The 8 Best Vitamin C Serums of 2022

Skinceuticals C E Ferulic is infused with 15% pure vitamin C to brighten skin

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Topical vitamin C can seriously benefit your skin. According to Nazanin Saedi, MD, director of Jefferson Laser Surgery and Cosmetic Dermatology Center in Philadelphia, vitamin C is a key ingredient in many skin care products because of its reputation for reducing acne scarring, erasing fine lines, and evening out skin tone. And with a good vitamin C serum, you can improve your skin complexion, minimize hyperpigmentation, and help improve skin texture.

Reviewed & Approved

Infused with 15% pure vitamin C, Skinceuticals C E Ferulic Serum works to brighten and maintain your skin complexion. For hyperpigmentation, we recommend CeraVe's Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum, which soothes and hydrates skin.

When looking for a vitamin C serum, you need one that's highly concentrated and has an oil-based infusion of skin-boosting ingredients. Additionally, “look for ascorbic acid (often listed as L-ascorbic acid on the ingredients list) because it is a stable and effective form of topical vitamin C," says Dr. Saedi. We researched dozens of vitamin C serums and evaluated them for active ingredients, packaging, scent, additional ingredients, usage, and price.

Here are the best vitamin C serums on the market.

Best Overall: Skinceuticals C E Ferulic

4.9
Skinceuticals C E Ferulic
Courtesy of Skin Ceuticals.
Pros
  • Contains vitamin C-boosting ferulic acid

  • Encourages production of collagen for firmer skin

Cons
  • Expensive

  • Some users dislike the texture

We picked this vitamin C serum as our best overall because this antioxidant-rich formula checks off a lot of vitamin C serum boxes: it contains 15% pure vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) and 1% vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), which means the Skinceuticals’ serum can brighten your complexion at the same time as it protects your skin against free radicals (also known as those unstable molecules created by UVA/UVB rays, ozone pollution, and diesel engine exhaust).

It also contains 0.5% ferulic acid, an ingredient that Melanie Palm, MD, dermatologist at Art of Skin MD in San Diego, California, says increases the absorption of vitamin C by nearly 90 percent—so you’ll know it’s really working. This serum is a bit pricier than others on our list, but it’s a bestseller for a reason; it’s suitable for all skin types and can last you a pretty long time, since you only need a few drops per use.

Key Ingredients: 15% L-ascorbic acid, 1% alpha tocopherol, 0.5% ferulic acid | Usage: Apply four to five drops each morning after cleansing and drying face | Scent: Has a scent

Best Budget: TruSkin Naturals Vitamin C Serum

4.2
TruSkin Vitamin C Serum for Face
Pros
  • Includes vitamin E, organic aloe vera, and jojoba oil

  • Plumps and hydrates skin

Cons
  • Lower percentage of vitamin C than other options on our list

TruSkin Vitamin C Serum is plant-based and is a fraction of the price of most vitamin C serums, but we chose this product because it's just as high quality compared to other options. In addition to vitamin C, it includes botanical hyaluronic acid and vitamin E and is designed to target skin aging issues, such as brightness, firmness, fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, and sun spots.

Because of its plant-based ingredients, this formula is free of GMOs, sulfates, and fragrances, so you can take solace in the fact that this addition to your skin care regimen is all-natural. With aloe vera and jojoba oil, it should leave your skin looking supple and hydrated.

Key Ingredients: Vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, vitamin E | Usage: Apply three to five drops each morning after cleansing and drying face | Scent: None

What the Experts Say

“Quality of the product certainly matters, but price may not necessarily indicate quality. It may be helpful to choose a serum demonstrated by clinical research to be safe and effective.” Murad Alam, MD, vice-chair and professor of dermatology at Northwestern Medicine

Best for Hyperpigmentation: CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum

CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum
Pros
  • Affordable

  • Contains the purest form of vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid)

  • Includes ceramides to restore your skin barrier

Cons
  • Some say serum may oxidize shortly after use

CeraVe's Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum is an effective yet affordable option for hyperpigmentation. Not only is it packed with 10% L-ascorbic acid, it also contains hyaluronic acid to hydrate your skin and ceramides to protect your skin’s natural barrier. Unlike any other serum on this list, it also includes vitamin B5, which can soothe and hydrate as well as potentially fight acne, according to one 2014 study.

Thanks to its tube-shaped packaging, this vitamin C serum allows you to use it more as a spot treatment, in case you don't want to apply it to your entire face. The manufacturer recommends avoiding the eye area when applying to prevent irritation.

