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Skincare jargon constitutes an endless list of buzzy ingredients— niacinamide, salicylic acid, and retinol to name a few. It might be overwhelming to try to memorize each ingredient and their respective functions, but if you want to know the secret to seriously glowy skin, there is one particular ingredient that we’d suggest familiarizing yourself with asap: vitamin C. You can find vitamin C in a host of skincare products including face masks, moisturizers, and wrinkle creams, but in this piece we’ll be highlighting the best vitamin C serums.
“Vitamin C is a topical antioxidant that has many beneficial properties,” says celebrity dermatologist Dr. Karan Lal. “It reduces hyperpigmentation and acts as a cofactor for many cellular processes to maintain naturally glowing skin. Most of all, it scavenges free radicals that we come in contact with every single day.”
In addition to enhancing skin with a touch of radiance, vitamin C yields the power to make skin appear more youthful. According to fellow dermatologist Dr. Omar Ibrahimi, “[it’s] a key molecule for optimizing skin health and is an important and necessary cofactor (supporting molecule) that is required for the production of collagen, which is our skin’s main building block and currency for youthful skin.”
However, there’s one caveat that you should keep in mind while selecting a vitamin C serum for yourself. Some vitamin C serums are quite potent due to high concentration levels, so it’s essential to pay attention to this. ““Vitamin C can be irritating at concentrations at or above 20 percent,” says Dr. Lal. Especially if you’re new to the vitamin C world, Dr. Lal recommends choosing a serum which includes a 10 percent concentration level. Overall though, no matter your tolerance, Dr. Ibrahimi says to look for vitamin C formulas with L-ascorbic acid, the true active form of vitamin C. “L-ascorbic acid is the best option for most, as it is the most bioactive vitamin C compound,” he says.
If you’re feeling like your skin is in need of a vitamin C boost, look no further. Ahead, we’ve perused thousands of customer reviews and consulted our own personal collection of products to find the 12 best vitamin C serums for glowy skin.
Our top picks for vitamin C serums in 2023
C E Ferulic
Beloved by many a smooth-skinned celeb and knowledgeable dermatologists, this brightening serum contains vitamin C, vitamin E, and ferulic acid to replenish the skin. Because vitamin C can be very unstable in skincare, adding ferulic acid helps it last longer–and work better.
Dermstore star rating: 4.7/5 stars
An ELLE editor said: “I can’t remember what life was like before the C E Ferulic acid became a mainstay in my morning routine, but it had to be as dull and lifeless as my skin at the time. As a former scar picker, this serum helped balance my tone and smooth my texture over time. Now, I’m not so ashamed to go makeup-free as I once was.” — Nerisha Penrose, beauty commerce editor
25% Vitamin C + Glutathione Clinical Serum
With vitamin C, glutathione, and ergothioneine, this serum instantly brightens dull skin. Depending on your skin’s sensitivity, you can use the product alone or add a few drops to your favorite moisturizer for a more diffused but equally effective application.
Sephora star rating: 4.7/5 stars
A Sephora reviewer said: “This product is absolutely amazing, I am always looking for vitamin C products and recently started trying Paula’s choice products. I use 1-2 pump all over my face and I think it is brightening up my skin tone and texture. I recommend it, I actually bought this for my sister and mom as well.”
Medical Professional-C Serum 20%
Obagi’s vitamin C serum is super lightweight, but it still makes a powerful impact on your skin. This L-ascorbic acid-infused blend effectively penetrates the skin while brightening hyperpigmentation and providing antioxidant protection from UV damage.
Dermstore star rating: 4.7/5 stars
A Dermstore reviewer said: “Whenever anyone asks me about my skin I always tell them I use this. It makes my face more hydrated, smoother and radiant after use. It’s my amazing holy grail.”
Banana Bright 15% Vitamin C Dark Spot Serum
Environmental damage is often the worst enemy to skin, as it causes irritation, damage, and even fine lines. Olehenriksen’s vitamin C-infused serum actively fights and protects against environmental stressors while reducing the appearance of wrinkles. You’ll notice a less inflamed, smoother, and happier complexion.
Sephora star rating: 4/5 stars
A Sephora reviewer said: “This is honestly a great vitamin C serum, it definitely brightens your face in the span of just wearing it for a few minutes. I noticed it helped smooth and clear my skin due its 15 percent vitamin C.”
Pure Vitamin C Face Serum
This serum does it all and then some; vitamin C is used to brighten and improve skin texture, hyaluronic acid adds moisture and plumpness to the skin, and salicylic acid reduces oiliness, which leads to breakouts. The end result is radiant, glowing skin that’s hydrated and blemish-free.
Amazon star rating: 4.6/5 stars
An Amazon reviewer said: “I have hormonal acne that I thought would never go away. Plus, I’m in my late 20s and started to see signs of aging. I love this product. It helps with fine lines and wrinkles while also opening up your pores to release gunk. Fantastic.”
Vitamin C Antioxidant Serum
This powerful yet gentle serum uses a version of time-released vitamin C in its formula so that the antioxidant effects of the ingredient last you throughout the day as you wear it. It’s also made up of primarily naturally-derived ingredients, so you can be sure you’re not putting your skin through too much stress.
Nordstrom star rating: 4.2/5 stars
A Nordstrom reviewer said: “This serum is light yet hydrating. I love the fresh scent and texture, which melts into my skin. After several weeks of daily use, my skin feels firmer and more even. I use it once a day under my moisturizer. It is not sticky, either.”
