The Best Vitamin C Serums for Radiant and Healthy Skin *My Top 4*
Vitamin C may be one of the single best nutrients for your skin.
It can help you look younger and even fights off skin conditions like acne and rosacea.
In order to get all of these benefits you need to make sure you are using the right type of Vitamin C serum (and there are a lot of crappy products out there).
Use this guide to help you sort out the best products so you can get started with healthy and younger looking skin ASAP:
Why Vitamin C is Amazing for Your Skin
You might have noticed that Vitamin C is in almost every type of skin preparation in some form or another.
You can think of Vitamin C as a miracle worker for your skin that has been clinically shown to reverse the signs of aging, even your skin tones (reduce hyperpigmentation) and prevent photoaging or damage from light exposure.
Sound pretty good right?
The best part is that ALL of these claims have been proven in various clinical studies.
But how does it do ALL of this?
Some of this benefit is due to the fact that vitamin C is a potent anti inflammatory agent.
(Vitamin C serum has been proven to reduce the aging process as shown over a 60 day period above.)
That means that any condition associated with (or caused by) inflammation can be treated using this therapy.
That includes conditions like post inflammatory hyperpigmentation and even conditions like acne.
Another huge part of this benefit comes from the ability of Vitamin C to help produce collagen.
Collagen is the structural protein in your skin and high levels keep your skin looking healthy, texturized and plump.
Pretty much anything harmful to your skin reduces the amount of collagen within your skin and this process makes it look like you are getting older.
What kind of things cause this damage?
Chronic sun exposure (getting too tan), chronic acne, the aging process itself or just plain getting older, nutrient deficiencies or simply not taking care of your skin.
And this is where Vitamin C swoops in.
You can actually add Vitamin C serum to your face that will be absorbed and reduce inflammation and directly INCREASE collagen production.
The final product?
Your skin will look younger and more rejuvenated.
But there's more to it than just using the Vitamin C, you need to make sure you are using a high quality product that actually allows the body to absorb it.
Using a low quality vitamin c will NOT have the desired effects.
Benefits of Vitamin C Serum & Should you use it?
Beyond the benefits of Vitamin C listed above I wanted to provide you a complete list so you know how valuable it can actually be.
The complete list Vitamin C serum benefits:
- Can help reverse the signs of aging through collagen production in your skin
- Can reduce hyperpigmentation and post inflammatory pigmentation in conditions like melasma
- Can help improve treat acne and reduce redness associated with pimples and pustules
- Can be combined or "layered" with other facial products to boost results
- Can be used to increase healing time in pimples/pustules or other scratches/wounds on the face
- Can help reduce inflammation in your skin and treat inflammatory skin conditions like rosacea, acne vulgaris and some infections
So yes, there are many wonderful benefits to using Vitamin C serum but should you use it?
I am going to argue you that if you care about your skin then you should be using some sort of Vitamin C serum on your skin.
Because by the age of 18 you've already accumulated 25% of damage that will occur in your entire lifetime to your skin - and most of us don't even start thinking about our skin until it starts aging.
And that's a huge mistake.
The best way to have more healthy and younger looking skin is to PREVENT it from happening to begin with!
And the best way to do that is by using high quality ingredients that have been shown to help.
Queue Vitamin C Serum:
The Best Vitamin C Serums on the Market
If you decide you should try Vitamin C serum (good choice!), then there are some things you need to know BEFORE you make your purchase:
Your Vitamin C must be able to be absorbed through the skin.
That means your Vitamin C needs to be the right pH (around 3.5) and MUST be in serum form.
Other forms like lotions and creams
You need to make sure your Vitamin C serum is protected from light!
Vitamin C is rapidly oxidized to
You need to make sure that ENOUGH vitamin C is actually being absorbed to turn off inflammation and create more collagen.
This means you need a high enough concentration and the magic number is 20%.
I have gone through these factors to make sure that the products below meet this criteria.
I have also personally used these serums and have included my personal favorite first.
But just realize that what your skin needs may be different than mine, so take that into account when you decide to purchase Vitamin C serum.
