The Best Vitamin C Serums to Get Your Glow On

Our best overall pick is Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Vitamin C Day Serum

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Skin Ceuticals C E Ferulic

Byrdie / Jenna Igneri

When it comes to over-the-counter topicals, there’s often a limit to just how much of a difference you can see from products without a prescription. Serums containing vitamin C are the exception, according to board-certified dermatologist, Diane Madfes, MD. "They work to stimulate collagen, lighten dark spots, and protect against sun damage," Madfes tells Byrdie. "They're also great for fine lines, melasma, and rosacea." Vitamin C in serum form is so effective because it attacks free radicals that can damage skin DNA.

Byrdie Researched & Approved

Our best overall pick is Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Vitamin C Day Serum, which contains ferulic acid and vitamin E to boost vitamin C’s efficacy and stability, and glides on without a sticky finish. For a more affordable pick, consider CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum, a drugstore favorite that contains l-ascorbic acid, the purest form of vitamin C, plus ceramides and hyaluronic acid to create a silky skin-feel.

We went to work and tried a handful of top-rated vitamin C serums spanning a range of budgets, skin types, and concerns. After using them for weeks at a time, our testers rated each formula's texture, skin-feel, and how well it worked to brighten complexion, even out skin tone, fade dark spots, and address signs of aging. We then combined these results with the recommendations of board-certified dermatologist, Diane Madfes, MD, as well as our own research to compile a list of the best in show.

Ahead, find the best vitamin C serums to brighten your complexion.

Best Overall: Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Vitamin C Day Serum

4.8
C-firma fresh

Drunk Elephant

What We Like
  • Ferulic acid and vitamin E boost vitamin C’s efficacy and stability

  • Long shelf life due to home activation

  • Non-irritating, pH balancing formula

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

With an impressive 4.8 out of 5 overall score from our home tester, Drunk Elephant's C-Firma contains a potent antioxidant blend of vitamin C, ferulic acid, and vitamin E to address discoloration and other signs of photoaging. Ferulic acid and vitamin E boost vitamin C’s efficacy and stability. ensuring your skin reaps all the benefits from using vitamin C.

The formula also calls on pumpkin and pomegranate enzymes to gently exfoliate and smooth dull, uneven texture. Our tester notes the clear gel is super easy to spread and has a nice cooling sensation which feels great on sensitive, inflamed skin. We also like that C-Firma has a 2.5 pH and doesn't need to be refrigerated.

Benefits: Radiance-boosting, firming, retexturizing, smoothing, exfoliating | Skin Type: All | Dosage: A few drops daily | Size: 1 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

What Our Editors Say

"I've been using this vitamin C serum every morning for years now. The naturally amber-colored formula gives my skin a lovely, lit-from-within glow immediately upon application, and over time, my skin has become more luminous and healthy-looking (even when I'm not wearing it). I'm prone to the occasional breakout, but I don't have any lingering acne scars, and I give 100% of the credit to C-Firma." — Holly Rhue, Senior Editor

Best Budget: THE ORDINARY Vitamin C 23% + HA Spheres 2%

4.5
the ordinary vitamin c suspension 23% + ha spheres 2%

Courtesy of Sephora

What We Like
  • Addition of squalane accelerates cellular turnover

  • Hyaluronic acid hydrates with a matte finish

What We Don't Like
  • May sting slightly

  • Prone to pilling

The Ordinary's beloved vitamin C serum-lotion hybrid contains a hefty dose of radiance-boosting L-ascorbic acid, a pure form of the antioxidant, plus squalane and hyaluronic acid to hydrate, plump, and smooth.

Benefits: Radiance-boosting, hydrating, smoothing | Skin Type: Dry, oily, mature, combination | Dosage: Small amount nightly | Size: 1 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

What Our Testers Say

"By the end of the day, my skin still felt soft and glowy." — Jenna Igneri, Product Tester and Editor

The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%

Byrdie / Jenna Igneri

Best Clean: Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum

4.5
Mad Hippie

 Amazon

What We Like
  • Ferulic acid and vitamin E boost vitamin C’s efficacy and stability

  • Non-irritating formula contains chamomile extract

  • Petrochemical-, paraben-, fragrance-, and phthalate-free

What We Don’t Like
  • Slightly sticky

Our home tester gave the Mad Hippie serum a 4.5 out of 5 rating, noting that the formula was fast-absorbing and boosted radiance without irritation. Ferulic supports the efficacy of vitamin C while and hyaluronic acid, konjac root powder, vitamin E, and chamomile extract deliver hydrating properties.

