Skin-Care Tips

I’ve Tested Hundreds of Vitamin C Serums and These 5 Are the Best Money Can Buy

Zoe Weiner

Photo: Getty Images/ Aja Koska
It's rare that dermatologists make blanket recommendations about a single ingredient that everyone should be using, but in the case of vitamin C, it's the truth. It also could be why it's known as "the little black dress" of your beauty routine. The antioxidant serves up a two-for-one special by offering both short and long-term benefits for your skin.

Vitamin C Benefits

No matter your age, skin type, or complexion concerns, vitamin C should be a non-negotiable part of your morning regimen, in my opinion. It protects against environmental stressors, like pollution and UV damage, which cause oxidative stress that leads to signs of aging in your skin. In addition to fending off aggressors, it also helps to revive dullness, act as an anti-inflammatory, and even out the appearance of dark spots.

"It's a superstar skin-care ingredient and antioxidant," says Mona Gohara, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Connecticut. "I love to tell my patients to use it because it scavenges free radicals, resulting in brighter, better functioning skin."

Best Vitamin C Serums

Photo: SkinCeuticals
Skinceuticals CE Ferulic With 15% L-Ascorbic Acid — $166.00

This medical-grade product is *the* vitamin C serums, and derms don’t go a day without recommending it to their patients. It’s got an exceptionally high concentration of vitamin C, which means it’s packed with all of the usual antioxidants you’d expect from the powerhouse ingredient and offers brightening, skin-tone evening, and all-around anti-aging effects. Plus, the addition of vitamin E not only helps to make the vitamin C work harder, but it’s also ultra-nourishing and helps to fight inflammation.

 

preventative skin care in your 20s
Drunk Elephant C-Firma™ Vitamin C Day Serum — $78.00

“This serum delivers a trifecta of antioxidants to the skin,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. The combination of vitamin C, vitamin E, and ferulic acid work together to maintain stability, as well as enhance the efficacy of the ingredients.” The three ingredients combined also help to nourish and protect skin all day long. See our review.

best sephora products of 2020
Photo: Sephora
The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 30% in Silicone — $7.00

At less than 10 bucks a pop, there’s a good reason why this vitamin C serum has been flying off the shelves of late. “It contains 30 percent L-ascorbic acid, which is among the highest concentrations of vitamin C on the market,” says Dr. Zeichner. It’s water-free so goes on smoothly, almost like a primer, and is great to use every morning as an environmental protectant. It’ll target uneven skin tone, dullness, and textural irregularities, too.

Photo: Ghost Democracy
Ghost Democracy Lightbulb Vitamin C Serum — $34.00

If you want a budget-friendly hybrid serum that contains both vitamins C and E, this potent product is a great pick. It absorbs easily into the skin, and contains a small amount of bakuchiol to help stimulate cellular turnover, leading to a brighter (and more even complexion) overall.

Hyper Skin Hyper Clear Brightening Clearing Vitamin C Serum — $36.00

Designed with darker complexions in mind, this serum combines vitamin C with kojic acid and fruit enzymes to help dramatically fade dark spots and hyperpigmentation. It’s also got the nourishing and moisturizing properties of vitamin E. Not to mention, it’ll make your skin tone more even and you look like you’re lit from within.

La Roche-Posay Pure Vitamin C Face Serum
La Roche-Posay Pure Vitamin C Face Serum — $42.00

In addition to 10 percent pure vitamin C, La Roche-Posay’s serum also includes salicylic acid and neurosensine to help smooth and even skin tone. It’s dermatologist-tested and suitable even for sensitive skin.

CeraVe Vitamin C Serum
CeraVe Vitamin C Serum — $20.00

CeraVe’s serum has 10 percent pure vitamin C, hyaluronic acid to help retain moisture, and ceramides to protect your skin’s natural barrier. The opaque packaging will also protect the serum from oxidation.

L'Oreal Vitamin C Serum
L'Oreal Vitamin C Serum

L’Oreal’s vitamin C serum is lightweight and has no fragrances, parabens, or synthetic dyes. It comes in an airtight metal tube to keep it fresh for as long as you need it.

Biossance Vitamin C Rose Oil
Biossance Vitamin C Rose Oil

This vitamin C oil from clean beauty brand Biossance has an oil-soluble, stable form of vitamin C to help brighten your skin. Plus, it has sugarcane-derived squalane, which is a moisturizing powerhouse, and rose oil to give you a nice glow (and a fresh rosy scent).

Kiehl's Powerful-Strength Vitamin C Serum
Kiehl's Powerful-Strength Vitamin C Serum — $70.00

This serum is formulated with 12.5 percent vitamin C and hyaluronic acid to brighten and smooth skin, and help keep your face looking youthful.

Glow Recipe Guava Vitamin C Dark Spot Treatment Serum
Glow Recipe Guava Vitamin C Dark Spot Treatment Serum

Glow Recipe uses not one, but five forms of vitamin C to brighten skin. Add in guava extract and seed oil to protect against free radical damage, and this serum can also help tackle dark spots.

TruSkin Vitamin C Serum
TruSkin Vitamin C Serum — $36.00

This vitamin C serum has botanical hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, and aloe vera to not only brighten your skin but also hydrate and calm it. It’s a popular pick on Amazon too, with over 8,800 five-star reviews.

Obagi Professional C Serum
Obagi Professional C Serum

Like the name says, this serum brings some professional vitamin C—20 percent of it—to your skin. It absorbs quickly, so it can get right to work protecting your skin and improving your complexion.

BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner
BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner — $80.00

Another 20 percenter, BeautyStat’s vitamin C serum has a concentrated formula developed by a chemist to firm and even out skin tone. It also has squalane for moisture and is safe for all skin types.

Sunday Riley C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum
Sunday Riley C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum — $85.00

Sunday Riley’s serum uses THD Ascorbate, which is a more stable version of vitamin C. It’s also designed to help minimize pores and reduce redness for sensitive skin.

What to Look for in a Vitamin C Product

When searching for a product that you can be sure will do its job properly, derms suggest looking for products that pair vitamin C with a supplemental ingredient. Top contenders include vitamin E or ferulic acid, which will help amp up its efficacy and stabilize the molecules. Since vitamin C is sun sensitive (and can oxidize and become less effective with exposure), you should also opt for something in an opaque bottle that won't let light in.

How to use Vitamin C Serums

Vitamin C is most effective in the morning, so after you clean your face, add it to your a.m. routine before you start your day or leave the house, to protect your skin against UV rays and pollutants. And of course, top it off with sunscreen. If you use a retinol product at night, avoid using your vitamin C serum because the two don't work well together.—

To learn more about vitamin C (and why you really do need it in your routine), check out the video below.

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