We tested 26 vitamin C serums and found the 18 best of 2021

New York Post posted "We tested 26 vitamin C serums and found the 18 best of 2021" The article featuring Visha Skincare founder, Dr. Purvisha Patel's expert commentary on the benefits (and pitfalls) of Vitamin C serums and discusses ways to decide on the right Vitamin C serum regimen for you.

If you ask virtually any dermatologist or skin expert out there about powerhouse skin ingredients, we’d bet the big bucks that vitamin C would make the cut.

In fact, the dermatologist we consulted said it’s the “OG of antioxidants.”

The ultra-powerful nutrient, impressively, is incorporated into several serums on the market and, like an Oreo, is the “good stuff” in the middle (following your best cleanser and preceding your creamy moisturizer, of course).

“Serums are great because they are vehicles for the actives that you use on your skin for intentional skincare- the practice of using a product to make a change in your skin,” board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare, Purvisha Patel, MD, told the Post.

Best known for its natural brightening effects, vitamin C has been put through clinical trials and proven to aid in a variety of feel-good benefits, too, which Dr. Patel outlines — along with everything to know about using a vitamin C serum — ahead of listing the 18 best vitamin C serums we tested.

What are the benefits of vitamin C?

“Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that prevents free radicles from breaking down collagen and elastin,” Dr. Patel explains. “You can tell if your serum is working after a week of using.”

She adds that your skin should be “smoother, softer and more glowy” and “maybe a few dark spots lighter, as if you have had an exfoliation” upon consistent use.

“Over months there should be a decrease in dark spots and a thickening of the skin,” she adds. “There may be fewer breakouts as well.”

Are all vitamin C serums created equal?

No, not all vitamin C serums are on the same level of efficacy. This is because vitamin C is labeled as an “unstable ingredient,” with serums containing L-ascorbic acid being the most active form of the vitamin.

“L ascorbic acid is the water-soluble form [of vitamin C],” Dr. Patel explains. “It’s most easily absorbed by the skin, unstable in sunlight and air (oxidizes) and is tricky in formulation; this results in the different qualities of vitamin C serums.”

Dr. Patel adds that esterified vitamin C is “much more stable in air and sunlight and not as irritating, but not as strong as L ascorbic acid.” That said, the difference in serum qualities “depends on concentration, formulation and packaging,” according to Dr. Patel.

How do I choose a vitamin C serum suited for my skin type?

Dr. Patel outlines different skin types and key ingredients to look for in a vitamin C serum:

  • Dry or sensitive skin: Use a vitamin C serum with rose hip seed extract, sea buckhorn oil or vitamin E to help soothe the skin
  • Oily skin: Use a non-water-based serum (opt for a creamier one instead) to help prevent the serum from evaporating
  • Acne-prone skin: Look for retinol, AHAs and BHAs, along with anti-bacterial properties
  • Mature skin: Look for ferulic acid, retinol, vitamin E and skin discoloration correctors

How often should I use a vitamin C serum?

To follow the dermatologist-recommended skincare routine of cleanser, serum, moisturizer and sunscreen, Dr. Patel recommends using a serum twice daily.

How we tested vitamin C serums

I’ve been testing 26 vitamin C serums for months on my dry to sensitive skin. Though — and confirmed by Dr. Patel — using a vitamin C-infused moisturizer is a less irritating formulation than a serum, I found 18 of the best serums that didn’t irritate my skin, highlighted pros and cons to help guide your decision (recommendations we would give IRL) and a list of some serums we tested that didn’t make the cut.

That said, my skin has never been brighter.

Aside from switching off from one vitamin C serum to the next, I didn’t use any new cleansers, moisturizers or face masks. I’ve used my two favorite products, as of late, with each test: Alpyn Beauty’s Creamy Bubbling Cleanser with Fruit Enzymes and AHAs and the brand’s PlantGenius Melt Moisturizer.

Here are some helpful things to note before reading our tried-and-true favorites:

Everyone has different skin types: As highlighted by Dr. Patel above, skincare ingredients depend on the skin type itself. This review is based on my skin (dry and sensitive) though, using Dr. Patel’s expertise as a compass, we grouped some of our favorites into other skin types.

