Brighten Up! The 17 Vitamin C Serums

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

There aren’t a ton of sure things when it comes to skin care, but vitamin C is about as close as it gets. Experts agree this powerful antioxidant is a rock star for aging skin and the key to a bright and even complexion. The best way to take advantage of this standout ingredient is in a high quality serum.

But with about a million on the market and fun details like concentration percentages and other ingredients to think about, it can be tough to commit to one — especially because these serums can get pricey fast. Don’t worry, we sifted through the sea of C and picked out 17 of our favorites for every skin type.

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No.201 - Prevent Elasticity Damage

Plus, we chatted with a few derms to get the scoop on stuff like how to choose ’em and use ’em. Because you deserve to shine bright like a diamond, baby.

What are the benefits of vitamin C?

Vitamin C goes to work on free radicals, those pesky (but natural!) molecules that contribute to premature skin aging, pigment changes, and even illness when there’s too many built up.

On your skin, topical vitamin C combats signs of aging, reduces hyperpigmentation, and evens out skin tone. Dr. Anna Chacon, a board-certified dermatologist, says vitamin C is known for these fab benefits:

  • promoting collagen production
  • improving the appearance of the skin through minimizing fine lines and wrinkles and decreasing dark spots caused by UV damage
  • protecting against sun damage

How we chose the best of the best

With so many vitamin C products on the market, we had to narrow it down somehow. Here’s what we took into consideration when making our picks:

  • Vitamin C. Our priority was the superstar ingredient: vitamin C. There are several different forms of vitamin C, some more potent and stable than others. We chose products with L-ascorbic acid, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, ascorbyl palmitate, and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate for maximum effectiveness.
  • Other ingredients. We gave priority to formulas with good supporting ingredients and clean formulas, although not all on this list are considered “clean.”
  • Reviews. We looked to reviews to make sure these products are *actually* loved by real customers.
  • Price. We made sure to include a range of prices so that people with all kinds of budgets have access to this rock star ingredient.
  • Vetted products. We also put every product on this list through a thorough vetting process to make sure the companies aren’t making any unsupported health claims or engaging in shady business practices. Only products that passed vetting made this list.

The 17 best vitamin C Serums

Anti-Aging treatment everyone is talking about

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Ready to add this skin care superstar to your arsenal? Check out the 17 best vitamin C serums for every skin type.

Best overall vitamin C serum

The SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic

  • Price: $$$
  • Standout ingredients: vitamin E, ferulic acid
  • Good for: all skin types/ dry skin
  • Product size: 30-milliliter (mL) bottle

Before you gawk at the price, there’s a reason this little bottle wins almost every award out there: it features the holy trinity of vitamin C (15 percent pure vitamin C here), vitamin E (1 percent), and ferulic acid (0.5 percent). These two extra ingredients play super well with our golden child. Vitamin E helps boost vitamin C’s UV protection power and ferulic acid helps stabilize it (while also giving you an extra boost of antioxidants).

Beyond its ability to brighten and firm up your skin, this blend has been proven to reduce oxidative damage caused by ozone pollution, diesel engine exhaust, and UVA/UVB rays by up to 41 percent. Bottom line: this serum has your back.

This little bottle has quite a bit of hype around it too — with thousands of Google reviews. One reviewer went as far as to say they can’t live without it. So be prepared to maybe fall in love, which could be costly.

Best vitamin C serum for dark spots

BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner

  • Price: $$
  • Standout ingredients: EGCG (green tea active), squalane, tartaric acid
  • Good for: dark spots and discoloration
  • Product size: 30-mL bottle
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No.202 - Prevent Elasticity Damage

This creamy serum delivers full-strength 20 percent L-ascorbic acid, the most effective form of topical vitamin C.

This intense dose — still suitable for sensitive skin, BTW — evens out skin tone and texture thanks to tartaric acid (a mild AHA that comes from grapes), squalane (hydrating AF), and EGCG, a green tea active that works with vitamin C to minimize signs of aging.

We love that BeautyStat goes to great lengths to prevent oxidation (which lessens your product’s punch) by encapsulating the vitamin C in an opaque bottle. So while it’s a little pricey, at least it’s designed to last. It’s also worth a mention that this serum is made in the U.S. by a Black-owned and founded beauty brand.

