Skip to content

The 12 Best Vitamin C Serums + Benefits & Application Tips

Alexandra Engler
Author:
Updated on February 4, 2022
Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director
By Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com.
Last updated on February 4, 2022
Our editors have independently chosen the products listed on this page. If you purchase something mentioned in this article, we may earn a small commission.

Vitamin C is a skin care staple for many skin care pros—including this here beauty editor.

I use vitamin C serums almost every day (I'll switch it up and add another antioxidant serum or a hydrating serum depending on how my skin is feeling).

And I've been using the collagen-boosting antioxidant for about eight years now, so I've tried a lot of options out there from natural and clean to traditional. 

So I feel pretty comfortable recommending options for any skin type and price point. Here, the best options I've ever tried. 

Vitamin C benefits.

Vitamin C skin care products check all the boxes: turn back the clock on wrinkles, fight free radicals, even out skin tone, and give your complexion a serious glow.

"Vitamin C is one of the few active ingredients that can benefit all skin types," says Elizabeth Tanzi, M.D., board-certified dermatologist in the Washington, D.C., metro area and associate professor of dermatology at George Washington University Medical Center

Here are a few things you can expect from using the skin care ingredient: 

  1. Collagen production. Vitamin C is a vital part of the collagen synthesis process, helping collagen cross-link and support skin firmness. It doesn't just stimulate collagen production; it stabilizes the collagen you have, leading to overall wrinkle reduction. 
  2. Antioxidant support. Vitamin C is an antioxidant and thus can help protect skin against free radicals. Additionally, research has found that when skin is excessively exposed to external aggressors (unprotected UV exposure and pollution, for example), its natural reserves of vitamin C become depleted. It makes sense, then, that replenishing vitamin C levels in the skin can lead to a seemingly endless list of protective and restorative benefits.
  3. Brightening and evening tone. Vitamin C can also help with your overall health and skin tone, helping with dark spots, inflammation, and appearance. Research shows it has beneficial outcomes for things like fading hyperpigmentation, brightening, and even taming rosacea (thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties). 

How we picked

Clean formulas

The products that appear on this list are formulas free of commonly avoided ingredients like parabens and phthalates.

Effective vitamin C

There are many kinds of vitamin Cs that can be used in serums. Some are more potent (like l-ascorbic), but come with drawbacks like increased skin sensitivity, while others are more gentle. We included a variety to aid any skin type.

Supporting actives

These formulas use additional skin-loving ingredients that bolster the overall effectiveness—and your glow.

Tried & tested

These serums have all been tested by the mbg staffers, our trusted pros, and real users.

Best vitamin C serums

Best overall: Marie Veronique C+E+Ferulic Acid Serum

Marie Veronique C+E+Ferulic Acid Serum
VIEW ON Credo | $95VIEW ON The Detox Market | $95

Pros

  • Beauty editor favorite
  • 4 kinds of vitamin C

Cons

  • Strong smell (that comes from the natural ingredients — it has no added fragrance)
Ingredient considerations: Vegan, Hyaluronic acid, Vitamin E, Ferulic acid, Plant extracts, CoQ10

This is my personal favorite vitamin C serum—the one I keep going back to and have recommended countless times. It contains four different kinds of vitamin C (l-ascorbic acid, l-ascorbyl palmitate, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate) that help provide a wide range of benefits. Then it's combined with vitamin E and ferulic acid, which help bolster the antioxidant's collagen-producing abilities. It's a genius formula that seriously delivers.

Best organic: Kora Organics Noni Bright Vitamin C Serum

Kora Organics Noni Bright Vitamin C Serum
VIEW ON Sephora | $70VIEW ON Amazon | https://amzn.to/3QzGetn

Pros

  • 68.8% of the total ingredients are organic with COSMOS ORGANIC and ECOCERT Greenlife certification

Cons

  • Some skin types are are sensitive to to EOs
Ingredient considerations: Vegan, Cruelty-free, Hyaluronic acid, Plant extracts, Essential oils, Aloe vera

This has a bouquet of antioxidants—including 12% ascorbyl glucoside—as well as kakadu plum, acerola cherry, orange peel, lemon peel, and noni fruit. Translation? This is like a morning superfruit smoothie for your skin. But it doesn't stop there. It has the humectant sodium hyaluronate to help skin hold on to water and olive leaf extract to soothe irritation. 