Let's start with my personal favorite:
#1. iS Clinical Pro Heal Serum
VERY high quality with a pure form of Vitamin C
Price is high, but well worth it
Can be "layered" with other products for more benefit (I use this product daily)
Who should use it:
- People with photo damaged skin or with sun spots
- People with aging skin (pretty much anyone over age 30)
- People with very sensitive skin
- People who are layering multiple products
- L-Ascorbic Acid
- Olive leaf extract
How to use it:
Why it works
- Apply 2-4 drops directly to your face after cleansing
- Spread evening throughout your face and to your neck line
- Avoid placing product in the eyes or in any orifice
- Use in the morning if using active serum in the evening
- Contains anti oxidants like Vitamin C, olive leaf extract and bioflavinoids
- Contains vitamin A which has been proven to reduce fine lines and aging
- Contains vitamin E which prevents photo damage
- Contains rich antioxidants in addition to Vitamin C
- Contains Retinol which is clinically proven to slow down the aging process
- Comes in the right form of Vitamin C (l-ascorbic acid) at a high enough percentage
- Also contains Vitamin E + A
- Cost - while not the most expensive Vitamin C serum, it is still up there in terms of price
- Up until recently was only available with a professional license
- Lots of knock off and fake products
This is currently my favorite Vitamin C serum and the one that I use each day (well at night actually).
This doesn't mean it will necessarily be the best for you, so continue reading other top vitamin C serums to determine which one you should purchase (remember you really can't go wrong with any of them).
Next up on the list is a preferred brand among most Doctors: Obagi.
Obagi is known for it's high quality ingredients (but also high cost!), however I can tell you that their products do indeed work.
I have personally used Obagi vitamin C serum in the past, and while I liked it, it wasn't my favorite.
Their vitamin C serum comes in 10% and 20% concentration.
Make sure to purchase the 20% concentration if you want the best results.
#2. Obagi Professional-C Serum
Contains high concentrations of L-ascorbic acid but no other ingredients
High price, but high quality
Why I Love it
Definitely works but may be better for women older than 40 or women with oily skin
Who should use it:
- People with oily skin
- People with photo damage or extreme sun damage
- People who have done well on other obagi products in the past
- Bullet Point 2
- L-Ascorbic acid (active ingredient)
- prpylene glyccol (inactive)
- Zinc chloride (inactive)
- Calcium hydroxide (inactive)
How to use it:
Why it works
- Apply 5-7 drops directly to your face after cleansing
- Spread evening throughout your face and to your neck line
- Use in the evening
- Make sure product is protected form the sun
- Contains 20% Vitamin C which promotes collagen production and stimulates growth in the skin to even skin tones
Why would you consider this product?
In my experience I've found that women over the age of 40 and those with oily skin tend to do better on this product.
In addition, Obagi professional c comes in multiple strengths including 10% and 15%.
This is helpful if you tend to be VERY sensitive or for some reason react to the concentration.
- Contains 20% L-ascorbic acid
- Previously only available through dermatologists and plastic surgeons
- Comes in blue container to reduce light exposure (but still must be kept in the dark)
- Cost is high, but product quality is also high
- Doesn't contain other Vitamins or anti oxidants like some products
- Lots of knock off products on the market
#3. Jan Marini C-Esta Serum
Very high quality serum that contains Vitamin C + DMAE for boosted benefit
Not quite as pricey as other products
Why I Love it
Can be "layered" with other products for more benefit (like Tretinoin or other products with glycolic acid)
Who should use it:
- People with acne, very oily skin or people with other inflammatory skin conditions
- People with aged skin plus the following conditions
- People who tend to tolerate most facial serums
- L-Ascorbic acid
- Hyaluronic acid
- Vitamins B5 & E
How to use it:
Why it works
- Apply sparingly to the face in the evening
- Apply a light layer and adjust accordingly based on how you react
- May use with other facial products like tretinion and glycolic acid
- Contains L-Ascorbic acid in combination with Hyaluronic acid
- Contains B vitamins to help nourish the skin and reduce inflammation locally
- Other ingredients help to fight off acne
I would probably use this form of Vitamin C serum if you suffer from acne or rosacea or if you simply didn't react well to the other serums.
If you don't have these conditions then I would probably wouldn't recommend starting with C-esta serum.
I found that this brand didn't work as well as the Obagi or iS clinical.
- Can be used on sensitive skin or with people who have inflammatory conditions like acne & rosacea
- Contains Vitamin C + Hyaluronic acid + DMAE
- Works well on people with normal to oily skin, especially in people with acne
- Added ingredients can help soothe inflammation and speed up healing process
- Doesn't seem to work as well for ALL skin types
- Has a neutral pH (which means you may not absorb all of the Vitamin C)
- Comes in ascorbyl palmitate (not L-ascorbic acid)
Next up on the list is PCA skin A&C Synergy serum.
I've included this product because, while it isn't my favorite, it has value in that it may help if you suffer from treatment resistant acne (especially hormonal acne) or from an uneven skin tone.
Most people who have acne know that pimples are only a small part of the problem with acne.
Often times pimples will leave deep red, purple or dark marks and take weeks to months to heal.
