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Best Vitamin C Serums

Updated December 2018
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 18 Models Considered
  • 6 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 104 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best vitamin C serums

    Last Updated December 2018

    If you struggle with dark spots, fine lines, textured skin, or an overall dull complexion, you can restore your glow with a vitamin C serum. Vitamin C serums can brighten your skin by lightening dark spots and improve the quality of your skin by boosting collagen production.

    But there are so many vitamin C serums on the market, and all of them claim to be the best. That makes it difficult to cut through the marketing hype and determine what real benefits you can expect from using this skin care product. How do you find the right vitamin C serum for your skin type and concerns?

    At BestReviews, we help you make the most educated shopping decisions with our top recommendations and handy, helpful guides. Just keep reading for everything you need to know about choosing and using vitamin C serums.

    A vitamin C serum can help restore your skin’s youthful glow.

    Benefits of vitamin C serums

    Vitamin C has many benefits when applied topically as a serum.

    Vitamin C counteracts free radicals. Free radicals damage cells through a process called oxidative stress. While free radicals have a wide range of effects throughout your body, they impact the skin in the form of wrinkles, loss of elasticity, and a rougher texture. Vitamin C is an antioxidant, meaning it balances free radical molecules, thus reducing their harmful effects.

    The sun is one of your skin’s worst enemies. Over time, UV rays damage your skin cells, leaving dullness, dark spots, and lines. While vitamin C cannot take the place of a good sunscreen, it helps prevent and repair the damage caused by too much sun. Vitamin C inhibits the production of melanin in your skin cells, thus preventing the formation of new sun spots and fading those already there. This lightening and brightening effect is one of the most common reasons people use a vitamin C serum.

    Collagen is a protein in your skin that keeps it plump and young-looking. As you age, collagen production naturally slows down, leading to fine lines and wrinkles, loose skin, and a loss of elasticity. Vitamin C encourages your skin to increase collagen production, which restores a great deal of your youthful glow.

    Vitamin C is a skin soother, as long as you use the right formulation. It helps reduce inflammation and redness caused by acne, rosacea, sunburn, and enlarged or broken capillaries.

    If you are new to using vitamin C serums, start with a product containing 10% vitamin C before trying serums with higher concentrations of this acidic vitamin.

    Staff
    BestReviews

    Serums vs. moisturizers

    You might be confused about the difference between a serum and a moisturizer. While these two skin care staples have some overlap, they also serve different functions on your skin. If you use both products, first apply your serum, wait a minute or two for it to absorb, and then apply your moisturizer.

    Serums are typically formulated to address specific skin concerns, such as aging, acne, hyperpigmentation, or dryness. Most have one or more potent active ingredients, and they are formulated to penetrate as deeply as possible into the skin. You’ll find that most serums have a thin consistency, and they are often sold in glass bottles with dropper tops. For those with oily skin, a serum might provide all the moisture that’s necessary, but most people top a serum with a moisturizer.

    Moisturizers are thicker creams, gels, or liquids designed to restore moisture to the skin, although many moisturizers provide other benefits as well. There are moisturizers for every skin type from dry to oily. Drier skin needs a heavier and more nourishing moisturizer, while oily complexions are best served with a gel or water-based formula.

    Which form of vitamin C is right for you?

    There are several forms of vitamin C that you’ll find in serums.

    Ascorbic acid

    Ascorbic acid is the most studied form of vitamin C, and many dermatologists feel it is the best form of the vitamin to use on your skin. However, it is also the most unstable form of vitamin C, and it is prone to oxidation, which breaks down the vitamin and minimizes its skin-boosting benefits. The most acidic form of vitamin C, ascorbic acid can be too strong for very dry or sensitive skin, so it’s best used by those with normal or oily complexions.

    Sodium ascorbyl phosphate (SAP)

    SAP is milder and more stable than ascorbic acid, making it a good choice for those with sensitive skin. However, it will take longer for you to see results when using a vitamin C serum with SAP, particularly in lightening dark spots.

    Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP)

    MAP is another form of vitamin C that is suitable for normal or sensitive complexions. It will reduce dark spots and improve collagen production, but it might take a little longer to do so than ascorbic acid.

    Ascorbyl palmitate

    Ascorbyl palmitate is less irritating to sensitive skin than other forms of vitamin C, and it helps reduce acne breakouts and post-acne scarring. It’s not quite as good at boosting collagen production as the other forms of the vitamin, however.

    CAUTION

    Store your vitamin C serum away from light, heat, and humidity.

