The Best Vitamin C Serums to Reduce Wrinkles, Fade Age Spots, and Boost Glow
If you want healthy, glowing skin, you should probably be using a vitamin C serum (Hali Berry, for one, has a lot to say about vitamin C serums). Yes, the antioxidant is that universal and that important when it comes to your complexion.
“Vitamin C helps produce collagen (which keeps skin firm and reduces the appearance of wrinkles), and protects skin from sun damage and age spots,” says Ranella Hirsch, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist practicing in Boston. “Between these varied functions, the majority of folks can benefit from having vitamin C in their skincare routine.” (One caveat: Super strong serums may be irritating if you have highly sensitive skin or just had a peel.)
On top of that, vitamin C has a brightening effect, which leaves your complexion looking radiant. Like all antioxidants, vitamin C works by neutralizing free radicals (a type of molecule in your body) that cause damage to your cells—but unlike other antioxidants, vitamin C is very well studied and, in general, well tolerated at high potencies, allowing for maximum impact.
How to choose and use the best vitamin C serum
Go for pure vitamin C: “Your product should say ‘L-ascorbic acid’ (a.k.a. pure vitamin C) on the label,” says Marguerite Germain, M.D., a dermatologist practicing in Charleston, SC. L-ascorbic acid mixes well with other forms of vitamin C, too, like ascorbyl glucoside and tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate. “They feed out the vitamin C at different rates, allowing long-term protection with less irritation,” she adds.
Spot standout ingredients: The perfect vitamin C serum has additional antioxidants, like green tea polyphenols, vitamin E, or ferulic acid. “Products that contain L-ascorbic acid along with other antioxidants offer the most protection against skin damage because there are lots of different types of free radicals that break down collagen,” Dr. Germain says. It’s a little like food: “You don’t want to eat only one thing, even if that one thing is healthy.”
Look for A+ packaging: Vitamin C is the diva of the skincare world, meaning it’s super unstable and loses its power if you store it in a well-lit, humid place (like in your bathroom!). “Any vitamin C product that turns brown or discolored is breaking down and should be returned,” says Dr. Germain. This is why you’ll often see vitamin C serums in dark or opaque bottles.
Still, there are so many different vitamin C serums to choose from, so which one should you use? Don’t stress, we asked dermatologists for their favorites to make the search a little easier. Apply one of these vitamin C serums in the morning after cleansing—but before sunscreen (yes, you still need sunscreen!)—for the best results.
1. Skinceuticals CE Ferulic
This serum is a derm favorite, thanks to its combo of 15% pure vitamin C, 1% vitamin E, and 0.5% ferulic acid, a medley that boosts the efficacy of vitamin C eightfold, research suggests. “This is far and away the best product and the one I recommend most frequently,” says Dr. Hirsch. Once absorbed, it can’t be rubbed off, so you can use it with SPF.
2. TruSkin Naturals 20% Vitamin C Serum
Packed with 20% vitamin C, nourishing vitamin E, and skin-plumping hyaluronic acid, this affordable ($20!) serum will make your skin glow, fade dark spots, and reduce redness fast. A fan favorite on Amazon with more than 88,000 raving reviews, testers say this vitamin C works quickly and effectively with consistent use.
3. CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum
If your skin is prone to irritation, look no further than this nourishing 10% vitamin C serum, which features essential ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin B5 to hydrate and soothe the skin. It’s also noncomedogenic (so it won’t clog pores) and fragrance-free for a simple formula that effectively boosts radiance.
4. L’Oreal Revitalift 10% Pure Vitamin C Concentrate
This 10% vitamin C concentrate sinks deeply into skin to reduce wrinkles and boost overall radiance, making it a great base underneath makeup. Free of fragrances, parabens, dyes, and mineral oil, the sensitive skin-friendly formula will only cost you about $30. The air-tight tube also helps preserve the product.
5. Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum
Another pick from Dr. Hirsch, this hydrating and fragrance-free serum contains a highly effective combination of vitamin C, vitamin E, and ferulic acid, along with licorice root extract, marula oil, and Indian gooseberry for a next-level dose of antioxidants. The result? An evened out skin tone that looks firmer and brighter.
6. OLEHENRIKSEN Banana Bright Vitamin C Serum
This product smooths out rough texture, thanks to its blend of 15% vitamin C and hyaluronic acid. It also packs 5% polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) to gently exfoliate. PHAs have a larger molecule size than alpha hydroxy acids, so they may not sink into the skin as deeply, potentially reducing irritation, says Meghan Feely, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New Jersey and New York City who serves as a clinical instructor in Mount Sinai’s Department of Dermatology.
7. La Roche-Posay 10% Pure Vitamin C Serum
This oil-free, noncomedogenic serum combines the power of vitamin C with a superstar exfoliator: salicylic acid. Together, the powerhouse ingredients visibly brighten, soften, hydrate, and smooth the skin. Bonus: It sinks in quickly, so no need to worry about that post-application greasy feeling.
8. Vichy LiftActiv Vitamin C Brightening Skin Corrector
This vitamin C serum gets a stamp of approval from Dr. Hirsch. We love it for what it doesn’t have (irritating fragrances and parabens) almost as much as we love it for what it does have (15% pure vitamin C and hydrating hyaluronic acid). The approachable price tag of just $30 doesn’t hurt either.