Best brightening: Ole Henriksen Banana Bright Vitamin C Serum

Ole Henriksen Banana Bright Vitamin C Serum
VIEW ON Sephora | $68VIEW ON Ole Henriksen | $68

Pros

  • Gently exfoliating

Cons

  • Some experience pilling or tacky texture
Ingredient considerations: Vegan, Cruelty-free, Hyaluronic acid, Vitamin E, Plant extracts, Essential oils, PHAs

If your main goal is brightening dullness, reach for this option that comes with a potent dose of 15% stable Ethyl Ascorbic Acid as well as 5% polyhydroxy acids. PHA (sometimes called gluconolactone) are an innovative alternative to AHAs that helps even skin tone via chemical exfoliation and are super gentle. Finally there's hyaluronic acid to help hydrate and plump skin.

Best oil: Biossance Squalane Vitamin C Rose Oil

Biossance Squalane Vitamin C Rose Oil
VIEW ON Sephora | $72VIEW ON Amazon | $54

Pros

  • Great for dry skin

Cons

  • Doesn’t pair well with some makeup, so you should use it at night
Ingredient considerations: Vegan, Cruelty-free, Plant extracts, Essential oils, Squalane

Not a serum but an oil that uses a lipid-soluble vitamin C called Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate. It's blended with the brand's signature squalane. An application tip: This should be used to top your skin care routine as it's thicker, and other items won't be able to penetrate the skin as easily. Consider this your option if you have extra-dry skin and need to trap in moisturizer—however, it will likely be too thick for those with easily clogged skin.  

Best smoothing: Tatcha Violet C Brightening Serum

Tatcha Violet C Brightening Serum
VIEW ON Sephora | $89VIEW ON Amazon | $89

Pros

  • Strong actives at their highest dosages

Cons

  • Pricey
Ingredient considerations: Vegan, Cruelty-free, Hyaluronic acid, Plant extracts, AHAs

A more potent option, this combines 20% Bis-Glyceryl Ascorbate and a 10% AHA blend. This will provide serious brightening, exfoliating, and smoothing properties. Consider this your ideal formula if you have breakouts, acne marks, texture concerns, or wrinkles. However, if you have sensitive skin—this can be irritating, so I recommend avoiding it.  

Best for mature skin: Farmacy Very Cherry Bright 15% Vitamin C Serum

Farmacy Very Cherry Bright 15% Vitamin C Serum
VIEW ON Amazon | $62VIEW ON Sephora | $62

Pros

  • lightweight

Cons

  • Often sold out
Ingredient considerations: Vegan, Cruelty-free, Hyaluronic acid, Vitamin E, Plant extracts, Peptides

Here, we have four different sources of vitamin C—which all have their own unique properties that they bring to the formula. First up there's acerola cherry extract, which is one of richest sources of natural vitamin C on the planet (and is known to help mature skin!). Then there's the hydrating 3-glyceryl ascorbate, the stable and brightening ​​3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid, and the dark-spot-reducing ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate. For added power, it uses hydrating hyaluronic acid and smoothing peptides. 

Best budget: Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum

Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum
VIEW ON Ulta | $33.99VIEW ON Amazon | $33.99

Pros

  • Vitamin C serums are often very expensive, and this one is more budget-friendly

Cons

  • Some report breakouts, so avoid if you are acne prone
Ingredient considerations: Vegan, Cruelty-free, Hyaluronic acid, Vitamin E, Ferulic acid, Plant extracts, Essential oils, Aloe vera

This award-winning serum has rave reviews across the internet, making it a natural cult favorite. We know why: This smart formulation has a solid mix of actives to bring your skin serious all-over benefits. There's the vitamin C (as sodium ascorbyl phosphate), hydrating glycerin, stabilizing vitamin E, soothing aloe, and plumping hyaluronic acid. 

Best for acne-prone skin: Ursa Major Brighten Up Vitamin C Serum

Ursa Major Brighten Up Vitamin C Serum
VIEW ON Credo | $56VIEW ON Ulta | $56

Pros

  • A acne-treatment that’s non-drying

Cons

  • Not as potent of a dose of vitamin C
Ingredient considerations: Vegan, Cruelty-free, Plant extracts, Essential oils, Aloe vera, BHAs

We love the plant actives and botanicals in this blend. Of course there's the vitamin C, but there's also rosehip seed oil (high in vitamin C in its own right), aspen bark (a natural source of salicylic acid to help deal with oil production and acne), aloe (for soothing and hydrating; it can also fade dark spots), and rose (for balancing tone and texture).  

Best sensitive skin: Beautycounter Counter+ All Bright C Serum

Beautycounter Counter+ All Bright C Serum
VIEW ON Beautycounter | $90

Pros

  • Quick-absorbing

Cons

  • Bright yellow serum (from turmeric) that can lightly stain fabrics
  • Pricey
Ingredient considerations: Vegan, Cruelty-free, Essential oils, Turmeric

The base is a 10% blend of two forms of vitamin C that help deal with dark spots and dullness. Additionally, the serum gets extra antioxidants from turmeric and camu camu extracts. We particularly love turmeric, as it's known as a famous anti-inflammatory and can tame angry skin.

