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Vitamin C is an ingredient that should be part of everyone’s skincare routine—regardless of age or skin type. It’s known and loved for its brightening and anti-aging abilities, and dermatologists also tout it for being one of the strongest protective antioxidants out there.
While budget-friendly vitamin C serums certainly do exist, the majority of formulas skew on the expensive side. That said, they are totally worth the investment as a highly concentrated vitamin C serum will ward off harmful environmental aggressors like UV rays, pollution, and smoke, while also reversing existing damage and reducing inflammation. They’re also ideal for brightening and evening out a mottled complexion. “Vitamin C is a multi-tasking brightening agent as its antioxidant properties provide protection from ultraviolet light exposure, and it also inhibits tyrosinase, the enzyme that fuels melanin pigment production,” explains Dr. Jessie Cheung, a dermatologist in Willowbrook, IL.
Behold: The best brightening vitamin C serums to add to your skincare routine.
Best Overall: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
Ferulic acid is a plant-based antioxidant naturally found in a variety of foods, including bran, oats, and rice. It neutralizes free radicals, boosts the effectiveness of other antioxidants, and decreases signs of aging, such as fine lines and brown spots.
Few vitamin C serums have gained the notoriety of SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic. It's won a handful of awards and is a go-to pick for dermatologists everywhere. The hype is certainly warranted because this vitamin C serum is truly in a league of its own. Even the entire Byrdie team agrees!
The formula contains high concentrations of pure vitamin C (15%), vitamin E (1%), and ferulic acid (.5%) to help even out pigmentation. The potent blend also prevents damage throughout the day by neutralizing free radicals caused by UVA/UVB, infrared radiation, and pollution. Just apply 4-5 drops to your face every morning and you will soon understand why it stands the test of time.
Best Budget: TruSkin Naturals Vitamin C Serum
This hydrating serum is precision-designed to revitalize aging skin. It blends vitamin C with hyaluronic acid and vitamin E to restore firmness, combat dullness, tackle discoloration, and more. The best part? It's super effective, which is why scores of reviewers on Amazon can't get enough.
Runner-Up, Best Budget: Paula's Choice C15 Super Booster
Coming in at just under $50, this strategically formulated serum is a worthy alternative to SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic. It contains the same hero ingredients (vitamins C and E, plus ferulic acid) in addition to skin-boosting peptides which might support your complexion's natural collagen production.
Best for Oily Skin: SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF
Say hello to the lesser-known cousin to SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, Phloretin CF. Despite its insane following, many don't realize that C E Ferulic is actually best suited to those with dry and normal skin types. However, if you veer oily, this serum is actually a better option for your specific skin type.
"For normal to oily skin types, we recommend using this product over the C E Ferulic. Many people read rave reviews about C E Ferulic and don't realize that the Phloretin is a better match for their skin type!" explains Helen Koo, senior marketing manager of Dermstore. So what makes it so special? This serum contains a mix of vitamin C, ferulic acid, and 2% phloretin to help neutralize free radicals, encourage cell turnover, and lessen discoloration.
Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Sunday Riley C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum
While most vitamin c serums contain l-ascorbic acid, this one is made with the gold standard tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, which is a stable, oil-soluble form of vitamin C. Albeit expensive, we highly suggest adding this mighty vitamin C serum to your lineup if you have acne-prone skin. In addition to its fancy strain of vitamin C, it also contains glycolic acid, which is known for its exfoliating ability.
The unique blend helps retouch discolored acne scars while also preventing future breakouts. Unlike most liquid vitamin c serums, this one has a thicker, richer consistency—almost like a moisturizer. That said, the formula melts right into the skin leaving you absolutely glowing.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Drunk Elephant C-Firma Vitamin C Day Serum
This vitamin C serum contains a laundry list of high-quality ingredients. Pumpkin and pomegranate enzymes help with cellular turnover and gently exfoliate the skin while vitamin C and ferulic acid naturally brighten skin and help protect against damage. What's more, the cooling sensation of this clear gel soothes even the most inflamed, sensitive skin. After cleansing in the morning, spread a pea-sized amount all over your face, neck, and chest.
Fun fact: C-Firma has a reservoir effect on the skin, which means it continues to work for up to 72 hours and cannot be washed or rubbed off (we like to justify the price with this).
Best for Rosacea: iS Clinical Pro-Heal Serum Advance +
This dermatologist-recommended serum is a splurge that delivers; it includes a powerful combination of antioxidants and botanicals to both protect and calm the skin, says Cheung, who is a fan. More specifically, vitamin C works together with Vitamins E and A to heal, soothe, and rejuvenate the skin, making it a savior for those with acne-prone skin or rosacea. It also delivers anti-aging benefits with olive leaf extract that provides antioxidant protection.
Best for Hyperpigmentation: BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner
This skin refiner delivers 20% pure vitamin C, the highest percentage available OTC, in the brand's unique encapsulation system that prevents the serum from breaking down and losing its efficacy. The serum boosts radiance and shine while creating long-term changes to the way your skin looks and feels. With regular use, the serum works to minimize fine lines, lighten dark spots, and overall increase the skin's brightness.
Best Anti-Aging: Obagi Medical Professional-C Serum 20%
Featuring an even higher concentration of vitamin C than C E Ferulic, this down-to-business brightening serum from Obagi is simply one of the best, hands down. It's deeply penetrating and designed to protect the skin from UV damage, ease hyperpigmentation, and support the growth of collagen and elastin. Plus, hyaluronic acid accents to help keep the skin's hydration levels nice and healthy.
