You might take vitamin C supplements to boost your immunity, but did you know vitamin C is just as impressive when applied topically as part of your skincare routine?
We’ll talk about the benefits of vitamin C for the skin, as well as the best vitamin C serums available on the market.
What is a Vitamin C Serum?
A vitamin C serum typically comes in the form of a liquid or gel. This serum is packed with vitamin C, typically with concentrations ranging from 5% to 20%. Vitamin C serum is incredibly popular due to its host of anti-aging and brightening benefits, which we’ll cover more in-depth below. It is available at a range of price points, and is safe for most skin types.
Those with particularly sensitive skin may experience irritation, but they can likely still benefit from lower concentration vitamin C serums. Some of the most common forms of vitamin C you’ll find in skincare products include l-ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbyl phosphate, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, and methylsilanol ascorbate.
What Does a Vitamin C Serum Do?
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that has the ability to fight aggressors (like air pollution and UV damage) and prevent the formation of free radicals. Free radicals are detrimental to the appearance of the skin, as they can break down collagen and elastin – two proteins that prevent signs of aging in the skin.
In short, this means vitamin C serum helps to support firm, glowing, and even-toned skin.
Best Vitamin C Serums
Due to its popularity, there are many vitamin C serums available on the market, but not all of them are created equal.
If you are looking to try out this potent ingredient in your skincare routine, these are the best vitamin C serums that work for different budgets and serve different skin types and issues.
1. Best Drugstore: Derma E Vitamin C Concentrated Serum
This serum from Derma E is one of the best options you can find at the drugstore. It includes sodium ascorbyl phosphate, a stable form of vitamin C. Stable vitamin C is essential, as it is less likely to deteriorate before actually being applied to the skin. The serum also contains hydrating hyaluronic acid, along with green tea leaf extract, rosehip oil, aloe vera extract, and other nourishing ingredients. It is cruelty-free, vegan, and free of gluten, soy, and GMOs.
2. Best for Hyperpigmentation: Paula’s Choice C15 Super Booster
Paula’s Choice offers this potent vitamin C serum, which has a concentration of 15% vitamin C. It contains l-ascorbic acid, a stabilized form of vitamin C, as well as other antioxidants and skin-healthy ingredients.
This includes vitamin E and ferulic acid. Ferulic acid can stabilize vitamin C, and studies have shown that, when combined with vitamins C and E, its ability to protect against sun damage doubles. These ingredients make this a great serum for hyperpigmentation, and preventing spots from becoming more prominent from sun damage.
3. Best for: Anti-Aging & Wrinkles: Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum
This potent serum from Drunk Elephant contains a 15% concentration of l-ascorbic acid, alongside ferulic acid and vitamin E. The formula also contains pumpkin ferment extract and pomegranate enzymes, which help to dissolve dead skin cells on the surface of the skin, revealing a radiant complexion.
The unique formula has a reservoir effect, meaning it remains on the surface of the skin for up to 72 hours, which makes it a superior serum for anti-aging and wrinkles.
4. Best for Acne-Prone Skin: The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension is the best for acne-prone skin. In that will give you bright skin without any breakouts. This serum, which is free of silicones and oil, contains a suspension of fine l-ascorbic acid powder, giving the skin maximum exposure to the vitamin C. It has a 23% concentration of the vitamin C, as well as hydrating squalane (which is non-comedogenic, meaning it doesn’t clog pores) and hyaluronic acid.
5. Best for Oily Skin: Timeless 20% Vitamin C + E Ferulic Acid Serum
This vitamin C serum from Timeless contains the winning combination of vitamins C and E along with ferulic acid. The formula is lightweight, non-greasy, and absorbs easily into the skin, making it one of the best vitamin C serums for oily skin. It has a 20% concentration of stable l-ascorbic acid, along with hydrating hyaluronic acid. This serum is also free of parabens, fragrances, and dyes, and is cruelty-free.
6. Best for Sensitive Skin: TruSkin Vitamin C Serum
Those with sensitive skin may worry about experiencing irritation from a vitamin C serum. Thankfully, the gentle formula of this serum makes it one of the best vitamin C serums for sensitive skin. It contains sodium ascorbyl phosphate, a stable vitamin C, along with vitamin E. The plant-based formula also contains aloe vera, hyaluronic acid, witch hazel, and jojoba oil, which hydrate and soothe sensitive skin. It is free of color additives, fragrances, and stabilizers, all of which could irritate sensitive skin. The serum is also cruelty-free.
7. Best Under $30: Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum
Some vitamin C serums will put a lot of strain on your wallet, but this option is budget-friendly and just as effective. Mad Hippie uses sodium ascorbyl phosphate as the form of vitamin C for this serum, which is more stable than many other forms of vitamin C. It also contains complementary vitamin E and ferulic acid, as well as hyaluronic acid and konjac root, providing hydrating, brightening, and anti-aging benefits. The serum absorbs easily into the skin. It is natural, vegan, and cruelty-free. All of these great features at an affordable price, making it the best vitamin C serum under $30.
