By Marissa DeSantis
In the quest for healthier, brighter skin, vitamin C is an essential ingredient. Most effectively incorporated into your routine as a serum, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that works to neutralize skin damage caused by things like sun exposure and air pollution.
But the multi-tasking ingredient doesn’t stop there. In addition to pairing perfectly with your daily sunscreen to further protect your skin, vitamin C also aids in the prevention of fine lines and wrinkles by boosting collagen production. Plus, it helps to even out your skin tone by fading hyperpigmentation (think sun spots and acne scars).
As with any skincare ingredient, there are a few key items to keep in mind when choosing (and using) a vitamin C serum. First, keep in mind that a vitamin C serum doesn’t replace the need for sunscreen. You’ll still want to apply SPF daily after you’ve applied your vitamin C serum as the two work together to maximize shielding your skin from sun damage. If your skin is on the sensitive side, start with a serum that is formulated with a lower percentage of vitamin C (generally, 5% will be gentle enough, and 20% is the highest concentration any skin type will want to use).
As for the vitamin C itself, ascorbic acid (also known as L-ascorbic acid) and tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate are the most effective forms of the antioxidant, according to experts. And lastly, take note of how you store your serum (including the packaging it comes in), as vitamin C breaks down when it’s exposed to light, heat, and air. For that reason, you’ll want to store the serum in a cool, dark place, paying attention to the expiration date and any signs that it might have gone bad like changes in the serum’s color, texture, or smell.
Ahead, you’ll find the five best vitamin C serums – whether you’re looking for a luxe option that’s a longtime beauty editor favorite or a drugstore bargain that doesn’t skimp on the skincare benefits.
SkinCeuticals’ serum is a staple in every beauty editor’s skincare cabinet, and with good reason. The supercharged formula includes 15% vitamin C, 1% vitamin E, and 0.5% ferulic acid, which work together to stabilize each other and double up on protecting against environmental damage. The vitamin E and ferulic acid also help to make the serum more easily absorbed into the skin, remaining effective for 72 hours after application.
Vitamin C serums tend to be more expensive, but effective drugstore options aren’t entirely impossible to find. L’Oréal’s $30 formulation includes 10% vitamin C to give you all of the skin-protecting, fine line-fighting, and hyperpigmentation-fading benefits at an affordable price. The serum is also housed in an air-tight metal tube (along with a cap that doesn’t let oxygen in when opened) to minimize exposure to light and oxygen.
Yes, using a vitamin C serum will give you brighter skin over time, but if you want an instant glow, too, there’s Summer Fridays’ CC Me Vitamin C Serum. Squalane hydrates skin upon application, leaving it dewy without feeling greasy or weighed down, and vitamin C and niacinamide work to brighten skin and fade hyperpigmentation in the long run. Summer Fridays also added botanical ingredients like green tea extract and black tea extract into the formulation for more antioxidant power.
For those who want to soak up the benefits of a vitamin C serum but are also prone to acne, there’s iS Clinical Pro-Heal Serum Advance+. Combining vitamin C in the form of L-ascorbic acid with vitamins E and A (retinol), iS Clinical also helps to treat whiteheads and cystic acne with olive leaf extract, an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
Elizabeth Arden made it easy to prevent your vitamin C serum from degrading by encapsulating each dose in a tiny golden sphere. The serum capsules contain a blend of vitamin C, vitamin E, and ceramides to protect against free radical damage while preventing moisture loss and irritation. Because each capsule contains just enough serum for one use, they’re also perfect when traveling.