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You probably already know that vitamin C is an essential part of a balanced diet. Your daily dose can help boost your immunity and offers a number of other benefits for your overall health.

But did you know topical vitamin C serum is also great for your skin? Read on to find out why, plus learn about some of the best serums you can buy.

To understand how vitamin C works, you first have to understand free radicals. These natural molecules aren’t bad on their own, but they can become a problem when they build up. In high numbers, they can break cells down over time, contributing to illness and aging.

Antioxidants help fight free radicals, though, keeping everything in balance. Vitamin C is one such antioxidant.

When used on the skin, vitamin C serum can:

If you’re interested in trying vitamin C serum but aren’t sure how to pick one, don’t worry. We rounded up 10 great options for you.

In selecting our top vitamin C serums picks, we looked at:

  • Price. We included a range of options to suit many budgets.
  • Customer reviews. We looked for serums highly rated by online reviewers.
  • Potency. Each product contains at least 10 percent vitamin C.
  • Packaging. Vitamin C serum should be packaged in opaque packaging. Otherwise, it can break down when exposed to light, causing it to be less effective.

It’s worth keeping in mind that there are different types of vitamin C, and not all of them are equally effective.

We mostly chose products made with:

  • L-ascorbic acid
  • ascorbyl palmitate
  • tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate
  • magnesium ascorbyl phosphate

We also kept an eye out for products that have additional beneficial ingredients.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $25
  • $$ =$25–$50
  • $$$ = over $50

Best vitamin C serum for dull skin

L’Oreal Paris Revitalift 10% Vitamin C Concentrate

  • Price: $
  • Size: 1 ounce (oz.)
  • Key ingredients: hyaluronic acid, ascorbic acid
  • Key features: paraben-free, fragrance-free
  • Skin type: dull, uneven skin

Why we love it: At a reasonable price point, this 10 percent vitamin C serum is free of fragrances and dyes. It also contains hyaluronic acid to hydrate skin. Users say the formula is light and effective, visibly improving wrinkles.

What you should know: While many love that this is more of a cream than a serum, some feel it’s too heavy.

Best drugstore vitamin C serum

Pixi Vitamin-C Serum

  • Price: $
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • Key ingredients: ferulic acid, vitamin C
  • Key features: paraben-free, cruelty-free
  • Skin type: all skin types

Why we love it: This ascorbic acid vitamin C serum includes ferulic acid, which also helps fight free radicals and reduces the effects of sun damage. Caffeine helps brighten skin, too.

What you should know: This serum has a citrus peppermint scent. While many reviewers say it smells great, some find it too strong.

Best vitamin C serum for hyperpigmentation

Murad Environmental Shield Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum

  • Price: $$$
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • Key ingredients: glycolic acid, vitamin C
  • Key features: cruelty-free, vegan, gluten-free, paraben-free, phthalate-free
  • Skin type: oily or combination skin

Why we love it: Vitamin C can be a little unstable, breaking down easily when exposed to light, air, or water. Murad uses gold to stabilize the vitamin C in this serum, which the brand says results in a stronger product.

The convenient pump top is designed to deliver the same dose of vitamin C each time you apply it.

What you should know: The serum also contains glycolic acid, a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that can work well for hyperpigmentation. However, it can sometimes be irritating to sensitive skin. Additionally, you may get more benefits from using glycolic acid and vitamin C separately than you will combining them.

Best vitamin C serum for all skin types

Paula’s Choice C15 Super Booster

  • Price: $$$
  • Size: 0.67 oz.
  • Key ingredients: vitamin E, ferulic acid, vitamin C
  • Key features: fragrance-free, cruelty-free, paraben-free, recyclable through TerraCycle
  • Skin type: all skin types

Why we love it: This 15 percent vitamin C formula can be used alone or added into your moisturizer. Just a few drops are all you need for a healthy glow. This is also helpful for reducing the appearance of scars.

What you should know: Some users with dry skin say this caused irritation.

Most splurge-worthy vitamin C serum

Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Power Serum

  • Price: $$$
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • Key ingredients: tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate vitamin C, ferulic acid, vitamin E
  • Key features: fragrance-free
  • Skin type: all skin types

Why we love it: This vitamin C serum contains vitamin C in the form of tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate. At 20 percent potency, it’s a much higher concentration than most of the other available vitamin C serums.
The serum also contains vitamin E and ferulic acid.

A 2005 study suggests that ferulic acid is most effective when combined with vitamins E and C, like in this serum.

