All of the Benefits of Using Vitamin C in Your Skincare Routine

Find out why it's considered the holy grail of skincare ingredients.

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Photo: Yulia Reznikov/Getty Images

Vitamin C serum is one of the most celebrated skincare products for a reason: It works. Along with sunscreen and retinol, any dermatologist will be quick to tell you that vitamin C is essential to every basic skincare routine — regardless of skin type.

But what is it exactly that makes vitamin C so great? To find out, we turned to board-certified dermatologists Dr. Michelle Henry and Dr. Lily Talakoub. Not only did they break down the benefits of vitamin C for skin but they also shared how to properly incorporate the ingredient into your skincare routine.

How Does Vitamin C Benefit the Skin?

To understand the advantages of using vitamin C on the skin, it's first worth noting the different types of vitamin C out there. Depending on your skin type and concern, you may decide to go with one form of vitamin C over another.

L-ascorbic acid happens to be the most beneficial and effective of all forms. However, if you've got acne-prone skin, Dr. Henry recommends using synthetic, stable, and water-soluble sodium ascorbyl phosphate. Some research shows sodium ascorbyl phosphate can be effective at treating breakouts when used in one-percent and five-percent concentrations and combined alongside acne-fighting ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, she tells us. If you're looking for a vitamin C product that will deeply penetrate the skin, pick one with oil-soluble tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, a derivative of L-ascorbic acid.

When used correctly, vitamin C (in all its forms) is capable of treating a myriad of common skincare concerns:

  • Slows and/or reverses signs of aging: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals — which can lead to premature wrinkles and fine lines. "The antioxidant activity of vitamin C protects against UV-induced damage caused by free radicals, which will prevent accelerated aging and skin cancer," Dr. Henry explains.
  • Improves elasticity: As we age, skin loses its elasticity due to a decrease in collagen synthesis. "[Vitamin C] boosts firmness by regulating collagen production," says Dr. Henry. The result? Plumper-looking skin.
  • Treats dark spots and hyperpigmentation: According to Dr. Henry, vitamin C can have a brightening effect because it interferes with the enzymes used in melanin production.

How Should You Add Vitamin C to Your Routine?

When it comes to using vitamin C on your face, Dr. Henry says that you can use vitamin C products twice a day, but recommends including one in your morning routine so that you can use retinol at night (more on that later). For topical vitamin C to be proven effective, most products come in a 10 to 20 percent concentration. But before you go slathering your face with vitamin C, check the expiration date first. While both dermatologists say that its infamous "stale hot dog water" smell could be caused by the product's combination of ingredients, it could also be due to it going bad. Once all checks out, you're ready to introduce it to your routine:

  • Use it as a serum: Generally, serums are the most common and popular vitamin C product category, but the ingredient is also found in moisturizers.
  • Add it to your moisturizer: Dr. Talakoub likes mixing a few drops of a vitamin C serum into moisturizer for an antioxidant boost. "I like the serum versions, which are bound in oil because they are the most stable forms of vitamin C," she says.

VIDEO: When You Apply Sunscreen in Your Skincare Routine Actually Matters A Lot

What Are the Side Effects of Using Vitamin C?

Unless you have a specific allergy or extremely sensitive skin, vitamin C is safe for use on all skin types. However, there are some ingredients that it shouldn't be combined with. According to Dr. Henry, "Retinoids, retinols, and AHA and BHA acids should not be mixed with vitamin C as their efficacy may be reduced as they function optimally in environments of very different pH levels." Using vitamin C and retinol together can also lead to irritation. That's why Dr. Henry recommends using vitamin C in the morning and reserving separate acids or retinol products for nighttime use. Still, keep in mind that you may see some vitamin C products that contain these ingredients at less potent levels.

The Best Vitamin C Serums to Add to Your Skincare Routine

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SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic

Skinceuticals C E Ferulic Vitamin C Serum
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Beloved by dermatologists, beauty editors, and skincare enthusiasts alike, this award-winning serum includes a mix of vitamin C and ferulic acid to protect skin from environmental stressors and prevent signs of aging including fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots.

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Tatcha Violet-C Brightening Serum 20% Vitamin C + 10% AHA

Tatcha Violet-C Brightening Serum 20% Vitamin C + 10% AHA
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In addition to skin-brightening vitamin C, 10% AHA fruit acids gently exfoliate for extra glowy results. And while the price tag is a little steep, we think it's worth the splurge.

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BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner

BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner
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This patented serum solves one of the biggest struggles associated with vitamin C: oxidization. Thanks to the encapsulated delivery system, the last drop is just as effective and potent as the first.

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La Roche-Posay Pure Vitamin C Serum

La Roche-Posay Pure Vitamin C Face Serum with Salicylic Acid
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With the addition of salicylic acid, La Roche-Posay's vitamin C serum prevents future breakouts on top of fading old acne scars. No wonder it's beloved by dermatologists.

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Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Vitamin-C Day Serum

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Vitamin-C Day Serum
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Drunk Elephant's cult-favorite multitasking serum brightens, improves texture, minimizes fine lines and wrinkles, and firms skin. The new-and-improved version of the beloved formula is intended to be mixed prior to first use. This not only maximizes the potency of the ingredients but also ensures it stays fresh.

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Hyper Skin Brightening Dark Spot Vitamin C Serum

Hyper Skin Brightening Dark Spot Vitamin C Serum
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The hype around Hyper's hero product is warranted. It specifically targets dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and acne scarring with its blend of vitamin C, E, and fruit enzymes. Need we say more?

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L'Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives 10% Vitamin C Concentrate

L'Oreal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives Vitamin C Facial Treatment
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This serum is proof that you don't have to spend a ton of money to get an efficacious vitamin C serum. With 10% pure vitamin C, the lightweight serum minimizes hyperpigmentation. You're also guaranteed to get continued results over time: the airtight tube and waterless formula ensure the ingredient remains stabilized.

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Allies of Skin 35% Vitamin C Perfecting Serum

Allies of Skin 35% Vitamin C Perfecting Serum
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Allies of Skin's serum features a whopping 35% L-ascorbic acid, along with 10% tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate and a blend of additional brightening and inflammation-reducing ingredients. The waterless base keeps the formula fresh, from top to bottom.

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