This is where this particular serum steps in:
#4. PCA SKIN A&C Synergy Serum
Not quite the quality of other brands but does contain kojic acid + lactic acid + L-ascorbic acid + licorice root
Great price, but may not provide the same results as other serums
Why I Love it
Definitely better for people who suffer from acne with hyperpigmentation
Who should use it:
- People who suffer from very oily skin and acne
- People, especially women, who suffer from adult or hormonal acne
- People with hyperpigmentation or uneven skin tones from acne
- People with inflammatory conditions like rosace and/or cystic acne
- L-Ascorbic Acid
- Lactic Acid
- Witch Hazel
- Kojic Acid
How to use it:
Why it works
- Apply to face and neck after cleansing and toning (you may need to reduce moisturizer using this product)
- Apply both in the morning and in the evening for best results
- Contains active Vitamin C
- The base of this serum is an astrigent (witch hazel) which can help maintain skin level pH
- Lactic acid + Kojic acid help to treat acne and other inflammatory conditions
- Resveratrol is a powerful anti inflammatory agent
- Contains active Vitamin C (L-Ascorbic acid)
- Formulated in an astrigent base of Witch Hazel
- Contains Lactic acid and kojic acid (both of which in high concentrations can be used in chemical peels) to help with acne/rosacea
- Contains powerful anti inflammatory agents like resveratrol
- Price is cheaper than other formulations
- May not work quite as well as other Vitamin C serums (better for those with acne)
- Reviews are not as flattering as other products mentioned
Vitamin C Serums to Avoid
Are all Vitamin C serums created equal?
When it comes to these serums you do actually get what you pay for.
Because the processing of the serum to get a high enough concentration at the right pH requires time and energy.
It's easy enough to shove some vitamin C into a bottle and call it a day, but in the end that won't actually get you results.
Do NOT waste your money on cheap products. You will get so much more return on your investment if you spend quality time searching for the perfect product for your skin.
With these factors in mind I recommend you avoid these Vitamin C serums:
Oz naturals Vitamin
OZNaturals Anti-Wrinkle Anti-Aging Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid
This product may be tempting to purchase because it has literally over a thousand reviews, but if you look closely you will find that the majority of them are from people who received the product for free.
In addition the pH of the serum is high at 6.8 (remember it needs to be around 3.5 for maximum benefit), in addition the formulation of Vitamin C is in the sodium ascorbyl phosphate form.
Remember that your vitamin C should be in the L-ascorbic acid formulation to get all of the benefits.
- Cheap price
- High enough concentration of vitamin C (though in the wrong form)
- Not at a low enough pH
- Comes in the cheap and less effective form of Vitamin C
- Does not indicate other concentration of vitamins in the formulation
Top 10 Things to Remember When Buying Vitamin C Serum
#1. Type of Vitamin C
One of the most important parts about choosing a vitamin C serum is the type of vitamin C used in the serum itself.
The type of vitamin C can get complicated and confusing really quickly...
But here's the deal:
Your body and skin NEED Vitamin C for normal function.
In order to get Vitamin C it must be topically placed on your skin (as in a serum) or consumed (usually with fruits, etc.).
This is why topical Vitamin C has so much potency - your body can't make it on its own, so you need to make sure you get enough of it.
BUT, and this is a big but, the absorption of Vitamin C in your gut is limited.
Which means that you CAN'T get high enough concentrations of Vitamin C by eating a lot of fruit.
Which means using Vitamin C serum is ALWAYS going to be helpful and will improve your skin (because your skin just can't get enough of it).
But not all forms of Vitamin C are absorbed through the skin, or are active once they are absorbed.
Of those forms L-ascorbic acid is a biologically active form of vitamin C that IS absorbed through the skin and therefore active.
Almost all of the studies have used the L-ascorbic acid form of Vitamin C and the research has shown that THIS formulation of Vitamin C is the most potent.
Does this mean other formulations of Vitamin C don't work?
Not necessarily, but it means that we do know WHAT works.
Because of this I recommend making sure your Vitamin C serum has the L-ascorbic acid form of Vitamin C.
Other forms of Vitamin c that might work include: magnesium ascorbyl phosphate and ascorbyl palmitate.
All of my recommendations above contain L-ascorbic acid except for PCA Skin A&C Synergy serum.
- Bottom line: Make sure your Vitamin C serum contains Vitamin C in the L-Ascorbic acid form. This is the most well studied formulation of Vitamin C and works well.
#2. Concentration of Vitamin C
This one kind of goes without saying but it's worth mentioning.
Just getting the right type of Vitamin C isn't necessarily enough.
You also need a high enough concentration or dose.
