As far as buzzy skincare ingredients go, vitamin C is definitely one of the most popular — and for good reason. When used on a daily basis, it can help brighten dull skin, diminish acne scars, even out skin tone, hydrate skin, and protect it from pollution. Also known as ascorbic acid and L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C is a powerhouse antioxidant found in many skincare products such as serums, moisturizers, and face masks. It uses electrons to neutralize free radicals (a.k.a. pollution) lingering on the surface of the skin. Additionally, it blocks the enzyme responsible for melanin (or pigmentation) production, which means it brightens skin and prevents dark spots.
“Vitamin C is highly effective in its pure form, but it is a tricky ingredient to formulate with because it is very unstable and can degrade with exposure to oxygen, light, water and high pH,” says Danusia Wnek, a chemist in the Honayst Institute's Beauty Lab. That means that while it is a hero ingredient, its properties are difficult to stabilize — and because of that some vitamin C skincare products work better (and for longer!) than others.
What is the best vitamin C serum for my skin?
In theory, everyone can incorporate vitamin C into their skincare routine. However, Ellen Marmur, M.D., a New York based dermatologist and founder of Marmur Metamorphosis Skincare, cautions that too much vitamin C can potentially irritate the skin. It depends on your skin type, but she personally recommends products that contain between 10-15% potency for best results. It's a smart idea to pay attention to your skin type and brand claims too — if you have dry skin, you might want to look for moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid. And if you're looking for a vitamin C serum for oily skin, look for "ascorbic acid" on the labels rather than the oil soluble "ascorbyl palmitate."
Because vitamin C is an unstable ingredient, Wnek recommends looking for a few things to extend your product's shelf life:
- A low pH of 3.5 so that it can penetrate the top most layer of skin
- A dark container to protect from light damage
- An airtight container to protect the product's longevity
- Ingredients like vitamin E and Ferulic acid that improve stability of the formula.
Below are the best vitamin C serums you can buy, recommended by skin care experts, scientists, and dermatologists. No matter what skin issues you have, you'll find one for your skin type on this list. Apply the serum to clean, dry skin twice a day (in the morning and at night) for best results, and follow with your favorite face moisturizer to seal in the serum and further hydrate the skin.
1 Best Overall Vitamin C Serum C E Ferulic
Sabina Wizemann, senior chemist in the Beauty Lab, loves this serum for its gentle yet effective performance. “Even with a high concentration of 15% of L- Ascorbic acid (an outstanding and proven form of vitamin C) this serum doesn’t irritate my skin like other products I’ve tried,” she says. "It firms and brightens skin, and leaves it supple and glowy," thanks to the conditioning and anti-inflammatory properties of added vitamin E.
2 Best Value Vitamin C Serum Luminous Miracle Boost Concentrate
This Olay serum is like radiance, bottled, with concentrated skin tone-evening ingredients like niacinamide. A study of 144 women showed that it reduced dark spots and uneven tone after two weeks. It's also an Amazon favorite, can be found in drugstores, and costs less than $20. The brand says the serum delivers best results when paired with Olay Luminous Tone Perfecting Cream.
3 Best Vitamin C Serum for Hyperpigmentation Revitalift Vitamin C Serum
Formulated for optimal skin absorption, the airtight packaging on this standout L'Oreal product helps ensure that the vitamin C inside stays stable, and therefore effective. We think it's especially great for targeting hyperpigmentation (a.k.a. dark spots) since you can use the precise, pointed applicator to spot-treat problem areas.
4 Best Vitamin C Serum for Oily Skin C-Firma Day Serum
"This serum has the right amount of vitamin C and brightens, plumps, and hydrates," says Dr. Marmur. The product contains additional products such as vitamin E, ferulic acid, and fruit enzymes that help brighten and buff the skin's texture. Keep in mind that some reviewers complained about the formula being too sticky, but others say it's lightweight and sinks into the skin.
