Ask any dermatologist what the cornerstone of a solid skin-care routine looks like and they’ll tell you a vitamin C serum is a must. Long hailed as a miracle worker, the best vitamin C serums completely live up to their reputation. The miracle multitaskers can do everything from brighten the complexion to reduce inflammation, minimize fine lines and wrinkles, fight free radical damage, fade discoloration and dark spots, promote healthy collagen production, and reduce damage from environmental aggressors like pollution and UV rays. And that goes for every skin type.
There are plenty of vitamin C serums out there, but it’s important to remember that they are not all created equal. Since the antioxidant powerhouse is an unstable ingredient, finding a serum that’s formulated the right way is key in order to reap all the rewards. Look for serums with ascorbic acid, also known as L-ascorbic acid, since it’s the most active form of vitamin C. Those with sensitive skin should know that vitamin C can be irritating at high concentrations, so start with 5 percent and work your way up. After 20 percent, its effect plateau, so there’s no need to go any higher. Vitamin C is super sensitive to light and oxygen, so consider its packaging. Dark or opaque is best for blocking out light and an airless pump beats out a dropper for preventing oxygen exposure. With that in mind, store your vitamin C products in a dark place away from sunlight to avoid oxidation.
To enjoy all the benefits of the best vitamin C serums, be sure to use it consistently. Apply it every morning to take advantage of all its antioxidant perks. These are the best brightening vitamin C serums to add to your skin care routine.
1. SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
BEST OVERALL VITAMIN C SERUM
Ask a dermatologist to recommend a vitamin C serum and there’s an excellent chance this will be their pick. SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic has long been hailed as one of the best vitamin C serums out there. Worth every penny, it has the ability to turn back the clock by fighting fine lines and dark spots. Over time it will leave skin brighter and smoother, thanks to its fantastic delivery system that deeply penetrates skin and its incredibly stable, patented formula. L-ascorbic acid makes up 15 percent of the serum, which is watery light and instantly sinks into skin.
2. PCA Skin C&E Advanced
BEST FOR GLASS SKIN
This brings on so much glow that it belongs in the glass skin category. In addition to 20 percent L-ascorbic acid vitamin C, there’s also tocopherol vitamin E, as well as hexylresorcinol and silymarin complexes to brighten and bring down inflammation. The lightweight, gentle formulation is safe for sensitive skin.
3. Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum
BEST FOR SENSITIVE SKIN
Drunk Elephant is famous for creating clean formulas that work, which are completely free of essential oils, silicones and fragrance, making this the best vitamin C serum for sensitive skin. Packed with powerhouse ingredients — such as 15 percent L-ascorbic and ferulic acids, 1 percent vitamin E, and sodium hyaluronate crosspolymer — it brightens, firms, evens tone and hydrates. Pumpkin ferment and pomegranate extracts dissolve dead skin cells to gently exfoliate and shrink the appearance of pores. The serum stays active on skin for up to a whopping 72 hours, lasting even through washing your face. Bonus: The opaque, airtight packaging is ideal for preserving the serum and its efficacy.
4. Kiehl’s Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate Serum
Kiehl’s recently gave this serum a makeover to add even more vitamin C, infusing 2 percent of vitamin Cg to the original 10.5 percent pure vitamin C. Vitamin Cg is a vitamin C derivative that works its magic in the upper layers of the skin’s surface to smooth fine lines over time. The formula also includes hyaluronic acid for hydration, making it ideal for thirsty complexions. Clinical studies proved the serum decreased the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines while improving radiance and texture after four weeks. Scented with citrus, it can be used both morning and night.
5. RoC Multi Correxion Revive + Glow Daily Serum + Vitamin C
BEST FOR TIRED SKIN
In just four weeks, it’s clinically proven that a dull complexion will be a distant memory when you apply this serum daily. It gets down to business right away to brighten and tighten skin with 10 percent vitamin C. There’s also a nonapeptide to wake up skin and energize it with a natural glow. The lightweight formula promotes elasticity and an even skin tone.
6. Ole Henriksen Banana Bright Vitamin C Serum
Living up to its name, it brightens up any complexion. There’s 15 percent vitamin C, specifically ethyl ascorbic acid, 5 percent PHAs and hyaluronic acid to firm, plump and shrink the appearance of pores, fine lines and dark spots. Designed to work with every skin type from dry to oily, the lightweight, vegan formula improves texture and increases elasticity, all while protecting skin from environmental aggressors. The chemical exfoliation comes in with the PHAs, which are an alternative to AHAs that loosen and lift dead skin cells, leaving fresh, healthy skin behind.
7. Tatcha Violet-C Brightening Serum 20% Vitamin C + 10% AHA
Leave it to Tatcha to take the brightening powers of vitamin C up a notch. A top seller at Sephora, the popular formula has 20 percent vitamin C and 10 percent alpha hydroxy acids to team up against dullness, dark spots and hyperpigmentation. Oil- and fragrance-free, it works delicately but its effects are strong, smoothing skin, too. Any skin type can enjoy its perks.
8. Image Skincare Vital C Hydrating Anti-Aging Serum
Age in reverse with Image Skincare’s vitamin C packed serum that boosts collagen, softens the appearance of fine lines, reduces the signs of stress, erases fatigue and protects from environmental damage such as pollution. The impressive ingredient list includes algae extract for firming and hyaluronic acid for major moisture delivery. Made for all skin types, it’s even safe for sensitive and acne-prone complexions.
9. L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensive Vitamin C Serum
To ensure this serum never loses potency, it’s packed into a genius air-tight metal tube that guards it from UV rays and oxygen, keeping the formula stable and fresh down to the last drop. The potent formulas has 10% pure vitamin C and only takes a week to deliver a gorgeous glow. Skin instantly soaks up the cream formula to even skin tone and minimize fine lines. It has a matte finish, making it an ideal base before makeup. Allergy tested, it is free of fragrance, parabens, mineral oils and synthetic dyes.
10. Sunday Riley C.E.O. Rapid Flash Brightening Serum
BEST FOR ACNE-PRONE SKIN
When you’re prone to breakouts, adding a new product to the mix can be tricky. But this vitamin C serum isn’t just designed to brighten — it also treats and prevents future breakouts as well as reduces discolored skin from acne scars, thanks to its unique ingredient blend. It utilizes tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, an oil-soluble form of vitamin C that’s more stable, plus glycolic acid to exfoliate.