This Yes To serum uses a mixture of grapefruit and vitamin C to brighten and firm. Meanwhile, polyhydroxy acids act as a gentle exfoliating agent (better for sensitive skin than commonly used alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids) that smooths skin and evens out texture. “After just a few days, I noticed improvements to my overall skin texture. And after daily use for several weeks, my skin feels softer, more even, and radiant,” shares one of our testers.
With a $15 price-tag, this serum can be a no-brainer for those curious about incorporating vitamin C into their routines. The formula is fast-absorbing and ultra lightweight (no sticky residue here), and perfect for an instant skin-brightening boost. That said, it does have a subtle grapefruit scent — we think it adds to the overall experience, but understand that not everyone enjoys skincare products with fragrance.
Price at time of publish: $15
Size: 0.95 oz. | Benefits: Brightens, firms, exfoliates | Skin Type: Dry
This Skinceuticals serum consistently finds itself at the top of ‘best vitamin C’ lists — it's arguably the most famous product in the category. And with outsized hype like that, we tend to be wary. But this is one of those rare instances where the formula truly delivers.
“Whenever a product is really promoted, I’m always a little critical and hesitant to love it. But this one really is worth it,” admits our tester. “Not only is it brightening and 'glow-ifying,’ but it smoothes fine lines and the texture of my skin. I’ve used vitamin C daily in my routine for eight years, so I wasn’t expecting a huge benefit with this. But during the six-week test, I ended up seeing a difference. Everything is a bit smoother and softer,” she adds.
The antioxidant-rich liquid formula quickly absorbs into the skin, and protects it from environmental stressors and signs of aging, while providing a long-lasting radiant glow. Don’t be alarmed if the product smells like hot dogs upon opening (this is normal). While it’s not the most enjoyable aroma, it quickly fades after application.
Price at time of publish: $169
Size: 1 oz. | Benefits: Brightens, firms, smooths fine lines | Skin Type: Safe for all skin types including sensitive skin
Best for Daytime Use
Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Day Serum
Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Vitamin C Day Serum is a little different than most: It comes with a loose powder that needs to be mixed into the liquid formula before use. This may sound mildly confusing, but we promise it’s super simple, plus, the extra step goes a long way in preserving the freshness and potency of the product’s ingredients.
“The instructions are very clear and easy to follow,” says our tester, who raves about the serum’s benefits. “I started to notice a significantly brighter glow to my skin around three to four weeks of use. I’d catch myself in the mirror and think, ‘wow, my skin looks so bright and smooth!’ And since using it, I’ve even received a few comments about how good my skin looks,” she says.
We love the fast-absorbing, lightweight feel, and recommend it for visible, proven results. Similar to other vitamin C products, this has an interesting, meaty scent (our tester compares it to bacon). Fret not, because this smell dissipates a few seconds after application.
Price at time of publish: $78
Size: 0.94 oz. | Benefits: Brightens, firms, smoothes texture, fades dark spots | Skin Type: All
While Vitamin C is widely utilized as a brightening agent, it's not true that all vitamin C serums actually reduce dark spots across the board. This antioxidant-rich formula from cult-favorite K-beauty brand Goodal specifically targets hyperpigmentation and discoloration with a skin-loving mix of green tangerine extract, niacinamide, and green tea extracts.“My dark spots have definitely started to fade,” shares our tester. “And, my skin looks healthier and brighter overall, with a more even tone. I’ve noticed a big difference since starting to use this product,” she adds. Plus, the tangerine scent offsets vitamin C’s typical foul odor and gives this serum a pleasant, soothing experience.
Price at time of publish: $24
Size: 1.01 oz. | Benefits: Evens texture and fades dark spots | Skin Type: Safe for all skin types, including sensitive skin
With over 8,000 five-star reviews on Amazon, we were immediately intrigued by this ROC serum. The product is widely beloved for its supreme moisturization and superior anti-aging benefits, and after trying it out during our six week trial, we couldn’t agree more.
“My skin feels smoother, more hydrated, and [more] elastic after adding this serum to my morning skincare routine. It does its job very effectively,” our tester says, adding that she’d happily re-purchase this serum once empty over other vitamin C products she’s used in the past.
The formula is fast-absorbing with no oily or sticky residue, and is clinically proven to tighten skin and improve elasticity in under four weeks. Plus, we’d be remiss not to mention that the glass bottle feels fancy and looks pretty displayed on any counter. While this isn’t a major issue, the dropper can be a bit finicky — it will probably take a few tries for it to pull the optimal amount of serum. Once you get the hang of it, using this vitamin C is a breeze.
Price at time of publish: $33
Size: 1 oz. | Benefits: Tightens, firms, brightens, reduces fine lines | Skin Type: Safe for sensitive skin and effective for maturing skin
Who doesn’t love an instant brightening boost? Whether a long weekend got the best of your skin or a poor night’s sleep left you looking dull, this Sephora Collection vitamin C serum will come to your rescue with fast-acting results.
