If you want healthy, glowing skin, you should probably be using a vitamin C serum. 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 dark spots,” says Ranella Hirsch, MD, a board-certified dermatologist practicing in Boston, Massachusetts. “Between these varied functions, the majority of folks can benefit from having vitamin C in their skin care 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 skin 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 max impact.
How to choose and use the best vitamin C serum
Go for pure vitamin C: “Your product should say ‘L-ascorbic acid’ (aka pure vitamin C) on the label,” says Marguerite Germain, MD, 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 skin care 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 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.
Skinceuticals CE Ferulic
This serum is cult favorite, thanks to its combo of 15 percent pure vitamin C, 1 percent vitamin E, and 0.5 percent 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.
Obagi Professional-C Vitamin C Serum
This vitamin C serum gets a glowing recommendation from Shari Sperling, MD, a dermatologist at Sperling Dermatology in Florham Park, New Jersey. It sinks deep into the skin, protects from UV damage, and seriously brightens those pesky dark spots. It’s a great pick if your skin is prone to irritation, since the formula it lightweight and has a lower concentration of vitamin C (10% L-ascorbic acid).
TruSkin Naturals Vitamin C Serum
Packed with 20 percent vitamin C, nourishing vitamin E, and skin-plumping hyaluronic acid, this affordable ($20!) serum will make your skin glow, fade dark spots, and reduces redness fast. A fan favorite on Amazon with more than 6,700 raving reviews, testers say this vitamin C worked quickly and effectively with consistent use.
Loreal Revitalift Vitamin C Concentrate
This 10 percent vitamin C concentrate sinks deeply into skin to reduce wrinkles, brighten tone, and boost overall radiance-making it a perfect base underneath makeup. Free of fragrances, parabens, dyes, and mineral oil, the sensitive skin-friendly formula will only cost you $15. The air-tight tube also does a great job of preserving the product.
Vichy LiftActiv Vitamin C Serum
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 percent pure vitamin C and hydrating hyaluronic acid). The approachable price tag of just $30 doesn’t hurt either.
Ole Henriksen Truth Serum Collagen Booster
A favorite of Lady Gaga, this product smells amazing and does a great job of smoothing out rough texture. “It helps promote collagen production,” says Anne Chapas, MD, owner, and founder of Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City. That means any fine lines and wrinkles will fade, while new ones will be kept at bay.
Mario Badescu Vitamin C Serum
In addition to 7 percent vitamin C, this serum has skin-soothing aloe, hydrating cucumber extract, and lavender oil, which has antioxidant and antibacterial properties. One Amazon reviewer raved: “Noticed a difference in my face within weeks of using this product! My hyperpigmentation began to fade (finally) and my overall skin just looked brighter and more glowy.”
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 youth-defying power. Plus, it has a time-release effect, so it doesn’t sputter out mid-day, Dr. Sperling says.
Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum
Another pick from Dr. Hirsch, this hydrating and fragrance-free vitamin C 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.
Kiehl’s Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate
This classic vitamin C concentrate was recently reformulated to include a higher dose of vitamin C (from 10.5 to 12.5 percent) thanks to the addition of that ascorbyl glucoside. 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.
Paula’s Choice C25 Super Booster
This serum packs a major punch with 25 percent pure vitamin C and hydrating dimethicone (an ingredient that moisturizes the skin without clogging pores). Reviewers note that it works wonders on acne scars, sun spots, and melasma. Apply this one at night for the best results, either on its own or mixed into your favorite moisturizer.
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare C + Collagen Perfect Skin Set and Refresh Mist
While this doesn’t apply like a traditional serum, 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,” Dr. Chapas says. It can even penetrate through makeup, so just spritz it on whenever your face needs a revive.
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. Amazing for acne-prone skin, this one is worth the splurge.
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 skin care regimen. No need to worry about feeling dry, as it contains hydrating glycerin, dimethicone, and squalene (a protective emollient). Thanks to its addition of salicylic acid, those with acne-prone skin will love this option.
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.
Additional reporting by Andrea Stanley
Younger in 8 Weeks!
Prevention's ultimate anti-aging plan helps you lose weight, get glowing skin and hair, and boost energy by guiding you through simple but powerful habits.
('You Might Also Like',)