3 Main Benefits of Using a Vitamin C Serum
We know that vitamin C is important to implement in a skincare routine, but exactly what are the benefits of using it? As mentioned above, vitamin C has anti-aging and brightening effects. Here is a more in-depth look at the benefits that come with regularly using one of the best vitamin C serums in your skincare routine.
1. Fading Hyperpigmentation
If you’re dealing with age spots, sun spots, melasma, or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, vitamin C will be particularly helpful for reducing the appearance of these spots. Studies have shown that vitamin C is effective at fading these marks.
This is because the vitamin is able to prevent melanin production. A vitamin C serum will reduce the appearance of these spots without lightening the overall skin tone. This means users are left with an overall more even complexion.
2. Promoting Collagen Production and Minimizes Fine Lines and Wrinkles
Collagen is a protein that is essential for maintaining firm, youthful skin. It gives the skin elasticity and strengthens it. As we age, the levels of collagen in our skin decrease.
Thankfully, vitamin C has been found to promote the production of collagen in the skin. This in turn reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and prevents new ones from forming.
3. Providing Protection From Sun Damage and Free Radicals
In addition to minimizing the appearance of sun spots, vitamin C may also protect you from exposure to sun. While SPF should still be used on a daily basis for full protection, research has shown that vitamin C can minimize the effects of the sun.
This is due to its antioxidants, which are able to neutralize free radicals that cause sun damage. Free radicals also lead to general oxidative stress, so vitamin C’s antioxidant properties also protect against general aging skin.
How to Use a Vitamin C Serum In Your Routine
It is easy to incorporate a vitamin C serum into your routine.
- After cleansing the skin, apply a few drops to the face, working it down the neck and chest (AM + PM).
- Once applied, follow up with a moisturizer and your favorite sunscreen.
Typically, a vitamin C serum may be applied one to two times per day.
How to Layer Vitamin C Serum
In terms of layering products, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Using Vitamin C Serum with Exfoliants
Exfoliating acids (AHAs and BHAs) can be layered with a vitamin C serum, but it may cause irritation. To minimize the risk of irritation, it may be best to use them separately (for example, apply vitamin C in the morning and an exfoliating acid at night).
Using Vitamin C Serum with Niacinamide
If you use niacinamide in your skincare routine, it should also be used separately. When combined with vitamin C, niacinamide turns into niacin, which may cause redness and tingling in the skin. Hyaluronic acid, peptides, and B5 are excellent ingredients to layer on top of vitamin C.
Using Vitamin C Serum with Retinol
Retinol is a powerhouse in anti-aging that is used in many skincare routines. Which begs the quest - can you use vitamin c serum and retinol together? The answer is yes.
Because Vitamin C helps reduce free radicals, it may actually promote retinol's effectiveness. However, keep in mind that if irritation occurs, scale back to using vitamin C in the AM, and retinol int he PM.
Summary: Best Vitamin C Serums
- Derma E Vitamin C Concentrated Serum (Best Drugstore)
- Paula’s Choice C15 Super Booster (Best for Hyperpigmentation)
- Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum (Best for Anti-Aging)
- The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% (Best for Acne Prone Skin)
- Timeless 20% Vitamin C + E Ferulic Acid Serum (Best for Oily Skin)
- TruSkin Vitamin C Serum (Best for Sensitive Skin)
- Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum (Best Under $30)
How often should you use a vitamin C serum?
If your skin is not irritated by vitamin C, you may apply it one to two times per day. Take note of the products you already use on a daily basis. If they don’t layer well with vitamin C, alternate applications, applying vitamin C once per day.
When trying a vitamin C serum for the first time, you may want to start by applying it every other day. This will allow your skin to get accustomed to the ingredient. You may be able to build up to daily use once your skin is used to it.
When should you apply vitamin C serum?
A vitamin C serum may be applied day or night, or at both times if using twice per day. By using it during the day, you’ll have the extra benefit of additional protection from UV rays.
However, a vitamin C serum will effectively brighten, fight signs of aging, and even out the skin tone when applied either during the day or at night.
Does vitamin C serum help with wrinkles?
Yes, vitamin C has been found to help minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It is also able to prevent new lines and wrinkles from forming.
Studies show that vitamin C neutralizes free radicals, which cause damage to the skin. Vitamin C also promotes the production of collagen. Collagen is a protein that is essential for firm skin, but it diminishes as we age.
How long does it take for vitamin C serum to fade dark spots?
This will depend on how often you apply vitamin C and how severe your dark spots are.
However, if you apply vitamin C regularly on a daily basis, you'll generally begin to see improvements within 3 weeks. After 2 months, you should see significant improvements.
The Bottom Line
Vitamin c serums are a great anti-aging and brightening product to add to your skincare routine. There are many available for a variety of different skin types, and come at a range of price points. The best vitamin c serum is the one that are formulated specifically for your skin concerns.