There are few skincare ingredients that can legitimately claim as many benefits as vitamin C. Because it’s a gentle acid, vitamin C will remove dull top layers of skin to reveal fresher, brighter skin beneath; it also has skin-plumping and collagen-boosting properties, which makes it a great anti-ageing ingredient. Vitamin C aids skin healing and repair, meaning it’s a good product to treat scarring from acne-prone skin; and finally, in the correct concentration, vitamin C is reported to reduce hyperpigmentation from aging or sun spots. So whatever your skin type, a regimen that includes vitamin C will help to make skin smoother, plumper, brighter and more even-toned.
Vitamin C also plays well with other ingredients – it can be combined with exfoliators such as glycolic acid, hydrators such as hyaluronic acid, smoothers such as retinol, and sun-protection ingredients. So you’ll often find vitamin C in combination with other ingredients to create multitasking skincare products, and you can create your own combinations of skincare favourites with confidence. We’ve put together a guide to the best vitamin C serums on the market right now – whatever your needs.
How to choose the best vitamin C serum for you
What’s the best way to apply my vitamin C serum?
Apply your serum to face and neck after cleansing but before moisturising, to allow the product to penetrate skin. As vitamin C contains a mild acid, you might experience a tingling or mild stinging sensation when applying your serum. The discomfort should be mild and temporary – to avoid more painful stinging, apply a thin layer every other day at first, until your skin becomes used to the product. Go especially easy on sensitive skin – it’s wise to start with a lower concentration at first and build up – and avoid applying vitamin C on broken skin.
Vitamin C can feel a little gritty or sticky on the skin at first, but this stickiness should disappear once the product is absorbed. If your skincare regime also includes retinol, it’s best not to use these at the same time as they can each cause mild irritation – it’s best to apply your VItamin C in the morning, and your retinol at night.
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What are the benefits of vitamin C, and what do the different concentrations do?
Vitamin C at any concentration will help to freshen up, plump and repair skin. Higher concentrations of vitamin C boost the product’s brightening and pigment-reducing effects –so if you especially want to target dark spots and discolouration, you’ll want to work up to a stronger serum containing a higher percentage of the active ingredient. Note our advice above on skin sensitivity when using higher concentrations of vitamin C.
Why a serum? Can I just use a lemon on my face instead?
Lemon juice is a traditional skincare ingredient that you might see recommended as a home remedy for dry skin on the elbows or knees, where it can be used in place of scrubbing to dissolve scruffy skin away. We don’t recommend it for use on the face, however – the juice will certainly cause stinging and dryness, while not being as effective at getting the vitamin C into your skin as a specially formulated serum designed for the purpose. Save your lemons for cocktail hour!
I have sensitive skin – will vitamin C cause irritation?
It’s safe to use vitamin C products on sensitive skin, with a few guidelines: look for products containing sodium or magnesium ascorbyl phosphate rather than the more potent L-ascorbic acid (which is great for use on oily skins); start using products with a lower concentration of 10% vitamin C and build up slowly over time; and use your serum every other day to begin with, until your skin builds up tolerance. A silicone-based formula will also smoother and less stingy on the skin to begin with.
The best vitamin C serums to buy in 2021
1. La Roche-Posay Pure Vitamin C10 Serum: Best all-rounder
Price: £40 (30ml) | Buy now from La Roche-Posay
A lightweight and easily absorbed serum that combines a mild 10% concentration vitamin C with the plumping ingredient hyaluronic acid to smoothe skin and reduce fine lines. The serum – which is silicone-based, making it a good choice for sensitive skins – also contains exfoliating salicylic acid, making it a great all-rounder to get your skin glowing, refreshed and ready for the day.
Key specs – Bottle size: 30ml; Vitamin C concentration: 10%; Vitamin C type: ascorbic acid
2. TruSkin Naturals Vitamin C Serum for Face: Best for skin recovery
Price: £39 (30ml) | Buy now from Amazon
A pleasantly non-sticky formula blending brightening vitamin C with vitamin E, known for its softening and healing properties, to soften and brighten skin. The vegan, oil-based formula is easily absorbed, and natural witch hazel and aloe vera help to calm puffy, irritated skin. The combination of ingredients makes the TruSkin serum an ideal choice for scarred or more mature skin that needs help to heal. For an even bigger brightening boost, there’s a cleanser and moisturiser in the same range.
Key specs – Bottle size: 30ml; Vitamin C concentration: 20%; Vitamin C type: sodium ascorbyl phosphate
3. Eucerin Hyaluron-Filler Vitamin C Booster: Best vitamin C serum for anti-ageing
Price: £12 (8ml) | Buy now from Amazon
This bottle is small but the contents are potent, promising to recondition ageing skin in just seven days. The serum brings together moisturising hyaluronic acid and squalane with radiance-boosting vitamin C to improve the skin’s plumpness and luminosity with 2-3 pumps per day. The product feels smooth and is easily absorbed, and has a pleasant, light fragrance. For best results, follow with a hydrating moisturiser.
Key specs – Bottle size: 8ml; Vitamin C concentration: 10%; Vitamin C type: ascorbic acid
4. The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%: Best vitamin C serum for hyperpigmentation
Price: £4.90 (30ml) | Buy now from Cult Beauty
Cult Canadian brand The Ordinary is known for no-frills packaging and a no-nonsense approach to the science of skincare. The strong concentration of vitamin C makes this an effective serum for tackling dark spots and hyperpigmentation, as well as improving overall skin tone and texture. The powerful formula feels a little heavier and stickier than some of the formulas we’ve looked at above, and you can expect to feel a moderate tingling-to-stinging sensation when starting to use the product. The Ordinary’s unpretentious formula certainly packs a punch, however, and you should expect to see results within two weeks. A silicon-based version (https://www.cultbeauty.co.uk/the-ordinary-vitamin-c-suspension-30-in-sil…) in the same range contains a 30% concentration in a smoother cream base.
Key specs – Bottle size: 30ml; Vitamin C concentration: 23%; Vitamin C type: ascorbic acid
5. SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Antioxidant Vitamin C Serum: Best high-end serum
Price: £160 (30ml) | Buy now from Amazon
If price isn’t a consideration, SkinCeuticals’ luxury serum inspires something close to devotion among its users. Active ingredients include vitamin C at a 15% concentration, pure vitamin E to promote healing and repair, and the antioxidant Ferulic acid to reduce fine lines. We can’t quite promise this high-end product is the fountain of youth in a bottle – but fans swear it’s something very close. Expect improved skin texture and brightness almost immediately, combined with softening of fine lines after a few weeks.
Key specs – Bottle size: 30ml; Vitamin C concentration: 15%; Vitamin C type: L-ascorbic acid
6. Boots No7 Radiance+ 15% Vitamin C Serum: Best on the high street
Price: £20 (25ml) | Buy now from Boots
If your pocket doesn’t quite run to the SkinCeuticals serum above, Boots No7 has a very serviceable budget version bringing together a good concentration of Vitamin C with sodium hyaluronate to boost moisture in the skin. The serum has a lightweight texture that’s absorbed quickly into the skin; the concentration of vitamin C in the product means that there’s a very slight stickiness on application, which passes quickly with the application of a moisturiser. We liked the very light orangey fragrance, and the budget-friendly price.
Key specs – Bottle size: 25ml; Vitamin C concentration: 15%; Vitamin C type: ascorbic acid