24 Best Vitamin C Serums, According to Dermatologists
Looking for magic in a bottle? Just a few drops of these expert-recommended vitamin C serums will make your skin look brighter, healthier and more youthful in no time.
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All about vitamin C serums and your skin
Vitamin C sits beside retinol serums as one of the most recommended skin care ingredients of all time. Dermatologists love the vitamin’s ability to brighten, lighten, tighten, hydrate, and protect skin from environmental threats like pollution, smoke, and the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. So in addition to noshing on foods containing the natural ingredient, vitamin C serum has become all the rage to apply topically to skin. Vitamin C serum benefits include boosting tissue repair and collagen production, which promotes the appearance of healthier skin. But with every brand quick to declare theirs is the best vitamin C serum out there, how do you know which one to choose? We asked skin care experts and dermatologists for their picks.
What to look for in a vitamin C serum
Turns out, not all vitamin C serums for the face are created equal. Check the label for L-ascorbic acid, says Chicago plastic surgeon Julius Few, MD. “L-ascorbic acid, also just called ascorbic acid, is the most well-researched form of vitamin C with respect to the skin, and naturally occurs in our bodies,” he explains. “The abundant research on ascorbic acid demonstrates that it can reduce signs of aging, including hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, fine lines, and loss of elasticity.”
Other helpful vitamin C derivatives found in skin care products include sodium ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbyl palmitate, retinyl ascorbate, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate. Some vitamin C serums also contain other antioxidants like ferulic acid and vitamin E, which help supercharge their skin-rejuvenating effects.
What to watch for with vitamin C serum
Finding the best vitamin C serum isn’t always a slam dunk, as this antioxidant can be unstable and breaks down quickly when exposed to light. Here’s a tip: Choose products with opaque bottles to keep your product fresher longer, such as TruSkin Vitamin C Serum. If the color of the product turns dark or yellow, it’s time for a new bottle.
Another potential problem? With supplements like vitamin C serum, you don’t always know if you’re getting the real deal, since they’re not closely regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Here’s a trick for your inner science geek: Mix betadine, a golden-brown antiseptic used before surgery, with vitamin C. If the mixture turns clear, there’s C in your serum, says New York City dermatologist Doris Day, MD. This simple experiment can tell you if there’s actually vitamin C in your serum—but it still can’t tell you how well the serum will be absorbed by your skin. “This experiment won’t give you information on the quality of the vitamin C, its Ph [the balance of acids and bases], or the overall efficacy of the formula,” Dr. Day explains. Enter our experts’ picks.
How we choose our favorites
Our selections for best vitamin C serums are based on expert recommendations from top dermatologists, estheticians, and plastic surgeons. We then combined their know-how with user reviews and star ratings to develop a comprehensive list of the best vitamin C serums for every skin type, at every price point. So whether you’re looking for the best affordable face serums, the best dark spot correctors, or the overall best face serums, we’ve got you covered.
How to use vitamin C serum
If you’re ready to start adding vitamin C serum to your daily routine, here’s how to do it, says Michael Garner, MD, a dermatologist based in Boone, North Carolina: “Apply a small amount in the morning before applying any facial moisturizers or sunscreen. It should be used sparingly and spread so that there is a thin layer over the entire face, excluding the eyes and lips.”
Best for dry skin
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
This is the best vitamin C serum for face application if you’re not prone to breakouts, Dr. Day says. “The addition of ferulic acid makes the serum better, as it goes really well with vitamin C, helps reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and brightens your skin’s complexion,” she explains. Another potent antioxidant, ferulic acid is found in the walls of plant cells and serves to super-charge other actives and antioxidants in your skin care products. The only downside? SkinCeuticals’ products can be costly. Follow with moisturizer and your makeup routine, including one of the best foundations for dry skin.
