Anyone interested in skincare (slowly raises hand) has no doubt heard about the benefits of vitamin C serums. A powerful antioxidant, vitamin C essentially works by neutralizing free radicals from the environment, assisting in the repair of damaged cells, improving collagen production, skin elasticity, signs of photoaging (like pigmentation), and barrier function. Vitamin C is a naturally-occurring antioxidant, but interestingly humans lack the enzyme needed for its synthesis which is why we rely on food, and in this instance topical products, to experience the benefits.
Serums are generally thinner and more concentrated as far as skincare products go, which is why it makes a great vehicle for vitamin C. But we get the price can sometimes be off-putting (it is a very popular active ingredient, after all), so weâ€™ve taken the liberty of compiling some drugstore vitamin C serum favorites that deliver all the glowy skin goodness minus the price tag.
- Our Picks
- Final Verdict
- What to Look For
- Why Trust ishonest?
Best Overall: Versed Stroke of Brilliance Brightening Serum
Low concentration of vitamin C
With just 0.5% vitamin C (sodium ascorbyl phosphate), this gentle serum is a great option for all skin types, but especially for those with sensitive skin or those who find vitamin C irritating. As per Appelâ€™s suggestion, it also comes boosted with niacinamide to assist with calming and soothing the skin, plus sodium hyaluronate and licorice root. Weâ€™re also big fans of the light, bouncy texture (plus, the smell isnâ€™t too offensive).
Benefits: Boosting radiance, firming, strengthening | Skin Type: Oily, combination | Dosage: 2 to 3 drops daily | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | ishonest Clean: Yes
Best Budget: Lumene Valo Light Glow Boost
This glow-giving serum uses ascorbyl glucoside, a water-soluble form of vitamin C thatâ€™s thought to be gentler and more stable than its pure form, so itâ€™s a nice option if youâ€™re new to antioxidants. Bonus points for hyaluronic acid and cloudberry extract to assist with hydration and the bouncy, fresh-skin feeling.
Benefits: Firming, boosting radiance | Skin Type: Mature skin | Dosage: A few drops | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | ishonest Clean: Yes
Best for Dry Skin: TruSkin Naturals Vitamin C Serum
Not suited to oily or congested skin
This top-rated serum contains a bunch of stellar ingredients like vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, jojoba, and vitamin E to cover all bases in one easy product. Because of the inclusion of hydrators, itâ€™s an excellent pick for drier complexions or those looking to restore the skinâ€™s youthful glow.
Benefits: Boosting radiance, firming, plumping | Skin Type: Dry | Dosage: A few drops (can be used morning and night) | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | ishonest Clean: Yes
Best for Oily Skin: Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum
Vitamin C concentration is not disclosed
Could irritate sensitive skin
This serum is designed to balance, refine, and clarify blemish-prone or oily skin. Alongside vitamin C, thereâ€™s also clary sage, grapefruit, ferulic acid, hyaluronic acid, and chamomile (not to mention, a herbaceous scent). Try patting a few drops onto clean skin after cleansing and before moisturizing in the morning.
Benefits: Contains botanical extracts, boosts radiance, refines | Skin Type: Oily | Dosage: A few drops every morning | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | ishonest Clean: Yes
Best for Mature Skin: L'Oreal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives Vitamin C Face Serum
L-Ascorbic Acid can be unstable
Lâ€™Orealâ€™s Vitamin C serum was co-created with dermatologists to deliver the best possible results in a short timeframe. The formula contains 10% pure vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid), an active concentration thatâ€™s thought to be beneficial when it comes to visible change. Because L-ascorbic acid is known to be unstable, itâ€™s also stored in an air-tight metal tube to protect its efficacy (so keep an eye out for any color changes). The creamy consistency is a nice change to watery serums, especially if you have dry, lined, or mature skin.
Benefits: Firms, boosts radiance, fragrance-free | Skin Type: Dry, mature | Dosage: A pea-sized amount | Size: 1.92 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | ishonest Clean: No
Best for Sensitive Skin: CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum
L-Ascorbic Acid can be unstable
Formulated with 10% L-ascorbic acid, hyaluronic acid, vitamin B5, and ceramides, this wallet-friendly serum is a great buy for dry, sensitive skin, or anyone who wants the benefits of vitamin C but finds many formulations irritating. Itâ€™s fragrance-free and allergy tested, and with ongoing use can illuminate the skin.
Benefits: Contains vitamin B5 and ceramides to soothe, allergy tested | Skin Type: Dry, dehydrated, or sensitive | Dosage: Small pea-sized amount | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | ishonest Clean: Yes
Best for First Time Users: THE ORDINARY Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12%
Dropper bottle could allow for air contamination
The Ordinary is arguably one of the best drugstore brands going around, so it would be rude of us to not include the Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12%. The water-soluble form of vitamin C is less intense than L-ascorbic acid, so you can experience subtle-but-noticeable benefits with a lower risk of irritation. The sweet price point is a nice touch, too.