    Features to consider for vitamin C serums

    When it’s time to choose your vitamin C serum, there are a few things to look for.

    Active ingredients

    A good vitamin C serum specifies the percentage of vitamin C. If you are new to these serums, start with a 10% vitamin C formula. That may be enough for sensitive skin, but if you want stronger results, consider moving up to a 20% formula once your skin adjusts.

    If you’ll mix your vitamin C serum with other serums, choose a single-ingredient product. But if you want the most bang for your buck, you’ll find that many serums combine vitamin C with other beauty boosters such as vitamin E, soothing herbal extracts, light moisturizers like hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, and other helpful ingredients.

    Color

    Vitamin C oxidizes easily, which reduces its effectiveness. You’ll know your product has oxidized if it takes on a yellowish color. Some unethical serum manufacturers intentionally add yellow coloring to their products to hide signs of oxidation. It’s best to stick with reputable, well-known brands and to use serums that have no added color. Normally, most vitamin C serums are clear or white.

    Fragrance

    Watch out for scented vitamin C serums, which can be hard on sensitive skin. It’s always best to choose products without added fragrance if you are prone to redness or irritation.

    Container

    Vitamin C serums are thin in consistency, so you’ll usually find them packaged in glass bottles with droppers. Because vitamin C oxidizes easily, most serums are sold in blue or amber glass bottles to protect the serum from the damaging effects of light. Stay away from products packaged in clear containers. Choose vitamin C serums with an expiration date printed on the bottle, as serums lose effectiveness over time.

    EXPERT TIP

    Remember to always wear sunscreen when using a vitamin C serum because it makes your skin more sensitive to the sun.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Prices for vitamin C serums

    You’ll find vitamin C serums in a wide range of prices.

    While there are some decent products for under $20, you’re likelier to find serums with very low percentages of vitamin C and lower-quality ingredients.

    For most people, $20 to $50 is the sweet spot for vitamin C serums. In this range, you’ll find an excellent selection of quality serums with beneficial ingredients.

    For $50 and up, you’ll find vitamin C serums from premium brands with high percentages of vitamin C and high-quality ingredients.

    Tips

    • Apply your vitamin C serum to clean, dry skin. If you use a full skin care regimen, you’ll apply serum after toner but before moisturizer.

    • Vitamin C serums can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so don’t forget to apply sunscreen before heading out for the day.

    • If your skin is sensitive, apply your vitamin C serum every other day or even just twice per week. If your skin tolerates the serum well, you can use it once or even twice daily.

    • Pay particular attention to areas prone to fine lines when applying your vitamin C serum, such as your forehead, between your eyes, and around your mouth.

    • Don’t go overboard with your vitamin C serum. You only need a few drops. Using too much can irritate your skin or leave it feeling dry and sticky.

    • As the stronger forms of vitamin C can provide very mild exfoliation, it’s best to take care with other exfoliating products. Too much exfoliation can cause irritation.

    • Keep your vitamin C serum out of bright light and away from heat or moisture. Always recap the bottle right away after applying your serum.

    • While vitamin C serums are excellent for promoting skin repair after a chemical peel, you’ll need to wait at least a week after the peel before starting the serum to avoid irritation.

    The right vitamin C serum can lighten sun spots, hyperpigmentation, and other skin discolorations.

    FAQ

    Q. Does taking a vitamin C supplement provide the same skin care benefits as using a vitamin C serum?

    A. Vitamin C is one of the easiest nutrients to get through your diet, but many people also like to take a supplement for extra benefits. But although dietary vitamin C is crucial to the health and function of your entire body, including your skin, for the most skin care benefits, you’ll need to apply a serum topically.

    Q. Is it okay to use my vitamin C serum underneath makeup?

    A. Yes. If applied with a light touch, most vitamin C serums dry to a smooth, non-sticky finish, so you can easily top the serum with your foundation or other makeup. Just remember to wear sunscreen if you use a vitamin C serum during the day.

    Q. Is it okay to use a vitamin C serum if I have acne or another skin condition?

    A. Vitamin C serums can be quite helpful in relieving minor acne or other skin conditions, but if you suffer from more severe acne, or have any type of inflamed rash or chronic skin condition, it’s best to get your dermatologist’s okay before using a serum.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Danielle
      Danielle
      Writer
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Katherine
      Katherine
      Editor
    • Linsay
      Linsay
      Editor
    • Melinda
      Melinda
      Web Producer
    • Michelle
      Michelle
      Writer

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