There are a whole lot of serums out there, from eyelash serum to hyaluronic acid serum to anti-aging face serum. But what if you only have room in your makeup bag for one? Experts say to go with a vitamin C serum—because it really works. "Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that fights fine lines by stimulating collagen, brightens your complexion by blocking excess pigment creation, and protects your skin from damaging free radical and other environmental stressors," says Dr. Michelle Henry, clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College. "As we age, though, the skin's natural levels of antioxidant vitamin C decrease, which is why it's so important to add it to your skincare routine." The one downside? Compared to most products, it often costs more per ounce.
To make sure you get the best return on your investment, here are a few things to keep in mind: Skip creams spiked with vitamin C and instead choose a serum, which is more effective at penetrating the skin barrier, says Dr. Brooke Jackson, a board-certified dermatologist in Durham, North Carolina. Additionally, there are several forms of vitamin C—and not all are created equal, says Henry. Check the label for L-ascorbic acid, which is considered to be the vitamin C best for skin. (Even better: If it contains 15 to 20 percent L- ascorbic acid, which is the most effective.) "Vitamin C is notoriously unstable —especially when it's exposed to air and light," says Jackson. "So it's best to pick a formula that comes in an airtight pump or opaque bottle, and keep it away from direct sunlight." Plus, once you begin to see the results of a good vitamin C serum, you can use less primer, less foundation, and less highlighter, ultimately saving you money.
So, which ones are worth it? These face brightening and tightening formulas—suitable for a wide range of skin types, including acne-prone, hyperpigmentation, oily, dry and sensitive skin—are the best vitamin C serums money can buy.
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Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles, says this is one of the best vitamin C serums available, and Amazon reviewers agree: Nearly 2,000 users gave the product 5 stars, with some touting it as the best product they've ever used. What makes it so great? It contains 22 percent vitamin C—more than most other serums—and it's suitable for all skin types, making it a great choice for the face.
Vitamin C Serum
When it comes to vitamin C serum, this "Amazon Choice" product is an all-time favorite, with four stars and nearly 8,000 glowing reviews. Consumers say it does it all—it brightens, reduces fine lines, treats dark spots on your face, and leaves skin soft and supple.
Vitamin C Concentrated Serum
This powerful vitamin C serum contains aloe, vitamin E, and hyaluronic acid for intense hydration. Not only is a great pick for sensistive skin (it's free from phthalates, fragrance, sulfates, and parabens), but you also get a lot of bang for your buck, says Jackson.
Vitamin C and AHA Serum
This is one of the most affordable vitamin C serums you can get, but it's just as effective, says Shainhouse. The vegan-friendly serum is loaded with AHA (a natural glycolic acid) to brighten skin and reduce hyperpigmentation over time.
Professional makeup artist Kasey Adam Spickard calls this vitamin C serum "pure magic" for it's ability to reduce discoloration caused by acne. The fresh citrus scent is a nice bonus, too.
Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
Despite a high concentration of 23 percent pure l-ascorbic acid that's safe for sensitive skin, this brightening serum is extremely budget-friendly.
CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum
This gentle formula for sensitive skin, developed in partnership with dermatologists, contains three essential ceramides and 10 percent pure vitamin C to brighten, restore the skin's protective barrier, and improve hydration.
Vitamin C Skin Boost Instant Smoother
A lightweight serum that contains mineral glowing particles to give skin an immediate glow, plus Amazonian camu camu to smooth and even skin tone over time.
LiftActiv Vitamin C Serum Brightening Skin Corrector
Because the formula is extremely light and contains just 11 clean ingredients (no parabens, silicones, or artificial fragrances), it won't sting or burn upon application, says Erin Gilbert, a board-certified dermatologist in NYC. Still, it's potent, delivering firming and brightening results in as a few as 10 days.
Universal C Skin Refiner
“This is the Rolls Royce of C serums," says O's Beauty Director, Brian Underwood. "Developed by cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson, it pairs 20% stabilized L-Ascorbic Acid (the most potent form of vitamin C) with an active compound from green tea, moisturizing squalane, and tartaric acid to adjust skin’s Ph for ultimate absorption.”
Violet-C Brightening Serum 20% Vitamin C + 10% AHA
This popular Tatcha serum (it's been favorited by Sephora customers over 70,000 times!) contains a whopping 20 percent vitamin C and 10 percent AHA to help your face achieve that glow-from-within look. It's so good, one reviewer called it her "magic potion."
