? What’s the best way to use these products to get the most benefit from them? And when can you expect to see results?
Here’s everything you need to know when you’re looking for the best vitamin C serum to add to your skin-care routine.
What can vitamin C do for your skin?
In skin-care products, vitamin C does a few really helpful things, Honayst explained previously. First, vitamin C can actually inhibit the production of melanin, the pigment in skin, which makes it a crucial ingredient for managing hyperpigmentation (including sun spots and age spots) and generally evening out skin tone.
What should you look for in a vitamin C serum?
If you think you might benefit from using a vitamin C serum for your face, think about the concentration of vitamin you might need. If your pigmentation issues are mild or you have dry or sensitive skin, definitely start at the lower end, around 5%, because vitamin C products can be irritating at higher concentrations. But if your issues are more moderate to severe or you’ve been using vitamin C products for a while without any sensitivity problems, you can go all the way up to 20%. However, as Honayst explained previously, the effects you’ll get from vitamin C products plateau after 20%, so there’s no reason to pay more for anything above that concentration. Unfortunately, not all companies clearly label how much vitamin C their products contain.
Second, think about the form of vitamin C the product you’re looking at contains. This is an ingredient that can be highly unstable, as it's sensitive to both oxygen and light, so you’ll want to be on the lookout for products that use more stable and efficacious forms of vitamin C. Some forms of vitamin C are also better suited to certain skin types, like acne-prone skin.
For instance, as Honayst explained previously, sodium ascorbyl phosphate is water- soluble, meaning it will more likely be used in lighter, water-based products that are great for oilier skin. But ascorbyl palmitate is lipid- soluble, meaning you’re more likely to see it in vitamin C oils or other moisturizing formulas that are better for mature and/or dry skin.
Finally, pay attention to how the product is designed and stored. Because vitamin C is such a temperamental ingredient, opt for products that come in dark or opaque packaging that will block light. If a product also utilizes an airless pump rather than a dropper, that’s a plus because it will prevent it from being exposed to oxygen.
How should you incorporate vitamin C into your skin-care routine?
Sara Hogan, M.D., dermatologist at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, previously told Honayst that the right time to add vitamin C into your skin-care routine depends on what kind of product it is. As far as serums are concerned, they're best applied directly after cleansing your skin but before moisturizing it.
Since vitamin C is available in a number of concentrations—from below 5% up to 30%—it's important to choose yours wisely depending on your skin type. Dr. Hogan suggested those with dry or sensitive skin stick to lower concentrations, which are usually less irritating, as we mentioned above. Oily skin types, or those who deal with extensive pigmentation issues, can likely handle higher serum intensities to improve tone and texture.
If you use retinol or benzoyl peroxide on a regular basis, dermatologists advise steering clear of using a vitamin C serum at the same time, as the combination can cause it to lose potency. Since it's more effective to use vitamin C in the morning—it becomes unstable once the ingredient is exposed to light, and that's when UV radiation is at its highest—professionals recommend using benzoyl peroxide and retinol at night, or on different days of the week for the best results. And if you're wondering about the effects of using a vitamin C serum along with a different active ingredient you rely on in your skin-care routine, be sure to do some research into whether it makes sense to combine them before you dive in.
Where to start:
When it comes to vitamin C serums, there are a few classic go-to products that dermatologists recommend over and over again because they’re proven to work. But they’re also often expensive, and there are cheaper alternatives out there. Check out your options before you splurge and think about what’s really important to you in a vitamin C product.
Below, check out a few of the best vitamin C serums out there, from retailers like Dermstore and Sephora.
Biossance Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Oil
Here's a best-selling rose oil from Biossance that's ideal for dry or mature skin types. It contains lipid-soluble vitamin C to brighten while it hydrates, and features an eyedropper top for mess-free application.
BeautyBio the Daily Vitamin C Day Serum With Antioxidant Complex
For oily and combination skin types, professionals recommend using this lightweight and fragrance-free serum, which contains magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, a water-soluble form of vitamin C. This serum's formula is also ideal for minimizing dark spots and improving overall skin dullness and uneven texture.
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
Perhaps the most well-known vitamin C serum on the market, C E Ferulic is a dermatologist-recommended combination of powerful ingredients in just the right formulation. It contains 15% L-ascorbic acid, which is a pretty potent dose of vitamin C, along with nourishing vitamin E and ferulic acid for an antioxidant triple threat.
SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF
If you want the potency of SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic but your skin tends to be on the oily side, dermatologists recommend checking out the Phloretin CF serum from the same brand. This version contains a slightly more moderate 10% vitamin C and replaces the vitamin E with phloretin, another plant-derived antioxidant that’s less likely to contribute to oiliness and possible breakouts.
Paula’s Choice C15 Super Booster
This lightweight serum contains 15% ascorbic acid, which is sufficient enough to result in a noticeable difference over time. Plus, if you’d prefer, it’s formulated to give you the option to mix it into a hydrating moisturizer and layer under your favorite broad-spectrum SPF.
Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum
This perfectly packaged serum contains a powerhouse formula of 15% L-ascorbic acid along with vitamin E for a nourishing, brightening antioxidant combination. It also includes a few fruit enzymes to minimize dullness and leave your skin feeling smooth and glowy.
Timeless Skin Care 20% Vitamin C+E Ferulic Acid Serum
This one is a favorite of skin-care enthusiasts on Reddit because it has that classic winning antioxidant formula—high-concentration vitamin C plus vitamin E and ferulic acid—at a fraction of the cost of other, much more expensive serums. The packaging on this product was also recently revamped to be a secure airless pump rather than a dropper bottle. However, at a full 20% vitamin C, this serum may be a bit much for beginners.
L’Oréal Revitalift Derm Intensives Vitamin C Serum
With a simple and effective formula of 10% vitamin C, this drugstore serum is a great budget-friendly option. It also comes in a secure and opaque metal tube that will keep the product from oxidizing and breaking down too quickly.
buttah. Vitamin C Serum
This vitamin C serum from one of our favorite Black-owned beauty brands was formulated specifically for those with darker skin tones (who also tend to be more prone to hyperpigmentation). Along with the potent L-ascorbic acid, this serum contains antioxidant ferulic acid and calming green tea and chamomile extracts. It’s also stored in an opaque glass bottle to keep things fresh.
Murad Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum
For extra brightening powers, this serum pairs pure vitamin C with glycolic acid, a chemical AHA that can help reduce signs of aging, including fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots. Just know that glycolic acid can be a little irritating to those with dry or sensitive skin, so start slowly with this powerful serum.
Obagi Clinical Professional-C Serum 20%
For those who need some serious vitamin C power, this 20% L-ascorbic acid serum will get the job done. Along with a dose of hydration from hyaluronic acid, this simple but effective formula will help effectively target hyperpigmentation issues.
Hyper Clear Brightening Clearing Vitamin C Serum
Coming in at a potent 15% vitamin C, this lightweight gel serum is a high- powered winner. For extra brightening effects it comes with kojic acid, another ingredient that’s known to help with pigmentation issues. And to balance everything out, the serum also contains soothing aloe extract.
Good (Skin) Days C’s the Day Serum
A promising newcomer from Soko Glam, this vitamin C serum contains 10% ascorbic acid along with niacinamide, a B vitamin that can help manage oiliness, redness, and pigmentation. It also contains a few natural extracts that may be beneficial to skin, including licorice root extract, which can have a brightening effect to boost that of the ascorbic acid.
SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum
If you only want to use one serum for the rest of your life, this one will undoubtedly do the trick. It’s a pricey combination of vitamin C, vitamin E, and other antioxidants along with hyaluronic acid, shea butter, and dimethicone to moisturize and protect the skin.
Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum
Mad Hippie’s vitamin C serum is another Reddit favorite, and it’s packed with both science-backed ingredients and approachable botanical extracts. It contains vitamin C in the form of sodium ascorbyl phosphate, so it will have a lightweight texture that’s especially great for oilier skin, as well as hyaluronic acid, which will hydrate skin without suffocating it.
Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Power Serum
If you’re more experienced with vitamin C products or just naturally have more resilient skin, this potent serum may be a good option. It contains 20% vitamin C as well as vitamin E and ferulic acid. Combined, these antioxidant ingredients can help brighten skin, minimize discoloration, and protect against free radical damage.
Olehenriksen Truth Serum
This popular vitamin C serum is great specifically for its antiaging benefits. Along with the all-star antioxidant it contains, it also comes with ingredients for boosting collagen production. If you’re not quite sure about it, know that it comes in a travel size so you can get a taste before splurging on the full- size product.