Best cruelty-free vitamin C serum

TruSkin Naturals 20% Vitamin C Serum

  • Price: $
  • Standout ingredients: vitamin E, hyaluronic acid, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)
  • Good for: all skin types
  • Product size: 30-mL bottle

Vitamin C helps reduce dark spots by impeding melanin production, and this serum does just that. But there’s more than one reason 87,000+ Amazon reviewers are obsessed with this stuff: it pairs a strong 20 percent vitamin C concentration with nourishing vitamin E and collagen-encouraging hyaluronic acid for plumper, hydrated, and super glowy skin. The addition of MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) helps calm inflammation.

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Bonus points for a paraben- and phthalate-free formula. It also has leaping bunny approval — meaning it’s cruelty-free. And it doesn’t hurt that this is one of the more affordable serums on our list.

Best firming vitamin C serum

Kiehl’s Powerful-Strength Vitamin C Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Standout ingredients: hyaluronic acid
  • Good for: all skin types, dry skin
  • Product size: 50-mL bottle

Give fine lines and visible pores the boot with this silky serum that melts into your face flawlessly. You get two kinds of stabilized vitamin C here: 10.5 percent L-ascorbic acid for deep penetration (up to 6 days, says the brand) and 2 percent Ascorbyl Glucoside, which absorbs quickly in the top layers of the skin.

A fast-absorbing form of hyaluronic acid helps your skin feel plump and moisturized while the vitamin C protects against free radicals. It’s also free of parabens, alcohol, mineral oil, and dye.

Google reviewers tell similar tales of instantly falling for this serum, loving the blurring effect on imperfections, and squeezing out every last drop before ordering again.

Best vitamin C for dry skin

M-61 Vitablast Face Oil

  • Price: $$
  • Standout ingredients: vitamin E, licorice root extract, squalane
  • Good for: soothing, hydrating
  • Product size: 30-mL bottle
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No.101 - Extract Dead Cells

Beauty store bluemercury’s in-house brand’s take on a vitamin C serum delivers 10 percent of the good, stabilized, meant-to-last stuff in a lightweight facial oil that’s anything but greasy. In addition to the dullness-fighting dose of vitamin C, licorice root came to the party to calm down irritation and discoloration, while skin care favorite squalane leaves your skin soft and supple for a truly ~luxurious~ result.

P.S. this bad b*tch is vegan, too.

Best brightening vitamin C serum

OLEHENRIKSEN Banana Bright Vitamin C Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Standout ingredients: vitamin E, hyaluronic acid, polyhydroxy acids (PHAs), banana powder
  • Good for: dull, uneven texture
  • Product size: 30-mL bottle

Here’s a serum that color corrects while it protects. In addition to the usual players — 15 percent vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and stabilizing vitamin E — this serum contains banana powder-inspired pigments, which the brand says brighten things up while the other ingredients go to work below the surface.

One important ingredient stays up above, and that’s 5 percent PHAs, which have all the same benefits of AHAs like glycolic acid, but they’re less likely to cause irritation. If you’re not sure how you feel about the banana factor, one Google reviewer says the scent is more of a citrus experience than a banana one.

Best drugstore vitamin C serum

CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum

  • Price: $
  • Standout ingredients: hyaluronic acid, panthenol (vitamin B5), ceramides
  • Good for: dry, sensitive skin
  • Product size: 30-mL tube
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This trusted sensitive skin brand pairs 10 percent vitamin C with hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and panthenol (aka vitamin B5) to soothe sensitive skin and strengthen your skin barrier. Bonus points for an affordable, fragrance-free formula that won’t clog pores. Plus, it’s free of parabens. Amazon reviewers say it has a creamy texture and works gently for their sensitive skin.

Best vitamin C serum for oily skin

Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum

  • Price: $
  • Standout ingredients: vitamin E, ferulic acid, hyaluronic acid, konjac root, chamomile extract, clary sage
  • Good for: oily skin
  • Product size: 30-mL bottle

This serum from Mad Hippie combines Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate — an extremely stable version of vitamin C — with vitamin E and ferulic acid (just like that super expensive/fan fave SkinCeuticals serum) to deliver the strongest antioxidant effect without irritating sensitive skin. It contains hyaluronic acid for an extra dose of moisture and plumping action and chamomile extract to soothe irritated skin.