Vitamin C Glycolic Brightening Serum
Formulated with Vita-C Complex and glycolic acid to remove dull skin cells, this illuminating serum instantly helps to even skin tone.
C-Firma Vitamin C Day Serum
This vitamin C serum achieved cult status after Into the Gloss touted it as the best around. And it's easy to see why shoppers love it as much as editors (and dermatologists) do—the potent serum combines the skin brightening effects of L-ascorbic acid, pumpkin ferment extract, and pomegranate enzymes that help exfoliate skin and rid the surface of dead skin cells, says Dr. Sonia Batra, a dermatologist and co-host of The Doctors.
Pineapple-C Brightening Serum
This irresistibly cute packaging contains pineapple juice, vitamin C, AHA, and chamomile to strike the right balance between brightening your skin, treating dark spots, and soothing it as well.
Vitamin C Ceramide Capsules Radiance Renewal Serum
"This is the Rolls Royce of vitamin C serums," says Allison Depriestre, a professional makeup artist in Paris. "It brightens your skin instantly." It also contains ceramides to help retain moisture—a big benefit for anyone with dry skin. The capsules also make this product great for travel, so your skin will always look radiant.
GREEN APPLE Age Defy Serum
Trying to combat the signs of aging? Try this serum, says Nichelle Mosley, founder of Queen City Beauty Group and a board-certified aesthetician in North Carolina. It combines the benefits of the coenzyme Q10 and vitamin C—two ingredients that help eradicate wrinkles. This plant-based serum also contains hyaluronic acid to infuse skin with a dose of hydration.
Powerful-Strength Vitamin C Serum
This powerful serum is suitable for all skin types and contains a formidable duo —12.5 percent vitamin C and hyaluronic acid—to visibly reduce the appearance of fine lines, boost skin radiance and improve texture, says makeup artist Tandy Colada.
C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum
This Sunday Riley serum is formulated with THD ascorbate—a highly stable and oil-soluble formula of vitamin C that quickly penetrates skin to leave it visibly smoother and brighter. Plus, this serum contains saccharide isomerate extract, which helps reduce the appearance of pores.
Professional-C 20% Vitamin C Serum
Mona Gohara, a board-certified dermatologist in Connecticut, calls vitamin C serum the little black dress of the beauty world. "It makes everyone look great," she says. And her favorite is this one—a highly concentrated formula that includes the antioxidant L-ascorbic acid to help reduce signs of aging and leave skin silky soft.
C E Ferulic
Have oily or acne-prone skin? "This pricey, cult-favorite is great under daily sunscreen and makeup and can be re-applied to clean skin at bedtime," says Shainhouse. The result is finer lines, firmer skin, and a brighter complexion. And don't worry: A little bit goes a very long way, so you can savor every drop of this very expensive formula.
Hyper Clear Brightening Clearing Vitamin C Serum
This overachiever does it all—which is exactly why we're giving it a glowing review. Packed with 15 percent vitamin C, vitamin E, turmeric, kojic acid, natural bontanicals, and a mix of fruit enzymes, the sheer serum brightens skin, smoothes fine lines and wrinkles, evens tone, and reduces the appearance of dark spots and acne scars.
Bright Citrus Serum
Put your freshest face forward with this hardworking formula, which can be applied directly to clean skin or added to your moisturizer. Either way, the silky serum delivers a healthy dose of vitamin C—thanks to a blend of 20 percent L-ascorbic acid, grapefruit oil, and mulberry extract—to boost skin's radiance and reduce the appearance of discoloration.
Tone Perfection Serum with Vitamin B3+ Vitamin C
Struggling with hyperpigmentation? You'll be in the clear with this powerhouse treatment from Olay. The combination of antioxidant vitamin C and nutrient- rich vitamin B3 (also known as nicacinamide) packs a one-two punch, says Henry— meaning dark spots and acne scars hardly stand a chance.
Revitalift Derm Intensives Vitamin C Serum
You'll never have another dull moment with this budget-friendly serum, which contains 10 percent vitamin C to even skin tone, reduce the appearance of fine lines, and boost radiance. Even more brilliant: The formula is made without water—which can act as a catalyst for vitamin C oxidation and degradation—so it's more stable, says Henry.