You don’t have to splurge to confer benefits: The best vitamin C serum isn’t necessarily the most expensive, per Dr. Patel. “A lot of times the extra cost of a skincare product has to do with exorbitant or fancy packaging, with packaging not being a good indicator of the quality of product inside.”

Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing any serious issues: Though we consulted with a dermatologist to give you an edit of the best vitamin C serums, everyone’s skin is different. Speak with your doctor if you have any underlying conditions or concerns before using a serum.

Here are our 18 favorite vitamin C serums we tested 

Our favorite vitamin C serum: Glow Recipe Vitamin C Dark Spot Treatment Serum, $45

  • Pros: The smoothest serum tested; has a pump dispenser; gave my skin a balanced, clear and healthy glow
  • Cons: Fragrance may be too profuse for some, though I found it refreshing

Glow Recipe’s Vitamin C Dark Spot Treatment Serum isn’t our favorite just because of its pretty pink packaging and the word “glow” in its name. This is the crème de la crème of serums because it nourished my skin, left it balanced and left no irritation.

Not only does it come out pink (!!!) but it also is a certified Clean at Sephora product, vegan and includes guava, tranexamic and ferulic acids and five forms of vitamin C to brighten and naturally glow the skin.

The first runner-up: La Roche Posay Pure Vitamin C Face Serum, $41.99

  • Pros: Super hydrating, has a fresh scent that smells like lotion, has a roller application that massages your skin
  • Cons: None to speak of

As a close second, La Roche-Posay’s Pure Vitamin C Face Serum is delightful. I was impressed with its ability to instantly nourish my skin and absolutely loved its roller application that’s a step-up from the potion-like serum dispensers that tend to be too runny.

This serum has a fresh scent that even those who prefer no fragrance would love. And, we have no complaints.

The second runner-up: Biossance Squalane + 10% Vitamin C Dark Spot Serum, $62

  • Pros: Has a pump dispenser, little to no fragrance, makes the skin look balanced and bright, has a gentle firming effect toward the outer corner of the eyes, super nourishing
  • Cons: None to speak of

Rounding out this edit of the top three best serums is Biossance’s Squalane + 10% Vitamin C Dark Spot Serum. Not only is its luxe packaging fit for your bathroom counter at all times but it also made my skin look incredibly balanced and bright.

This serum even had a firming effect near the outer corner of my eyes, which is likely effective for anyone with crow’s feet. Additionally, its moisturizer-like consistency and impressive eradication of dark spots make it lovely for sensitive skin types.

The best for sensitive skin: Dr. Barbara Sturm The Good C Vitamin C Serum, $145

  • Pros: Lightweight, super nourishing, easy to blend, balances the skin, spa-like quality
  • Cons: None to speak of

If I could bottle up Dr. Barbara Sturm’s The Good C Vitamin C Serum and take it with me everywhere, I seriously would.

Though up there in price, this serum is impeccable and delivers spa-like quality I didn’t know existed. Specifically, it’s best designed for sensitive skin types because it includes aloe vera, hyaluronic acid and vitamin C — the major triage of skin soothers, per dermatologists.

The best splurge: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic with 15% L-Ascorbic Acid, $166

  • Pros: Provides a glistening effect to the skin, perfectly and precisely drops the serum onto your face
  • Cons: Pricey, has a slightly strong smell

Meet the cult-favorite of all vitamin C serums. SkinCeuticals’ C E Ferulic with 15% L-Ascorbic Acid is a tried-and-true favorite of many and it made our cut because of its inclusion of L-Ascorbic Acid — the most tangible form of vitamin C, per dermatologists.

Though not our all-time fave, it does feel raw and real when using. It made my skin truly glisten and the on-the-dot application was one of the best we’ve seen.

The best budget vitamin C serum: CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum, $24.99

  • Pros: Dermatologist-approved skincare brand, has a fresh scent, brightens problem areas and hydrates the skin
  • Cons: Impractical packaging

Oh, CeraVe, how I love you so. I’ve been using the brand’s cleanser for years and wasn’t surprised at the slightest when its Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum was one of the ones to come up on top.

