Saying that finding the best vitamin C serum is an easy task would be a complete lie.
I don’t know if there’s any other niche for the beauty market that’s more overflowed with products. Although the ones for moisturizers and sunscreens and anti-aging in general and other types of serums are not easy to navigate either.
Or maybe it feels that way to me since it literally took me weeks to research and write this post.
I let some months pass, I became completely obsessed with my choices for the best vitamin C serum and decided to add some more.
Because I wrote an article on the best retinol creams for beginners that made me proud and I felt that I had some unfinished business with this one.
My enjoyment and absolute love for vitamin C serums started when I was about 25 years old, as I became more aware of how harmful environmental factors were (UV rays and pollution) and, I guess, I became aware that I’m getting older and I need to put more work into my skin.
Which also made me discover that I started developing under eye wrinkles (the good times when they were just some very fine lines). Which made my endeavor of writing a post about how to get rid of under eye wrinkles quite enjoyable.
With all that being said, my post will comprise of:
- my top 10 choices for the best vitamin C serums – I want to cover all budgets and needs, even if you don’t have too much money to spend, I trust that you will be able to enjoy the benefits of such a serum
- how to choose the best vitamin C serum for you
- the awesome benefits
- how to use it
There’s just one more thing I have to make clear:
I apply my vitamin C serum in the mornings followed by a moisturizer because I have really dry skin.
Before leaving the house, you must apply a sunscreen or a moisturizer with SPF. You should that every day of the year whether it’s cloudy or snowing or the sun it brightly shining.
Don’t forget about the neck and chest area.
In the evenings, I replace the vitamin C serum with a retinol cream/serum and some salicylic acid treatment for my adult acne. Plus, the mandatory eye cream and usual moisturizer or argan oil.
Differin Gel is another option for fighting acne.
Instead of a retinol serum, you can use a facial cream for wrinkles.
Top 10 Best Vitamin C Serums for Face
Among these 10 serums there are some moderately priced, quite approachable for everyone, and some that I would only buy in my dreams.
In those dreams I can also afford fillers and laser treatments and anything else that I might need later in life to keep my skin looking young and effortlessly radiant.
1. CeraVe Vitamin C Serum, 1 oz – the Cheapest Best Vitamin C Serum
I’m completely sure that this serum from CeraVe is the best option for those with a really limited budget.
It doesn’t get more affordable than this when it comes to such quality.
You’ll understand once I talk about ingredients:
- 10% pure vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid, which is the most potent form of vitamin C) – the 10% is a very nice concentration for this price range and we get pure vitamin C, which is fantastic
- 3 essential ceramides for strengthening the skin barrier and help it retain moisture
- hyaluronic acid (sodium hyaluronate)
- Vitamin B5 (panthenol) – fantastic for its moisturizing and healing properties
From my point of view, this is a perfect list of ingredients. The pure vitamin C in a good concentration is what wins me over and makes me want to recommend this product to absolutely everyone.
It’s described as a brightening serum but it will also minimize the appearance of fine lines and it will make your skin feel so soft.
Those with sensitive skin will be amazed and those wanting to prevent sun damage will have a winner in this CeraVe serum.
Simply put: a high quality product that many dermatologists recommend.
It’s also fragrance-free, paraben-free, non-comedogenic and perfect for all skin types.
It should be your first choice when looking for a cheap vitamin C serum.
2. Vitamin C Serum by L’Oreal Paris, 1 oz
This is another cheap serum. A top recommendation that you should immediately pay attention.
With this one, L’Oreal Paris has created the perfect product for people with limited budgets that still want to nourish and protect thier skin.
It’s the perfect alternative to the above CeraVe. Their prices are extremely close.
What does this Vitamin C Serum by L’Oreal Paris offer?
- 10% L-ascorbic acid – another good concentration of pure vitamin C
- hyaluronic acid
And that’s about it. Simple and to the point.
I still prefer the CeraVe serum but not everyone’s me so, I decided to include the L’Oreal, too.
3. La Roche-Posay Pure Vitamin C Face Serum with Hyaluronic Acid & Salicylic Acid, 1 oz
This La Roche-Posay Pure Vitamin C Face Serum with Hyaluronic Acid & Salicylic Acid is a bit more expensive than the above two serums from CeraVe and L’Oreal Paris but it’s also pretty incredibly.