Universal C Skin Refiner
This serum contains 20 percent potent, stable vitamin C to brighten, firm, and smooth textured skin for fast and effective results. It doesn’t mess around, so be ready to notice results faster than expected. Even Hailey Bieber, aka the queen of glazed doughnut skin, is a fan of its “incredible softening and brightening effects,” she said in a video interview.
Amazon star rating: 4.2/5 stars
An Amazon reviewer said: “The things I love about this product are that it contains the highest % of pure Vitamin C permitted, has a patented encapsulated delivery system that prevents oxidation and contains moisturizing ingredients. I have been using this daily for over two weeks and have noticed a considerable difference in the texture of my skin. It’s much smoother and definitely appears brighter and radiant.”
Squalane + Vitamin C Dark Spot Serum
While vitamin C helps fade dark spots on the skin, the combination of squalane and natural extracts protects the skin from future photodamage. That means that over time, you’ll notice your skin tone becoming more even and supple—as did one of Elle’s beauty writers who now swears by the product.
Biossance star rating: 4.5/5 stars
A Biossance reviewer said: “Within a week or two of using this, I had a brown spot on my forehead go away that I never would disappear without going to a dermatologist. I have used every designer cream, but this one is all about the environment and works. So in love. Try this; you’ll be so happy!”
C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum
In the short term, this potent serum will help skin look radiant and glowy, like you just got a facial. But with continual use, the vitamin C and glycolic acid combo fades dark spots, hyperpigmentation, reduces pore visibility, and smooths out the skin’s texture.
Nordstrom star rating: 4.4/5 stars
A Nordstrom reviewer said: “At 51, I have a couple of age spots, and this serum has lightened them gradually. My skin is glowing. I use this with the Good Genes and have seen a dramatic result in reducing pore size.”
The Good C Vitamin C Serum
This celeb-favorite skincare line created a gentle vitamin C serum perfect for anyone with reactive skin. Using a combination of synthetic and naturally-derived vitamin C, your skin will be red carpet ready and glowing in no time.
Nordstrom star rating: 3.6/5 stars
An ELLE editor said: “I like this formula for maintenance of my even skin tone. It plays well with my skincare routine and does not pill when I apply sunscreen as my last step. With only 5 percent Vitamin C, this isn’t the strongest of formulas, so if you are looking for something to get rid of hyperpigmentation and dark spots quickly, I’d suggest a formula with a minimum of 10 percent Vitamin C. However, if you have sensitive skin, this will be a great option for you.” — Danielle James, digital beauty director
LiftActiv Vitamin C Serum
With 15 percent vitamin C, vitamin E, and a special antioxidant derived from pine bark, this anti-aging formula corrects and treats dullness, discoloration, and fine lines. With so many powerful ingredients in one bottle, you can probably cancel your next facial appointment.
Vichy star rating: 4.3/5 stars
A Vichy reviewer said: “I’ve only been using this for a week and am already seeing great results with reduced fine lines around my mouth and face. It feels rejuvenating when you use it, and I actually feel a tightening happening. My skin is brighter and more illuminated. I am turning 60 this year, so really looking for ways to battle these lines, and they look good!”
Daily Vitamin C Serum
Omorovicza uses vitamin C to stimulate collagen in your skin, leading to a more plumped, youthful texture. The milky formula absorbs quickly while leaving your skin nourished and hydrated.
Nordstrom star rating: 3.8/5 stars
A Nordstrom reviewer said: “I really liked how lightweight the product went on. It felt airy and my skin absorbed it so quickly without feeling dry afterward. I was also really impressed with how lustrous my skin looked.”
Is vitamin C safe?
In addition to choosing the right formula strength for you, it’s important to note that “vitamin C is photolabile, which means it gets degraded with exposure to sunlight,” says Dr. Lal. “It also degrades upon exposure to air. For this reason, keep your vitamin C product in a dark place and make sure you tightly close your bottle to prevent breakdown of the product.”
Who should use a vitamin C serum?
“In truth, everyone should be using a vitamin C product due to its reparative properties,” says Dr. Lal. “However, those with dry, sensitive skin, or acne should be careful and start out slow to prevent breakouts.” You can begin by patch testing, then gradually incorporate the serum into your routine to build up a tolerance. Lal also notes that serums are lightweight and usually combined with agents that allow for better penetration, whereas creams and lotions are meant to stay on top of the skin and work superficially. “Vitamin C serums take at least 12 weeks to take effect because it takes time for new cells to regenerate and for pigment to start clearing,” he adds.
Can I use a vitamin C serum everyday?
Yes, as long as you’re not cocktailing too many actives and using sunscreen. If you have sensitive skin, patch testing is essential. “If you have sensitive skin, you might want to test the product on the side of your face or neck for a few days before widely applying it,” says Dr. Ibrahimi. “Try to use a derivative that tends to be better tolerated. I would also avoid using Vitamin C during or immediately after any laser or microneedling procedures as the skin barrier becomes more sensitive and there is a higher likelihood of irritation even in folks that do not have sensitive skin.”
Meet the Experts
Why trust ELLE Beauty?
Nerisha Penrose is the Beauty Commerce Editor at ELLE.com. Since joining ELLE.com in 2017, she has interviewed countless skincare professionals and has personally tested the latest and greatest products across makeup, skincare, and hair care.
Tatjana Freund is ELLE's Beauty E-Commerce Writer. She has interviewed countless skincare professionals and has the smallest baby pores you've ever seen.
Sam Peters is a seasoned commerce writer and editor with over five years of experience covering fashion, beauty, and lifestyle topics
Lauren Tappan is a freelance editor that regularly contributes to ELLE's beauty vertical. With several years of experience in the journalism industry, Tappan has become an expert in covering beauty and fashion.
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