Best Exfoliating: OLEHENRIKSEN Banana Bright Vitamin C Serum
This vegan formula is formulated with 15% vitamin C and packs some serious brightening and anti-aging power. On top of all the brightening benefits of vitamin C, this lightweight serum also has polyhydroxy acids that work to exfoliate the skin, and hyaluronic acid to boost hydration.
Best With Hyaluronic Acid: Kiehl's Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate
Kiehl's recently gave this formula a facelift, adding a higher concentration of pure vitamin C (aka l-ascorbic acid) along with hyaluronic acid. The ingredients are a match made in heaven because this formula helps brighten the skin and improve skin texture while reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. A true customer favorite, it's been said that a bottle of this vitamin C serum sells at a rate of over one per minute around the world.
Best Value: THE ORDINARY Vitamin C 23% + HA Spheres 2%
Canadian beauty brand The Ordinary offers wallet-friendly alternatives to pricier skincare products without sacrificing efficacy. This serum, which pairs vitamin C with hydrating hyaluronic acid, certainly does not disappoint. It brightens and improves uneven skin tone, reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, moisturizers, and smoothes—all for $6. Yep.
Best With Collagen: Dr. Dennis Gross C + Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum
Invigorating and rejuvenating, this serum pairs vitamin C with collagen, amino acids, and a proprietary energy complex that recharges skin so you can see visible improvement in firmness and dark spots over time. Massage it into skin before moisturizing to lock in the potency of vitamin C and encourage a brightening effect for your complexion.
Best Natural: InstaNatural Vitamin C Serum
This vitamin C serum has no shortage of hard-hitting ingredients—hyaluronic acid, ferulic acid, sea buckthorn oil, and plant stem cells among them. It not only helps defend the skin against external aggressors, but it also brightens up the entire complexion by fading the look of sun spots, discoloration, hyperpigmentation, and more.
Runner-Up, Best Natural: Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum
Because vitamin C serums are so active, many can cause a tingling or burning feeling upon application. However, this natural option skips out on additives and preservatives making it gentle for even the most sensitive skin types, yet powerful enough to make a difference.
With a refreshing citrus smell, this green beauty option goes on smoothly and leaves the skin feeling tightened and brightened. Apply a few drops all over your face in the morning and within weeks you will notice a true transformation.
Best Organic: Eminence Organic Skin Care Rosehip Triple C+E Firming Oil
If finding an organic vitamin C serum is important to you but you love the appeal of a heavy-duty serum like SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, look no further than this option from Eminence, which features replenishing jojoba and rose-hip oils and a skin-firming mix of vitamins C and E. Never greasy or irritating, the expert blend of botanical actives flawlessly adapts to the rest of your skincare routine.
Best Soothing: PCA Skin C-Quench Antioxidant Serum
A favorite brand among the best dermatologists in the world (and often the brand of choice used in-office for more intensive treatments like chemical peels), PCA Skin is lesser-known on a commercial level. (Although it shouldn't be.) This hydrating and nourishing serum features a unique blend of vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, lilac leaf cell culture extract (derived from the cells of the lilac flower to help ease inflammation), glutathione (detoxifying), and ergothioneine.
Best Hydrating: Lumene Valo Vitamin C Glow Boost Essence
They call this product an essence, but don’t let that confuse you because it acts, looks, and feels just like a serum. The lightweight liquid absorbs right into the skin, simultaneously brightening while also recharging with a boost of hydration. The non-greasy formula blends arctic cloudberry (a rich source of vitamin C) and pure arctic spring water with hyaluronic acid—the perfect recipe for glowing skin. And like many vitamin C serums, this one has a deliciously refreshing citrus scent.
Best Scent: Rosen Skincare Bright Citrus Serum
Vitamin C serums don't have to cost a lot of money, despite what you may have heard. This one is loaded with 20% vitamin C to help put your skin's metabolic process to work, delivering skin that is PH balanced and visibly more radiant. We also love that this all-natural product is gentle enough to use morning and night.
Best for Discoloration: Maelove The Glow Maker
This serum lives up to its name, full stop. Formulated with a mix of vitamins C and E, as well as ferulic acid and hyaluronic acid, it works double-time to hydrate and even out the skin. It's also a Byrdie fave, beloved by Senior Commerce Editorial Director Dwyer Frame: "No joke, when I use this serum pre-makeup in the AM, my skin is less red and irritated," she says. "It has become a mainstay in my weekly routine and I notice instantly when I forget when I see myself on Zoom calls."
Vitamin C, known for its brightening, antioxidant, and anti-aging abilities, is an ingredient that should be a part of everyone’s skincare routine. Though it's a splurge (and kind of smells like hot dog water), the best vitamin C serum is SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, scoring a thumbs up all around from Team Byrdie. Don't want to spend so much money on a vitamin C serum? We (along with thousands of happy reviewers) are big fans of TruSkin Vitamin C Serum as well, and it clocks in at less than 40 bucks.
What To Look for in a Brightening Vitamin C Serum
An Opaque Bottle
Vitamin C is inherently unstable, quickly broken down when exposed to light and/or oxygen. For that reason, Cheung suggests looking for products that come housed in opaque bottles (bonus points if they have an air-tight pump dispenser). Similarly, always make sure to store your vitamin C serum in a cool, dark place.
To get the most bang for your buck, Cheung suggests looking for this type of vitamin C, the most potent and active version. That being said, it is the priciest and comes with the highest likelihood for irritation. Other less intense versions include sodium ascorbyl phosphate and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate.
Vitamin C works synergistically, i.e., plays very nicely, with other antioxidants, such as vitamin E and ferulic acid, says Cheung.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find enough brightening vitamin C serums from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business to meet this percentage. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will evaluate the product ASAP.