Vitamin C Serum
Photo by Fantastic B on Unsplash

You probably already know that vitamin C is an essential part of a balanced diet. Your daily dose can help boost your immunity and offers a number of other benefits for your overall health.

But did you know topical vitamin C serum is also great for your skin? Read on to find out why, plus learn about some of the best serums you can buy.

How vitamin C serum works

To understand how vitamin C works, you first have to understand free radicals. These natural molecules aren’t bad on their own, but they can become a problem when they build up. In high numbers, they can break cells down over time, contributing to illness and aging.

Antioxidants help fight free radicals, though, keeping everything in balance. Vitamin C is one such antioxidant.

Vitamin C serum benefits for skin

When used on the skin, vitamin C serum can:

  • combat signs of skin aging
  • decrease hyperpigmentation
  • even out your skin tone
  • reduce wrinkles
  • protect your skin from sun damage

If you’re interested in trying vitamin C serum but aren’t sure how to pick one, don’t worry. We rounded up 10 great options for you.

How we chose the best vitamin C serums

In selecting our top vitamin C serums picks, we looked at:

  • Price. We included a range of options to suit many budgets.
  • Customer reviews. We looked for serums highly rated by online reviewers.
  • Potency. Each product contains at least 10 percent vitamin C.
  • Packaging. Vitamin C serum should be packaged in opaque packaging. Otherwise, it can break down when exposed to light, causing it to be less effective.

It’s worth keeping in mind that there are different types of vitamin C, and not all of them are equally effective.

We mostly chose products made with:

  • L-ascorbic acid
  • ascorbyl palmitate
  • tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate
  • magnesium ascorbyl phosphate

We also kept an eye out for products that have additional beneficial ingredients.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $25
  • $$ =$25–$50
  • $$$ = over $50

Healthline’s picks for the best vitamin C serums

Best vitamin C serum for dull skin

L’Oreal Paris Revitalift 10% Vitamin C Concentrate

  • Price: $
  • Size: 1 ounce (oz.)
  • Key ingredients: hyaluronic acid, ascorbic acid
  • Key features: paraben-free, fragrance-free
  • Skin type: dull, uneven skin

Why we love it: At a reasonable price point, this 10 percent vitamin C serum is free of fragrances and dyes. It also contains hyaluronic acid to hydrate skin. Users say the formula is light and effective, visibly improving wrinkles.

What you should know: While many love that this is more of a cream than a serum, some feel it’s too heavy.

Best drugstore vitamin C serum

Pixi Vitamin-C Serum

  • Price: $
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • Key ingredients: ferulic acid, vitamin C
  • Key features: paraben-free, cruelty-free
  • Skin type: all skin types

Why we love it: This ascorbic acid vitamin C serum includes ferulic acid, which also helps fight free radicals and reduces the effects of sun damage. Caffeine helps brighten skin, too.

What you should know: This serum has a citrus peppermint scent. While many reviewers say it smells great, some find it too strong.

Best vitamin C serum for hyperpigmentation

Murad Environmental Shield Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum

  • Price: $$$
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • Key ingredients: glycolic acid, vitamin C
  • Key features: cruelty-free, vegan, gluten-free, paraben-free, phthalate-free
  • Skin type: oily or combination skin

Why we love it: Vitamin C can be a little unstable, breaking down easily when exposed to light, air, or water. Murad uses gold to stabilize the vitamin C in this serum, which the brand says results in a stronger product.

The convenient pump top is designed to deliver the same dose of vitamin C each time you apply it.

What you should know: The serum also contains glycolic acid, a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that can work well for hyperpigmentation. However, it can sometimes be irritating to sensitive skin. Additionally, you may get more benefits from using glycolic acid and vitamin C separately than you will combining them.

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Best vitamin C serum for all skin types

Paula’s Choice C15 Super Booster

  • Price: $$$
  • Size: 0.67 oz.
  • Key ingredients: vitamin E, ferulic acid, vitamin C
  • Key features: fragrance-free, cruelty-free, paraben-free, recyclable through TerraCycle
  • Skin type: all skin types

Why we love it: This 15 percent vitamin C formula can be used alone or added into your moisturizer. Just a few drops are all you need for a healthy glow. This is also helpful for reducing the appearance of scars.

What you should know: Some users with dry skin say this caused irritation.

Most splurge-worthy vitamin C serum

Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Power Serum

  • Price: $$$
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • Key ingredients: tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate vitamin C, ferulic acid, vitamin E
  • Key features: fragrance-free
  • Skin type: all skin types

Why we love it: This vitamin C serum contains vitamin C in the form of tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate. At 20 percent potency, it’s a much higher concentration than most of the other available vitamin C serums.
The serum also contains vitamin E and ferulic acid.

2005 study suggests that ferulic acid is most effective when combined with vitamins E and C, like in this serum.

What you should know: Some reviewers report that this serum has an off-putting smell.