What you should know: Some reviewers report that this serum has an off-putting smell.

Best vitamin C serum for oily skin

Sunday Riley C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum

  • Price: $$$
  • Size: 1–1.7 oz.
  • Key ingredients: vitamin C, phytosterols complex, glycolic acid
  • Key features: B corp certified, cruelty-free, My Green Lab certified
  • Skin type: oily or acne-prone skin

Why we love it: This serum absorbs quickly into the skin and doesn’t leave a greasy feel. After a few applications, reviewers report fading acne scars and improved appearance.

What you should know: You don’t need a lot of this product for each use, so one bottle goes a long way.

Like the Murad serum, this product contains glycolic acid. Though glycolic acid and vitamin C can safely be combined, they may work better when used separately.

Best vitamin C serum for acne-prone skin

La Roche-Posay Vitamin C Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • Key ingredients: vitamin C, salicylic acid
  • Key features: allergy tested, dermatologist tested, paraben-free, noncomedogenic, oil-free
  • Skin type: acne-prone skin

Why we love it: The combination of vitamin C and salicylic acid makes this nongreasy formula great for acne-prone skin. Those who are concerned about aging skin say they love the improvement in their skin’s appearance.

What you should know: Salicylic acid is tough on acne, but it may irritate sensitive skin. This formula also has a strong scent, so it’s not a great option for people who are sensitive to fragrances.

Best vitamin C serum for dry skin

SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic

  • Price: $$$
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • Key ingredients: vitamin C, vitamin E, ferulic acid
  • Key features: paraben-free
  • Skin type: dry skin

Why we love it: This 15 percent vitamin C serum contains L-ascorbic acid, which is the most potent kind of vitamin C. It also contains vitamin E and ferulic acid, as well as glycerin to hydrate dry skin. Reviewers say they like how bright and smooth their skin was after just a few applications.

What you should know: Some users don’t like the scent.

Best long-lasting vitamin C serum

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Day Serum

  • Price: $$$
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • Key ingredients: vitamin C, pumpkin ferment, pomegranate extract
  • Key features: vegan, cruelty-free, fragrance-free
  • Skin type: all skin types

Why we love it: A vitamin C formula that’s cruelty-free, free of essential oils, *and* has a fun name — what’s not to love? This Drunk Elephant formula is designed to stay on your skin for 72 hours.

What you should know: Drunk Elephant relaunched the product in 2021. It now comes in two separate vials you mix together to “activate” the vitamin C, so you know the product will stay fresh for at least 6 months.

PriceSizeKey ingredientsSkin typeConsiderations
L’Oreal Paris Revitalift 10% Vitamin C Concentrate$1 oz– hyaluronic acid
– vitamin C
dull, uneven skin10 percent vitamin C serum that users say is light and effective
Pixi Vitamin-C Serum$1 oz– ferulic acid
– vitamin C
allsome reviewers say it smells great, but some find citrus peppermint scent too strong
Murad Environmental Shield Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum$$$1 oz– glycolic acid
– vitamin C
oily or combination skinglycolic acid, a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), can work well for hyperpigmentation but can sometimes be irritating to sensitive skin
Paula’s Choice C15 Super Booster$$$ 0.67 oz.– vitamin E
– ferulic acid
– vitamin C
allhelpful for reducing the appearance of scars, but users with dry skin say it caused irritation
Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Power Serum$$$1 oz– tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate vitamin C
– ferulic acid
– vitamin E
all20 percent potency much higher concentration than most other available vitamin C serums
Sunday Riley C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum$$$1–1.7 oz– vitamin C
– phytosterols complex
– glycolic acid
oily or acne-prone skinreviewers report fading acne scars and improved appearance after a few applications
La Roche-Posay Vitamin C Serum$$1 oz– vitamin C
– salicylic acid
acne-prone skinreviewers with mature-looking skin say they love the improvement in their skin’s appearance, but salicylic acid may irritate sensitive skin
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic$$$1 oz– vitamin C
– vitamin E
– ferulic acid
dry skin15 percent vitamin C serum contains L-ascorbic acid, which is the most potent kind of vitamin C
Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Day Serum$$$1 oz– vitamin C
– pumpkin ferment
– pomegranate extract
allcomes in two separate vials you mix together to “activate” the vitamin C

When shopping for a vitamin C serum, it’s important to look for a product made of a potent, stable type of vitamin C.