It’s well worth the money.
I’ve never had a bad experience with La Roche-Posay although I have tried some of their products and they didn’t perform exactly as they claimed.
That’s not the case with the La Roche-Posay Pure Vitamin C Face Serum with Hyaluronic Acid & Salicylic Acid.
It’s always so difficult choosing the best vitamin C serums for a lower budget because there are so many of them and I only want to include the best.
I want only the highest quality without having to pay $100 for it or more. That’s not easy at all.
Which is why I’m so happy that I discovered this one.
In my opinion, it has a pretty good price even though it’s almost twice as expensive as the above two serum.
Let’s talk about what makes it so good:
- 10% pure vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) – it seems that’s the standard percentage for affordable serums but it’s still very good
- hyaluronic acid
- salicylic acid
- neurosensine a dipeptide that reduces sensations of discomfort, as far as I’m aware it’s something unique to La Roche-Posay
The ingredients sound perfect and are suitable for all skin types.
It’s also paraben-free and non-comedogenic/ oil-free.
It does contain fragrance.
As La Roche-Posay claims, this is a serum for those concerned about fine lines and wrinkles and for a birghter more uniform skin tone. It will also offer protection against environmental factors.
4. EltaMD AM Therapy Face Moisturizer, 1.7 oz – Not a Best Vitamin C Serum but a Moisturizer with Vitamin C
Should this EltaMD AM face moisturizer be included among the best vitamin C serums?
Not exactly because this is not a serum at all. It’s a moisturizer.
And a vitamin C derivative it’s not even among the star ingredients but it does contain a derivative of this wonderful vitamin.
It’s nourishing and even helps with fine lines and wrinkles.
It’s a fantastic skin care product with a pretty affordable price tag.
If you want a moisturizer to go with your favorite vitamin C serum or you simply can’t decide on a serum but still want something deeply moisturizing and nourishing, the EltaMD AM Therapy Face Moisturizer is your answer for sure.
It says AM but you can use in the PM, too. No reason not to.
And it won’t break the bank.
This manufacturer has a fantastic sunscreen, one of the best and this moisturizer is just as wonderful.
The ingredients for the EltaMD AM Therapy Face Moisturizer are definitely enticing:
- niacinamide for improved skin tone, strengthened skin barrier, and smaller pores – good for rosacea, acne, wrinkles, and pigmentation issues
- willow bark extracts – a natural source of salicylic acid, aids in cell regeneration, great for targeting fine lines and wrinkles
- hyaluronic acid for keeping the skin moisturized, smooth and plump
- ascorbyl palmitate – the vitamin C derivative, although it’s not as powerful as the L-ascorbic acid, it still has anti-aging and skin protection properties
This one is appropriate for all skin types. It’s oil-free and fragrance-free.
Whether you have oily skin, dry sensitive skin or are acne-prone this is the moisturizer for a youthful healthy look.
It’s no wonder that I couldn’t leave it out from my list for the best vitamin C serum.
5. TULA Probiotic Purifying Face Cleanser, 6.7 oz – Not a Best Vitamin C Serum but a Cleanser with Vitamin C
Since I’ve already deviated from the serum part of this article with the above moisturizer, why not change course even more and introduce a cleanser, as well?
The next one will be a best vitamin C serum, I promise, but I just had to make you aware of the TULA Probiotic Purifying Face Cleanser.
It works so great for all skin types and it’s not incredibly expensive.
It’s amazing for those suffering from breakouts, the reduction in breakouts will amaze you.
Those with dry skin can use this facial cleanser as often as they want without having their skin dry out.
This cleanser deeply cleanses and nourishes the skin as the same time.
It’s does exactly what it should do without impacting the skin in any negative way. Only improvements with this one.
It will last about half a year, used twice daily. Cleansers are such an essential part of our skin routine, don’t skip this step no matter what.
You can skip on applying a serum or a moisturizer but never on cleansing your face.
I cleanse my face by using circular motions that also provide a nice message and it always lasts for at least a minute.
So, what’s so special about the TULA Probiotic Purifying Face Cleanser that I had to absolutely talk about it?