- Contains an antioxidant powerhouse
Best for acne-prone skin
SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF
This vitamin C-rich serum is the one to choose if you are prone to acne, Dr. Day says. It’s not oily or greasy, so it won’t clog your pores. Plus, three antioxidants (phloretin, vitamin C, and ferulic acid) work synergistically to give this serum its superpowers. Ted Lain, MD, a dermatologist at Sanova Dermatology in Austin, Texas, also gives this one high marks for treating discoloration. “I recommend the SkinCeuticals’ vitamin C serums because their formulations are truly the gold standard for antioxidant serums, and they are backed by 16 clinical studies, over 30 years of research, and 60-plus beauty awards.” Again, the only downside with this serum is its cost. If you struggle with acne, follow this serum with one of these top-rated moisturizers for oily skin.
- Treats dark spots
- Like SkinCeuticals’ other vitamin C serum, it’s pricey
Best Vitamin C powder
Vitabrid C12 Face Brightening Powder
Did you know Vitamin C comes in powder form? This potent Vitamin C face brightening powder blends into skincare products to offer a bright, glowing complexion. The powder formula ensures the Vitamin C remains stable and active for up to 12 hours while mixing seamlessly into your favorite serum or face moisturizer. Associate Shopping Editor for Reader’s Digest, Madi Koetting, wears this Vitamin C daily and adds, “As someone who’s prone to redness, I love that the powder formula doesn’t flare up my face. The powder effortlessly mixes into my favorite serum, which is a win-win since I don’t have to add another step.”
- Award-winning brightening powder
- Mixes well with a serum or moisturizer
- Suitable for all skin types
- Bottle is small for the price
Best drugstore brand
L’Oréal Revitalift Derm Intensives Vitamin C Serum
At under $30, L’Oréal’s Revitalift Derm Intensives Vitamin C serum is a great product at a great drugstore price. “It’s nice to know that there are good choices across the board at all price points,” says Dr. Day. This serum contains 10 percent pure vitamin C serum with another anti-aging big wig, hyaluronic acid, to visibly brighten skin and reduce wrinkles, she adds. The hyaluronic acid also brings moisture back to your skin. While the overwhelming majority of reviews are positive, some users report breakouts with this serum. If your skin reacts well to it, follow up with the right anti-aging cream for your skin type.
- Adds moisture
- May cause breakouts
Best for trendsetters
Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Day Serum
Drunk Elephant is among the hottest, hippest skin care brands out there, and its C-Firma Fresh earns rave reviews. You mix it at home before its first use to maximize ingredient potency and keep the formula fresh and stable—the product isn’t degrading while it’s sitting on store shelves or in transit. Actives include 15 percent L-ascorbic acid, 0.5 percent ferulic acid, and 1 percent vitamin E, all of which team up to reduce the signs of aging and sun damage for a brighter, more youthful complexion. As one reviewer writes, “This formula makes my skin glow.” Con? Not everyone wants to serve as their own mixologist.
- Contains a trio of antioxidants
- Clean beauty without harmful ingredients
- Mixing at home is an extra step
Best for brighter, tighter skin
If New York City esthetician Taylor Worden was stranded on a deserted island, she hopes she would have a stash of Medik8-Tetra on hand. This potent serum contains vitamin C and E to “lighten, tighten, and brighten the skin,” she says. Another perk? “It goes on light, so it’s not too heavy and is perfect for daytime.” The main downside? Finding it. This brand is only available through select skin care professionals and outlets (including the Medik8’s website), but it’s still a must-have in your perfect skin care routine.
- Contains both vitamins C and E
- Lightweight feel
- Hard to find
Best alternative to retinol
Innbeauty Project Slushy Serum Moisturizer Crush
Innbeauty Project’s Slushy serum contains hyaluronic acid, bakuchiol, and vitamin C. According to New York City dermatologist Hadley King, MD, a clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, bakuchiol is an extract of the Babchi plant, long used in Ayurvedic medicine. “It is one of the few retinol alternatives for which studies back up the pseudo-retinol effect of anti-aging and skin brightening,” she says. How does it work? Bakuchiol seems to activate the genes that regulate collagen and elastin production—the same ones that retinol activates. Collagen and elastin are the building blocks of healthy, youthful skin, and our supply dwindles with advancing age. The best part? “Bakuchiol doesn’t seem to irritate and redden skin the way retinol often does, so it appears to be a gentler option. And the texture is super fun—slushy is a perfect description.” The only potential downside is that not everyone loves the goopy texture.