9. RoC Multi Correxion Revive + Glow Vitamin C Serum
RoC may be known for its quality OTC retinol, but its vitamin C serum lives up to the hype, too. The 10% vitamin C blend firms, brightens, and evens out the skin with little to no irritation. Reviewers swear they can “see the difference” in skin luminosity for a fraction of the price of its high-end competitors.
10. Neutrogena Rapid Tone Repair 20% Vitamin C Serum Capsules
This rich serum comes in single-dose, biodegradable capsule to “limit the amount of product being put on the skin at one time” so you apply the perfect amount, explains Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. The capsule also helps maintain the potency and efficacy of the highly sensitive vitamin C by shielding it from air and UV light.
11. Kiehl’s Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate
This classic concentrate was recently reformulated to include a higher dose of vitamin C (from 10.5 to 12.5%) thanks to the addition of that ascorbyl glucoside (a stable form of vitamin C). Because it contains superstar moisturizers like glycerin and hyaluronic acid, your thirsty skin will instantly feel quenched. Our favorite part? The silky-smooth formula feels like it melts straight into your skin.
12. BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner
This potent serum packs 20% vitamin C, moisturizing squalane (derived from olive seeds), and tartaric acid to stabilize the skin’s pH for top-notch penetration of the product. Together, these ingredients work to boost collagen production, even tone, soothe inflammation, and leave the skin looking plump and radiant.
13. Olay Regenerist MAX Tone Serum
This unique product feels more like a lotion-serum hybrid, and deeply hydrates the skin with a rich, non-greasy formula that leaves the skin visibly glowing and smooth. A stable form of vitamin C brightens and protects, while niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3) soothes irritation, tames oil production, and calms redness.
14. Obagi Professional-C Serum
This vitamin C serum gets a glowing recommendation from Shari Sperling, M.D., a dermatologist at Sperling Dermatology in Florham Park, NJ. It sinks deep into the skin, protects from UV damage, and brightens those pesky dark spots. It’s a great pick if your skin is prone to irritation, since the formula is lightweight and has a lower concentration of vitamin C (10% L-ascorbic acid).
15. SkinMedica Vitamin C + E Complex
Any skin type can benefit from dabbing on a daily dose of this fragrance-free treatment from SkinMedica. In addition to pure vitamin C, the formula also includes vitamin E, which gives it a double dose of antioxidant power. Plus, it has a time-release effect, so it doesn’t sputter out mid-day, Dr. Sperling says.
16. Paula’s Choice C15 Super Booster
This serum packs a punch with 15% pure, stable vitamin C, vitamin E and ferulic acid for an extra dose of antioxidants, smoothing peptides, and hyaluronic acid to hydrate and decrease the risk of irritation. Reviewers note that it works wonders on acne scars, sun spots, and melasma.
17. Dr. Dennis Gross C + Collagen Perfect Skin Set & Refresh Mist
Opting for a mist is a great lighter alternative to thicker serums. “The blend of vitamin C, antioxidants, and amino acids help to revive a dull complexion—it’s like an amazing quick-fix vitamin C boost for your skin,” says Anne Chapas, M.D. of Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City. Apply during your typical serum step, or spritz it on whenever your face needs a revive.
18. Sunday Riley C.E.O. Glow Vitamin C + Turmeric Face Oil
This multitasking face oil contains skin-calming turmeric (thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties), ginger root to even out discoloration, and a stable form of vitamin C to smooth fine lines. Its standout quality? The gorgeous texture absorbs quickly without the stickiness of many serums. Just be sure to apply as your last step, as thinner products won’t be able to penetrate through an oil.
19. Clinique Fresh Pressed Daily Booster with Pure Vitamin C
Add a few drops of this fragrance-free vitamin C serum to your moisturizer and slather it on all at the same time, Dr. Chapas says, so it’s easy to incorporate into your skincare regimen. No need to worry about feeling dry, as it contains hydrating glycerin, dimethicone, and squalane. Thanks to its addition of salicylic acid, those with acne-prone skin will love this option.
20. Tatcha Violet-C Brightening Serum
What do you get when you combine a lightweight serum, exfoliating acid, and fast-acting vitamin C blend? This must-try product from Tatcha. Gentle alpha hydroxy acids get to work by sloughing away dead skin, while vitamin C helps firm, hydrate, and brighten. The fact that it’s vegan, cruelty-free, and free of oils and fragrances makes it that much better.
21. The Ordinary Ascorbic Acid 8% + Alpha Arbutin 2%
At only $10, this affordable serum packs a punch of 8% vitamin C, which is pretty impressive. It also contains alpha arbutin, which reduces the look of spots and hyperpigmentation.
22. Biossance Squalane + 10% Vitamin C Dark Spot Serum
Vitamin C combined with white shiitake mushroom extract and licorice root extract put this serum's brightening powers in overdrive. That's why Reese Witherspoon loves it, plus, it contains natural squalene oil to keep the skin from drying out.
23. iS Clinical Pro-Heal Serum Advance Plus
This serum is a dream blend of antioxidants: Vitamin C gets a boost from vitamins E and A, and olive leaf extract keeps things smooth and moisturized. Not to mention, kojic acid helps prevent blemishes making it a great all-in-one product.
Additional reporting by Andrea Stanley
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