Benefits: Boosts radiance, firms | Skin Type: All skin types | Dosage: A few drops | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | ishonest Clean: Yes
Best for Sensitive Skin: Avene A-Oxitive Antioxidant Defense Serum
Soothes sensitive skin
Pricier than other options
If you are reactive, sensitive, or simply enjoy the virtues of French pharmacy beauty, Aveneâ€™s A-Oxidative Defense Serum is for you. The creamy formula contains ascorbyl glucoside again and is suspended in the brandâ€™s signature thermal spring water (alongside hyaluronic acid and vitamin E). Thereâ€™s also a soft, creamy texture that gives it a comforting feeling on the skin.
Benefits: Boosts radiance, nourishes, plumps | Skin Type: Dry, sensitive | Dosage: 1 to 2 pumps | Size: 1 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | ishonest Clean: Yes
Best for Face and Body: Biologi BF Restore Face & Body Serum
Pricier than other options
If youâ€™re chasing a one-and-done serum that can be used on uneven skin across the face and body, this is it. Appel loves it for its â€œconcentrated dose of vitamin C and fruit enzymesâ€ and recommends it for anyone looking to promote even skin tone, hydration, and a strong barrier.
Benefits: Can be used all over the body | Skin Type: All skin types, even sensitive | Dosage: 1 to 2 pumps | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | ishonest Clean: Yes
Best for Pigmentation: Biologi BD Luminosity Face Serum
Pricier than other options
Appel swears by innovative Australian brand Biologi and its single-ingredient formulations. Luminosity is made using pure Davidson Plum, a rich source of vitamin C (alongside other antioxidant properties). With ongoing use, Appel believes it can restore even skin tone and increase radiance.
Benefits: Boosts radiance, restores luminosity | Skin Type: All skin types | Dosage: 1 to 2 pumps | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | ishonest Clean: Yes
Best for Acne-Prone Skin: La Roche-Posay Pure Vitamin C Face Serum
Includes salicylic acid
Too much for sensitive skin
Vitamin C for acne-prone skin can be tricky, but La-Roche Posay has come to the table with this multi-purpose serum that claims to boost radiance and clarify the skin simultaneously. Enriched with 10% L-ascorbic acid, salicylic acid, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid, the bouncy texture sinks in quickly and claims to assist with even and refined skin. And if youâ€™re wondering, the brand explains that the inclusion of salicylic acid is to increase absorption and is formulated in a way so that the L-ascorbic acid allegedly remains intact.
Benefits: Refines, boosts radiance, and clarifies | Skin Type: Oily and congested | Dosage: 3 to 4 drops daily | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | ishonest Clean: Yes
Your ideal drugstore vitamin C serum will depend on your skin type and condition, but team ishonest unanimously agrees that the Versed Stroke of Brilliance Vitamin C Serum (view at Versed) and the Avene A-Oxitive Antioxidant Defense Serum (view at Amazon) are a bang for your buck. Also honorable mention to Appelâ€™s favorite Biologi Radiance Serum (view at Biologi) for its minimal ingredients and skin-boosting effect.
What to Look for in a Drugstore Vitamin C Serum
The Type of Vitamin C
Vitamin C in its pure form is L-ascorbic acid, but when it comes to topical products it can vary. Some of the most effective ones to look out for are L- ascorbic acid, ascorbyl 6 palmitate, disodium isostearyl 2-0 L-ascorbyl phosphate, tetris palmitoyl ascorbic acid, ascorbic acid sulfate, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, and ascorbyl glucoside2.
Some forms are prone to oxidation (L-ascorbic acid especially), so if your product takes on a yellow-ish appearance once opened, chances are itâ€™s lost its efficacy.
Leading esthetician Samantha Appel tells us that mixing B vitamins (like niacinamide) with vitamin C is a beneficial pairing and will â€œsoothe, brighten and refine the skinâ€™s appearanceâ€.
Not so Nice Pairings
Alternatively, Appel explains that AHAs and BHAs (such as glycolic, salicylic, or lactic acids) will potentially react with your vitamin C serum, so they are best left for the evening (and donâ€™t mix products containing the two).
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant proven to protect the skin, promote collagen production, and prevent the onset of photoaging (that is, premature aging caused by the sun and other environmental stressors).
Appel further explains that vitamin C serums are extremely beneficial for anyone with a dull or uneven skin tone, sun damage, or those looking to reduce the signs of aging in the skin.
Appel says itâ€™s important to follow the instructions listed on the back of your product, but as a general rule, you should apply in the morning after cleansing and before moisturizer and sunscreen.
Appel says itâ€™s best to use a Vitamin C serum once a day, especially in the morning, for antioxidant protection.
Why Trust ishonest?
For this round-up, weâ€™ve consulted with qualified skin experts and various medical journals to ensure that the information is accurate. Weâ€™ve also trawled through internet reviews and taken on some testing ourselves to be certain that this edit of drugstore vitamin C serums is the cream of the crop.
Meet the Expert
Samantha Appel is an experienced aesthetician, founder of The Skin Bar, and one of Australiaâ€™s leading skin experts. Sheâ€™s also currently completing a Bachelor of Dermal Science with studies in Cosmetic Chemistry.
Telang PS. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J [serial online] 2013 [cited 2021 Sep 29];4: 143-6. Available from: https: //www.idoj.in/ text.asp?2013/4/2/143/110593
Shih Y, Zen JM. Flow injection analysis of ascorbyl glucoside in cosmetics by a disposable printed-circuit board waste modified electrode. Jnl Chinese Chemical Soc. 2006;53(4): 857-862.
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