- Contains the gentler retinol alternative bakuchiol
- Boosts collagen and elastin
- Slushy texture may feel odd
Best for layering under makeup
Catrice’s Glow Booster Serum
Packed with vitamins C, E, and B3, as well as a pineapple fruit extract, this glow booster serum brightens your complexion when applied to clean skin or if mixed with makeup, says New York City dermatologist Lian Mack, MD. “After six to eight weeks of consistent use, vitamin C will brighten skin ever so slightly, so your complexion doesn’t come off as dull,” she explains. In addition to improved radiance, your skin should appear softer and more supple, with a subtle softening of fine lines and wrinkles.
- Can be used easily with makeup
- Softens skin texture and reduces fine lines
- Has a fruity smell, which not all users may like
Best for staving off sun damage
VI Derm Beauty Vitamin C Brightening Concentrate
Some antioxidants are better than others, according to Beverly Hills dermatologist Ava Shamban, MD. “I choose this vitamin C formulation, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, for its stability and efficacy,” says Beverly Hills dermatologist Ava Shamban, MD. Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate is another highly stable form of vitamin C. “Better formulation equals better results! This product helps prevent UV damage, and softens, smooths, and brightens the skin.”
- Stable form of vitamin C
- Prevents UV damage to skin
- Higher price point
Best for multitasking
BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner and Eye Perfector
This vitamin C serum kit contains products for two very different skin zones, each with its unique needs, says Dr. Shamban. “The Universal C Skin Refiner is formulated with 20 percent pure vitamin C and helps brighten, tighten, and even skin tone,” she says. “The Universal C Eye Perfector works to combat visible signs of aging in the super-delicate eye area.” Follow the latter serum with an anti-aging eye cream specially formulated for the area.
- Two products in one
- Focus on eye area
- Two products means it’s more expensive
Best for rejuvenating skin
Obagi Medical Professional-C Serum
Obagi’s vitamin C serum contains 20 percent L-ascorbic acid, the most bioavailable form of the vitamin for optimal skin absorption and results, says Mona Gohara, MD, a Connecticut-based dermatologist. “Daily use of vitamin C proactively fortifies the skin defenses against environmental assaults and encourages skin to rebound from previous visible damage for an improved appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone,” she explains. “It also aids in restoring skin’s antioxidant strength to help skin appear younger for longer.” Her advice? “With your fingertips, apply five to seven drops to your face, neck, and chest to cleansed skin in the morning before sunscreen or makeup application for best results.”
- Revitalizes skin and prevents further environmental damage
- Encourages a youthful appearance
- May tingle when you first try it
Best budget-friendly option
TruSkin Vitamin C Facial Serum
With more than 63,000 five-star reviews and counting, TruSkin’s under-$20 vitamin C serum is one of the most popular and affordable face serums on Amazon. Better yet, it works for different skin tones, according to one very satisfied Amazon reviewer: “The results are unbelievable. I was a bit skeptical because all the reviews were from Caucasian women. I was slightly worried that my skin would not respond as well, but I was quite mistaken. With or without makeup, my skin is bright and smooth, and my spots are disappearing.” While some reviewers say that this serum doesn’t quite hold its own against more expensive products, at this price point, it’s worth a try.
- Works on different skin tones
- May not be as effective as pricier vitamin C serums
Best for exfoliation
Dermalogica BioLumin-C Serum
Vitamin C can be challenging because the molecule can be unstable, and some forms are not readily bioavailable (able to be absorbed by the body well), explains Dr. King. Dermalogica’s BioLumin-C Serum stands out because it uses a highly stable vitamin C complex and biotechnology to enhance the bioavailability: “The formulation is also unique in that it contains an anti-aging peptide as well as an alpha hydroxy acid to gently exfoliate, which provides anti-aging benefits.” For an alternative to exfoliating facial scrubs, apply a drop of the serum and smooth over the face and neck after cleansing, morning and evening, and then follow with a moisturizer. “The antioxidant properties help to decrease damage from free radicals,” she says, “and this will work synergistically with the alpha hydroxy acid and the anti-aging peptide to brighten the skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.”