- the probiotics that TULA is world-famous for
- lactic acid is the perfect natural exfoliator for removing dead skin cells, milder than glycolic acid but still as good naturally cleanses and exfoliates to reveal healthy, radiant looking skin
- chicory root with its anti-inflammatory properties for soothing and calming the skin but, most importantly, it boosts collagen production for firmer skin
- turmeric root a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory capabilities
- blueberries famously rich in antioxidants, mentioned in any article for a healthier younger-looking skin
- ascorbyl palmitate the vitamin C derivative that gives me the excuse necessary for including a cleanser among all these serums + a moisturizer
Other facial cleansers that contain a vitamin C derivative are: iS Clinical Cleansing Complex although it’s a lot more expensive than the TULA Probiotic Purifying Face Cleanser and Revision Skincare Brightening Facial Wash, which is absolutely amazing, too.
6. Paula’s Choice BOOST C15 Super Booster, 0.67 oz
We’re pretty much leaving the world of reasonably priced skin care products and heading into the expensive territory.
Paula’s Choice BOOST C15 Super Booster is an expensive best vitamin C serum considering that it doesn’t even measure 1 oz.
I’m used to eye creams being sold in tiny 0.5 oz tubes but I can’t get used to serums being sold in bottles smaller than 1 oz since they’re for the whole face, neck, and chest area.
This Paula’s Choice vitamin C serum will be gone before you know it.
There, I’m done with my complaints, now let’s talk about ingredients, that will appease me:
- 15% L-ascorbic acid – that’s indeed a high concentration, a very potent one
- vitamin E helps slow down the aging process, great moisturizer and strengthens the skin’s barrier
- ferulic acid
- hyaluronic acid
- panthenol (vitamin B5)
The Paula’s Choice vitamin C serum follows the famous SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic but at a much much lower price.
It is considered that, by adding the vitamin E and the ferulic acid, the L-ascorbic acid becomes more stable for longer and it’s capable of penetrating deeply into the skin.
That’s a good enough reason to consider this serum as a great option.
They could have sold it in a 1 oz bottle like all the other best vitamin C serums.
7. Image Skincare Vital C Hydrating Anti-Aging Serum, 1.7 oz – Pure Vitamin C + So Many Derivatives
The Image Skincare Vital C Hydrating Anti-Aging Serum is definitely a bit unusual.
You’ll see what I mean if you compare the review for this one with my other best vitamin C serum reviews.
I actually like this one a lot, very much.
It’s a bit atypical, which is very good.
You can find so many serums that have the same ingredients, only the brand differs but otherwise they’re all copies of each other.
That’s not the case with the Image Skincare serum.
It doesn’t look like your typical serum, there’s no dark color bottle.
This one looks more like an eye cream.
The list of ingredients is surprising and that’s what matters:
- tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate
- L-ascorbic acid the pure vitamin C form
- magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP)
- ascorbyl palmitate
- vitamin E
- and hyaluronic acid
Other ingredients include grape seed extract, algae extract, and green tea.
Antioxidants on tops of antioxidants.
As you can see, there are a lot of forms of vitamin C, a lot of derivatives. Plus the pure vitamin C form is present, too.
Even though there’s no mention of percentages as it’s the case with the others, having so many forms of vitamin C in a serum is still something incredible.
It’s why I’m so excited about including it among my selection of the best vitamin C serums.
It’s perfect for all skin types, whether you’re acne prone, have dry skin, sensitive skin, or you are post-treatment or you have sun-damaged skin.
It’s best to use this serum or your preferred vitamin C serum to avoid having sun-damaged skin or skin affected by pollution or dry skin.
The tube measures 1.7 fl oz (50 ml) instead of the typical 1 fl oz.
It’s a bit expensive but a very good product, you would be totally satisfied with it.
Image Skincare has an entire line constructed around vitamin C and its extended benefits.
There’s a facial cleanser, a repair cream with ceramides for irritated and dry skin, an intense moisturizer, an eye recovery gel, and even an enzyme mask for rosacea-prone skin.
All these skin care products are just as good as this serum, Image Skincare is definitely a brand that takes skin care seriously even though their prices are not the most accessible.
