Ask any doctor about the benefits of vitamin C, and they’re bound to rattle off a laundry list: it helps immune function, works to keep your heart healthy, and promotes clear vision. A dermatologist, however, will likely share a few more perks regarding your skin, because the ingredient is a true skincare workhorse.
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a powerful antioxidant and defends your skin from free radicals to help slow signs of aging. Plus, it helps stimulate collagen production for a firmer complexion and can brighten up dark spots. With all these benefits, it’s unsurprising that beauty brands have developed countless serums infused with vitamin C. Not sure which ones are worthy of your own routine? Keep reading: Our editors have tested dozens of them, and below, share what they think are the best vitamin C serums on the market.
Who: Lauren Levinson, Editorial Director
What: Tatcha® Violet-C™ Brightening Serum ($88)
Why: The experts I’ve interviewed often say vitamin C is not only a power skin brightener, but it also acts as an antioxidant. I am currently pairing it with SPF as part of my “daytime routine.” This Tatcha one hits all of the points of my checklist: lightweight, absorbent, fragrance-free, and made up of a medley of beneficial ingredients. That breaks down to 20 percent vitamin C and 10 percent AHAs, which helps resurface dull skin. After using it, I have definitely noticed smoother skin that glows whether or not I wear foundation.
Who: Joslyn Winkfield, Senior Visuals Editor
What: Josie Maran® Argan Bright Skin Vitamin C Serum ($65)
Why: Vitamin C has been one of my must-have ingredients for over a year now, but when Josie Maran combined her signature argan oil with antioxidants, vitamin C, and licorice root, I had to try it out. The consistency is definitely different from most serums, as it’s oil-based, but I like the nourishing feeling — and love the brightening effect it’s having on my skin and dark spots.
Who: Emily Orofino, Senior Beauty Editor
What: Instytutum™ Anti-Wrinkle Brightening C-Erum ($95)
Why: I’d never been a huge fan of vitamin C — the ingredient tends to make skincare formulas smell a bit rank, can stain pillowcases, and sometimes, dry out my skin. This rich, milky serum was a pleasant surprise, and completely defied those preconceived notions. In addition to 15 percent vitamin C, this product features niacinamide (for double the brightening power!), hyaluronic acid for hydration, and peptides to help counteract sagging. I also love how nicely this formula layers under makeup — so much so, in fact, that I burned through the whole bottle in just a few short months.
Who: Julie Ricevuto, Senior Beauty Writer
Why: If I was forced to live on a desert island, and could only bring three skincare products with me, a vitamin C serum would make the cut every single time (along with SPF and cleanser, in case you were wondering). That’s because my skin pre-vitamin C was dull and full of quickly spreading dark spots. But, after using various vitamin C products — specifically, this one by One Love Organics — my complexion has done a complete 180. It’s now much brighter and my dark spots have faded significantly. Other than vitamin C, this plant-powered formula uses green tea and vitamin E to nourish the skin for a healthier, more supple appearance. Plus, it’s organic, so those who prefer a more natural skincare regimen can seamlessly add this product to their lineup.
Who: Thia Laurain, Social Media Editor
What: Joanna Vargas® Rescue Serum ($150)
Why: Vitamin C is my holy grail ingredient, so not only am I very discerning about what serums make the cut into my daily routine, but I’m always trying a new formula to truly find the best. This ultra-lightweight elixir has knocked all others out of rotation for the last three months, and has brightened, firmed, and smoothed my finicky skin along the way. It also doesn’t have that tell-tale vitamin C scent, instead imparting your skin and senses with a waft of light, citrus-floral scent and dewy veil of product. Note: This stuff is pricey, but a little goes a long way. The bottle recommends using one to two full droppers on the face, but I find that smoothing six drops across the face is all you need to get a serious glow.
Who: Madisen Theobald, Social Media Editor
Why: As a fledgling beauty editor, this was the very first vitamin C serum that I tested, and the fast-absorbing, fast-acting brightening cream has a special place in my heart (and atop my freshly cleansed skin). The C.E.O. Vitamin C Brightening Serum is still my go-to morning and night to treat any dullness or dark spots. It’s packed with a hefty percentage of tetrahexyldecyl (THD) ascorbate, which is a more soluble form of vitamin C that allows for deeper penetration in the skin. Trust me, this is the good stuff.
Who: Sophie Wirt, Beauty Editor
What: Drunk Elephant® C-Firma® Day Serum ($80)
Why: Personally, I don’t mind when serum feels slightly slimy (it’s nourishing, right!?). This oil-free formula, however, is anything but — which means I can share it with my oil-phobe beau. In addition to its superfast absorbency and light-as-air wear, it seems to yield visible results more quickly than other vitamin C serums I’ve tried. Perhaps that’s thanks to its infusion of ferulic acid — a compound that’s known to bolster the effects of vitamin C — and exfoliating fruit enzymes. Whatever it is, my ever-fading dark spots and I are grateful. (And so is my boyfriend.)
Who: Cat Matta, Copy Editor & Fact-Checker
Why: The first time I consistently used a vitamin C serum, I appreciated the way it brightened and evened out my skin tone, yet I was discouraged from continuing with it due to its somewhat drying effect. But, when I came across this highly Amazon®-lauded formula, it completely won me over. It not only upped my skin’s radiance factor and helped smooth out fine lines, the blend of vitamin E and hyaluronic acid pumped up the hydration factor. It’s also Leaping Bunny™-certified, which gives me peace of mind knowing that no little critters were harmed in its making.
Some complimentary products were provided to the authors for the purpose of writing this article.
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