- Anti-aging benefits
- Decreases free-radical damage
Best for skin barrier support
CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum
In addition to its antioxidant properties, CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum contains three essential ceramides (lipids, or fats), hyaluronic acid, and vitamin B5. “The ceramides will help to replenish and maintain a healthy skin barrier,” says Atlanta dermatologist Tiffany L. Clay, MD. The skin barrier is the outermost layer of skin that protects it from irritants in the environment. Plus, “the hyaluronic acid will help hydrate the skin, while vitamin B5 has anti-inflammatory properties,” Dr. Clay adds. Apply this serum once daily, preferably in the morning after cleansing, and follow with a moisturizer and broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30.
- Strengthens your skin’s “shield”
- May tint skin orange if applied too heavily
Best for darker skin tones
Buttah Vitamin C Serum
This vitamin C serum is one of the Black-owned beauty products for melanin-rich skin you should try. As one Ulta reviewer puts it: “Bravo! This here is magic in a bottle. It is indeed one of the best products ever made for Black skin. Not oily, not sticky, and no chalky residue. It absorbs into the skin and my face feels soft, silky, firm, and moisturized with a shine.” The main downside? Some users say it made them break out.
- Formulated especially for dark skin
- Smooths skin’s texture and reduces dark spots
- Some users reported skin irritation
Best for scent lovers
I Dew Care Bright Side Up Brightening Vitamin C Serum
This $25 vitamin C serum earns rave reviews from Amazon shoppers. “Love, love, LOVE this product! It smells great and has done wonders for my combination skin,” writes verified Amazon reviewer Lily McCarthy. “A little goes a long way when using it, so the product lasts a long time!” In addition to vitamin C, this serum contains grapefruit extract for a healthy glow, as well as niacinamide, which evens skin tone and improves brightness. What’s more, panthenol and vitamin E add moisture to the mix. The main con? Some users feel the serum is too thick to apply easily.
- Bright citrus smell
- Evens skin tone
- Thick consistency
Best for dark spots
Revision Skincare C+ Correcting Complex
Vitamin C serves as an antioxidant to prevent damage from UV and environmental insults, has brightening properties, and is an important ingredient in helping to address hyperpigmentation (i.e., dark spots), says Janiene Luke, MD, an associate professor of dermatology at Loma Linda University in California. “Products that pair vitamin C with other antioxidants such as ferulic acid or vitamin E, like Revision Skincare C+ Correcting Complex, can enhance its effects.”
- Effective mix of antioxidants
- Reduces hyperpigmentation
Best long-lasting serum
Matter of Fact Ascorbic Acid 20 Brightening Serum
Matter of Fact’s vitamin C serum is a game changer, says Dr. Garner. “This serum is an astonishing six times more stable than other leading products in the category,” he says. “This means that it is not only highly effective as demonstrated by clinical studies, but it will also remain that way for longer than other products on the market.” But it comes at a price, and the serum’s cost may be a deterrent for some. However, the long shelf life means you won’t be wasting it if you can’t use it by the expiration date.
- Lasts a long time
- Effective in clinical studies
Best for sensitive skin
Cetaphil Healthy Radiance Antioxidant-C Serum
Laurel Geraghty, MD, a dermatologist in Medford, Oregon, can’t say enough about Cetaphil Healthy Radiance Antioxidant-C Serum. “I love that Cetaphil’s serum contains additional soothing botanicals and vitamins (including niacinamide) to help stabilize vitamin C and calm irritation, making it suitable even for sensitive skin,” she says. Apply it every morning under sunscreen for protection against cellular damage and ongoing skin rejuvenation. The only con? This drugstore beauty product doesn’t come in a fancy package.
- Calms irritation
- Hypoallergenic and safe for sensitive skin
- Packaging looks basic
Best for daily use
Isdinceutics Flavo-C Ultraglican 30 Ampoules
As many skin care experts have noted, vitamin C tends to break down when exposed to light, Worden says. Isdinceutics Flavo-C Ultraglican 30 Ampoules takes a unique approach to this known problem. “It comes in individual glass bottles to preserve efficacy and keep the vitamin C stable,” she says. Each ampoule contains two applications’ worth of product—enough for one day if you apply morning and night, or two days if you apply once a day. Once opened, the ampoule is good for 48 hours. Active ingredients include vitamin C, UltraGlycans, and hyaluronic acid, all of which work together to smooth fine lines and wrinkles and restore skin to its more youthful, bouncy state.
