Row of red, yellow, and orange facial serum bottlesShare on Pinterest
Anna Efetova / Getty Images

We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.

A facial refers to a series of treatments that cleanse, exfoliate, hydrate, and moisturize your skin. These specialized skin care treatments can also address certain skin conditions with specific ingredients. A vitamin C facial, for example, uses this ingredient to brighten, repair, and smooth the skin.

Along with promoting smoother skin, vitamin C is also known to provide aging support and help your skin recover from the effects of heat, sun, and humidity. Essentially, a vitamin C facial incorporates a mix of high quality vitamin C-rich products into the treatment for specific benefits.

Vitamin C is a key ingredient you can use within a facial to assist in brightening, repairing, and smoothing out skin irregularities, explains Kelly Gold, licensed aesthetician and spa and fitness director at The Club at Rancharrah.

Read on to learn more about the skin benefits of topical vitamin C, what a facial involves, and how to try it at home.

There’s more than one reason why vitamin C is so beloved in skin care.

“Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant and helps your skin repair itself from the effects of pollutions and sun damage,” explains Nana Duffy, MD, FAAD, a board certified dermatologist practicing at Genesee Valley Dermatology & Laser Centre in New York.

“It can help reduce the appearance of dark spots and can help fade acne. It also helps prevent premature aging by stimulating the growth of collagen.”

A boost in collagen can help improve skin elasticity and firmness.

“Collagen is a powerful antioxidant and helps to protect us against damage from reactive molecules called free radicals,” says Gold.

She goes on to explain that, although collagen is naturally produced in the body, collagen production decreases with age.

“Free radicals are responsible for breaking down our skin’s collagen, which can lead to hyperpigmentation, fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone. Antioxidants bind with the free radicals, neutralizing them and preventing further damage.”

Research from 2013 also supports the hydrating benefits of topical vitamin C, plus its ability to minimize inflammation and reduce redness for a more even skin tone.

To reap these benefits, you’ll generally want to apply vitamin C topically.

Oral vitamin C supplements offer a number of health benefits, but with oral vitamin C, the ingredient’s bioavailability in your skin remains limited.

That’s where a professional vitamin C facial really shines — or rather, leaves you shining.

A skin care specialist has training in providing the most effective applications, so a professional treatment helps you get the full benefit of this powerhouse ingredient.

“It’s really a matter of the aesthetician working and massaging products that contain vitamin C and other antioxidants into the skin,” notes Gold.

New to facials?

These skin treatments are often performed by licensed skin care specialists in salons or spas.

A facial usually involves the following steps:

  • deep cleansing, which may involve steaming to open the pores
  • exfoliation with a scrub or peel to remove dead skin
  • massage to stimulate pressure points and help move fluids to clear away toxins and reduce puffiness
  • product application, which typically begins with a concentrated treatment mask and then the specialty products, which are sealed with moisturizer and typically followed with sunscreen

These elaborate skin care routines typically take at least 45 minutes, sometimes up to 90 minutes. Designed to be relaxing, indulgent, and therapeutic, facials can also help remedy:

Plus, facials can be customized to address more specific skin concerns. More in-depth facial treatments may include specialty equipment like LED devices or microdermabrasion tools.

How much do they cost?

Prices for a facial will vary, depending on where you go and the kind of facial you choose.

Still, you can usually expect to pay upward of $150. Some salons might offer a shorter (and less expensive) “express” facial package with fewer services or one specific treatment.

How to prepare

When you go in for your appointment, make sure your skin is clean and bare.

You’ll also want to avoid doing a heavy skin care regimen at home beforehand.

While there’s not much aftercare needed, it’s best to stick to gentle cleansers for a few days to avoid irritating your skin after your treatment.

While you can follow many of the same steps for a facial at home, it’s hard to replicate the experience of a spa facial. Compare it to rubbing your own feet or getting a professional foot massage — they’re essentially the same thing, but the experiences are completely different.

Still, if you’d like to enjoy the benefits of vitamin C without heading to the spa, you can absolutely follow the steps in a standard facial — cleansing, exfoliating, massage — and then use a vitamin C mask or serum.

“I think vitamin C serums are best,” Duffy says. “That way you can layer sunscreen on top and it doesn’t feel too heavy.”

Incorporating a vitamin C serum into your regular routine has the added benefit of consistency. “A daily vitamin C serum would be better than a vitamin C facial because the serum is applied daily,” notes Duffy.