It also has clary sage, which the brand says brings dry and oily skin into balance. To top things off, it’s also vegan, cruelty-free, and GMO-free. Google reviewers are obsessed with this more affordable option, making it a staple in their daily routine.

Best vitamin C serum for sensitive skin

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Vitamin C Day Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Standout ingredients: ferulic acid, vitamin E, hyaluronic acid, pumpkin ferment, pomegranate extract, chronocyclin, grape juice extract, Indian gooseberry
  • Good for: all skin types
  • Product size: 30-mL bottle

We love this brand for sensitive skin because its products are usually without irritating essential oils, silicones, chemical sunscreens, drying alcohols, fragrances, and dyes. This clear gel serum is cooling and soothing to the touch (perfect if you’re feeling particularly inflamed) and contains that vitamin C- ferulic acid-vitamin E holy trinity for maximum effectiveness and absorption.

ishonest No.151 - Repair Skin Barrier

No.151 - Repair Skin Barrier

It also contains pumpkin ferment and pomegranate extract — a combo the brand says gently exfoliates and helps cells turn over faster for a quicker glow — and grape juice extract and Indian gooseberry to reduce signs of oxidative stress. Lastly, the brand says chronocyclin mimics the antioxidant benefits of vitamin D (without having to sit in the sun for it!).

Reviewers say they notice a huge change in their complexion and recommend putting it in the fridge for a cool, refreshing start to your day.

Best vitamin C for uneven skin tone

BeautyCounter Counter+ All Bright C Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Standout ingredients: camu camu extract, turmeric, hyaluronic acid
  • Good for: all skin types
  • Product size: 30-mL bottle

BeautyCounter is known for its clean, sensitivity-friendly formulas, and this serum does not disappoint. It uses two types of vitamin C: 5 percent of Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate for diminishing dark spots, and 5 percent of moisturizing Bis-Glyceryl Ascorbate for protection against free radicals and environmental stressors.

Tumeric and camu camu extracts both fight inflammation, helping even out skin tone and reduce dark spots. Google reviewers say they see a real difference with this pick — one even says if this serum was cake batter, they’d lick the spoon. (Do not lick this stuff, pls and thanks.)

Best vitamin C powder

Neogen Real Vita C Powder Lemon

  • Price: $
  • Standout ingredients: allantoin, trehalose, panthenol, collagen
  • Good for: all skin types
  • Product size: 20-mL jar
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Okay, so technically not a serum, but hear us out. Over 2,000 people hung out on a waitlist for this 17 percent vitamin C powder, which you mix into your toner, serum, or moisturizer for a brightening and protective addition of antioxidants. And because it’s a dry formula, it won’t deteriorate like the cream and gel forms we’ve seen before. It has collagen to improve skin elasticity and panthenol to soothe and moisturize. It also contains allantoin and trehalose, which the brand says hydrate, protect, and strengthen your skin barrier.

A nice perk: it’s travel-friendly! It’s also free of alcohol, silicone, paraben, artificial fragrance, surfactants and mineral oil. This formula does use lemon extract, which can cause irritation for some people.

Best vitamin C serum for combination skin

Vichy LiftActiv Vitamin C Brightening Skin Corrector

  • Price: $
  • Standout ingredients: hyaluronic acid
  • Good for: sensitive skin
  • Product size: 10-mL bottle

This affordable serum is serving you purity and potency with 15 percent vitamin C and hyaluronic acid. This simple formula is free from fragrances and parabens and is dermatologist-tested, so it’s safe even for sensitive skin.

The brand says this serum doesn’t leave your skin shiny or oily feeling, but it’s still hydrating thanks to hyaluronic acid — so this is a good pick for people that have a tough time balancing out their combo skin.

ishonest No.161 - Uneven Skin Tone

No.161 - Uneven Skin Tone

Reviewers love the brightening effect but point out that the bottle is teeny tiny. Good things it’s on the cheaper side!

Best vitamin C capsule

Neutrogena Rapid Tone Repair 20% Vitamin C Serum Capsules

  • Price: $
  • Standout ingredients: vitamin E, raspberry leaf extract
  • Good for: smoothing skin
  • Product size: 30 capsules per bottle

If you’re worried about applying too much or too little product to your skin, then this is the vitamin C serum for you. These single-use, biodegradable capsules contain a high concentration of vitamin C for the price — 20 percent!