Benefits: Tightening, radiance-boosting, smoothing | Skin Type: All | Dosage: A few drops twice daily | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

What Our Testers Say

"Along with lightening dark spots, it helped my skin look more even overall, and its ingredients have long-term anti-aging benefits, too."—Joline Buscemi, Product Tester and Editor

Best Drugstore: CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum

CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum
What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Contains hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides to plump skin and strengthen skin barrier

  • Non-comedogenic formula

  • Fragrance- and phthalate-free

What We Don’t Like
  • Can oxidize and leave orange streaks

You can squeeze product out of this CeraVe tube of vitamin C serum. In addition to 10 percent L-ascorbic acid, this affordable formula replenishes the skin barrier with hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides and soothes stressed skin with vitamin B5.

Benefits: Radiance-boosting, hydrating, replenishing | Skin Type: All | Dosage: Thin layer daily | Size: 1 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Splurge: Skinceuticals C E Ferulic

4.9
Skinceuticals C E Ferulic
Courtesy of Skin Ceuticals.
What We Like
  • Ferulic acid and vitamin E boost vitamin C’s efficacy and stability

  • Antioxidant blend further attacks free radical damage

  • Hyaluronic acid helps plump and hydrate

What We Don't Like
  • Product can oxidize

Our home tester rated SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic a 4.8 out of 5 stars for its velvety skin-feel and antioxidant-rich formula. Madfes says this product is worth the splurge and delivers a noticeable improvement in the texture, evenness, and elasticity of skin.

Benefits: Hydrating, smoothing, radiance-boosting | Skin Type: Dry, balanced, sensitive, mature | Dosage: A few drops daily | Size: 1 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Skin Ceuticals C E Ferulic

Byrdie / Jenna Igneri

What Our Editors Say

"If I had to pick one skincare product to rave about, this is the one. The combination of ferulic acid and vitamin C and E works to protect against environmental damage caused by free radicals, improves signs of aging and photodamage, reduces the appearance of lines and wrinkles, and brightens my complexion each time I use it. It's a thin, watery serum, and it doesn't smell great—but it works better than any vitamin C product I've ever used. Over the years, I've noticed an immediate (glowy, even skin the day after) and long-term (healthier, happier, smoother skin) result." — Hallie Gould, Editorial Director

Best Luxury: ISDIN Isdinceutics Flavo-C Serum

ISDIN Isdinceutics Flavo-C Serum

Amazon

What We Like
  • Addition of ginkgo biloba helps tamp redness

  • Lactic acid gently resurfaces skin

What We Don’t Like
  • Expensive

Madfes recommends Flavo-C for the addition of ginkgo biloba to reduce redness and safeguard your skin against free radicals. Lactic acid gently resurfaces skin to reduce wrinkles. These ingredients pair well with the antioxidant powers of vitamin C.

Benefits: Environmental protection, firming, radiance-boosting, hydrating, soothing | Skin Type: All | Dosage: 5 drops daily | Size: 1 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best K-Beauty: Goodal Green Tangerine Vita C Dark Spot Serum+

Goodal Green Tangerine Vita C Dark Spot Serum+

Walmart

What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Niacinamide helps fade dark spots in combination with vitamin C

  • Jojoba oil, allantoin, vitamin E, and hyaluronic acid provide lightweight hydration

What We Don’t Like
  • Container doesn't prevent oxidation

The gel-like formula of Goodal Green Tangerine contains radiance-boosting, tone-evening, hydrating ingredients, including tangerine-derived vitamin C. The formula also contains brightening niacinamide, and Centella Asiatica (cica). Jojoba oil, allantoin, vitamin E, hyaluronic acid, and turmeric root combine to hydrate skin. Reviewers note the result is plush and bouncy skin.

Benefits: Radiance-boosting, clearing, tone-evening, pH-balancing | Skin Type: All | Dosage: Small amount once or twice daily | Size: 1 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Complexion-Enhancing: Sephora Collection Ultra Glow Serum: Glow + Strengthen Vitamin C Serum

Sephora Collection C+E Super Serum

Sephora

What We Like
  • Antioxidant blend supports efficacy of vitamin C

  • Panthenol, vitamin E, and sunflower seed oil deliver velvety texture

  • Phthalate-free

What We Don’t Like
  • Container doesn't prevent oxidation

  • Limited retailers

Sephora's C+E Super Serum boasts an impressive blend of antioxidants and algae-derived peptides to deliver tighter skin and a dewy, healthy glow. Panthenol, vitamin E, and sunflower seed oil give the serum a silky texture that's easily absorbed by dry skin.

