What is Vitamin C serum good for and how do you use it? If you’ve wondered what the heck does Vitamin C serum do for your skin, you’re not alone. In fact, interest in Vitamin C serums has spiked in recent years, with Google searches more than doubling since Jan. 2017.
It’s no surprise given the marketing of popular brands like Drunk Elephant’s C-Firma Day Serum and Perricone MD’s Vitamin C Ester Brightening Serum. With splashy packaging slapped with advertising-worthy benefits like reducing fine lines and wrinkles, diminishing dark spots and vanishing redness, it’s easy to give in to the hype. But, what do dermatologists think of this so-called skin superfood?
Turns out, Vitamin C actually is the “powerhouse ingredient” it claims to be, says esthetician Melissa Lekus of Melissa Lekus Skincare Consulting. “Vitamin C is the most abundant antioxidant in the body fighting free radicals to slow the aging process,” Lekus told HuffPost. “It can help lighten pigmentation, prevents the breakdown [of collagen] and increases collagen production.”
Vitamin C is the most abundant antioxidant in the body fighting free radicals to slow the aging process.Melissa Lekus, Melissa Lekus Skincare Consulting
That said, eating an orange doesn’t necessarily give you the same skin-loving benefits as a serum, says Susie Wang, cofounder of 100% PURE. That’s because topical Vitamin C works much faster than downing a glass of OJ. “Ingesting Vitamin C boosts the immune system and, although this helps bolster collagen and elastin production, it’s not targeted and works a lot slower since our body only accepts a certain amount of Vitamin C,” Wang says.
Though the court of public opinion has a few thoughts on the best-selling Vitamin C serums at Sephora, the majority of dermatologists we spoke with overwhelmingly recommended one serum in particular. The SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic serum earned marks from dermatologists for its ability to lighten fine lines, firm skin, provide environmental protection and brighten a dull complexion. But fair warning: It’s doesn’t come cheap. A 1-ounce bottle of this stuff rings up at over $160.
In fact, there is a scientific reason Vitamin C serums are likely to be the most expensive products in your beauty cabinet. Vitamin C is quite unstable in its purest form, which means it’s typically mixed with Vitamin E or ferulic acid to balance it out.
“Not all Vitamin C’s are equal,” says Wang, the cofounder of 100% PURE. “There are very unstable Vitamin C’s and more stable forms of it; very high quality and very low quality; very cheap and very expensive.”
All in all, there are a few things dermatologists agree on when it comes to using a Vitamin C serum for the first time, like wearing it under your moisturizer. That said, there’s no real consensus on whether it’s best worn at morning or night.
Not all Vitamin C’s are equal.Susie Wang, 100% PURE
Also, keep an eye on the color of your serum, which should be very light — almost clear. Over time it’ll start to darken as it oxidizes, much like a sliced apple. “If the serum has turned brown, return it and cease any use of it,” Wang says. “Absolutely do not use if it has turned brown.”
Finally, take note of the type of Vitamin C in the formula. “Make sure the concentration and type of Vitamin C is listed. L-ascorbic acid or tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate are the most active types,” says dermatologist Erum Ilyas of Montgomery Dermatology. “Also make sure the concentration is listed as between 10 to 20 percent. If this is not the case, Vitamin C can be very unstable on exposure to light and essentially be useless. That’s money wasted.”
Hungry for more? We asked eight skincare experts for their favorite Vitamin C serums, from expensive cult classics to affordable options under $10.
Take a look below at their over-the-counter recommendations:
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DermstoreThe skincare experts who talked to HuffPost overwhelmingly recommend SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Vitamin C serum, but it doesn't come cheap. "Be aware that Vitamin C serums are a concentrated ingredient, thereby [are] very potent and active," says esthetician Melissa Lekus of Melissa Lekus Skincare Consulting. "So don’t be surprised when your Vitamin C serum is one of the most expensive products in your arsenal." So, what's the difference between a $10 Vitamin C serum and a $100 Vitamin C serum? It's due in part to its formula. "Vitamin C is an unstable molecule on its own, so it works best when combined with Vitamin E or ferulic acid," says dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse of Rapaport Dermatology. <br>
<br>SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic is available at Dermstore for $166.
The OrdinaryDermatologist Erum Ilyas of Montgomery Dermatology recommends first-time users try The Ordinary's Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate 10%. It's a water-soluble derivative of Vitamin C, which is a fancy way of saying it's less potent than other forms of Vitamin C. "If it’s someone with lots of sun damage and looking for something more potent, I recommend the Vitamin C Suspension," she says. "The magnesium ascorbyl phosphate is effective and doesn’t tend to feel uncomfortable when used. I’m a fan of The Ordinary — I think of their products as a spice rack. It’s easier to modify routines day to day or week to week (or season to season) because their products have great ingredients. And, you can't argue with their price point."<br>
<br>The Ordinary Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate 10% is available at Beauty Expert for $10.50, or SkinStore for $9.60.
