The 10 Best Vitamin C Serums for Brighter Skin
Ask anyone with clear, glowy skin to drop their skincare routine, and they'll probably tell you they're using a vitamin C serum.
The antioxidant can treat a laundry list of common skincare concerns, from minimizing dark spots to providing protection against free radicals, including UV radiation and pollution.
"Within the group of antioxidants, vitamin C is the leading ingredient because it has so many benefits," says Dr. Elizabeth Hale, board-certified dermatologist and founder of CompleteSkinMD in New York City. "In addition to its antioxidant capabilities, vitamin C serves as a skin brighter, helps to inhibit melanin synthesis to even out hyperpigmentation, and supports collagen and elastin so it improves texture, and minimizes fine lines and wrinkles."
While you can find vitamin C in moisturizers, face masks, and cleansers, however there's one product that stands out from the rest. "In general, serums are the most potent forms of skincare because you get a high deliverance of an active in a serum, more so than in a lotion and cream," Dr. Hale explains.
But in order to get the most of its brightening and antioxidant protection, it's recommended to use a vitamin C serum in the morning before applying sunscreen.
That being said, Dr. Hale recommends taking a less-is-more approach if you have sensitive skin because high concentrations of vitamin C can cause irritation. Typically, 20% is the highest percentage of vitamin C you'll find in a serum. Instead, opt for 3 to 5% to minimize the risk of a reaction.
And while vitamin C is considered a gold standard skincare ingredient, it's also unstable, making it prone to oxidization. That's why most brands package their serums in dark vials or airtight canisters. To get the most out of your vitamin C serum, consider the way it's packaged, along with what form of vitamin C is in the formula. Dr. Hale says ascorbic acid and tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate are the most photo-stable.
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Keeping this crash course on vitamin C serums in mind, we've rounded up the 10 best options to add to your morning skincare routine for a brighter complexion.
- The Cult Classic: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
- Best Cruelty-Free: Drunk Elephant C-Firma Vitamin C Day Cream
- Best Drugstore: L'Oréal Revitalift 10% Pure Vitamin C Concentrate
- Best Multipurpose: Paula's Choice C15 Super Booster
- Best Exfoliating: Tatcha Violet-C Brightening Serum 20% Vitamin C + 10% AHA
- Best With Collagen: Dr. Dennis Gross C+ Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum
- The Cult-Favorite: BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner
- Best With Retinol: StriVectin Super-C Retinol Brighten & Correct Vitamin C Serum
- The Best Dermatologist-Approved: Revision C+ Correcting Complex 30%
- Best for Hyperpigmentation: Hyper! Hyper Clear Vitamin C Serum
The Cult Classic: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
Beauty editors and dermatologists will never stop raving over SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic serums because it's formulated with L-ascorbic acid and ferulic acid. These two potent actives minimize dark spots and wrinkles, while also protecting against free radical damage caused by UVA/UVB, infrared radiation, and pollution. No wonder the serum has won countless beauty awards.
To buy: $166; dermstore.com.
Best Cruelty-Free: Drunk Elephant C-Firma Vitamin C Day Serum
This potent formula consisting of brightening antioxidants 15% L-ascorbic acid, vitamin E, and ferulic acid, along with a mix of plant-based exfoliating ingredients, is housed in an air-tight canister to prevent oxidization.
To buy: $80; sephora.com.
Best Drugstore: L'Oréal Revitalift 10% Pure Vitamin C Concentrate
Expensive products aren't necessarily better than drugstore ones, and the proof is in L'Oréal Paris' pure vitamin C serum. For under $20, you'll get a blend of 10% pure vitamin C and hyaluronic acid that quickly absorbs into skin without leaving any sticky or greasy residue. According to the brand, you can expect to see brighter skin in just one week.
To buy: $17; amazon.com.
Best Multipurpose: Paula's Choice C15 Super Booster
Use this potent vitamin C booster on its own, as you would a serum, or add a few drops to your favorite moisturizer for added antioxidant protection. Bonus: It also contains skin-smoothing and firming peptides.
To buy: $49; amazon.com.
Best Exfoliating: Tatcha Violet-C Brightening Serum 20% Vitamin C + 10% AHA
Say goodbye to dark spots, dullness, and uneven texture thanks to Tatcha's blockbuster formula of 20% vitamin C and 10% fruit-derived AHA acids for gentle exfoliation. Japanese angelica root adds extra reinforcement for post-breakout hyperpigmentation.
To buy: $88; sephora.com.
Best With Collagen: Dr. Dennis Gross C+ Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum
This serum by Dr. Dennis Gross combines vitamin C, amino acids, and a proprietary energy complex to revive skin. Expect a clearer, firmer complexion over time with continued use.
To buy: $78; sephora.com.
The Cult-Favorite: BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner
BeautyStat's vitamin C serum launched to great applause in 2019. Founded and formulated by cosmetic Ron Robinson, this potent serum includes 20% vitamin C in the brand's patented encapsulation system that maintain's the serum's efficiency throughout its shelf live. To sum it up: The last drop of Universal C Skin Refiner is just as effective as the first.
To buy: $80; amazon.com.
Best With Retinol: StriVectin Super-C Retinol Brighten & Correct Vitamin C Serum
While vitamin C and retinol are considered the VIPs of skincare ingredients, they shouldn't be treated as teammates. The two ingredients both boast a ton of benefits, but they can cause irritation when layered on top of one another. That's exactly what makes StriVectin's Super-C serum so extraordinary. The formula has combined two stabilized forms of vitamin C with retinol, along with the brand's patented niacin/vitamin B3. Together, these ingredients brighten, firm, smooth fine lines and wrinkles, and strengthen the skin barrier to keep skin hydrated.
To buy: $71; amazon.com.
The Best Dermatologist-Approved: Revision C+ Correcting Complex
Dr. Hale is a fan of this antioxidant-packed serum by Revision. (She has no affiliation with the brand.) It contains a patent-pending blend of vitamin C and other antioxidants that work in synergy to combat damage caused by free radicals. Hydrating squalane, firming peptides, and microbiome-supporting prebiotics round out this powerful formula.
To buy: $160; dermstore.com.
Best for Hyperpigmentation: Hyper! Hyper Clear Vitamin C Serum
Old breakout scars, dark marks, and age spots don't stand a chance with this gel-like serum. On top of the brightening antioxidants, fruit enzymes, bearberry, turmeric, and kojic acid, there are natural fruit extracts to prevent future breakouts.
To buy: $36; gethyperskin.com.