Benefits: Radiance-boosting, refining, hydrating, tightening | Skin Type: Balanced, dry, combination, oily, mature, sensitive | Dosage: A few drops daily | Size: 1 ounce or 1.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Firming: InnBeauty Project Green Machine Vitamin C + Green Superfoods Jelly Serum

iNNBeauty Project Green Machine Vitamin C + Green Superfoods Jelly Serum

InnBeauty

What We Like
  • Plant-derived stem cells help to accelerate cellular turnover and promote elasticity

  • Botanical extracts and antioxidant blend attack free radical damage

What We Don’t Like
  • Can cause breakouts on sensitive skin

  • Slightly sticky

Plant-derived collagen and stem cells address the loss of elasticity in this plumping Green Machine serum. The addition of plant-derived oils and extracts creates an antioxidant frenzy to accelerate the production of collagen and protect agains free radical damage.

Benefits: Firming, tightening, smoothing, radiance-boosting | Skin Type: Balanced, dry, combination, oily | Dosage: 1 pump daily | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best With SPF: Supergoop! Daily Dose Vitamin C + SPF 40 Serum

Supergoop! Daily Dose Vitamin C + SPF 40 Serum

Nordstrom

What We Like
  • Contains SPF protection

  • Niacinamide in combination with vitamin C fades dark spots

  • Matte finish

What We Don’t Like
  • No physical SPF

Supergoop's SPF 40 formula glides on like a serum, and can be used as a makeup primer during the day to helps prevent signs of photoaging .The hybrid formula boosts dull complexions and evens out discoloration with vitamin C and niacinamide while safeguarding your skin from the sun's damaging rays with three chemical UV filters.

Benefits: UV protection, radiance-boosting, tone-evening, hydrating | Skin Type: All | Dosage: Generous amount 15 minutes before sun exposure | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best for Hyperpigmentation: BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner

4.7
BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner

Courtesy of Skinstore 

What We Like
  • Highest concentration of vitamin C available

  • Addition of squalane and green tea accelerates cellular turnover without irritation

What We Don’t Like
  • Expensive

  • Slightly gritty

BeautyStat's skin-refining formula contains 20 percent pure vitamin C, the highest concentration available over the counter, to address dullness, fade dark spots, and correct discoloration. The formula also contains calming ingredients like squalane and green tea, which improve cellular turnover without irritation.

Benefits: Radiance-boosting, retexturizing, hydrating, pH-balancing, tone-evening | Skin Type: All | Dosage: A few drops twice daily | Size: 1 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best for Fine Lines: Kiehl's Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate

4.5
kiehls powerful strength line reducing concentrate
What We Like
  • Potent blend of vitamin C and Cg

  • Hyaluronic acid and delivers lightweight moisture and plumps skin

What We Don’t Like
  • Expensive

  • Prone to pilling

Scoring a 4.5 out of 5 overall score from our at-home tester, this serum delivers noticeable results when it comes to reducing the appearance of fine lines. In addition to pure vitamin C, the formula contains vitamin Cg, scorbyl glucoside and hyaluronic acid to add volume and plump fine lines.

Benefits: Plumping, smoothing, radiance-boosting, hydrating | Skin Type: Mature, balanced, dry, combination, oily | Dosage: A few drops daily | Size: 1.7 ounces or 3.4 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best for Uneven Skin Tone: Maelove The Glow Maker

4.7
MaeLove Glow Maker
What We Like
  • Ferulic acid and vitamin E boost vitamin C’s efficacy and stability

  • Hyaluronic acid plumps and hydrates

  • Non-sticky formula

What We Don’t Like
  • Can oxidize

This Maelove serum includes a powerful blend of antioxidants and ferulic acid to even out skin tone and boost radiance. The ingredients and results of this serum are comparable to those of the Drunk Elephant and  SkinCeuticals vitamin C serums, but at a fraction of the price.