Here's the deal when it comes to vitamin C and concentration:
The dose matters up to 20%, after that higher doses aren't as helpful.
Most experts agree that MOST people will need a concentration of 20% for maximum benefit.
But that does that mean everyone needs 20% concentration of L-ascorbic acid?
Who should use less?
Basically if you have very sensitive skin, meaning you react to pretty much anything that touches your skin with redness or swelling, then you should consider starting at a lower percentage.
In this case it may be a better idea to start out at 10% and slowly work your way up to 20%.
You will notice that professional brands like Obagi come in 10% and 15% for this very reason.
When it comes to your face and your vitamin C serum, there is no one size fits all approach.
As long as you don't have sensitize skin you should be fine starting with the 20%.
- Bottom line: The magic number for L-ascorbic acid concentration is 20%. If you have sensitive skin you may want to start at a lower percentage like 10% or even 15% before moving up.
pH is another very important factor for your Vitamin C serum.
Because the stability of the Vitamin C compounds depends on the pH of the serum that it is put in!
Put another way:
Your Vitamin C will no longer remain biologically active and may degrade if the pH of your serum is greater than 3.5.
Studies have also shown that the combination of 20% concentration of L-Ascorbic acid combined in a carrier at a pH of 3.5 dramatically reduces photo aging in patients.
In addition to keeping your Vitamin C serum stable, the low pH is also necessary for absorption through your skin!
Yes, that means that if the pH of your serum is higher than 3.5 the amount of serum absorbed through your skin is LOWER (or that it may not be absorbed at all).
In fact studies have shown that Vitamin C formulations of magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbyl 6 palmitate and dehydroascorbic acid did NOT increase skin levels of vitamin c.
That same study did in fact show that preparations of Vitamin C need to have both the right pH and concentration to be absorbed.
- Bottom line: The pH of your Vitamin C needs to be 3.5 in order to remain stable in the container and in order for your body to absorb it effectively.
#4. Avoiding Fake/Fraudulent Products
Fraudulent and fake products in the cosmetic industry is out of control.
Oversea companies create cheap knock offs while using poor and cheap ingredients and then slap a brand name on the bottle and people sell it all over the internet.
This can be a huge problem for several reasons:
It reduces trust in high quality serums.
It makes people less likely to purchase high quality products for fear that they are fake or fraudulent.
As a result many people were getting their products form dermatologists, plastic surgeons or aestheticians.
This is obviously troublesome if you are trying to purchase these products but don't want to go pay for a Doctor visit just to get some Vitamin C serum.
But don't worry I have some good news:
All products that fall into this category have a special box right below the price that says "Professional Beauty". (Image below)
If you don't see this box then I wouldn't recommend purchasing the product!
You may end up with a fake or counterfeit serum that does NOT work.
- Bottom line: Make sure you purchase your Vitamin C serum from a reputable source.
#5. Oil production on your skin
People with oily skin, this one is for you:
If you have a high degree of oil production you will want to make sure you use a higher concentration of Vitamin C and you will want to make sure cut back on your moisturizer when you use it.
I will explain more about how Vitamin C alters the moisture on your skin below, but for now just know this is important.
Vitamin C can help reduce oil production on your face and reduce blackheads or breakouts!
Just make sure you follow the instructions above.
- Bottom line: If you naturally produce a lot of oil make sure to stick to higher concentrations of Vitamin C in addition to reducing your moisturizer. This combination will help reduce blackheads and excessive oil production.
#6. Do you have Acne?
Vitamin C is very helpful in treating acne as monotherapy, but what's important here is that it can also be combined with other treatments.
This includes therapies like tretinoin, glycolic acid and other hydroxy acids.
This makes using Vitamin C serum a REALLY good idea if you have acne.
One thing to note:
Application of Vitamin C serum does cause your skin to retain moisture. This can be good and bad for certain people.
I've found that if you tend to have more acneic skin then it might be a good idea to ease up on your moisturizer as you add vitamin C serum to your regimen.
This will prevent you from breaking out due to too much moisture.
It's also worth pointing out that L-ascorbic acid is the preferred therapy for inflammatory conditions like acne, rosacea and hyperpigmentation syndromes.
Because vitamin C is an anti inflammatory and because it can help even skin tones, it can be particularly helpful in people who have acne.
If you suffer from acne you will probably also benefit from formulations of serum that contain other active ingredients in addition to Vitamin C.
- Bottom line: If you have acne make sure to use L-ascorbic acid Vitamin C serum. You also may need to reduce how much moisturizer you use because Vitamin C can help your skin retain moisture naturally.