Notably, its fresh scent just makes you want to use it every day and it effectively brightened and nourished my skin. For $25, you can’t go wrong.

The best for dry skin: Farmacy Very Cherry Bright 15% Clean Vitamin C Serum with Acerola Cherry, $62

  • Pros: Amazing at brightening the skin, has a pump dispenser, great for waking your skin up in the morning, has a pump protector for no spills (which is great for travel)
  • Cons: None to speak of

When I first came across Farmacy’s Very Cherry Bright Serum, I knew I was going to like it. A serum that includes vitamin C and sweet cherries? Sounds like facial heaven.

As someone with dry skin, this is the best for this skin type because it includes ascorbic acid, acerola cherry and other derivatives of vitamin C that nourished my skin to the T. Though it’s not the only serum in this edit that works well on dry skin, it’s a thirst-quenching one I kept resorting back to.

The best for oily skin: Garnier Green Labs Pinea-C Brightening Serum Cream with SPF 30, $21.99

  • Pros: Akin to a moisturizer, fresh scent, made my entire skin glow
  • Cons: None to speak of

There are many great vitamin C serums in this roundup but Garnier’s formulation was too good, I just kept thinking about it.

For one, it’s super creamy and indulgent which, according to Dr. Patel, is a blessing from above for oily skin types. Though I don’t have oily skin, I loved its moisturizer-like feel that made my entire skin radiate. Plus, it includes SPF.

The best for acne-prone skin: Tatcha Violet-C Brightening Serum, $88

  • Pros: Incredibly refreshing; has a clear, fresh and subtle scent; brightened my entire face; has a pump dispenser
  • Cons: None to speak of

Containing AHAs (which Dr. Patel recommends for those struggling with acne), Tatcha’s Violet-C Brightening Serum was an all-around great brightener, refresher and nurturer to my skin. Not to mention, its packaging is divine.

The best for mature skin: StriVectin Super-C Retinol Brighten & Correct Vitamin C Serum, $72

  • Pros: Gave my skin a your-skin-but-better natural luminescence
  • Cons: Has a fairly strong scent

StriVectin has gained a fan following for its anti-aging properties, notably for its Super-C Retinol Brighten & Correct Vitamin C Serum containing — you guessed it — retinol, a powerhouse ingredient to help reverse and correct signs of aging.

Though I’m in my early 20s, I enjoy using a retinol-based product every now and then to protect my skin. I enjoyed its natural glisten that wasn’t too shimmery, too.

The best brightening vitamin C serum: Mario Badescu Vitamin C Serum, $45

  • Pros: Has a sweet citrus scent, gives your skin an immaculate brightness that stood out from the rest
  • Cons: May be too shiny for some

Mario Badescu certainly knew what he was doing when his Vitamin C Serum was born. “Wow” is an understatement; I expected it to work well, but I was floored when I noticed how bright and glowy it left my skin.

It did, however, leave my skin a bit shinier than I’d like after using, but if you want to see great brightening effects, this serum is your best bet.

Another great brightener: Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Day Serum, $78

  • Pros: Has a fresh feel, leaves the skin plump
  • Cons: Requires some mixing before use (but it’s fun, we promise)

I’ve been one of Drunk Elephant’s No. 1 fans for years and have been using the C-Firma Fresh Day Serum regularly since I wrote a review on the product. It turns you into a bathroom mixologist and has one of the freshest, high-quality formulations yet.

Aside from its revitalized feel, it always leaves my skin plump and healthy, which is the ideal texture before catching those ZZZs.

The best refreshing vitamin C serum: Tula Brightening Treatment Drops Triple Vitamin C Serum, $48

  • Pros: Consistent at brightening and hydrating, works well on sensitive skin, smooth and refreshing
  • Cons: None to speak of

Tula’s Brightening Treatment Drops are literal drops of ocean-cool refreshment onto your skin. It’s the serum I would choose if I need to really wake up in the morning and over time, gives some of the best, glowy results.