At less than $30, it’s an easy addition to your regular routine and feels like a steal for the high-quality, antioxidant-rich ingredients. We firmly believe that the in-house Sephora brand is a sleeper skincare hit. Upon application, you’ll notice an immediate dose of radiance that’ll wake tired skin. And, according to our tester, you’ll notice an improvement in your overall skin tone after only one week of use. “My skin looks brighter, healthier, refreshed, and dewy — even when I’m not wearing anything on top of it,” she says.
Though this pick provides near instant results, don’t go overboard with the amount you use. There aren’t clear instructions as to how much you should use, but a good rule of thumb is to dispense three to five drops for your entire face.
Price at time of publish: $20
Size: 1.01 oz. | Benefits: Brightens and hydrates | Skin Type: Normal to Dry
Olay is a trusty drugstore fallback that we count on for moisturizers, but the brand’s vitamin C serum is just as noteworthy. This creamy, lightweight serum packs a super glowy punch with vitamin C, vitamin B3, and lactic acid that hydrates for optimum radiance. “My skin looks better after using this serum, both in the short-term and long-term,” says our tester. “Immediately after applying, I noticed a glow and firmness. After continued use, I feel my skin is brighter, softer, and more hydrated.”
She notes that in the short-term, the immediate glow fades after a few hours, but that the serum is working to improve overall skin tone over time. Bonus points? It performs great under makeup, creating an extra smooth base layer.
While this pick doesn’t smell like hot dogs (a win!) it does have an added citrusy scent, so if you prefer fragrance-free formulas you may want to look someplace else.
Price at time of publish: $33
Size: 1.3 oz. | Benefits: Radiance, Glow, Evening skin tone, Hydration | Skin Type: All
Experimenting with serums can be tricky for the acne-prone — adding in too many different oils can cause blockage and breakouts. But, we fell hard for this TruSkin serum because its mix of ingredients form the perfect balance of purifying (aloe vera and Vitamin E), hydrating (hyaluronic acid), and brightening (vitamin C) results.
“As someone prone to acne, I love that this product doesn’t cause breakouts or clog my pores,” says our tester. “I’m way more confident in stepping outside without makeup. I took a selfie after a 13 hour flight and my bare skin still looked bright and glowy,” she says, adding that she’s noticed her sun spots and acne scars fading since beginning use. And an added benefit? For oily skin, this hydration-packed serum suffices as a moisturizer, reducing the need for another step. “It’s impressive that I can use this serum alone without a moisturizer and have soft, supple skin.”
Price at time of publish: $30
Size: 1 oz. | Benefits: Brightens, fades dark spots, hydrates | Skin Type: Combination, Oily, and Acne-Prone
First things first, this product is more of a true oil than it is a serum. So, if you’ve got oily skin, we wouldn’t recommend it. That being said, for dry or even normal skin, using this oil is a quick way to achieve major glow.
“I have never gotten as many compliments on my skin’s glowiness than I do when I wear this,” says our tester. “I think this makes my skin look extra plump, like I’ve had a really good night of sleep. With this product, I usually go without foundation because it makes my skin look that nice and healthy.”
For dry skin or cold-weather climates, the squalane in this formula works to lock in moisture and provide long-lasting hydration, while rose oil and chios crystal oil improve firmness and boost radiance.
Price at time of publish: $74
Size: 1.01 oz. | Benefits: Boosts radiance, hydrates | Skin Type: Dry
Maelove is a beloved indie skincare brand known for using the highest-end ingredients without the luxury retail markups. We’ve heard excellent things about their Glow Maker serum for some time and were excited to finally conduct our own test. “So! Much! Glow!” were our tester’s exact words. “I was very impressed. This gave my skin the brightening boost it needed. It looks very hydrated and dewy without appearing greasy.”
With an impactful mix of vitamin C, vitamin E, hyaluronic acid, and ferulic acid, you’ll be receiving long-lasting moisturization and skin-smoothing nourishment. Keep in mind, because Maelove uses a potent 15% vitamin C active, the brand advises using up your serum within three months of opening (doable, considering it’s not the biggest bottle).
Price at time of publish: $30
Size: 1 oz. | Benefits: Brightens, boosts radiance, hydrates | Skin Type: All
Tired skin looking a little saggy and dull? This OleHenriksen serum will bring back your radiance with its plumping, firming, and brightening ingredients. Plus, with 5 percent polyhydroxy acids, it’ll work to gently exfoliate dead skin cells and restore a smooth texture with boosted elasticity.