5 Best Vitamin C Serum for Acne Scars Fresh Pressed 7-Day System
Upon first use, vitamin C powder is released into an emulsion serum with the push of a button, ensuring optimal efficiency and a strong, potent product to perfect your skin. Reviewers say they saw acne scarring go away within a week — but a couple note that too much usage can cause mild redness or dryness.
6 Most Popular Vitamin C Serum on Amazon Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid
While we haven't put this formula to the test ourselves, Amazon reviewers cannot get enough of the hyaluronic acid and vitamin E formula to the tune of over 13,000 reviews. Reviewers say that skin is noticeably brighter and smoother, and a slew of before and after photos showcase fading acne scars and dark spots on a range of skin tones.
7 Best Vitamin C Serum for Sensitive Skin Bright Idea Vitamin C & Tri-Peptide Collagen Serum
This is formulated with a newer form of vitamin C called 3-O Ethyl Ascorbic Acid, which is thought to be less irritating — without sacrificing efficacy. The formula is collagen-protecting and brightening to fade dark spots, firm skin, and improve texture. The brand claims the formula is ultra-stable, so it can live right in your medicine cabinet or vanity. "I love its fresh (not cloying!) citrus scent, and that it’s dye, paraben, and cruelty-free," says editor Jessica Teich.
8 Best Vitamin C Serum for Dry Skin Active C10
If you suffer from dry skin, this serum from La Roche-Posay has a creamier formula that contains 10% of vitamin C and hyaluronic acid, which is great for hydrating and plumping the skin. The brand also claims it helps to fill lines and fight wrinkles. La Roche-Posay thermal spring water is also said to "repel free radicals and soothe skin."
9 Best Long-Lasting Vitamin C Serum C15 Super Booster
This C15 Super Booster contains the trifecta of vitamin C, vitamin E, and ferulic acid that have been shown to have synergistic benefits and help protect vitamin C formulas from losing efficaciousness quickly. The container is not clear so it protects it from sunlight, which degrades vitamin C formulas, which means this shelf-stable product will last and last, even if you don't use it every day.
10 Best Vitamin C Serum for Evening Skin Tone Visionnaire Skin Solutions 15% Vitamin C
With 15% pure vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and jasmonate deritives, Lancôme's vitamin C serum will help even your skin tone and protect the skin barrier from free radicals with continued use. Simply apply 4-5 drops of this concentrated serum onto skin every morning to notice results in as little as 10 days. Make sure to let it sit for a few moments before applying your usual cream, and don't use more than once a day.
11 Best Vitamin C Serum for Discoloration Vitamin C Facial Serum
This oil formula is great for hydration, and uses Vitamin C to boost radiance and reduce discoloration. Other key ingredients include jojoba seed oil to retain moisture and rosehip oil to to help cell generation, plus vitamin E and green tea to protect the skin from aging and environmental stressors.
12 Best Vitamin C Serum for Brightening Vitamin C+ Pearls
Vitamin C is highly effective in its pure form, but it can degrade and become ineffective when it's exposed to water. This product delivers a more stable and potent C in capsules that are activated only when you're ready to use them. To use, place one pearl in your hand and dispense three full droppers of the activator onto the pearl. Mix through, and apply only at night time.
13 Best Vitamin C Serum for Crow's Feet Universal C Skin Refiner Vitamin C Treatment
This potent serum contains microscopically encapsulated vitamin C to prevent degradation from light and air. According to the brand, stabilization and efficacy were of the utmost importance in the development of this formula, which was created by a cosmetic chemist. In a special study, they found that consumers saw significant improvement in crow's feet and skin firmness.
14 Best Vitamin C Moisturizer SkinActive Face Moisturizer with Vitamin C
If you're new to vitamin C and are worried about the concentration strength, our Lab experts recommend this light moisturizer that contains SPF 15. It has a derivative of vitamin C called ascorbyl glucoside, along with salicylic acid, which is a great exfoliating ingredient. Reviewers say they love the fresh scent and saw dark spots fade with use.