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Vitamin C isn’t just great for your body. See how vitamin C serums can help your skin and which one may be right for you.

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.

Antioxidants can do this by supplying an electron to a free radical without destabilizing themselves. The result is a neutralized free radical that is less able to cause damage.

In general, it’s essential that your diet includes beneficial antioxidants — coffee, berries, and green tea are a few excellent and delicious options.

When it comes to skin care, vitamin C serum is a popular antioxidant, or free radical fighter, if you will.

“In serum form, vitamin C is an effective antioxidant that protects your skin from free radical damage, which can result in signs of aging,” says Melanie Palm, MD, board certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon at Art of Skin MD, in San Diego, California.

“Vitamin C has a number of clinically proven benefits,” she adds.

When used on the skin, vitamin C serum can:

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% 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 $20
  • $$ = $20–$30
  • $$$ = over $30

PriceSizeKey ingredientsSkin typeConsiderations
L’Oreal Paris Revitalift 10% Vitamin C Concentrate$$$1 oz– hyaluronic acid
– vitamin C
dull, uneven skin10% vitamin C serum that users say is light and effective
Pixi Vitamin-C Serum$$1 oz– ferulic acid
– vitamin C
allsome reviewers say it smells great, but some find the 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$$$1 oz– tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate vitamin C
– ferulic acid
– vitamin E
all20% potency much higher concentration than most other available vitamin C serums
Sunday Riley C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum$$$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% vitamin C serum contains L-ascorbic acid, which is the most potent kind of vitamin C
Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Day Serum$$$1 oz– vitamin C
– pumpkin ferment
– pomegranate extract
allcomes in two separate vials you mix together to “activate” the vitamin C
CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum$1 oz– vitamin C
– hyaluronic acid
– ceramides
– vitamin B5
allsome complaints of formula turning brown or orange quickly, and others note a metallic smell
The INKEY List 15% Vitamin C and EGF Brightening Serum$1 oz– vitamin C
– epidermal growth factor (EGF)
allsome reviews note that it feels a little sticky on the skin and also a dislike of the smell
The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%$1 oz– vitamin C
– hyaluronic acid
alltexture may be slightly grainy initially; 23% vitamin C makes it very potent
RoC MULTI CORREXION® Revive And Glow Daily Serum$$1 oz– vitamin C
– glycerine
– peptides
allcontains 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid, a water- and oil-soluble type of vitamin C

Vitamin C is safe for most skin types.

“Unless you have an allergy to topical vitamin C, I would recommend that almost everyone incorporates a vitamin C serum into their skin care routines,” Palm says.

She recommends starting in your early 20s and continuing usage throughout adulthood.

If you’re worried about how vitamin C may work with other skin care products in your routine, Palm says this really depends on your sensitivity to active ingredients.

“Generally, vitamin C pairs well with other actives, including alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), BHAs, niacinamide, and retinol. However, in certain individuals, using multiple active ingredients can result in irritation,” she says.

This is why Palm doesn’t recommend introducing multiple new skin care products into your routine at the same time.

It’s also best to use an active like retinol before bed and a vitamin C serum during the day — paired with a good facial moisturizer and topped off with broad-spectrum SPF, of course!

Palm also points out that hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, peptides, and ceramides can complement 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

Palm points out that L-ascorbic acid is a water-soluble-based vitamin C form, while tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate is a lipid-soluble form of vitamin C.

As Palm explains, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate is readily absorbed through the skin’s lipid bilayer. “Therefore, it requires a lower percentage of active vitamin C to be biologically available and productive,” she says.

Palm also says, “In clinical studies, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate has been found to be less inflammatory, reduces redness, decreases pigmentation and uneven discoloration, improves fine lines, and improves skin texture.”

“Even those with sensitive skin types or rosacea often tolerate this form of vitamin C well,” Palm adds.

Vitamin C packaging

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% vitamin C, and that’s usually potent enough. Older studies show that maximum absorption is achieved at 20%.

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% may cause irritation.

Oily skin

For oily or acne-prone skin, look for serums labeled “noncomedogenic” so that they won’t clog your pores. Palm adds that she recommends that oily skin types use a vitamin C serum formulated with L-ascorbic acid, a more potent form of vitamin C.

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 after your cleansing and toning routine.

According to research from 2013, it may be best to apply topical vitamin C after being exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light, not before. This is because UV light lowers the skin’s vitamin C levels.

For your regular routine, such as days when you’re not planning on being in direct sun, Palm says vitamin C is best used in your morning skin care routine. “It should be applied to the face, neck, and chest after cleansing, but before moisturizing and sunscreen,” she says.

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

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 improve your skin’s appearance. Whether it’s worth it really to 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. According to Palm, those new to vitamin C may consider applying it two to three times a week at first and then working up to daily application.

“To get the most out of your vitamin C serum, you should apply it daily as part of your morning skin care routine,” Palm says. “Applying vitamin C in the morning allows us to optimize its ability to reduce free radicals during the day from UV exposure.”

What percentage of vitamin C is best for the face?

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

According to Palm, if you’re new to vitamin C, start on the lower end of the spectrum and work your way up to avoid any possible irritation.

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.

Retinol versus vitamin C: Which should I use?

Both, Palm says. “Retinol and vitamin C are both integral parts of an effective anti-aging skin care routine and should be used consistently to reap the most benefits,” she says.

“It’s critical to also wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or more daily, as these actives can make your skin more photosensitive,” she reminds us.

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.