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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.
Behold: The best brightening vitamin C serums to add to your skincare routine.
Best Overall: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
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.
Check out our guide to the best anti-aging serums on the market.
Best Budget: Lumene Valo 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.
Want to learn more about this brand? Check out our Lumene review with details of all the top sellers.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Drunk Elephant C-Firma 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 Acne-Prone Skin: Sunday Riley C.E.O. Rapid Flash 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 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 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 for Hyperpigmentation: Karuna Vitamin C+ Pearls
Say goodbye to darkness, dullness, and all of your hyperpigmentation problems with the help of this vitamin C powerhouse. Vitamin C is a potent yet tricky ingredient as it is difficult to preserve, but this innovative two-part serum delivers 79% vitamin C, which is the highest concentration available on the market.
Impressively, the pearls undergo a unique “Flash-Freeze” process, which dry freezes active ingredients (in this case, vitamin C) to maintain maximum potency. To reactivate the vitamin C, add three full droppers of the included Activator Serum, which breaks down the solid pearl into a clear serum. Apply the serum all over your face, neck, and chest to erase fine lines and dark spots. Unlike most vitamin C serums, which are recommended for morning use, this one should be added to your evening routine once weekly.
For more affordable serums, take a peek at our roundup of the best drugstore serums.
Interested in reading more reviews? Take a look at our selection of the best face serums.