8. Biossance Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Oil, 1 0z – Best Oil with Vitamin C
If you take into account that this measures 1 oz instead of 0.67 oz, I would say that it’s a much better choice than Paula’s Choice vitamin C serum.
It’s pretty much the same price as the above Image Skincare Vital C Hydrating Anti-Aging Serum.
Let’s see how it competes with those two.
First of all,
This is an oil. It’s not a serum.
What does that mean?
Absolutely nothing besides the fact that it’s fantastic. It can even be used by those with oily skin.
All skin types will react great to it, including acne-prone.
It’s completely natural, I’m sure that will appeal to some people, as long as they don’t mind the high price.
Squalane is the basis for all the products from Biossance. More precisely, this is 100% sugarcane-derived squalane.
And it’s described as the skin’s best moisturizer, improving elasticity, without clogging up pores. Good for all skin types.
If you want to try it on its own as a moisturizer, they have their 100% SQUALANE OIL at a great price too.
Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate is the vitamin C derivative that they use because it’s oil-soluble, a very impressive derivative, which might be just as effective as L-ascorbic acid.
The other ingredients are rose extract and chios crystal oil for providing firmness to the skin.
And that’s about it, all natural.
9. StriVectin Super-C Retinol Brighten & Correct Vitamin C Serum, 1 oz – Best Anti-Aging Vitamin C Serum
Keeping in the same price range as the above Biossance and Image Skincare serums, I have decided to talk about the StriVectin Super-C Retinol Brighten & Correct Vitamin C Serum.
StriVectin is all about anti-aging.
If you want a best vitamin C serum that’s really designed for fine lines and wrinkles, this is you answer. This serum is what you should consider buying.
Because it combines vitamin C and retinol.
Not a lot of serums do that even though these two vitamins work perfectly well together.
What I really like about the StriVectin Super-C Retinol Brighten & Correct Vitamin C Serum is that it can be used during the day just like all the other vitamin C serums.
Just apply your usual moisturizer and sunscreen before leaving the house. Just like it’s the case with all the others.
StriVectin has some really awesome anti-wrinkles skin care products.
This one is no different:
- sodium ascorbyl phosphate is a newer form of vitamin C but it has shown great promises in the fight against acne
- L-ascorbic acid – although no concentration is provided there still are two forms of vitamin C
- Acerola Cherry Extract for its richness in natural vitamin C
- the smooth youthful skin part is handled by retinol boosted by NIA-114 (it’s their own form of Niacin/Vitamin B3, strengthens the skin barrier and supercharges the impact of other ingredients, in this case retinol)
- hyaluronic acid
- and a bunch of extracts, green tea extract among them
If your focus is on anti-aging skin care products, this is absolutely the serum for you.
10. Obagi Professional-C Serum 20%, 1 oz – Expensive Best Vitamin C Serum
It’s a very good skin care product. Impressive might be a better one-word description.
There’s no doubt about that.
But it’s also 6 times more expensive than my first choice for the best vitamin C serums, the one from CeraVe.
Yes, you read that right.
6x more expensive, that’s definitely not a typo.
The first question that popes into my mind is “Why?” and then, “Is it actually worth all that impressive amount of money?”.
Well, it’s cheaper than the SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, one of the most talked about mentioned in all the lists serum.
I don’t have that kind of money lying around and it’s an amount that I only consider spending on clothes. At least, clothes last a lot more than 3-4 months.
I already have my answer.
But, my answer is not your answer. I’ll let you reach your own conclusions.
I chose to include the Obagi Professional-C Serum because it intrigues me in all the good ways if I forget about the price tag.
It excites me and makes me dream about it.
The ingredients are beautiful in their simplicity:
- 20% pure vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) – the highest percentage, only the best for this amount of money
- hyaluronic acid
The list of ingredients is incredibly small.
The focus is on delivering a high concentration of pure vitamin C to the skin.
It’s incredibly strong. Some users end up using it every other day, some daily.
And they all praise it for the changes that hey notice in their appearance: visibly brightened skin, faded brown spots in just a few weeks, praise for working with eczema and dry skin, smaller pores, disappeared fine lines, and so on.
Those who can afford it end up stopping their search for the best vitamin C serum when they try the Obagi Professional-C Serum.