#7. Serum vs Lotions vs Creams
The ONLY vehicle that you want your Vitamin C in is a serum based compound.
Lotions and creams contain the inactive vitamin C which will not be absorbed or utilized.
In fact in order for the Vitamin C to be active it must be colorless, but becomes slightly oxidized turning it a slight yellow color when the light hits it.
Because of this you want to make sure that you avoid both air and light and keep your Vitamin C serum in a place out of direct sunlight.
It's also better to apply your Vitamin C serum to your face in the evening.
This will help prevent unneeded sun exposure, oxidation of your serum and make sure your skin absorbs enough of the vitamin.
When it comes to Vitamin C the choice is simple:
Make sure you get a SERUM not a lotion or cream.
- Bottom line: Vitamin C Serum is the only compound that contains the active form of Vitamin C. Make sure to avoid lotions and creams that contain Vitamin C as they will not work.
Do you really have to pay a high price to get a quality product?
The answer is yes, if you want the product to actually work.
How much should you plan to spend?
In general the cost for the BEST products ranges from $100 to $150 per bottle.
Now don't freak out:
The bottle will last MONTHS because you only need to use a few drops each and every day.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that it will cost a mini fortune up front.
My advice is to make sure you know what you want and that you are comfortable with the price before you buy it.
I know that having clear and amazing looking skin is worth it for me. It boosts my self confidence and gives my skin a beautiful glow.
For me it's worth $150 per bottle.
But that may not be true for you.
Think about it and determine what it's worth and then buy the best quality product you can afford!
The worse thing you can do is purchase a cheap knock off product at a fraction of the price and NOT get any results.
Don't go halfway on this.
Get the best product or don't get it at all.
- Bottom line: The average price per bottle of Vitamin C Serum will range from $100 to $150. This size will last several months but will be an amazing investment in your skin!
#9. Added ingredients to Boost Results
If you notice some of the products listed above contain other active ingredients in addition to L-ascorbic acid.
Take for instance my favorite product by iS clinical:
It contains Vitamin C in addition to olive oil extract, retinol and bioflavinoids.
The olive oil extract further acts as an anti oxidant (helping reduce inflammation), retinol can help reduce break outs and reduce fine lines/wrinkles and the bioflavinoids naturally nourish the skin.
The reason I like the pro heal serum by iS clinical is because I occasionally deal with breakouts and the added ingredients really help to keep my skin clear and perfect.
If you don't have ANY issues with black heads, break outs or occasional pimples then using Vitamin C combinations like the Obagi brand is probably okay.
But if you suffer from any other skin issues (dryness, excess oil production, break outs, rosacea, lots of photo damage, etc.) then you will be better off using the combination therapies.
- Bottom line: Other ingredients in the Vitamin C serum can help treat conditions like acne, rosacea or inflammation. Make sure to target your personal skin needs to the serum you choose.
#10. Mind the Brand
When it comes to cosmetics many of the expensive brands have a name for being high priced.
This is definitely true, but when it comes to Vitamin C serum you really get what you pay for.
You will simply NOT get the results I'm talking about here by purchasing a $20
Brands that have quality Vitamin C serums:
- iS Clinical
- PCA Skin
- Jan Marini
- Bottom line: Stick to high quality brands to make sure you get a high quality product. Buying cheap Vitamin C serum will not get you the results you are looking for.
Is Vitamin C Serum Safe?
It turns out that Vitamin C is VERY safe.
In fact most people are able to use Vitamin C serum daily for years and years without any issue (this is actually the ideal way to use it).
But what about the unlucky few who react to it?
Yes, some people occasionally react to Vitamin C serum and they usually react in the following ways:
- Stinging upon application
- Slight yellow color to the skin that may persist for a few days to weeks
- Redness upon application
- Slight hypopigmentation of hair follicles it comes into contact with (just don't put it on your hair!)
- Staining of clothes (again make sure to put it on your face!)
- Dryness in some individuals of the skin
- **RARE** Rashes like erythema multiforme or urticaria (hives)
Don't let this freak you out though because the vast majority of people who use Vitamin C serum have absolutely no issues.
Vitamin C Serum may be a game changer for you.
It's been clinically shown to reduce the signs of aging, improve skin texture (plump the skin up) and reduce damage from years of sun exposure.
One of the best side effects of Vitamin C is that it makes you look younger!
In order to get these awesome benefits you have to make sure you use the right type of Vitamin C, the right concentration and the right brand.
As a final note:
Stick to the popular brands and make sure you buy it from a legitimate source!
Now it's your turn.
Are you using Vitamin C serum?
Is it working for you?
Why or why not?
Leave your comments below!