Benefits: Hydrating, radiance-boosting, tone-evening, calming | Skin Type: All | Dosage: A few drops once or twice daily | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best for Dullness: Vasanti Brighten Up! Glow Boosting Serum

Vasanti Brighten Up! Glow Boosting Serum

Walmart

What We Like
  • Abyssinian kale oil, aloe vera, and vitamin E calm inflammation and redness

  • Non-sticky formula

What We Don’t Like
  • Contains synthetic fragrance

Vasanti's Glow Boosting Serum tackles dullness with antioxidant superstars vitamin C, bearberry-derived arbutin, and Abyssinian kale oil. The formula soothes stressed skin and calms inflammation with aloe vera and vitamin E.

Benefits: Radiance-boosting, firming, hydrating, reparative, tone-evening, soothing | Skin Type: Balanced, dry, combination, oily | Dosage: 1 to 2 drops up to twice daily | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Dry Skin: Ursa Major Brighten Up Vitamin C Serum

Ursa Major Brighten Up Vitamin C Serum

Ulta

What We Like
  • Rosehip oil and aloe tamp inflammation

  • Lightweight, fast-acting formula

  • Petrochemical-, paraben-, and phthalate-free

What We Don’t Like
  • Expensive

Ursa Major’s blend of vitamin C, rosehip oil, aloe, and edelweiss-derived antioxidants create a featherweight formula for instant hydration. Reviewers note relief from inflammation, and a more radiant complexion within a couple of days.

Benefits: Hydrating, radiance-boosting, soothing | Skin Type: All | Dosage: 1 pump daily | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best for Sensitive Skin: Matrescence Rose Glow Brightening Essence

Matrescence Rose Glow Brightening Essence

Amazon

What We Like
  • Chamomile, lavender oil, and aloe provide anti-inflammatory properties

  • Petrochemical-, paraben-, and phthalate-free

What We Don’t Like
  • Expensive

  • Limited availability

Matrescence makes the best option for sensitive skin, with a blend of skin soothers and anti-inflammatories like like chamomile, lavender oil, and aloe.

Benefits: Radiance-boosting, exfoliating, hydrating, refining | Skin Type: Sensitive, dry, inflamed, combination, acne-prone | Dosage: A few drops daily | Size: 4 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best for Mature Skin: TruSkin Naturals Vitamin C Serum

4.2
TruSkin Vitamin C Serum for Face
What We Like
  • Hyaluronic acid and jojoba oil deliver intense moisture and hydrate mature skin

  • High concentration of vitamin C

What We Don’t Like
  • Some reviewers note a light tightening feeling after application

This best-selling serum from TruSkin is formulated specifically for mature complexions, with a high concentration of active ingredients. It blends vitamins C and E with hyaluronic acid and jojoba oil to combat dullness, address discoloration, and restore firmness. The product is frequently discounted, making it Amazon’s best-selling face serum. 

Benefits: Hydrating, firming, plumping, smoothing | Skin Type: All | Dosage: A few drops daily | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Natural: InstaNatural Vitamin C Serum

4.3
InstaNatural VItamin C Serum

Courtesy of Amazon 

What We Like
  • Ferulic acid and vitamin E boost vitamin C’s efficacy and stability

  • Licorice root extract and argan oil brighten and hydrate

What We Don’t Like
  • Strong smell

InstaNatural's wallet-friendly Vitamin C Serum flaunts an all-natural formula with hyaluronic acid, sea buckthorn oil, ferulic acid, and plant stem cells. In addition, radiance-boosting licorice root extract, argan oil, and cica deliver collagen boosting properties that help to repair cellular damage.

Benefits: Hydrating, radiance-boosting, reparative, rejuvenating | Skin Type: All | Dosage: Dime-sized amount twice daily | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best De-puffing : Youth to the People 15% Vitamin C + Clean Caffeine Energy Serum

Vitamin C Serum

Youth to the People

What We Like
  • Caffeine targets puffiness

  • Antioxidants and squalane help stabilize 15% concentration of vitamin C

What We Don't Like
  • Formula can feel a little sticky at first

This lightweight serum from Youth to the People contains 15% concentration of vitamin C, which is stabilized by antioxidant extracts of passion fruit and dragon fruit and squalane to lock in moisture and accelerate cellular turnover. Vitamin C formulas can have a lifting effect, but the addition of clean caffeine derived from yerba mate and guayasa, increases microcirculation to help the de-puffing process.

