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The Vitamin C Serums That Dermatologists Obsess Over

Get that glow, guaranteed.

skin
Jonathan StoreyGetty Images

Spend more than three minutes talking to any dermatologist, and they’ll inevitably start raving about three things: 1. Wearing sunscreen every single day until the moment you die, 2. How Accutane is an actual miracle drug, and 3. Why everyone should be slathering vitamin C on their face every single morning. Because unlike retinol (the other constantly derm-endorsed skincare product), which can cause irritation and flakiness in the majority of people for the first month, vitamin C is a skin-perfecting ingredient that’s tolerable by almost all skin types immediately.

“I’m obsessed with vitamin C,” says Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor at Yale. “It’s cosmetically elegant, it rarely irritates the skin, it doesn’t interact with other topicals, and it makes everyone look really, really good,” she says. But lest you think this is just some dumb, one-off, ineffectual trend, rest assured that vitamin C kicks ass on pretty much every (skin) level possible.

“Vitamin C is one of the most powerful antioxidants available to treat the skin,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital, adding that it “acts like a fire extinguisher to put out the inflammation and damage caused by free radicals.” It's most commonly and easily applied in serum form so it can sink into your skin to shield it from damage, smooth bumps and rough patches, reduce fine lines by stimulating collagen production, and even fade acne scars and dark marks.

“Vitamin C does a great job of lightening the discoloration, especially on my skin of color patients who want to lighten their dark spots without ‘bleaching’ their skin, which can happen with products like hydroquinone,” says Tobechi Ebede, MD, clinical assistant professor in dermatology at Cornell. “I prefer pure L-ascorbic acid in strengths of 15-to-20-percent strengths, and I recommend using a serum instead of a cream, since my skin of color patients find the creams leave behind a white film, whereas the serums absorb quickly and can be used under your moisturizer,” she adds. Either way, though, unless you’ve got ultra-sensitive, ultra-reactive skin (lookin’ at you, rosacea peeps), you should be adding some vitamin C to your skincare routine, stat. Just massage a few drops of the serum over clean, dry skin in the morning, wait a minute for it to sink in, then apply your moisturizer, sunscreen, and makeup, like usual. It’s not an overnight miracle worker, but derms agree that you’ll start to notice a difference in your skin’s appearance within a few weeks of consistent use. Which is almost the same as instant gratification, right? Right.

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The Editor Favorite
C E Ferulic
SkinCeuticals dermstore.com
$166.00

This formula smell like hot dogs—the scent is addictive, actually—but for good reason. The formula is comprised of super effective actives like L-ascorbic acid (another term for vitamin C) and ferulic acid, which lift dark spots like magic. Seriously, beauty editors are crazy over this stuff.

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The Organic Pick
Citrus & Kale Potent C&E Serum
Eminence Organic Skin Care dermstore.com
$110.00

Yup, this one is organic and incredibly effective. Lemon and grapefruit provide the kick of vitamin C, while leafy greens like kale and spinach imbue the skin with antioxidants to prevent further signs of aging. And it smells like orange candy, too. 

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Best for Brightening
Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum
Mad Hippie ulta.com
$33.99

Another option with a cult following, this formula combines vitamin C with Konjac root, an Asian flower that softens skin so it stays supple. Don't let its cutesy packaging fool you—it brightens the complexion in a serious way. 

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The Collagen Booster
Truth Serum Collagen Booster
Ole Henriksen amazon.com
$67.40

Enriched with green tea extract, this collagen-boosting formula plumps the skin for a bouncy complexion that's free of dark spots.

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The Free Radical Fighter
C&E Advanced
PCA Skin dermstore.com
$120.00

Free radicals contribute to discoloration in the skin, and this potent option concentrates on protecting the complexion from these damaging particles. And even for sensitive skin, it's a hydrating as it is glow-imparting.

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The Nordic Fave
Valo Vitamin C Glow Boost Essence with Hyaluronic Acid
Lumene amazon.com
$24.99

It might be called an essence, but this formula has a refreshing slip with a sweet scent that can give any serum on this list a run for its money. It gets its brightening powers from wild arctic cloudberries, an antioxidant-rich export from Finland.

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For Sensitive Skin
Pure Shots Light Up Brightening Serum
YSL Beauté sephora.com
$88.00

For those with sensitive skin, it can be daunting to slather your face with powerful stuff. But YSL's brightening serum contains marshmallow flower, an underrated ingredient that calms irritated skin and reduces redness. 

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Most Intense
Universal C Skin Refiner Serum
BeautyStat amazon.com
$80.00

This retexturing refiner has rave reviews, and it's quickly become a fan favorite. It's super potent—the formula contains 20 percent vitamin C—and it plays perfectly under makeup. 

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The Magic Powder
Vitamin C Booster
True Botanicals truebotanicals.com
$90.00

While it's not technically a serum, this luxurious powder—which pairs Vitamin C and ferulic acid for extra efficacy—allows you to turn one any of your every day products into a powerful brightening treatment. 

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Most Gentle
Vitamin C&E Treatment
Renée Rouleau Skincare reneerouleau.com
$69.50

One of the beauty industry's favorite estheticians has developed a treatment that's gentle as it is effective: it lifts dark spots and evens skin tone, but it's still safe to use every day. 

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The Potent Pick
Violet-C Brightening Serum 20% Vitamin C + 10% AHA
Tatcha sephora.com
$88.00

20 percent vitamin C is about as potent as it gets, folks, and this serum delivers. And an extra kick of AHAs adds in some extra exfoliation to up your glow even more. 

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Best for Newbies
Fresh Pressed Daily Booster with Pure Vitamin C 10%
Clinique sephora.com
$20.00

Clinique's option is affordable and easy to use: simply mix two drops of the potent brightening booster into your everyday face cream morning and night. 

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Most Anti-Aging
Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate 12.5% Vitamin C
Kiehl's Since 1851 sephora.com
$88.00

Kiehl's anti-aging powerhouse combines vitamin C with hyaluronic acid to hydrate and plump the skin while reducing the appearance of wrinkles. 

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