At a cheaper price but not by much they also have one with 10% concentration.
Since we’re talking about really expensive vitamin C serums, I thought I should also mention the Revision Skincare C+ Correcting Complex 30%, maybe you are interested in these kinds of products and you want more options than my lists provides.
Vitamin C Serums Ingredients
There’s nothing complicated when it comes to vitamin C and its forms.
It basically comes down to serums containing:
- L-ascorbic acid, which is the pure form of vitamin C and is water-soluble, it has shown the most benefits to the skin
- a derivative/a bunch of derivatives – those aren’t exactly the best so, only the moisturizer, the facial cleanser, and the facial oil have just a vitamin C derivative, no serum like that on my list
- or a combination of pure vitamin C and derivatives
Among the 7 actual vitamin C serums reviewed in this post + a moisturizer, a facial cleanser, and a face oil with vitamin C, you will find two types of serums:
- we have ones with just L-ascorbic acid in various concentrations (10%, 15%, 20% being the highest)
- and we have two that have a combination of L-ascorbic acid and derivatives
A range between 8 to 20% produces the best results without irritating the skin.
If you have really sensitive skin, it’s best to start with a lower concentration. Don’t pick one with 20% concentration as your first best vitamin C serum.
Just like you have vitamin A and its derivatives, one of the most used ones being retinol although it’s not the most powerful. Retin-A is the closest form to vitamin A.
In our case with the best vitamin C serum, vitamin C can be used in its pure form and it’s called ascorbic acid or L-ascorbic acid.
It is the most powerful form although, the derivatives are great, too.
They have their own set of properties and awesome benefits.
I will talk about them shortly, it will be a brief explanation about what the most frequently encountered vitamin C derivaties do because I don’t plan on giving an entire lecture on them.
When it comes to these derivatives there’s a lot of chemistry involved but I’ll try to sum up everything from you.
I’ll sum up many many pages in a few sentences because we’re all interested in how good these derivatives are for our skin not on the complicated explanations on why they’re so good.
Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (MAP)
MAP it is a bit less potent than L-ascorbic acid (pure vitamin C), it’s water-soluble and it’s especially known for its skin brightening benefits.
If a serum has just MAP on its own without any other derivative or L-acorbic acid, I wouldn’t get too excited about it.
Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (SAP)
This is a relatively new derivative of vitamin C so, not a lot is known about this particular one.
It’s a stable water-soluble form of vitamin C and, besides being an antioxidant and bringing all those benefits, SAP has also shown a real talent in preventing and treating acne.
It’s also more stable than MAP and other derivatives.
Is oil-soluble, it penetrates the skin more efficiently.
It’s very effective in combination with other derivatives and retinol, those combinations offer enhanced effectiveness in stimulating collagen production and overall protecting the skin from sun damage and the environment.
It’s an impressive derivative because it’s lipid-soluble and it can penetrate the dermis for stimulating collagen production and it’s less irritating.
It’s the one that might equal L-ascorbic acid in its benefits to the skin.
Is another lipid-soluble Vitamin C derivative, which means that it penetrates the skin more easily where it can deliver the benefits of using this vitamin with all its amazing anti-aging and skin protection abilities.
The serums that contain L-ascorbic acid must have a ph of around 2.0 to 3.0, that’s the ideal number.
The ones with derivatives like SAP should have an ideal ph of 7.0.
But that’s an information that you probably won’t find about any serum or maybe I haven’t looked enough to discover it.
The other ingredients that make up a serum are just as important, you need to pay attention to those two even though I always feel like I need a chemistry degree for most of them. That’s not fun, at all.
Benefits of Using Vitamin C Serums for Face
I’m still amazed by the many benefits brought by a good vitamin C serum.
I’ve experienced so many.
I don’t have pigmentation problems but, other than that, I’ve seen how my facial skin has looked for so many years and I couldn’t be happier.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant.