“My skin looks glowy, hydrated, and refreshed,” says our tester. “I’m excited to keep using it and see even longer-lasting effects.” While some online reviews note an adverse scent and trouble layering with other skincare and makeup products, we didn’t have that experience. “It smells amazing and layers really well with my other skincare products,” our tester mentions. While your own experience may come down to personal preferences, it's undeniable that this highly-concentrated, antioxidant-rich plumping serum is packed full of nourishing goodness.
Price at time of publish: $71
Size: 1 oz. | Benefits: Brightens, evens texture, plumps | Skin Type: All
Another small-batch indie beauty fave, Klur is known for their high-powered vegan ingredients, sustainable (California-based) production practices, and beautifully-crafted products. We’re particularly drawn to the Brilliant Light serum for its potent vitamin C concentrate (20 percent) and rosehip seed combo that works to repair and protect the skin barrier and impart the most natural glow.
“At 63, I honestly do feel like my skin is firmer, and I’ve seen an improvement in my skin’s texture: It’s softer, smoother, and more hydrated,” says our tester. The amber glass bottle, though fragile, keeps out UV light, protecting the formula’s potency, and maintaining freshness for longer. Though the bottle is small, one pump is more than enough to cover your entire face, leaving your skin radiant and refreshed.
Price at time of publish: $22
Size: 1 oz. | Benefits: Brightens, firms, hydrates | Skin Type: Safe for all skin types, including sensitive skin
This InnBeauty formula is a cross between a serum and an oil — it’s lightweight, but has a jelly-like consistency that takes some time to fully absorb. For a moment of patience, you will be rewarded with massive glow points.Bursting with a complex blend of 15 super greens that promote collagen production, smooth fine lines, and fade dark spots, there’s not much this product can’t do. “My skin looks brighter, more even in tone, more firm, and less dull,” shares our tester. And to co-sign its multi-tasking wonders, she adds, “I also feel like it’s helped clear up clogged pores around my T-zone and fade some hyperpigmentation that I’ve had for years.” Convinced yet? You get all of this for $32 (and a fuller bottle compared to other brands we tested), plus barrier-repair benefits like pollution and UV-blocking effects.
Price at time of publish: $32
Size: 1 oz. | Benefits: Brightens, firms, smooths, reduces dark spots | Skin Type: All
Other Options We Tested
Paula’s Choice C15 Super Booster: The consistency of this serum is quite liquidy, rendering it incredibly fast-absorbing and easy to incorporate into your existing routine. We recommend it for beginners looking to experiment with Vitamin C, as our tester enjoyed the product’s high-quality ingredients and overall glow boost, but didn’t feel as confident in its long-term abilities to actually improve the texture or firmness of her complexion.
BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner Vitamin C Treatment: Our tester experienced a purging period after beginning use of this product, noticing unexpected breakouts and blemishes in new spots. But, once her skin regulated to the formula, she noticed a decrease in dullness and improvement in glow, though she hoped to see more of a change in the fine lines around her forehead and eyes. If you take a ‘slow and steady’ approach to skincare, this is a great pick for you.
Sunday Riley C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum: We love the brightening and skin-smoothing benefits of this serum, but for the steep price, we wish the packaging was more sturdy. Our tester ultimately wasn't impressed with the fragility of the packaging (the glass bottle shattered from a short fall) compared to similar products from other luxury brands. We recommend purchasing this if you treat your skincare like precious cargo — no one likes a shattered product.
Our Testing Process
We took 33 of the most popular vitamin C serums on the market and had our most knowledgeable editors and beauty obsessives put them to the test. Each product was sent to a different expert and incorporated into their routine for a minimum of six weeks. This timeline is especially important with a product like vitamin C serum as they often have immediate, short-term results, in addition to more advanced long-term benefits. After the trial period, our testers reported back with every last detail of their findings, keeping ease of use, absorption, overall skin look, and value top of mind. From there, we settled on the 14 best-performing formulas, plus three others we just couldn’t leave off the list.
What to Keep in Mind
All skin types can benefit from vitamin C, though different products may work better for certain skin types over others. If you’re prone to dryness, look for formulas featuring other hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid or squalane (OLEHENRIKSEN Banana Bright 15% Vitamin C Serum and Biossance Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Oil are great options). Meanwhile, if you lean oily, TruSkin Naturals Vitamin C Serum or InnBeauty Project Green Machine Vitamin C + Green Superfoods Jelly Serum may just become your new best friend because they’re also designed with purifying ingredients to curb oil production and keep skin clear.And while most Vitamin C serums are safe for use on sensitive skin, why not be extra cautious and try one with pure, clean ingredients like Klur Brilliant Light or Skinceuticals C E Ferulic.