- Product-saving packaging
- Hydrates skin
- Although the ampoules are glass and thus recyclable, it still uses more packaging than other products
Best for a one-two collagen boost
Kiehl’s Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate
New York City dermatologist Michelle Henry, MD, loves this product from Kiehl’s. “It blends well with skin care products, so it’s great if your skin care has multiple steps,” she says. Another perk: It does double duty. “This serum contains two forms of vitamin C: one that targets your skin’s outer layer, and the other that gets activated under your skin’s surface, where it helps to build up your collagen and elastin stores,” Dr. Henry notes. The main downside? Some users say it’s too strong for sensitive skin.
- Two forms of vitamin C
- Improves firmness and elasticity
- May feel a warming sensation when applied
Best oil-soluble formula
Environ Intense C-Boost Mela-Even Cream
Vitamin C can also be oil-soluble, and that’s what makes Environ’s Mela-Even C Boost Cream stand out. “By including ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate (an oil-soluble form of vitamin C), Mela-Even C Boost Cream is more stable since it is protected from the environmental exposures that oxidize it,” says Candace Noonan, a licensed esthetician in Boca Raton, Florida, and Environ’s director of education. “We can get 10 times more vitamin C delivered to the skin in this form versus the ascorbic acid version—meaning all the great, scientifically proven benefits from vitamin C, such as antioxidant protection, brightening, collagen production, and natural sun protection, are boosted.” The only con? These products are only available through licensed skin care professionals.
- Cream consistency
- More stable for better benefits
- Limited store availability
Best super-charged antioxidant boost
ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating
The silky serum boasts 10 percent L-ascorbic acid, the best type of vitamin C serum for your skin, plus other potent antioxidants including vitamin E and co-enzyme Q10, says Troy Pitman, MD, a plastic surgeon in Washington, D.C. “It brightens and hydrates skin and can also diminish discoloration and age spots with continuous use,” he adds. “Our patients love the texture on their skin.” There’s just one con: These products are only available in select doctor’s offices or ZO’s website. (If you see it on Amazon, it’s a diverted product, as Amazon is not an authorized distributor.)
- Contains L-ascorbic acid
- Eliminates discoloration
- Not widely available
Best for the décolletage area
Skinbetter Science Alto Defense Serum
What makes this serum stand out from the pack? In addition to daily antioxidant protection, Alto Defense Serum improves the appearance of uneven skin tone and redness, says Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale New Haven Hospital and the president and co-founder of Modern Dermatology. “Alto combines vitamins C and E, plus 17 additional antioxidants designed to provide a new level of comprehensive and dynamic defense against free radicals,” she says. “I tell my patients to use Alto as part of their morning and evening skin care regimen. I recommend they apply a thin layer to a clean, dry face, neck, and décolleté.” Just FYI, this product line is only available online with authorization from select doctors’ offices.
- Evens skin tone
- Smooths neck and upper-chest areas
- Needs a doctor’s approval for purchase
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- Doris Day, MD, a dermatologist in New York City
- Ted Lain, MD, a dermatologist with Sanova Dermatology in Austin, Texas
- Troy Pitman, MD, a plastic surgeon in Washington, D.C.
- Hadley King, MD, a dermatologist in New York City and clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Medical College
- Lian Mack, MD, a dermatologist in New York City
- Ava Shamban, MD, a dermatologist in Beverly Hills, California
- Mona Gohara, MD, a dermatologist in Connecticut
- Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale New Haven Hospital and the president and cofounder of Modern Dermatology
- Tiffany L. Clay, MD, a dermatologist in Atlanta
- Candace Noonan, an esthetician in Boca Raton, Florida, and Environ‘s director of education
- Janiene Luke, MD, an associate professor of dermatology at Loma Linda University
- Laurel Geraghty, MD, a dermatologist in Medford, Oregon
- Michael Garner, MD, a dermatologist in Boone, North Carolina
- Michelle Henry, MD, a dermatologist in New York City
- Taylor Worden, an esthetician in New York City