Benefits: Hydrating, radiance-boosting, de-puffing | Skin Type: All | Dosage: Dime-sized amount twice daily | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Multitasker: PCA Skin C-Quench Antioxidant Serum

pca skin c-quench antioxidant serum

Courtesy of Dermstore

What We Like
  • Hyaluronic acid hydrates and plumps

  • Lilac stem cell extract helps control oil production and restore skin

  • Antioxidants stabilize vitamin C

What We Don't Like
  • Formula can feel tacky

A highly-reviewed pick from clinical label PCA, this brightening serum contains hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid and a blend of antioxidants to help diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Lilac stem cell extract is effective in controlling oil, leaving you with a smooth, matte finish. Reviewers note that the formula is particularly efficacious at fading sun spots.

Benefits: Hydrating, radiance-boosting, oil-controlling | Skin Type: All | Dosage: Dime-sized amount twice daily | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Final Verdict

Our best overall pick is Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Vitamin C Day Serum, which contains ferulic acid and vitamin E to boost vitamin C’s efficacy and stability, and glides on without a sticky finish. For a more affordable pick, consider CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum, a drugstore favorite that contains l-ascorbic acid, the purest form of vitamin C, plus ceramides and hyaluronic acid to create a silky skin-feel.

SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
Byrdie / Hallie Gould

Meet the Expert

  • Jessie Cheung, MD is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in dermatological surgical and cosmetic procedures based in Willowbrook, IL.
  • Jennifer Herrmann, MD is a board-certified, fellowship-trained dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon based in Beverly Hills, CA.
  • Diane Madfes, MD, is a New York City board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

What to Look for in a Vitamin C Serum

An Opaque Bottle

Vitamin C is inherently unstable and quickly broken down when exposed to light and/or oxygen. For that reason, board-certified dermatologist Jessie Cheung, MD suggests looking for products that come housed in opaque bottles or have an air-tight pump dispenser. Similarly, always make sure to store your vitamin C serum in a cool, dark place. 

L-Ascorbic Acid

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 of irritation. Other less intense versions include sodium ascorbyl phosphate and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate. 

Other Antioxidants

Vitamin C works synergistically, meaning it plays very nicely with other antioxidants. Common antioxidants found in vitamin C serums include vitamin E and ferulic acid, says Cheung. In particular, she says these two increase the efficacy of vitamin C and help stabilize it.

truskin vitamin c serum

 Byrdie / Jenna Igneri

FAQ
  • What does vitamin C serum do?

    According to board-certified dermatologist Jennifer Herrmann, MD, vitamin C has three main functions. The first is protecting against environmental stressors and free radicals, an antioxidant benefit that slows signs of aging and reduces damage overall. Vitamin C also promotes collagen production, giving skin more support and structure. Finally, vitamin C is a radiance-boosting agent, so a serum that features it can work to even skin tone and fade hyperpigmentation.

  • When should you apply vitamin C serums?

    Many people have strong preferences on when to apply vitamin C serums, debating whether it’s better to use the ingredient to protect skin during the day or replenish it at night. Herrmann says you can choose which time of day to apply but notes that consistency is key.

  • How should you apply vitamin C serums?

    Herrmann recommends applying your serum after cleansing. Additionally, avoid using it at the same time as certain other active ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide. For example, if you use a benzoyl peroxide product at night, it’s best to apply your vitamin C serum in the morning.

  • How often should you apply vitamin C serums?

    According to Herrmann, you should apply vitamin C serum either daily or every other day, depending on your routine and the result you want. If you already alternate several other actives, you might apply it every other day; if you’re looking to dramatically fade hyperpigmentation, you may want to use it daily.

Why Trust Byrdie

Theresa Holland is a seasoned commerce writer specializing in cosmetics. For this roundup, she considered dozens of products, evaluating each serum on its active ingredients, skin-feel, and value. She combined dermatologist recommended picks with insights from product testers and hours of research to compile this roundup.

Updated by Jill Di Donato
Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
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  8. Schagen S. Topical peptide treatments with effective anti-aging results. Cosmetics. 2017;4(2):16. doi: 10.3390/cosmetics4020016

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  10. Ruskiewicz, J. Neurotoxic effect of active ingredients in sunscreen products, a contemporary review. Toxicology Reports. May 27, 2017;4 : 245-259. doi: 10.1016/j.toxrep.2017.05.006.

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