Neutrogena smartly pairs it with antioxidant-rich raspberry leaf extract and vitamin E for even more free radical-fighting power — a combo that a 2020 study found significantly improves skin color, elasticity, radiance, and wrinkles.

Plus, it doesn’t clog pores and is free from parabens, preservatives, alcohol, oil, fragrance, and dyes. Slather it on! Many Amazon buyers are surprised by how fast this affordable pick gets to work.

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Side note: Though this is a capsule, you’re not supposed to swallow it. MmmK?

Best budget vitamin C serums

The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%

  • Price: $
  • Standout ingredients: squalane, hyaluronic acid
  • Good for: all skin types
  • Product size: 30-mL bottle

We’ll never understand how the highest vitamin C concentration on the list comes in at the lowest price — less than $6 — but we’re so glad it does.

The Ordinary keeps all that good vitamin C stabilized in a water-free, silicone- free suspension so it stays fresh and powerful. It’s also loaded with squalane and hyaluronic acid for a boost of hydration.

But be warned: users noted a tingling sensation for the first 1 to 2 weeks of use. This pick is vegan though, and cruelty-free.

L’Oréal Revitalift Derm Intensive Vitamin C Serum

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No.172 - Pre-Sun Exposure

Vitamin C is a fickle beast — for as powerful as it is, it’s super prone to destabilization and oxidation, which really decreases its potency. This drugstore diamond keeps the key ingredient stable and happy with a water-free formula and a UV-blocking tube.

One Amazon reviewer says it has a gel/lotion consistency and absorbs fast. And since a little goes a long way, you’ll be getting an even bigger bang for your less than 20 bucks. Did we mention it’s also fragrance-free and free of parabens, mineral oils, and synthetic dyes? Because it is.

Best vitamin C spot treatment

Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Targeted Spot Brightener

  • Price: $$
  • Standout ingredients: vitamin E, ferulic acid, algae extract, aloe, allantoin
  • Good for: sensitive skin
  • Product size: 15-mL tube

If you’ve made it this far, you can probably write a thesis on vitamin C’s dark spot diminishing powers. This little spot treatment from Peter Thomas Roth combines 10 percent THD Ascorbate — a super potent form of vitamin C — with vitamin E and ferulic acid in a super concentrated spot treatment to really target acne scars. The brand also threw in an algae extract it says helps reduce dark spots even more. Additions of aloe and allantoin help soothe those dark spots as they disappear.

Reviewers call this a total game changer for acne scars and hyperpigmentation. One reviewer says it works wonders on their darker skin tone, too.

Best vitamin C serum with probiotics

Tula Triple Vitamin C Serum

  • Price: $
  • Standout ingredients: probiotics extracts, prebiotics; lychee, Japanese mandarin, and mango extracts
  • Good for: soothing skin
  • Product size: 30-mL bottle
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Tula’s line of skin care praises the power of probiotics to help balance and nourish your skin. In this oil-free, noncomedogenic gel serum, a 10 percent concentration of three types of vitamin C work with the probiotics and nourishing fruit extracts to even out skin tone and lighten up dark spots.

We love that it’s free of basically everything irritating, an extra perk for reactive skin types. Most Google reviewers are happy campers and say the serum feels refreshing AF.

How to choose the right vitamin C serum for you

Vitamin C can be a bit finicky, so you wanna know your stuff before you venture out into the sea of C. Here’s whatcha need to know:


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No.313 - Prevent Acne

Make sure your serum comes in an airtight, opaque, or dark-colored bottle or tube. Vitamin C is super sensitive to light and can lose its power or become ineffective if it becomes exposed to oxygen or sunlight.


For the best (and fastest) results, look for a 10 to 20 percent concentration of vitamin C. Dr. Anthony Rossi, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, says that a concentration of greater than 10 percent is needed for better absorption but more than 20 percent is just unnecessary and could possibly cause irritation.

If the bottle doesn’t say the concentration on it, look to the full ingredient list. “If [vitamin C] is one of the first ingredients, it has a higher concentration,” says board-certified NYC dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman.

Ingredients and skin concern

Jaliman says it’s a good idea to keep your eyes open for a simple product without too many ingredients, but also recommends looking for products that match your skin’s needs.

