In terms of skincare and good-for-you ingredients, vitamin C is finally getting its time in the sun. When applied topically, vitamin C provides a host of benefits to your face:
- It can make your skin brighter (‘brighter’ meaning less dull or discolored, including dark circles under the eyes)
- It can even out your complexion and reduce/prevent hyperpigmentation
- It can reduce inflammation
- It stimulates collagen production in the skin, making skin more firm—to prevent fine lines, wrinkles, and the likes. This can also help prevent sagging skin around the eyes, which in turn prevents those dreaded under-eye ‘bags’ that result from the sagging
- Per the previous benefit, Vitamin C also speeds up wound recovery. Take note if you’re constantly popping pimples and anxious for them to heal faster.
There are even more benefits, but these are the main ones. Vitamin C is best absorbed through a dedicated serum, too, given that the ingredient is fairly unstable in long-list formulas. (In this case, ‘unstable’ in that it oxidizes or becomes neutralized easily, rendering it far less effective.) So, it’s best to buy it in an opaque or dark vessel and to keep it in a cool, temperature-controlled setting.
There are a lot of contradictory opinions on whether it’s more effective to apply it in the morning or evening (or both), so let’s leave it at this: Apply it to freshly cleansed skin, and let the serum absorb fully (give it a cool 5-10 minutes, even though it should be somewhat instant). Then, follow with a moisturizer or night cream, ideally without retinol, AHAs/BHAs, niacinamide, or benzoyl peroxide. (If you frequently use these ingredients, it’s probably in the evening, since they’re all most effective when paired with a regenerative sleep cycle. In this instance, it would be best to use Vitamin C serums in the daytime.
Lastly, vitamin C is fairly gentle and works well with all skin types. You should still do a spot test prior to full use, but know that it’s likely to agree with your skin.
And it’s also best to buy one of the vitamin C serums below, but only because I’ve tested so many, and they’re among my favorites.
Best Overall Vitamin C Serum: Youth to the People 15% Vitamin C + Clean Caffeine Energy Serum
Youth to the People takes a two-pronged approach with this formula, targeting both the overall face and the area around one’s eyes. (Many brands will separate these into two categories, wherein it makes perfect sense for one serum to target both.) A 15% vitamin C formula packs on the skin-brightening and firming benefits, while caffeine further stimulates circulation to wake up tired, darkened under eyes. If you nix your daily eye cream and rightfully consider this a 2-in-1 serum, it’s kind of a steal!
Best Upgrade Vitamin C Serum: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Serum, $166
This is more or less the holy grail of vitamin C serums. ("Ask anyone," I’m saying in my Dakota Johnson voice.) It gets its vitamin C from that top-shelf pure L-Ascorbic Acid, paired with antioxidant/antiaging superhero Vitamin E. The ferulic acid assures that these two ingredients stay balanced and don’t lose their potency, either — so that the serum is as strong on Day 60 as it is on Day 1.
Best Budget Vitamin C Serum: Yeouth Vitamin C and E Serum with Hyaluronic Acid, $16
Funny that two of our top three brands play with the word "youth" in their names, and it’s no accident: Yeouth’s C+E serum is a terrific entry-level to the world of brightening and toning your skin with this ingredient (while also getting a punch of that toxin-thwarting vitamin E). Even better yet, it’s got moisture-boosting hyaluronic acid, so it helps skin absorb hydration and stay plump. (And all for just $16!)
Paula’s Choice C15 Super Booster, $49
When you see any serum marketed as a "booster", it’s intended to be added to another skincare product — like a moisturizer — to ‘boost’ the product’s offering. (So, let’s say you love your moisturizer but also wish it had hyaluronic acid. You might find an HA booster and then add it to your moisturizer, though it’s best done with a little research as to how much you should include in order to keep it effective.)
I say all that to finally arrive at this conclusion: While this serum is marketed as a booster, you should use it as a standalone product. It is outstanding as such, and has a similar 15% vitamin C and vitamin E and Ferulic formula as the aforementioned SkinCeuticals (plus hyaluronic acid, like the aforementioned Yeouth serum). When you ‘boost’ a product with vitamin C, you run the risk of neutralizing the vitamin C, given its instability as an ingredient. So don’t bother with the boost, and use it as the terrific serum it is!
Obagi Professional-C Serum 20%, $133
This is your highly concentrated, 20% L-Ascorbic acid dose of vitamin C, for when you really need a fix in your regimen. Obagi added hyaluronic acid to its potent formula too, to pair with the vitamin C for a skin-plumping, collagen-boosting, dewy-glowy result.