Key Ingredients: 10% L-ascorbic acid, hyaluronic acid | Usage: Apply evenly to face and neck once per day | Scent: None

Best for Sensitive Skin: Vichy LiftActiv Vitamin C Serum

Vichy LiftActiv Vitamin C Serum

Vichy

Pros
  • 15% pure vitamin C formulation

  • Easy to apply, absorbs quickly

Cons
  • Some users dislike scent

If you have sensitive skin, you may want to be particularly careful when it comes to choosing a vitamin C serum.

“It’s important to find a formulation that works for your sensitive skin type [since] not all vitamin C serums are created equal and many formulations range from five to 30 percent [in strength],” Dr. Palm explains.

Dr. Saedi suggests avoiding more potentially irritating vitamin C serums, so starting with one like Vichy LiftActiv Vitamin C might be less likely to cause a reaction than most other effective products; it contains a high level of pure vitamin C, but she points out that it’s a more hydrating form with a lower percentage of ascorbic acid. Because its formula is only made of 11 ingredients, there's less of a chance for an irritating ingredient to trigger a reaction.

That means it’s less likely to cause irritation to sensitive skin, and since the Vichy serum also includes hyaluronic acid, is made with clean ingredients, and is paraben-, fragrance-, and oil-free, it’s worth giving it a try if you’ve got sensitive skin.

Key Ingredients: 15% vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin E | Usage: Apply four drops each morning after cleansing and drying face | Scent: Has a scent

Best for Acne: Mario Badescu Vitamin C Serum

mario-badesco-serum
Courtesy of Walmart
Pros
  • Smoothing and hydrating

  • Enhances natural glow

Cons
  • Does not work as well for hyperpigmentation or dark spots

  • Packaging can leak when shipped

If you have acne, there’s a good chance one of the weapons in your cosmetic toolkit is Mario Badescu’s Drying Lotion, a cult favorite for zapping zits quickly. If you’re looking to add a vitamin C serum into your beauty regime—but worrying about how it will affect your acne—we recommend the Mario Badescu Vitamin C Serum, which many users claim actually helps clear up their breakouts and reduces acne scarring on top of all the usual C serum benefits.

“Vitamin C can be one of the best weapons against acne,” says Michael Somenek, MD, a facial plastic surgeon in Washington, D.C. “It has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and can accelerate wound healing, [which] will also help to reduce the visible signs of acne.” 

In addition to being an affordable vitamin C serum, this one also boasts sodium hyaluronate and collagen, a concoction of ingredients that will target signs of aging while simultaneously promoting moisture and smoothing your skin. It’s free of phthalates, synthetic fragrance, and mineral oil.

Key Ingredients: Vitamin C, collagen, sodium hyaluronate | Usage: Apply three to four drops each morning after cleansing and drying face | Scent: Lavender

Best Splurge: Revision Skincare C+ Correcting Complex

Revision Skincare C+ Correcting Complex

Overstock

Pros
  • High concentration of ascorbic acid (30%)

  • Contains probiotics

  • Supports naturally healthy skin pH

Cons
  • Expensive

  • Consistency is more like a lotion than a serum

Though it sits at a similarly high price point to SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, Dr. Saedi explains that many of her clients gravitate toward Revision C+ Correcting Complex because it is fragrance free and is more of a lotion in consistency, making it “less irritating.” 

It also contains an extremely potent variety of vitamin C called THD ascorbate: “A truly pH neutral and highly-absorbed form of vitamin C, tetrahexyldecyl (THD) ascorbate has superior absorption through skin and better bioavailability,” says Dr. Palm, adding that it’s extremely well tolerated and has been shown in clinical studies to decrease inflammation, roughness, and redness of the skin in addition to its skin brightening qualities.

Together with vitamin E, this serum is the perfect weapon for free radical damage, hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, and dark spots for all skin tones. It is also paraben and sulfate free.

Key Ingredients: THD Ascorbate 30% | Usage: Apply one pump evenly to the face, morning and night, after cleansing | Scent: None

Best Clean Beauty: Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum

Sephora

Pros
  • Mixed after purchasing for maximum potency and freshness

  • Powerful trio of vitamin C, E, and ferulic acid

Cons
  • Some may not like its strong odor

  • May be too oily for some skin

Drunk Elephant has gained a loyal following for their commitment to using clean ingredients without skimping on effectiveness, which is why we recommend this pick to anyone looking for a clean, natural serum.

