The 7 Best Vitamin C Serums of 2020

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First Look

Best Overall: Skinceuticals C E Ferulic at Dermstore

"Will protect skin against environmental damage caused by free radicals, such as UVA/UVB rays, ozone pollution, and diesel engine exhaust."

Best Budget: TruSkin Vitamin C Serum at Amazon

"It includes botanical hyaluronic acid and vitamin E and is designed to target anti-aging issues, such as brightness, firmness, fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, and sun spots."

Best for Hyperpigmentation: CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid at walgreens.com

"Reviewers claim that they tried it after using much more expensive products and found it to be even more effective in lightening and brightening dark spots."

Best for Sensitive Skin: Vichy LiftActiv Peptide C at Amazon

"A budget-friendly, award-winning serum that is less likely to stir up a reaction than most other effective products."

Best for Acne: Mario Badescu Vitamin C Serum at Amazon

"While vitamin C can often be an irritant for acne prone skin, many users maintain that this product actually helped clear up breakouts, while also reducing acne scarring."

Best Splurge: Revision Skincare C+ Correcting Complex at Amazon

"The perfect weapon for free radical damage, hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, and dark spots for all skin tones."

Best Clean Beauty: Drunk Elephant C-Firma Vitamin C at Amazon

"A lightweight but antioxidant- and nutrient-rich treatment."

Most of us are accustomed to taking vitamin C to boost immunity. However, the vitamin, also referred to as ascorbic acid, can seriously benefit your skin in topical form as well. “Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals,” Nazanin Saedi, MD, Director of Jefferson Laser Surgery and Cosmetic Dermatology Center tells VeryWell Health

She explains that vitamin C is a key ingredient in many skin care products and is used for a variety of conditions, including to improve skin complexion, minimize hyperpigmentation, minimize sun damage, and help improve skin texture.

So what should you look for when on the hunt for a vitamin C infused skin treatment? There are two important elements when it comes to an effective product, she says. “You need to look for the percentage of vitamin C and also the other ingredients added to the mix. Look for ascorbic acid (L-ascorbic acid) because it is a stable and effective form of topical vitamin C,” she urges. “Also, THD (tetrahexyldecyl) ascorbate is a very stable form that is oil-soluble.” Some formulations have vitamin E as well and that is another potent antioxidant.

Dr. Saedi adds that that packaging is important. “Look for it in a dark bottle because vitamin C usually breaks down once it is exposed to light and those dark bottles help keep the stability,” she says.

So if you're looking to improve your skincare routine, here are a few vitamin C serums to get you started.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Skinceuticals C E Ferulic

Skinceuticals C E Ferulic
Courtesy of Skin Ceuticals.

Skinceuticals CE Ferulic is the gold standard of vitamin C serums. “It is a dermatologist and editor favorite,” attests Dr. Saedi. In addition to being a fan favorite, science backs it up as an effective product. “It has been around the longest and is also the most studied,” she adds. This antioxidant cocktail of 15 percent pure vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid), one percent vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), and 0.5 percent ferulic acid, will not only help with brightening complexion, but also protect skin against environmental damage caused by free radicals, such as UVA/UVB rays, ozone pollution, and diesel engine exhaust. It is also paraben-free and ideal for all skin types, including normal, dry, and sensitive. While the price tag may be a bit startling, keep in mind that a little bit goes a long way, as you only need to use a few drops a day. If you still aren’t sold, take a scroll through the many rave reviews wherever C E Ferulic is sold, with many claiming it took 10 years off of their skin life. 

Best Budget: TruSkin Vitamin C Serum

TruSkin Vitamin C Serum is one of the best-selling and highly rated skincare products on Amazon. This plant-based formula is a fraction of the price of most vitamin C serums, yet users maintain it is just as effective as even the most expensive options. In addition to vitamin C, it includes botanical hyaluronic acid and vitamin E and is designed to target anti-aging issues, such as brightness, firmness, fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, and sun spots. Many reviewers include before and after photos, documenting their skin’s progress with the product—and the evidence is quite compelling. 

Best for Hyperpigmentation: CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid

CeraVe

When it comes to drugstore skincare brands, CeraVe is the go-to for many dermatologists. Their vitamin C Serum is an effective yet affordable option for hyperpigmentation. It is formulated with 10 percent l-ascorbic acid, the purest form of vitamin C, to help provide antioxidant protection and three essential ceramides (1, 3, 6 II), moisturizing hyaluronic acid, and soothing vitamin B5. It is also one of the most highly rated and best selling serums on Amazon. Many reviewers claim that they tried it after using much more expensive products and found it to be even more effective in lightening and brightening dark spots.

