If you’ve ever wondered why you should invest in a vitamin C serum, take it from board-certified dermatologist Jennifer Linder, M.D., founder of Linder Dermatology and Skin Cancer Center. “Vitamin C performs a variety of functions within the skin, including stimulating new collagen, reducing fine lines and wrinkles, protecting the skin from environmental pollutants with its antioxidant properties, helping reduce visible discolorations on the skin and providing enhanced protection against UV exposure,” she says. Plus, since your skin doesn’t produce vitamin C on its own, you’ll need a topically applied method of delivery for optimal skin health.
So how do you know which one to choose? “When selecting a vitamin C serum, patients should look for products containing pure L-ascorbic acid, the most bioavailable form of vitamin C, in higher percentages, such as 15 or 20 percent,” Dr. Linder says. And to optimize the benefits of the vitamin C, the product should also be formulated with 5 percent pure vitamin E. For optimal benefits, stay away from products with ascorbyl palmitate, recommends Dr. Linder, which is an ester of vitamin C, but doesn’t offer the unique benefits and potency that pure L-ascorbic acid does.
Make sure to apply every morning to get the best level of protection against oxidative damage from sun exposure during the day. And if the product is turning brown or looking darker, it’s likely not at full potency—it’s time to toss it.
Ready to boost your antioxidant intake? Here are nine vitamin C serums that are actually worth every penny:
1. SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
Aside from 15 percent pure L-ascorbic acid, this Dermstore bestseller also features vitamin E and ferulic acid, which makes this serum an antioxidant powerhouse, providing as much as 8x the skin’s natural protection! It has all the typical benefits of vitamin C—neutralizes free radicals, enhances collagen production and brightens complexion—plus, its super-concentrated formula makes it effective up to 72 hours. That gives you more bang for your buck!
2. SkinMedica Vitamin C + E Complex
This serum also combines the age-reversing, UV damage-fighting powers of two potent antioxidants: vitamins C and E. But what makes this serum special is its time-release delivery system, which releases the formula gradually so you get all-day protection from free radicals and premature aging.
3. Jan Marini C-ESTA Face Serum
This professional-strength anti-aging serum combines vitamin C with hyaluronic acid and other nourishing vitamins, which makes it soothing and compatible with a wide range of other skin care products like glycolic acid treatments, tretinoin and other topical medications.
4. PCA Skin A and C Synergy Serum
This astringent serum is specially formulated with active botanicals, vitamins and exfoliants that work together to brighten and even skin tone while reducing fine lines and wrinkles. Ideal for oily, breakout-prone skin.
5. Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum
Possibly the most buzzed-about vitamin C right now! Enriched with clinically effective vitamin C and ferulic acid, this gel-like serum is cool to the touch and encased in an airless pump packaging, which prevents it from losing its efficacy. It’s also complete with moisture-replenishing botanicals and peptides to nourish and repair your skin.
6. iS Clinical Pro-Heal Serum Advance Plus
If you’re struggling with acne, rosacea or just have sensitive or compromised skin, this vitamin C serum is designed for you. It offers iS Clinical’s highest levels of antioxidant protection against free radical damage, plus a blend of soothing botanicals such as olive leaf extract, zinc sulfate, kojic acid and vitamins E and A to calm inflamed or easily irritated skin.
7. Cellex-C High-Potency Serum
With only six ingredients, it’s a wonder how much power this serum has. It does exactly what every high-profile vitamin C serum out there does: brighten skin, enhance collagen synthesis and slows down the aging process. It also features hyaluronic acid to help your skin retain moisture longer. If you want a no-frills product that works, this is for you.
8. Obagi Professional-C Serum 20%
Another shopper and dermatologist favorite! This serum offers the highest concentration of L-ascorbic acid and said to deliver significantly better penetration into the epidermis and dermis than most vitamin C serums. And the fact that it’s from Obagi—a world-leader in professional skin care—makes it a no-brainer.
9. Ole Henriksen Truth Serum Collagen Booster
Aside from vitamins C and E, this serum is packed with good-for-you ingredients like grapefruit, orange, green tea and rosehip. Most shoppers agree that it smells so good—almost like OJ—that you’ll be tempted enough to take a sip! But don’t let the sweet, citrusy smell fool you–this serum is potent enough to knock out fine lines and dark spots.