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Here are a few all-star ingredients to look out for:

  • Vitamin E and ferulic acid. Remember these — our golden trio. These help keep vitamin C stable and make it much more effective.
  • Hyaluronic acid. A superstar hydrator for all skin types. It’s also got anti-aging benefits of its own and can help improve skin elasticity.
  • Squalane. Another amazing hydrator that’s great for dry skin.

But we also have bad news. Some ingredients can actually cause skin irritation or making vitamin C less effective, so you should avoid using them together. If you see serums (or plan to layer other products) with these ingredients, proceed with caution:

  • Niacinamide. We LOVE niacinamide — it helps curb oil production, clears up acne, and strengthens your skin’s barrier. But it can also decrease the efficacy of vitamin C, so use it at night if you’re a niacinamide stan.
  • Retinol. Retinol tends to increase skin sensitivity — especially photosensitivity, which is why a lot of people use it at night. If you want to use retinol and vitamin C, consider using vitamin C in the morning and retinol at night.
  • AHAs (glycolic acid and lactic acid). AHAs are exfoliators and they work wonders on skin texture and acne. But they can make vitamin C less stable and less effective. They can also cause irritation when used together.
  • BHAs (salicylic acid). Same as AHAs. Using these together can cause some serious irritation, so it makes sense to use these at night.
  • Benzoyl peroxide. Commonly used to treat acne, benzoyl peroxide oxidizes vitamin C, making it totally ineffective. Womp, womp.


Don’t let price bring you down — vitamin C serums get expensive quickly, but there are affordable options out there. Some budget options — like CeraVe and The Ordinary — are even cult favorites. Don’t be afraid to start with a cheaper option and see how it works before moving onto more expensive products.

Quality and safety

Knowing whether a brand’s product is good quality is tough. And if you have sensitive skin, low quality products can mess with your skin.

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Here areChacon’s vitamin C shopping guidelines for ensuring a good experience:

  • Reviews. What are (verified) users saying about the product? Does the company have a positive brand reputation?
  • Ask your dermatologist. During your next visit, chat with your derm about specifics since no one knows your skin better than you and your doc.
  • Patch test the product on a nonsensitive area. This is the best way to know if it’s safe for your skin before committing to slathering it all over your face. Try applying a thin amount to your inner forearm several times a day. If you develop a reaction, don’t apply it to your face. You’ll thank us later.

How to use vitamin C serum (yes, it matters!)

Rossi says that as an antioxidant and UV protector, Vitamin C is useful in the morning. “Not only should you eat oranges to ingest vitamin C, but you can also apply some topically to protect the skin.” So, down some Cuties and apply the serum first thing!

When to use it in your skincare routine

But at what point in your skin care routine should you use vit C?

First thing’s first: always follow the instructions on the product’s label. Vitamin C serum is typically applied once or twice per day, after toner but before moisturizer and SPF. (Side note: Seriously always wear SPF. Vitamin C can only do so much on its own. Plus, physical UV blockers like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide can help prevent vitamin C from becoming inactive).

ishonest No.141 - Humectant

No.141 - Humectant

Remember our ingredients to avoid above: AHAs, BHAs, and retinol can all cause serious irritation if used with vitamin C. AHAs and BHAs can even change the pH balance of your serum and render it useless. If you plan on using any of these ingredients, consider using them at night and applying your vitamin C in the morning. That way, you get the best of both worlds.

How much to use

A little goes a long way — which is great news, since many vitamin C serums are on the pricey side. Using 2 to 4 drops, or 1 to 2 pumps of creamy serum is all you need to cover your face. (Believe it or not, you can use too much. If you start to notice an increase in blackheads, ease up.)

The bottom line

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can help even out skin tone, diminish hyperpigmentation, reduce the signs of aging, and help protect your skin from photodamage and environmental stressors.

Adding this skin care superstar to your regimen in the form of a powerful serum can really help you get your glow on. Apply it after your toner, but before your moisturizer.

Vitamin C is powerful stuff, so be sure to follow the instructions on the label. If you’re sensitive, do a patch test before you slather it on your whole face. If you notice your serum change color over time, that means it’s oxidizing and losing its potency. But don’t stress: there’s a serum for nearly every budget and skin concern.

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