Peter Thomas RothDermatologist Erum Ilyas of Montgomery Dermatology says that the key to buying a good Vitamin C formula is to educate yourself on its ingredients. "If you are going to look for a Vitamin C-containing product, make sure the concentration and type of Vitamin C is listed. L-ascorbic acid or tetrahexyldecyl (THD) ascorbate are the most active types." She also recommends searching for serums with between 10- to 20-percent concentration, like Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Power Serum. "If [that's] not the case, Vitamin C can be very unstable on exposure to light, and essentially be useless. That’s money wasted.”<br>
<br>Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Power Serum is available at Sephora for $95.
Mad HippieThough Vitamin C serums are touted as a remedy for sun spots, aging skin and a dull complexion, green beauty expert Annie Tevelin notes that healthy skin starts from the inside out. "Healthy skin really starts within, so eating your daily suggested amount of Vitamin C is great for your overall immunity, so grab fresh foods like kiwi, broccoli, strawberries, grapefruit," says Tevelin, who's also the founder of SkinOwl. "Applying a Vitamin C Serum topically is excellent for transforming dull, lackluster skin, especially post-summer months." She recommends Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum daily in the mornings, before gradually using it twice daily.<br>
<br>Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum is available at Ulta for $34.
100% PureSusie Wang, chemist and founder of 100% PURE, recommends prepping the skin at night using a lemon water rinse before applying your serum. "Topical Vitamin C works much faster and directly targets the skin to improve it, whereas ingesting Vitamin C boosts the immune system. Although this helps bolster collagen and elastin production, it's not targeted and works a lot slower since our body only accepts a certain amount of Vitamin C." For ingredient-obsessives, she recommends 100% PURE's Vitamin C Serum to plump skin, improve elasticity and slough off dead skin cells for a brighter, healthier glow.<br>
<br>100% Pure Vitamin C Serum is available at 100% Pure for $41.
Dr. Dennis Gross SkincareVitamin C is a "powerhouse ingredient," says esthetician Melissa Lekus of Melissa Lekus Skincare Consulting. "Vitamin C is the most abundant antioxidant in the body fighting free radicals to slow the aging process." She recommends Dr. Dennis Gross C+ Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum to help with hyperpigmentation, prevent the breakdown of collagen and actually increase collagen production for a smoother, brighter complexion. <br>
<br>Dr. Dennis Gross C+ Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum is available at Sephora for $78.
DermstoreIf your main skincare concern is reducing the appearance of age spots and other skin discoloration, dermatologist Melanie Palm recommends Citrix Vitamin C Pro-Collagen Brightening Serum. "Vitamin C is a well-known brightening agent," she says. "It is used topically to fade brown spots without altering normal skin pigmentation.” With any new Vitamin C skincare product, she advises using three to five drops every other morning on the entire face for two weeks before gradually using it every day.<br>
<br>Citrix Vitamin C Pro-Collagen Brightening Serum is available at Dermstore for $114, or Walmart for $77.
Glow RecipeGlow Recipe cofounders Christine Chang and Sarah Lee know a thing or two about glowing skin thanks to their cult-favorite Avocado Melt Sleeping Mask. The duo recently launched an ultra-affordable line called Sweet Chef, that includes a brightening and tone-evening Vitamin C serum. "Vitamin C’s anti-aging, damage-repairing and UV-protecting powers make it a Holy Grail ingredient," Lee says, "but it takes time and consistent application to see the best results." She recommends Sweet Chef Ginger + Vitamin C Serum Shot for hyperpigmentation and acne scars.<br>
<br>Sweet Chef Ginger + Vitamin C Serum Shot is available at Glow Recipe for $20, or Target starting Jan. 27.
Oz NaturalsDermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse of Rapaport Dermatology recommends Oz Naturals Vitamin C Facial Serum for those who want a wallet-friendly serum. "[It's] a much less expensive, vegan-friendly Vitamin C serum with AHA (natural glycolic acid)," she says. "Consumers love the texture and notice brighter skin with reduction in hyperpigmentation over time." She advises wearing it in the morning under sunscreen for protection from free radicals, as well as as nighttime to undo oxidative damage from the day.<br>
<br>Oz Naturals Vitamin C Facial Serum is available at Oz Naturals for $18.