Best for Sensitive Skin: Vichy LiftActiv Peptide C

If you have sensitive skin, finding the right serums can involve a lot of trial and error, which is frustrating to say the least. Dr. Saedi suggests avoiding more potentially irritating vitamin C serums, and starting with Vichy LiftActiv Peptide C, a budget-friendly, award-winning serum that is less likely to stir up a reaction than most other effective products. While it boasts 15 percent pure vitamin C, “it offers a more hydrating form with less percentage of ascorbic acid,” she explains. “It also includes hyaluronic acid, which is hydrating.” The quick absorbing serum is also paraben, fragrance, and oil-free, and is made with 11 clean ingredients. Fans attest to its effectiveness in brightening and quenching their skin in addition to helping with sun spots and discoloration. 

Best for Acne: Mario Badescu Vitamin C Serum

Mario Badescu is one of the best product lines for reliably effective yet moderately priced skincare. Their vitamin C Serum is formulated with vitamin C in addition to sodium hyaluronate and collagen, a concoction of ingredients that will target signs of aging while simultaneously promoting moisture and smoothing your skin. While vitamin C can often be an irritant for acne prone skin, many users maintain that this product actually helped clear up breakouts, while also reducing acne scarring. It is also paraben, gluten, sulfate, phthalates, synthetic fragrance, and mineral oil-free.

Best Splurge: Revision Skincare C+ Correcting Complex

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.” This antioxidant blend of 30 percent THD ascorbate and vitamin E 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. 

Best Clean Beauty: Drunk Elephant C-Firma Vitamin C

Drunk Elephant has established itself as a beauty brand dedicated to using clean yet effective ingredients. Just ask the many beauty editors, influencers, and fans part of their cult-like following. Their C-Firma Day Serum is the perfect example of clean beauty at its finest. It is a lightweight but antioxidant- and nutrient-rich treatment free avoiding the six “dirty” ingredients the brand believes is the root of most skin issues—essential oils, drying alcohols, silicones, chemical sunscreens, fragrances/dyes, and sodium lauryl sulfate. Instead, their vitamin c serum offers 15 percent potent antioxidant complex—15 percent L-Ascorbic Acid and Ferulic Acid and one percent Vitamin E—a cocktail which helps fight environmental skin stressors, reduces fine lines and wrinkles, and helps replenish the skin—along with exfoliating pumpkin ferment extract and pomegranate enzymes.

Final Verdict

There’s a reason why Skinceuticals C E Ferulic has won so many awards and is endorsed by the top dermatologists in the country: it is hands down the best overall vitamin C serum that money can buy. As Dr. Saedi mentioned, it has been around the longest and there is an abundance of science and research to back up its effectiveness in treating everything from hyperpigmentation and fine lines and wrinkles to protecting skin from future environmental damage. However, quality often comes with a price tag, which may make this gold standard of treatment unaffordable for some people. However, keep in mind that a bottle should last you for months, as you only need to use a few drops a day. However, there are many other vitamin C serums that are effective and might be a better fit for you, depending on your skin type.

What to Look for in a Vitamin C Serum

Budget: Vitamin C serums range in price from $15 to over $160, so the first consideration should always be how much you are willing to spend. 

Type and Concentration of Vitamin C: An effective vitamin C serum will have a higher percentage of vitamin C, Dr. Saedi pointed out. Also keep in mind that there are a few types of vitamin C. She suggests sticking to those with ascorbic acid (L-ascorbic acid) or THD (tetrahexyldecyl) ascorbate. Unfortunately, the higher the quality of vitamin C, the heftier the price tag, which accounts for why some of our picks our significantly more expensive than others. 

Packaging: As Dr. Saedi mentioned, you should stick with products in darker packaging in order to ensure that the ingredients aren’t compromised by the light. 

Why Trust Verywell Health

As an internationally recognized health writer and product guru, Leah Groth understands that nobody wants to waste their time or money on products that fail to rear results. Over the years, she has interviewed the world's top health experts and reviewed hundreds of items, to help readers like you discover the most effective health gadgets, goops, and aids that will help you look and feel your very best.

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