Best hydrating: One Love Organics Botanical C Serum

One Love Organics Botanical C Serum
VIEW ON Credo | $75VIEW ON Ulta | $75

Pros

  • Organic ingredients

Cons

  • Higher oil concentration, if you’re looking for a more lightweight formula
Ingredient considerations: Vegan, Cruelty-free, Vitamin E, Plant extracts

This ultra-moisturizing facial serum feeds skin antioxidants from vitamin C, E, and green tea, while conditioning skin with jojoba oil, shea butter, and sea buckthorn oils. Put that all together and you've got seriously hydrated, glowing, happy skin. 

Best powder: True Botanicals Vitamin C Booster

True Botanicals Vitamin C Booster
VIEW ON Credo | $90

Pros

  • Highly stable thanks to the powder delivery method

Cons

  • Have to mix with another product
Ingredient considerations: Vegan, Cruelty-free, Vitamin E, Ferulic acid

This starts as a powder blend of vitamin C and ferulic acid—just sprinkle a bit into your serum of choice and you'll bring loads of antioxidant benefits into the base formula. Basically you can make any serum a powerhouse vitamin C option with this powder.

Best for morning: Youth To The People 15% Vitamin C Clean Caffeine Energy Serum

Youth To The People 15% Vitamin C Clean Caffeine Energy Serum
VIEW ON Sephora | $68VIEW ON Amazon | $68

Pros

  • Tap it around the eyes to address dark circles

Cons

  • Some people are sensitive to caffeine in products
Ingredient considerations: Vegan, Cruelty-free, Squalane

A perfect option for your morning vitamin C serum, this combines the vitamin with caffeine (caffeine is a great option for skin as it encourages circulation to the skin) from superleafs yerba mate and guayusa to immediately brighten, visibly reduce morning puffiness, and hydrate. 

Application tips.

Here, how you should use your new vitamin C serum.

  • Vitamin C is notoriously unstable, so be mindful of how you store it. See products lose potency as soon as they're exposed to air, heat, light, and water, so make sure to keep your packaging closed tight and don't leave it in the sunlight.
  • Always apply it on clean skin, right after washing. (This way, it can penetrate the skin cells.) You'll want to let it dry, as adding something on right after could potentially deactivate the vitamin C. Once dry, follow it with your daily face moisturizer and the rest of your skin care routine. 
  • Don't use it with retinoids—as these ingredients don't really play well with each other. If you want to use a retinol, we recommend using it at night and vitamin C in the morning. The caveat to this: If it's formulated in the same product, it's probably using a more stable derivative of vitamin C and fine to use.
  • Speaking of derivatives, pay attention to the one in your formula. It can affect the stability and efficacy of the product. Vitamin C comes in many derivatives, including L-ascorbic acid, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, ascorbyl palmitate, sodium ascorbyl phosphate, and ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate. (Unlike L-ascorbic acid, which is hydrophilic and unstable, both ascorbyl-6-palmitate and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate are stable at neutral pH.) Look for our other formulation tips here
  • Find an option with vitamin E or other antioxidants, which can boost its potency. "Certain antioxidants are synergistic," says Julia T. Hunter, M.D., founder of Wholistic Dermatology in Beverly Hills. "They strengthen one another, regenerate one another, and last longer in the body, so they're more available in the skin." One study found that vitamin E and ferulic acid increase vitamin C's effectiveness eightfold. 

mbg’s review process

At mbg, high standards are earned—and there are no shortcuts. Our beauty editors stay up to date on the latest ingredient research and innovation. It's a dynamic, continuously evolving space, and it's important we look into the science so we can make informed choices about which formulas earn our stamp of approval (figuratively speaking).

Our high standards also come from testing products—many, many products. Our editors and writers rigorously test and research the products featured in our roundups to offer you the best, most informed recommendations. When we write reviews, you can trust we spend quality time with the formulas: We don't simply rave about products we've slathered on the back of our hand. We endorse products we've tried and loved. 

Learn more about our testing process and clean beauty standards here

The takeaway.

If you're looking to add a vitamin C serum to your routine, I highly recommend you do. It can help your skin's collagen synthesis process, fight off free radicals, and improve the overall appearance. Believe me, I've tried a lot. And these are my favorites. Want to optimize your vitamin C levels internally? Look for a vitamin C supplement.

Heal Your Skin.

Receive your FREE Doctor-Approved Beauty Guide

Alexandra Engler
Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director

Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.