The 12 Best Vitamin C Serums + Benefits & Application Tips
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
Marie Veronique C+E+Ferulic Acid Serum
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.
C+E+Ferulic Acid Serum, Marie Veronique ($90)
Kora Organics Noni Bright Vitamin C Serum
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.
Noni Bright Vitamin C Serum, Kora Organics ($68)
Ole Henriksen Banana Bright Vitamin C Serum
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. PAs (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.
Banana Bright Vitamin C Serum, Ole Henriksen ($65)
Biossance Squalane Vitamin C Rose Oil
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.
Squalane Vitamin C Rose Oil, Biossance ($72)
Tatcha Violet C Brightening Serum
A more potent option, this combines 20% Bis-Glyceryl Ascorbate and a 10% AHA blend. This will provide serious brightening and exfoliating properties, so it's ideal for those who have breakouts and acne marks. However, if you have sensitive skin—this can be irritating, so I recommend avoiding it.
Violet C Brightening Serum, Tatcha ($88)
Farmacy Very Cherry Bright 15% Vitamin C Serum
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.
Very Cherry Bright 15% Vitamin C Serum, Farmacy ($62)
Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum
This award-winning serum has rave reviews across the internet, making it a natural cult favorite. We know why: This smart formulation has a host of actives to bring your skin seriously all-over benefits. There's the vitamin C (as sodium ascorbyl phosphate), hydrating glycerin, stabilizing vitamin E, soothing aloe, and plumping hyaluronic acid.
Vitamin C Serum, Mad Hippie ($33)
Ursa Major Brighten Up Vitamin C Serum
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), and rose (for balancing tone and texture).
Brighten Up Vitamin C Serum, Ursa Major ($54)
Beautycounter Counter+ All Bright C Serum
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.
Counter+ All Bright C Serum, Beautycounter ($82)
One Love Organics Botanical C Serum
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.
Organics Botanical C Serum, One Love ($75)
True Botanicals Vitamin C Booster
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 to your skin care option of choice. Basically you can make any serum a powerhouse vitamin C option with this powder.
Vitamin C Booster, True Botanicals ($90)
Youth To The People 15% Vitamin C Clean Caffeine Energy Serum
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.
15% Vitamin C Clean Caffeine Energy Serum, Youth To The People ($68)
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 dry 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 AHAs, BHAs, or retinoids—as these ingredients don't really play well with each other. If you want to use any of the former ingredients, we recommend using them at night and vitamin C in the morning. The caveat to this: If it's formulated all 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.
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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.
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