Why You Should Probably Be Using a Vitamin C Serum, According to Dermatologists
As far as buzzy skincare ingredients go, vitamin C is one of the most talked about — and for good reason. It often appears in the form of a serum, and 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 that uses electrons to neutralize free radicals (a.k.a. pollution) lingering on the surface of your skin. Additionally, vitamin C blocks the enzyme responsible for melanin (or pigmentation) production, which means it brightens skin and prevents dark spots.
According to the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab experts, 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. That means that while it is a hero ingredient, its properties are difficult to stabilize — and because of that, some vitamin C serums and other skincare products work better (and for longer) than others.
Once you find the most effective vitamin C product for your skin type (more on that below), here’s how to use this miracle ingredient: Simply apply the vitamin C 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 skin.
What is the most effective vitamin C serum for my skin?
In theory, everyone can incorporate a vitamin C serum 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 skin. It depends on your skin type, but she personally recommends products that contain between 10-15% potency for best results. If you have dry skin, you might want to look for added 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.” If you have rosacea, know that your skin is already compromised, so using a vitamin C serum can possibly cause irritation and you may want to steer clear.
Because vitamin C is an unstable ingredient, our Lab experts look for a few things that extend a serum’s shelf life when recommending vitamin C products:
- 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 dermatologists, skin care experts, cosmetic chemists and enthusiastic online reviews:
Best Overall Vitamin C Serum
C E Ferulic
Sabina Wizemann, senior chemist in the GH 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.
- Popular skincare brand
Best Value Vitamin C Serum
Luminous Miracle Boost Concentrate
This Olay serum is like radiance bottled, with concentrated skin tone-evening ingredients such as 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 $30. The brand says the serum delivers best results when paired with Olay Luminous Tone Perfecting Cream.
- Reduces dark spots
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. Our Lab experts 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.
- Tip applicator is good for spot-treating marks
Best Vitamin C Serum for Sensitive Skin
TimeWise Replenishing Serum C+E
The Mary Kay TimeWise line is nothing new to the Good Housekeeping Institute team: For years, our Beauty Lab experts have been recommending TimeWise products for various skincare concerns. This replenishing serum contains vitamin C and E for an age-defying combination. Clinical studies have shown the serum is generally mild and does not bother testers with sensitive skin.
- Age-defying formula is great for mature skin
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.
Best Restorative Vitamin C Serum
Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum
If you’re looking to avoid irritation, this serum holds a relatively lower level of vitamin C at 10%, and it contains ceramides that help protect and maintain the skin barrier. Hyaluronic acid is another key ingredient in the formula that helps moisturize the skin and retain moisture.
- Affordable vitamin C serum
- Ceramides create a stronger skin barrier
Best Drugstore Vitamin C Serum
Multi Correxion Revive + Glow Daily Serum
- Helps promote a more even skin tone
Best Vitamin C Serum for Acne-Prone Skin
SkinCeuticals Silymarin CF
This variation on SkinCeuticals’ popular CE Ferulic serum contains salicylic acid and is specially formulated for oily and blemish-prone skin. One online reviewer says that after a month’s use, she’s noticed a reduction in oiliness and breakouts on her skin.
Best Vitamin C Serum for Acne Scars
Fresh Pressed 7-Day System
To keep the vitamin C potent and fresh, this product keeps it isolated. To use, press the button to release the vitamin C powder into an emulsion serum, 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 overuse can cause mild redness or dryness.
- Can be used with your regular moisturizer
Best Vitamin C Serum with Tri-Peptide
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.
Best Vitamin C Serum for Dry Skin
If you suffer from dry skin, this serum from La Roche-Posay has a creamier formula that contains 10% 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.“
- Moisturizing cream formula
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 has 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. Thus, this shelf-stable product will last and last, even if you don’t use it every day.
- Packaging design promotes longer shelf life
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.
Most Popular Vitamin C Serum on Amazon
Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid
While our Lab experts haven’t put this formula to the test yet, 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.
- Inexpensive option
- Has a cult following online
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.
- Vitamin E and green tea help with aging
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.
- Formulated by a cosmetic chemist
Best Vitamin C Daily 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.
RELATED: Everything You Need to Know About Using Salicylic Acid on Your Skin
- Cheaper option for everyday
- Good for beginners to vitamin C
Best Vitamin C Serum Night Cream
Multi-Correxion Revive + Glow Gel Cream
In clinical studies, users saw that their skin looked plumper after one week of application. They also reported that the serum was lightweight and absorbed quickly. Online reviewers agree saying it’s super hydrating, but some noted that it left a slight greasy feeling on the skin.
- Cream formula that absorbs quickly
Best Vitamin C Serum for Dull Skin
C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum
Several online reviewers admit that this serum is a tad overpriced, but most agree that it really works. It contains 15% antioxidant vitamin C to help lighten dark spots, smooth fine lines and minimize the appearance of pores.
- Brightens skin and fades dark spots
Best Anti-Aging Vitamin C Serum
Professional-C 20% Vitamin C Serum
$106.40 (20% off)
Best Line-Reducing Vitamin C Serum
Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate
This lightweight cream formula uses 10% vitamin C, ascorbyl glucoside and hyaluronic acid to help brighten your skin and improve your skin texture’s appearance. The brand claims to even reduce the look of deep-set wrinkles and pores over time with continued use.
- Smoothes out fine lines
- Good for mature skin
Best Korean Beauty Vitamin C Serum
Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop
A K-beauty favorite and Amazon best-seller, this daily serum is gentle enough to be used everyday. It has a smaller concentration of 5% vitamin C, and the brand claims that it can help clear irritation, fade scars and dark spots and protect the skin from hyperpigmentation.
RELATED: 20 Best Korean Skincare Products for Clearer Skin
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