Let’s see what you can expect:
- it protects against both UVB and UVA rays
- brightened skin
- protection against the environment
- it fights pigmentation and dullness, it can be combined with other agents like soy and liquorice for a better depigmenting effect
- it provides protection against city pollution
- it also protects the skin against certain types of radiation (like infrared) that the sunscreen can’t
- freshening and brightening effect
- more even skin tone
- reduction in collagen breakdown and increased collagen production
- tighter firmer skin
UVB rays are responsible for causing skin cancer since they attack the superficial layers of the skin, while UVA rays penetrate deep into the dermis, causing skin aging and wrinkling by destroying collagen and elastin.
It is highly important to combine your vitamin C serum with a sunscreen to make a shield against any harmful factors.
I also started using it for my acne scars.
It has healing properties and it has definitely helped my skin in its healing process.
Time is always a factor when it comes to scars but, before using a serum I have spent plenty of money on creams that were made specifically for skin healing and scars fading and, it always seemed that they made my breakouts even worse.
In combination with the Aztec Indian clay mask used once a week, those two have really done wonders for my scars, many have faded and are long gone.
Antioxidants make the skin to look healthy and plump, protecting against future wrinkles, there’s no better way to prevent them, except having a really healthy diet.
Smokers have also been found to have low levels of vitamin C in the dermis so, you should definitely take notice of that. I know I have since I fit this category.
How to Use a Vitamin C Serum
The natural conclusion is that you should definitely apply a vitamin C serum before leaving the house or in the morning.
You can follow that with your usual moisturizer and then sunscreen or a moisturizer with SPF.
Whatever you do, don’t forget about sunscreen.
A combination of sunscreen and the best vitamin C serum is guaranteed to keep your skin safe from sun damage and pollution.
You should never skip it as part of your morning routine.
A vitamin C serum can be part of your night routine, as well, but don’t rely solely on it.
You can opt to use vitamin C in the morning and in the evening you can choose a stronger ingredient for fighting wrinkles.
I’m talking about vitamin A or retinol, which increases collage production, bolsters skin elasticity, and lightens spots caused by sun exposure.
Tips for Choosing the Best Vitamin C Serum for Face
Tip 1: Look for pure L-ascorbic acid
The most important aspect when shopping for the best vitamin C serum obviously refers to the main ingredients.
People should always look for pure L-ascorbic acid.
The percentage is important too: higher percentages of 15% or 20% are the numbers to look for as long as you can afford a really high price.
If you have a limited budget, a 10% concentration is perfect (like the CeraVe serum).
You will still get a lot of benefits.
Tip 2: The alternative to pure L-ascorbic acid
There are serums that only contain derivatives. I don’t know much about those because I tend to focus on those that contain pure vitamin C.
If it’s a combination of derivatives and not just one among a list full of other ingredients that you can’t even spell, then I think those can be good, too.
Tip 3: Make sure you have a quality product
There’s a very simple way in which you can easily tell if you have the right product or not.
It’s best on the color of the serum.
The liquid should be a very pale yellow. And there shouldn’t be any smell, it’s nearly odorless.
When it’s exposed to heat and light, the oxidation kicks in, which in time turns the very pale yellow liquid into a darker yellow and ultimately orange.
That’s why the bottle is colored.
It’s also recommended to store your serums in a cool and dry place, the fridge is the most frequent storage place.
In the bathroom there’s always a variance in temperature and humidity, which can decrease the benefits of this skin care product and they can alter the concentration levels.
Tip 4: Shelf life
Once the bottle is opened, it would be best to use it within 3 months.
Considering that the bottles measure 1 fluid oz (30 ml), I even doubt that a serum will last much longer than that.
You don’t have to count the months, just don’t use it if the color turns brown.
Is a Vitamin C Serum Good for Acne-Prone Skin?
The simple answer is: definitely yes.
That’s a frequent question from people suffering from breakouts and it’s one I understand perfectly.
It’s what I also wondered when I first considered buying my first bottle.
Can Vitamin C serum give you pimples?
If it’s the right one with the right ingredients, then it won’t give you pimples.
It’s all about checking out the ingredients.
It has actually helped with my breakouts and my acne scars have definitely faded.
I also have sensitive skin and I haven’t suffered from any irritation, either.
There are many skin care products out there, some even cost reasonable prices.
Others, are outrageously expensive but they’re fantastically good, too.
I’ve tried to share with you everything I know on this subject, which has made for a pretty long article.
Hopefully I was able to help you find the best vitamin C serum for you.