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 serums 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 tolerated by almost all skin types.
What are the benefits of vitamin C for your skin?
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“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.
How do vitamin C serums work?
“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.
How should I use vitamin C serums?
“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,” Ebede 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.
The Triple Threat
A whopping ten percent concentration of a triple vitamin C blend makes this one of the more powerful serums on the market. (Two types work to combat dark marks while the other reactivates throughout the day to combat dullness.) Combined with the brand's signature probiotic and prebiotic blend, there's a lot of upside in this aqua vial.
The Powdered Serum
Four simple ingredients—three forms of vitamin C and humectant hyaluronic acid—are dehydrated in a powder format. Simply add a few drops of water to activate a creamy serum that's brightening and moisturizing at once.
The Highest Dose
First ten now twenty percent vitamin C, housed in an airless vial for maximum freshness and efficacy. You'll also get niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid in this anti-dullness, pro-brightness revelation.
This Gentle Version
Vitamin C can be stingy on some complexions (it's pure acid, after all). The addition of omega-3 fatty acids alongside vitamin C ester, one of the gentler forms of the brightener, means this serum won't inflame or bother even the fussiest faces.
The Sunscreen Serum
Have your C and sunscreen, too. Vitamin C is said to enhance the efficacy of sunscreen, so why someone hasn't thought to explicitly combine the two before is beyond us. Here, a stable broad-spectrum blend of sunshields works with ascorbic acid to bounce away rays and turn back the clock on any damage that's already been done.
The Editor Favorite
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.
The All-Over Fix
Is there anything this serum can't do? Packed with potent Vitamin C, this serum addresses fine lines and wrinkles, dull skin, uneven texture, and sagging skin. Applied in the morning, you'll notice the skin looking brighter and healthier after only a few uses.
Best for Newbies
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.
The Collagen Booster
Enriched with green tea extract, this collagen-boosting formula plumps the skin for a bouncy complexion that's free of dark spots.
The Plant-Based Corrector
Not only does this serum help brighten the skin, but it can also fade dark spots and signs of aging. With Vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and Vitamin E, and jojoba oil, this product also gives the skin a boost of moisture that helps improve radiance.
The Miracle Product
"Miracle" is the perfect title for this product. With Vitamin C and powerful oils, this product helps the skin look healthier than ever. Hyperpigmentation and acne scars? No thanks! With this serum, they fade overtime and help improve overall texture.
The Anti-Aging Serum
Some of the most common complaints of aging skin is dullness and a loss of volume. With just this one product, it addresses both those concerns. Vitamin C helps brighten the skin, and collagen plumps the skin to reduce fine lines.
The Pore Reducer
With powerful Vitamin C, this serum helps create an even skin tone by reducing hyperpigmentation and the appearance of pores. As an added bonus, it helps plump fine lines and wrinkles for an overall refreshed appearance.
The Glow Serum
Tired, dull skin can all be repaired with this powerful serum. Packed with Vitamin C, it creates a natural glow that also intensely smooths signs of aging.
Kiehl's anti-aging powerhouse combines vitamin C with hyaluronic acid to hydrate and plump the skin while reducing the appearance of wrinkles.
Best for Brightening
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.
The Sun Spot Fader
With guava extract, azelaic acid, and pumpkin extract, this powerful Vitamin C serum helps reduce dark spots, including those caused by sun damage. Plus, these ingredients help soften the skin for texture that's so enviable.With guava extract, azelaic acid, and pumpkin extract, this powerful Vitamin C serum helps reduce dark spots, including those caused by sun damage. Plus, these ingredients help soften the skin for texture that's so enviable.
The Organic Pick
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.
The Free Radical Fighter
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.
The Nordic Fave
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.
For Sensitive Skin
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.
The Magic Powder
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.
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.
The Potent Pick
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.
For A Rough Morning
If you indulged in one too many glasses of wine last night, a layer of this serum will clean up your act... or the visible evidence, at least. Its brightening dose of vitamin C gets an extra de-puffing kick from caffeine-rich yerba mate and guayusa so you can look alive ASAP.
The Pro Pick
A whopping 15% gives this formula an effective edge. Chip away at dark spots and acne scars that already exist, and prevent future damage with the serum's antioxidants.
When it comes to brightening up a dull visage, prevention is half the battle. This potent formula works to repel environmental stressors that can cause new spots.
For Fine Lines
Reducing inflammation is key for a smooth, clear complexion, and this serum's focus is on calming anything that could cause signs of aging.
Taylore Glynn is the Beauty and Health Editor at Marie Claire, covering skincare, makeup, fragrance, wellness, and more. If you need her, she’s probably roasting a chicken, flying solo at the movies, or drinking a bad Negroni at JFK.
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