Your Skin Concerns
While Vitamin C serums are amazing, they can’t address every skin concern out there. Their main purpose is to brighten, hydrate, and fade dark spots. If you’re looking to seriously tackle fine lines and sagging skin, they may help (especially if you select one formulated to improve elasticity, like ROC Multi Correxion Revive + Glow Daily Serum), but you’ll also want to seek out a richer moisturizer to use in conjunction.Serums and oils are lightweight and silky, which make them impactful for inducing glowiness, particularly when they’re jam-packed with antioxidants like Maelove The Glow Maker. If dark spots or hyperpigmentation are your main concerns, you’ll want to try ones proven to fade discoloration like Goodal Green Tangerine Vita C Dark Spot Serum+ or the Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Vitamin C Day Serum. These are formulated with extra potent concentrations of the active to pinpoint discoloration.
Vitamin C serums are produced in varying textures and consistencies — from oils and gels to creams. Truthfully, it comes down to personal preference. Yes To Grapefruit Daily Brightening Serum is super lightweight and liquidy, while the Olay Vitamin C + Peptide 24 Serum has a creamier feel. If you’re prone to oily skin, stay away from a true oil like the Biossance Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Oil.Some formulas may be quicker to absorb than others, like Sephora Collection Glow + Strengthen Vitamin C Serum which melts into skin immediately. But don’t fear a denser texture, like L'Oréal Paris Revitalift Vitamin C Serum, just because it may be trickier to apply — it won our top honor for a reason.
Your Questions, Answered
What does vitamin C serum do?
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant ingredient that brightens and protects skin. “As an ingredient, vitamin C protects the cells of your skin from free radicals, which are molecules that are produced when your skin is exposed to harmful sources, like radiation from the sun,” says nurse practitioner and cosmetic expert Nicole Frontera. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Purvisha Patel, tacks onto this saying that vitamin C works to prevent free radicals from breaking down collagen and elastin, and it decreases the production of pigment (ultimately fading dark spots), and leaves your skin feeling smoother and softer.
When should I use vitamin C serum?
“Vitamin C is best applied to dry, clean skin after you wash your face and before you apply your sunscreen,” says Dr. Patel. “It has been proven to be a good additive to your morning regimen before sunscreen, as it prevents damage caused by UV radiation.”.
While celebrity esthetician at SkinLab, Joshua Ross agrees vitamin C is best applied in the morning, Frontera has a different take. “While vitamin C can be used both day and night, my favorite time to use it is at night because overnight is the time when we correct our skin,” she says. In short, you can use it either morning or night, but stick to once a day, otherwise you run the risk of causing irritation.
Is it ok to use vitamin C serum everyday?
Yes! “Some people can be sensitive to vitamin C serums and it’s recommended to start by using a small amount to see how your skin responds, such as one to two drops,” says Ross. “From there, you can increase up to three to five drops per day.”
Additionally, if your skin is sensitive, it may not be able to tolerate a daily dose of a highly concentrated vitamin C. “While vitamin C serum is safe to use for most skin types, if you notice your skin feels too dry or starts peeling after use, then you may be allergic to an ingredient, or the concentration within may be too high,” explains Dr. Patel. If you experience any irritation, be sure to discontinue use and consult with your dermatologist on the best way to incorporate the ingredient into your routine.
What are the disadvantages of using vitamin C serum?
If a serum contains a very high concentration of vitamin C (over 20 percent, according to Frontera), it’s normal to experience some sensitivity when adjusting to the new product, though it shouldn’t last long. “Higher concentrations will yield better results,” explains Frontera. “Purchase products that are medical grade, because the percentages and potency are higher, delivering more effective results over time.”
Dr. Patel adds that multiple exfoliating agents (like AHAs and retinol, in combination with vitamin C) can cause irritation as well. She advises looking for formulas that use only one or two of these ingredients at a time to avoid any adverse reactions.
Can you use a vitamin C serum if you’re acne-prone?
According to Ross, vitamin C can be safe and beneficial for acne-prone skin. Though, he warns to “discontinue use if breakouts increase or sensitivity occurs.” Look for products specifically formulated for sensitive or acne-prone skin with soothing and balancing ingredients, like TruSkin Naturals Vitamin C Serum.
What Is InStyle Picks?
Did you notice the InStyle Picks seal of approval at the top of this story? That means our team of testers has reviewed every product on this list using a unique methodology to ensure it's really worth your time, money, and attention. We may get samples for free to try but we never promise positive (or any!) coverage in exchange. Put simply: InStyle Picks are products we love, and we've put them to the test to be sure you will too.
Why Shop With Us
Linne Halpern is a freelance beauty, fashion, and lifestyle writer. She is a member of InStyle’s evergreen commerce team where she extensively researches and reviews countless products. For this story, dozens of beauty editors and product testers contributed real-world feedback on 33 different serums. Meanwhile, celebrity esthetician Joshua Ross of SkinLab, nurse practitioner and cosmetic expert Nicole Frontera of Nicole Frontera Beauty, and board-certified dermatologist Dr. Purvisha Patel of Visha Skincare all contributed expert commentary and ingredient knowledge.