Drunk Elephant cuts out essential oils, alcohols, fragrances and dyes, and chemical sunscreen to prevent skin irritation, leaving you with a serum that’s simply packed with the potent antioxidant cocktail of 15% L-ascorbic acid, ferulic acid, and vitamin E. As a total bonus, it also includes fruit extracts, like pumpkin and pomegranate, to remove dead skin cells, brighten your skin, and leave it glowing.

Key Ingredients: 15% L-ascorbic acid, 0.5% ferulic acid, 1% vitamin E | Usage: Apply one pump face, neck, and chest after cleansing and drying | Scent: Yes, may be unpleasant

Best for Dry Skin: Maelove The Glow Maker

4.7
MaeLove Glow Maker
Pros
  • Good for hyperpigmentation

  • Affordable

  • Mild scent

Cons
  • Some users dislike the texture upon application

  • Its 3-month shelf life may be shorter than some would prefer

A cult beauty favorite, the Maelove Glow Maker Antioxidant Serum frequently sells out of stock—but if you can, we highly recommend getting your hands on it. With 15 percent L-ascorbic acid, it has plenty of vitamin C to even out your skin tone, reduce lines and wrinkles, and fight acne. But because it also has vitamin E and hyaluronic acid, it won’t dry out your skin in the process. 

Considering how budget-friendly it is compared to some other high-end brands, we think that its three-month shelf life is hardly an issue, especially since you'll want to use this product every day. It also has a very mild scent that will leave your skin feeling and smelling fresh.

Key Ingredients: 15% L-ascorbic acid, vitamin E, ferulic acid, hyaluronic acid | Usage: Apply 3-5 drops to face, neck, and chest after cleansing and drying | Scent: Yes, but mild

Final Verdict

When it comes to vitamin C serums, SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic (view at Dermstore) is a great pick. It works to treat everything from hyperpigmentation to fine lines and wrinkles. If you're looking on a budget, TruSkin Vitamin C Serum (view at Amazon) is an affordable way to get the benefits of a vitamin C serum at a fraction of the cost.

What to Look for in a Vitamin C Serum

Ingredients

The most important ingredient in a vitamin C serum is the vitamin C, but other ingredients incorporated in the product can further boost the benefits. “Vitamin C works best when combined with vitamin E and ferulic acid, which together improve the antioxidant effects and stability of this ingredient,” says Murad Alam, MD, vice-chair and professor of dermatology at Northwestern Medicine. 

Additionally, pay attention to the order of the ingredients on the product. The order indicates how prevalent that ingredient is in the serum. Dr. Alam explains that you want the vitamin C, which most commonly comes in the form of L-ascorbic acid, within the top five ingredients on the label.

Type and Concentration of Vitamin C

Vitamin C comes in many forms, but the most common is L-ascorbic acid. “If this is the active ingredient, the serum should contain 10 to 20 percent L-ascorbic acid and have an acidic pH of 2 to 2.5 for optimal absorption and results,” Dr. Alam says.

If you have more sensitive skin and tend to react to skincare products, then it might be best to pick up a serum with a lower concentration of L-ascorbic acid, about 10 percent, or a “product that contains a derivative of vitamin C that is gentler than L-ascorbic acid, such as magnesium ascorbyl phosphate or ascorbyl-6-palmitate, which have a neutral pH of 7,” Dr. Alam says.

The takeaway? It’s not always the percentage of vitamin C but the form of vitamin C that’s most important for tolerance and effect, says Dr. Palm. If the specific serum you’ve been using seems to be causing a reaction or, on the flip side, not having much effect at all, ask your dermatologist if the particular form of vitamin C in your serum has been tested in published clinical trials: “This is the true mark of a well-thought out, tested, and formulated vitamin C preparation,” she advises.

Usage

While vitamin C serums help with a variety of skin conditions, it's important to target a product that fits your specific skin care needs. For example, some serums may contain ingredients that irritate the skin, so if you have sensitive skin, consult your dermatologist to determine the best vitamin C serum for you.

It’s also important to consider how vitamin C serum fits into the timeline of your skin care regime, especially if you use other products with certain ingredients. 

“Never [use vitamin C serum] within a few hours of using retinol, glycolic acid, or salicylic acid,” says Dr. Somenek, “to avoid burning, redness, and stinging.”