Look for one of these types of vitamin C on the ingredients list:

  • L-ascorbic acid
  • ascorbyl palmitate
  • tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate
  • magnesium ascorbyl phosphate

It’s also best to look for a product that’s sold in opaque packaging, as vitamin C can break down when exposed to sunlight.

You can also check out the other ingredients, especially if you’re looking to help several skin concerns at once. For example, hyaluronic acid or glycerin are good additions for dry skin, while AHAs can help slough off dead skin. Some products may also be formulated with retinol to help lessen the appearance of wrinkles.

Many products are made with 10 to 20 percent vitamin C, and that’s usually potent enough. Older studies show that maximum absorption is achieved at 20 percent.

Considerations by skin type

Vitamin C is safe to use for most skin types, but it’s still a good idea to do a patch test before applying serum all over your face.

To do this, apply a small amount of product on the inside of your wrist. Wait 24 hours for any signs of irritation before using broadly.

Sensitive skin

If you have sensitive skin or a skin condition, like rosacea, you might want to stick to serums with lower concentrations of vitamin C. That’s because concentrations higher than 20 percent may cause irritation.

Oily skin

For oily or acne-prone skin, look for serums labeled “noncomedogenic” so they won’t clog your pores.

Dry skin

If your skin tends to be on the dryer side, look for serums with hydrating ingredients, like hyaluronic acid.

Higher concentrations of vitamin C may cause irritation in some people. But most people tolerate it pretty well.

And while mixing vitamin C with other ingredients won’t necessarily cause side effects, it can render the vitamin inactive. Board certified dermatologist Elizabeth Mullans cautions against mixing vitamin C with the following:

You can apply vitamin C serum both in the morning and at night, following your cleansing and toning routine. One study suggested applying a vitamin C serum every 8 hours, but twice daily will suffice.

Since ultraviolet (UV) light lowers the skin’s vitamin C levels, research from 2013 shows it’s best to apply topical vitamin C after being exposed to UV light, not before. So if you’re spending time in the sun, slather on the SPF beforehand and plan to apply your vitamin C serum after.

First, you’ll want to test the product to make sure your skin doesn’t react negatively to it. Here’s the three step process:

  1. Choose small area of skin that’s easy to conceal (the inside of your wrist is a good location)
  2. Apply a small amount of product, then wait 24 hours.
  3. If you don’t notice any side effects, the product is safe to apply to your face. Do not use it if you develop a rash, redness, hives or feel itching or burning on the test site.

Once you are ready to apply, check the product label for detailed instructions. Typically, you will apply twice a day after cleansing and toning, then put moisturizer over the vitamin C serum.

There are a number of tools you can use to apply vitamin c serum:

  • Gua sha tool. This ancient Chinese technique is used to stimulate the facial fascia to increase skin circulation, remove blockages, and increase blood flow. Gua sha tools can be paired with any serum to help the tool glide more effectively over the skin and make absorption more effective.
  • Jade roller. Like gua sha tools, jade rollers can help increase circulation, depuff skin, reduce inflammation, and expedite product absorption.
  • Ionic wand for face. Using ionic technology, an ionic wand opens up the pores to help “push” active ingredients within a serum deep into the skin for better penetration and absorption.

What does vitamin C serum do?

Vitamin C can help minimize the signs of aging, protect against skin damage, reduce discoloration, and more.

Is vitamin C serum really worth it?

Vitamin C is a versatile skin care ingredient that may be able to improve your skin’s appearance. Whether that sounds valuable to you depends on your skin care needs and overall budget.

How often should I use vitamin C serum?

You can apply it once per day. Or you can even apply twice daily — once in the morning and again a night.

What percentage of vitamin C is best for the face?

Look for a formula with at least 10 percent vitamin C and a maximum of 20 percent. Anything less may not be effective. Anything over 20 percent could lead to irritation — and research says the benefits of vitamin C don’t increase after that threshold anyway.

What vitamin C is best for oily skin?

Vitamin C in the form of L-ascorbic acid may be the best option for oily skin, because it’s both lightweight and water-soluble.

What vitamin C is best for combination skin?

Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate is a form of vitamin C that may work well for combination skin. It’s known for being able to prevent the oxidation that causes blackheads, but it also has hydrating properties.

Adding a vitamin C serum to your daily routine will improve your skin’s glow while reducing the damaging effects of the environment and the sun. The longer you use a vitamin C serum consistently, the more you’ll be able to see the difference it makes.

As always, discontinue use if the product irritates your skin.