Opening new beauty products is strangely exciting. There’s so much hope and potential wrapped up in that little tub, jar, bar or bottle. Yet that high is often fleeting, and countless products end up collecting dust because they don’t fulfill their promises of magical transformation. Womp, womp. We’ve all been there. But one product that won’t end up in your beauty product graveyard, if chosen well? A good vitamin C serum: The potent antioxidant helps fix hyperpigmentation and even out skin tone, leaving you bright-faced and glowy. No, it’s not mysterious beauty voodoo—it’s science.
“Antioxidants like vitamin C are super important for the skin,” says Dr. Rachel Pritzker, dermatologist at Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology. “They eat up free radicals, which are the junk molecules caused by exposure to pollution and UV rays.” Not only do they help protect against environmental stressors and inhibit melanin production, the best vitamin C serums also work to hydrate, brighten and stimulate collagen (translation: fewer unsightly spots, more radiance).
Whether you’ve got dry skin, acne-prone skin, significant hyperpigmentation or another issue you’re most focused on, there’s a version out there that will be the best fit for you. When putting together our list, we considered factors such as price point, effectiveness, ability to cater to different skin types and ease of use. Read on for our expert-approved picks for vitamin C serums.
Best Vitamin C Serum Overall
The Holy Grail That Will Keep The Compliments Coming
Best Vitamin C Serum For Combination Skin
A User-Friendly, Multitasking Serum That Makes Skin Radiant
Best Drugstore Vitamin C Serum
An Affordable Product That Helps Smooth Fine Lines
Best Vitamin C Serum For Hyperpigmentation
A Potent, All-Star Illuminator
Best Vitamin C Serum For Oily Skin
Achieve Noticeable Results With This Real Deal Serum
Best Vitamin C Serum For Sensitive Skin
A Beauty Insider Favorite
Best Cruelty-Free Vitamin C Serum
Affordable And Vegan-Friendly Care For Your Complexion
Best Vitamin C Serum For Darker Skin Tones
Revitalize With This Glow-Inducing Formula For Melanin-Rich Skin
Best Vitamin C Serum For Dry Skin
A High-Performance Oil With Intense Hydration Benefits
Best Vitamin C Serum For Acne-Prone Skin
Keep Breakouts At Bay With This Specialized Serum
Best Affordable Vitamin C Serum
A Wallet-Friendly Option That’s Effective
How We Chose The Best Vitamin C Serums Of 2022
We’ve done extensive research, digging through honest reviews from professional testers and consumers. We’ve also tested (and loved) many of these vitamin C serums ourselves.
This article is routinely updated so that availability, prices, reviewer ratings and quotes stay relevant and up to date. We also re-evaluate our product picks to ensure that they’re still some of the best choices in their categories. This story was last updated in June 2022.
How To Choose A Vitamin C Serum
Vitamin C is one of those antioxidants that’s especially compelling because it has so much potential to deliver complexion-enhancing results. There are many factors to consider when looking for the best vitamin C serum. “Choosing the right one can be tricky,” says Pritzker. “Beyond the efficacy of the [ingredient], it’s important to find a formula that works with your skin.”
“There are many factors that go into formulating an effective vitamin C because it can be hard to stabilize,” says Pritzker. “These factors include pH, concentration and other ingredients. It’s important to make sure that the manufacturer has clinical data to back up its claims.”
Not all of them are created equal. Certain formulations offer higher concentrations, or they’re coupled with other star ingredients that give major benefits. Companies use various forms of vitamin C in their formulations, and the two most common are L-ascorbic acid and THD ascorbate. L-ascorbic acid is 100% pure vitamin C. It’s water-soluble, well-researched and effective, but extremely unstable. It begins to oxidize and change color over time and can be irritating to some people’s skin.
Tetrahexyldecyl (THD) ascorbate is stable and fat soluble, so it can be used in oil-based products. It tends to be well tolerated and permeates the skin easily. Separately, vitamin E and ferulic acid are ideal antioxidants to be paired with vitamin C, according to Pritzker. Hyaluronic acid and squalane can also be vehicles within various vitamin C serums as well.
“Vitamin C products have different vehicles that may or may not agree with your skin. There are creams, serums, oils, and depending on these factors some skin types react differently than others,” says Pritzker. Serums, for their part, are typically characterized by highly concentrated ingredients that penetrate deep within the skin.
Because vitamin C is often an unstable ingredient and can start to oxidize in the presence of light, heat and air, it’s a good idea to seek out serums with dark, opaque packaging. If the formula itself has turned brown, it has lost its potency.
Do Vitamin C Serums Actually Work?
The results for vitamin C speak for themselves. “From clinical data as well as anecdotal evidence, we know that it works,” says Pritzker. “You can start to appreciate the results of a topical vitamin C in as little as a month.”
What’s The Best Way To Incorporate Vitamin C Into Your Skincare Routine?
Experts recommend using it as a first step. “As with most actives, I recommend using a vitamin C after cleansing but before non-active topicals,” says Pritzker. “So you should use it before you moisturize and always before SPF, which you should be using every day. We typically recommend using it in the morning.”
Should You Use Vitamin C Every Day?
“Vitamin C can be used every day, as long as it is tolerated well and not irritating the skin or causing an adverse reaction,” says Pritzker. However, if you’re new to the vitamin C serum scene, it may be best to start at a lower concentration or apply it less frequently because it can cause irritation.
When Should You Not Use Vitamin C Serum?
“You should not use vitamin C on compromised skin,” says Pritzker. You also need to be cautious using it with other actives, such as retinol.