Packaging

Vitamin C is a sensitive ingredient, so it’s important you’re paying attention to not only the type of bottle the serum comes in, but also where you’re storing it daily. “Vitamin C is sensitive to light, heat, and air, so it must be stored in a UV-protected and air-tight bottle in a cool, dark place,” Dr. Alam says.

Potential Interactions

There are always concerns when trying a new product about how it might react with your skin and the other serums and moisturizers in your skincare routine. “Allergic reactions to skincare products are common and usually show redness and itching,” says Rebecca Baxt, MD, a board certified dermatologist with Baxt Cosmedical in New Jersey. “In which case, stop the product immediately, use cool compresses, hydrocortisone cream or ointment, mild cleansers, and if it is not resolving, see a board certified dermatologist.” 

When testing a new serum, Dr. Alam recommends first applying the product to a small area of the skin. “If no side effects occur, then transition to using the product more broadly a few days per week before progressing to daily use. If any side effects are noted, use of the product should be stopped,” he says. 

If you experience a negative reaction, then consider selecting a vitamin C serum with a lower concentration or altering other products in your routine that could be causing the sensitivity. A dermatologist can be your best source for why your skin’s reacting and what steps you can take to prevent future reactions.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When should I apply vitamin C serum?

    There are two schools of thought here, though they both come to the same conclusion: the time of day you apply vitamin C serum is important.

    “Time of application matters: skincare products are pricey and you want to make sure you are applying topical skin care products when and where they will make the most difference,” says Dr. Palm, who recommends vitamin C serum be used in the morning on freshly cleansed skin. This is to give the skin a “protective antioxidant shield,” she explains, to prevent environmental damage encountered through daily activities. 

    The other school of thought, however, recommends using vitamin C serum in the evening.

    “Common medical knowledge has recommended vitamin C serum for use in the morning to ward off damage during the day, because it helps to protect the skin from free radicals,” says Dr. Somenek. But newer data, he explains, shows that UV damage remains for hours after a person is no longer exposed to the sun

    “The current thought is that people should be using antioxidants such as vitamin C at night to prevent post-sun damage,” he continues. “When you apply them at night, it still helps to fight sun damage the next day.” 

    Since there are benefits to applying the serum in the morning and at night, we recommend thinking about when you can maximize benefits the most based on your daily activities. If you spend a lot of time in the sun, you may want to opt for a nightly application to both heal and prevent sun damage (but make sure you’re wearing a good sunscreen, too).

  • Will my vitamin C serum interact with other skincare products?

    Like any skincare product, it's important to be wary of mixing ingredients that may cause a reaction. If you use any retinoids or retin-a products, then Dr. Baxt recommends using the vitamin C serum in the morning and the other products in the evening to prevent any reaction between the active ingredients. “This is an ideal anti-aging, anti-cancer program: retinol or retin-a at night, then vitamin C product underneath sunblock in the am,” Dr. Baxt says. 

    Products that incorporate benzoyl peroxide, Dr. Alam warns, could also react negatively with vitamin C. “Individuals should speak with their dermatologists about how to safely and effectively incorporate vitamin C in their skincare regimen,” he says.

    As always, if you experience irritation as a result of combining products, consult your dermatologist.

  • Can vitamin C serum cause irritation or acne?

    Vitamin C serum won’t typically cause acne, per Dr. Somenek, but because it’s acidic, it can cause irritation—especially in higher concentrations. “When using it for the first time, especially if you have sensitive skin, use a thin layer every other day until you can tolerate daily application,” Dr. Somenek advises. 

    It may also be wise, says Dr. Palm, to avoid pairing your vitamin C serum application with your other beauty products (besides a moisturizer); combining active ingredients like retinol, benzoyl peroxide, AHAs, and BHAs with vitamin C can increase the likelihood of having a reaction.

  • How often should you use vitamin C serum?

    Eventually, you can and should use vitamin C serum every day, but you may not be able to jump right into that daily application as soon as the bottle is in your hands. 

    “Vitamin C is an active ingredient, so it’s important to build up a tolerance [gradually],” says Dr. Somenek. “You can start three times a week and build up to daily use.”

    He also reminds users that it will probably take many weeks to see a positive difference in skin tone, and that much of what vitamin C does is preventive (so no instant gratification here!).

Why Trust Verywell Health

Sarah Bradley has been writing health content since 2017—everything from product roundups and illness FAQs to nutrition explainers and the dish on diet trends. She knows how important it is to receive trustworthy and expert-approved advice about over-the-counter products that manage everyday health conditions, from GI issues and allergies to chronic headaches and joint pain.

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