The best base for makeup: Kiehl’s Since 1851 Powerful-Strength Vitamin C Serum, $88

  • Pros: Smooth, fragrance-free, great for blurring out pores and treating problem areas
  • Cons: Could be more hydrating

Kiehl’s Since 1851 has a Powerful-Strength Vitamin C Serum that lives up to its confident name. Despite it not being the most hydrating we tested, it applies super smoothly and, in turn, helps mitigate the appearance of pores and treat problem areas (fine lines, we’re looking at you) simultaneously.

The best jelly-like consistency: Murad Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum, $80

  • Pros: Has a plump, thick texture that’s ultra-hydrating, has a pump dispenser, great at balancing out the skin tone
  • Cons: None to speak of

Murad’s Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum is a dream come true for anyone who’s been looking for a cloud-like serum that’s thick but not clumpy. It’s so hydrating, thanks to its jelly consistency, and was impressively effective at making some red spots on my face look polished and balanced.

The best for a natural glow: Rose Inc. Radiant Reveal Clean Brightening Vitamin C Serum, $72

  • Pros: Has the best consistency we tested; good at giving an all-around, sweet glow
  • Cons: Has a slightly strong floral scent, but nothing unusable

Rose Inc. shocked me with its ability to produce a natural-looking glow. Seriously, if you happen to skip your cleanser and moisturizer one day and just use the brand’s Radiant Reveal Clean Brightening Vitamin C Serum, you’ll be A-OK.

It’s not too thick and not too runny, so it’s the Goldilocks winner of serums. Plus, its packaging is minimal and sealed, anti-bacteria safe.

The best for leaving the skin plump: Tarte Youth or Dare Multi-Acid & C Serum, $42

  • Pros: Gave my skin an all-day shine, has a pump dispenser
  • Cons: Requires more blending than other serums, due to it initially coming out orange

Well, hello oranges that somehow made their way inside Tarte’s Youth or Dare Multi-Acid & C Serum — it’s good to see you.

As a pure-orange serum that blends translucent, it was cool to try this one out. The less-than-$50 serum, aside from vitamin C, contains hyaluronic and glycolic acids and apple extract that work in tandem to give an all-day glow and healthy plump.

The best for dark spots: Josie Maran Argan Bright Skin Vitamin C Serum, $65

  • Pros: Incredible at eliminating dark spots on consistent use, brightens the skin well, sleek packaging, precise application
  • Cons: None to speak of

Nobody likes dark circles and when you need it most (*cough cough* all-nighters), Josie Maran’s Argan Bright Skin Vitamin C Serum is the one we recommend most.

Despite not having chronically dark circles or spots, I did notice a difference underneath my eyes when I used it consistently. And, at $65, I would have guessed it was more than $100.

What didn’t make the cut — And why

While some of the below vitamin C serums may do the job, we found a few downfalls that rendered them not making the cut:

  • Bliss Bright Idea Vitamin C + Tri-Peptide Collagen Protecting & Brightening Serum: Though containing antioxidants and brightened my skin, it was OK. I recommend it, but others we tested stood out more.
  • Dr. Lara Devgan Vitamin C+B+E Ferulic Serum: Let’s start off with the fact that we do recommend this serum, but there were others with an approximate $150 price tag that were a bit more hydrating. Still, it’s a great formulation.
  • Kiehl’s Since 1851 Powerful-Strength Dark Circle-Reducing Vitamin C Eye Serum: As a new product, it wasn’t as hydrating as the brand’s other vitamin C serum (which made the cut).
  • IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Dullness Vitamin C Serum: Truth be told, I’m in love with this brand, but I was surprised of its serum’s strong scent and slight sting to my skin. However, it may work well on combination or oily skin.
  • L’Oréal Revitalift Derm Intensives Vitamin C Serum: Though a fan-favorite, this serum had impractical packaging and made my skin too oily.
  • Murad Dark Circle Corrector: While the brand’s other vitamin C serum had a dreamy texture, this one stung a bit on my face.
  • Tru Alchemy Glow Serum: This one was good and effective at brightening the skin, but it wasn’t as bright as others we tested. However, we still recommend its formulation for just about any skin type.
  • Youth to the People 15% Vitamin C + Clean Caffeine Energy Serum: While we recommend this formula because it includes caffeine — which helps to eliminate dark spots — it was a bit too clumpy on my skin.

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