Best vitamin C serum for oily skin

Sunday Riley C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum

  • Price: $$$
  • Size: 1–1.7 oz.
  • Key ingredients: vitamin C, phytosterols complex, glycolic acid
  • Key features: B corp certified, cruelty-free, My Green Lab certified
  • Skin type: oily or acne-prone skin

Why we love it: This serum absorbs quickly into the skin and doesn’t leave a greasy feel. After a few applications, reviewers report fading acne scars and improved appearance.

What you should know: You don’t need a lot of this product for each use, so one bottle goes a long way.

Like the Murad serum, this product contains glycolic acid. Though glycolic acid and vitamin C can safely be combined, they may work better when used separately.

Best vitamin C serum for acne-prone skin

La Roche-Posay Vitamin C Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • Key ingredients: vitamin C, salicylic acid
  • Key features: allergy tested, dermatologist tested, paraben-free, noncomedogenic, oil-free
  • Skin type: acne-prone skin

Why we love it: The combination of vitamin C and salicylic acid makes this nongreasy formula great for acne-prone skin. Those who are concerned about aging skin say they love the improvement in their skin’s appearance.

What you should know: Salicylic acid is tough on acne, but it may irritate sensitive skin. This formula also has a strong scent, so it’s not a great option for people who are sensitive to fragrances.

Best vitamin C serum for dry skin

SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic

  • Price: $$$
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • Key ingredients: vitamin C, vitamin E, ferulic acid
  • Key features: paraben-free
  • Skin type: dry skin

Why we love it: This 15 percent vitamin C serum contains L-ascorbic acid, which is the most potent kind of vitamin C. It also contains vitamin E and ferulic acid, as well as glycerin to hydrate dry skin. Reviewers say they like how bright and smooth their skin was after just a few applications.

What you should know: Some users don’t like the scent.

Best long-lasting vitamin C serum

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Day Serum

  • Price: $$$
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • Key ingredients: vitamin C, pumpkin ferment, pomegranate extract
  • Key features: vegan, cruelty-free, fragrance-free
  • Skin type: all skin types

Why we love it: A vitamin C formula that’s cruelty-free, free of essential oils, *and* has a fun name — what’s not to love? This Drunk Elephant formula is designed to stay on your skin for 72 hours.

What you should know: Drunk Elephant relaunched the product in 2021. It now comes in two separate vials you mix together to “activate” the vitamin C, so you know the product will stay fresh for at least 6 months.

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What to look for in vitamin C serums

When shopping for a vitamin C serum, it’s important to look for a product made of a potent, stable type of vitamin C. Look for one of these types of vitamin C on the ingredients list:

  • L-ascorbic acid
  • ascorbyl palmitate
  • tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate
  • magnesium ascorbyl phosphate

It’s also best to look for a product that’s sold in opaque packaging, as vitamin C can break down when exposed to sunlight.

You can also check out the other ingredients, especially if you’re looking to help several skin concerns at once. For example, hyaluronic acid or glycerin are good additions for dry skin, while AHAs can help slough off dead skin. Some products may also be formulated with retinol to help lessen the appearance of wrinkles.

Many products are made with 10 to 20 percent vitamin C, and that’s usually potent enough. Older studies show that maximum absorption is achieved at 20 percent.

Considerations by skin type

Vitamin C is safe to use for most skin types, but it’s still a good idea to do a patch test before applying serum all over your face.

To do this, apply a small amount of product on the inside of your wrist. Wait 24 hours for any signs of irritation before using broadly.

Sensitive skin

If you have sensitive skin or a skin condition, like rosacea, you might want to stick to serums with lower concentrations of vitamin C. That’s because concentrations higher than 20 percent may cause irritation.

Oily skin

For oily or acne-prone skin, look for serums labeled “noncomedogenic” so they won’t clog your pores.

Dry skin

If your skin tends to be on the dryer side, look for serums with hydrating ingredients, like hyaluronic acid.

How to use a vitamin C serum

In general, it’s best to cleanse and tone before applying your vitamin C serum. Then, follow with a moisturizer.

You’ll only need a few drops of serum, which you should gently pat into your skin with your fingertips. You can use the serum once or twice per day.

Risks and side effects of vitamin C serums

Higher concentrations of vitamin C may cause irritation in some people. But most people tolerate it pretty well.

And while mixing vitamin C with other ingredients won’t necessarily cause side effects, it can render the vitamin inactive. Board certified dermatologist Elizabeth Mullans cautions against mixing vitamin C with the following:

Frequently asked questions about vitamin C serum

What does vitamin C serum do?

Vitamin C can help minimize the signs of aging, protect against skin damage, reduce discoloration, and more.

Is vitamin C serum really worth it?

Vitamin C is a versatile skin care ingredient that may be able to improve your skin’s appearance. Whether that sounds valuable to you depends on your skin care needs and overall budget.

How often should I use vitamin C serum?

You can apply it once per day. Or you can even apply twice daily — once in the morning and again a night.

Takeaway

Adding a vitamin C serum to your daily routine will improve your skin’s glow while reducing the damaging effects of the environment and the sun. The longer you use a vitamin C serum consistently, the more you’ll be able to see the difference it makes.

As always, discontinue use if the product irritates your skin.

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