Keep in mind, too, that vitamin C is unstable, reactive, and prone to losing its antioxidant properties when exposed to air, light, and heat.

So, while you can find vitamin C powder, mixing it up with your favorite moisturizer may not yield the results you hope for. For maximum efficacy, your best option usually involves buying quality vitamin C products instead of trying to make them yourself.

One great thing about topical vitamin C? It’s generally safe and well-tolerated by most skin types. In other words, most people can use it without any adverse effects.

That said, it may sting a bit if you have sensitive skin, Gold cautions, especially if you use it in the same part of your routine as exfoliating facial scrubs or acids.

It’s always a good idea to patch test any new skin care ingredients and check for any unwanted reactions before you apply them to your entire face.

Gold also has a word of advice for those adding vitamin C to their skin care routine. “Benzoyl peroxide products can oxidize the vitamin C, making it less potent.”

She recommends using vitamin C in the morning and benzoyl peroxide products in the evening, or using these products on alternating days.

Sensitive skin?

Monthly facials can be a great way to maintain healthy skin, but you may want to stretch that out to every 3 months if you have sensitive skin.

If sensitivity is an issue for you, you might also consider products formulated with plant-based vitamin C. These offer the same benefits, but they tend to be gentler.

If you have any questions or concerns, it never hurts to consult your dermatologist before trying a vitamin C product.

You’ll find vitamin C in moisturizers and toners, but skin care professionals like Duffy often recommend serums. These concentrated skin care products are designed for greater efficacy, thanks to the targeted delivery of active compounds.

Vitamin C does come in multiple forms, and some options are better than others.

“When looking for vitamin C skin care products, take into consideration the type of vitamin C used in the formulation as it tends to oxidize quickly when the formula isn’t stabilized,” says Jeanette Graf, MD, a New York-based board certified dermatologist.

She goes on to explain that vitamin C is most stable in a water-free form. “Another option is to find vitamin C derivatives that are already stabilized, like ethyl-o-ascorbic-acid or ascorbic tetraisopalmitate.”

Since these derivatives are often gentler, they may be less likely to cause irritation if you have sensitive skin.

Looking to mix vitamin C with other active ingredients? She recommends looking for “gentle actives like niacinamide, which can help boost brightening effects, and hyaluronic acid, which boosts hydration.”

Products to try

Interested in adding vitamin C to your routine, but not sure where to start?

A few products to consider:

  • Beekman 1802 Golden Booster: Made with amla berry, an antioxidant that boasts even more vitamin C than an orange, this plant-based serum is designed for people with dry or sensitive skin.
  • Common Heir Vitamin C Serum: This vegan formula comes in biodegradable capsules, offering the brightening, smoothing, and hydrating benefits of vitamin C with none of the plastic packaging waste. Plus, it’s silicone-free, with zero parabens, phthalates, or PEGs.
  • Farmacy Very Cherry Bright: This serum contains vitamin C-rich acerola cherry and hyaluronic acid to help calm and revitalize your skin without irritation.
  • Sweet Chef Turmeric + Vitamin C Booster Eye Cream: This gel cream combines vitamin C with turmeric, ginger, niacinamide, and probiotics to minimize dark circles and hydrate the delicate skin around the eyes.

If you’re opting for a vitamin C serum, Gold suggests applying it in the morning after cleansing, giving it a chance to absorb into your skin before following with moisturizer and sunscreen.

“Since vitamin C is such a powerhouse when it comes to fighting free radicals, apply before you head out for the day and are exposed to UV, pollution, and other environmental aggressors,” she recommends. “Consider this antioxidant an invisible defense shield for your skin.”

A daily dose of vitamin C can benefit your body, inside and out. Just as foods rich in vitamin C can offer plenty of health benefits, topical vitamin C can work wonders in your skin care routine.

For a fresh burst of antioxidants that promote brighter, more hydrated skin, try this popular ingredient in a daily splash of serum or a monthly vitamin C facial.


Jessica Timmons has been working as a freelance writer since 2007, covering everything from pregnancy and parenting to cannabis, chiropractic, stand-up paddling, fitness, martial arts, home decor, and much more. Her work has appeared in mindbodygreen, Pregnancy & Newborn, Modern Parents Messy Kids, and Coffee + Crumbs. See what she’s up to now at jessicatimmons.com.