The best vitamin C serums for smooth and radiant skin

These are the best vitamin C serums to use in 2022 for a host of effective skincare benefits

three of My Imperfect Life's best vitamin c serums on a pale orange background
(Image credit: Future)

The best vitamin C serums can really make a positive impact on your skin—helping with everything from pigmentation, dullness and discoloration to uneven texture and fine lines.

The plethora of skincare options out there that promise a host of benefits can make it overwhelming to understand how to build a healthy routine and skincare product order and leave you confused as to what really needs to be in there and what you can give a miss—but vitamin C is definitely a building block for healthy skin. It's scientifically proven to have a positive impact on skin, for improving signs of sun damage and helping to fade dark spots and even out skin ton—whilst protecting against pollution and free radicals too.

From vitamin C serums that received tonnes of great reviews to ones that have whipped up a cult frenzy, we put several serums to the test to find the very best. Keep reading for a list of serums that deliver on what they promise—for every type of skincare issue. Naturally, there are some that have risen to the top of our best list, so honorable mentions go to Medik8's Super C 30 because it combines efficacy with an accessible price point. If affordability is your concern look to The Ordinary’s Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 10% which is a much cheaper option for anybody new to vitamin C. And, if you're a fan of natural products, then Mad Hippie's vitamin C serum could be just the one for you.  

Best vitamin C serums as reviewed by beauty experts

Medik8 Super C30 vitamin c serum is one of the best vitamin c serums

(Image credit: Medik8)
Best vitamin C serum to suit all skin types

Specifications

Type of vitamin C: Ethylated L-ascorbic acid
Strength: 30%
Additional ingredients: Vitamin E for added antioxidant protection

Reasons to buy

+
It’s super lightweight 
+
A high-strength
+
Gentle, vegan and cruelty-free

Reasons to avoid

-
It’s more expensive than some
-
Could make oily skins feel more oily

This lightweight, dry oil sinks into the skin without leaving it feeling greasy or slippery. A couple of drops smoothed all over your skin is all you need, and thanks to its quick absorption, it works perfectly as the first step after cleansing in your AM or PM routines. 

The formula contains 30% ethylated L-ascorbic acid, meaning it’s both potent and incredibly stable. Plus, it’s free of artificial fragrance yet has a refreshing, zesty scent to it which comes from the addition of grapefruit extract (which also acts as an additional, natural antioxidant). It’s oil-based so not only will it help to brighten and protect skin but it’s also incredibly hydrating. Skin looks brighter with a couple of weeks’ consistent use.

See our full Medik8 Super C 30 review

Dr Barbara Sturm the good c vitamin c serum is one of the best vitamin c serums

(Image credit: Dr Barbara Sturm)

2. Dr Barbara Sturm The Good C Vitamin C Serum

Best for vitamin C serum dry skin

Specifications

Type of vitamin C: oil-soluble Vitamin C THD, plant-based Vitamin C and stabilized, synthetic Vitamin C in glucosidic form
Strength: 5%
Additional ingredients: zinc, hyaluronic acid and aloe vera

Reasons to buy

+
Three innovative forms of vitamin C
+
Science-driven formula designed to increase absorption of vitamin C into the skin
+
A good option for sensitive skin
+
Aloe Vera and hyaluronic acid provide intensive moisture and hydration

Reasons to avoid

-
Lower concentration of vitamin C means it may take longer to fade pigmentation (this needn’t be a bad thing though if your skin is easily irritated)
-
Is pricey—but totally worth it IMHO

This serum takes a novel approach to vitamin C and is packed with proven hydrators. Rather than flood skin with a high concentration of vitamin C, skincare expert and aesthetician Dr. Barbara Sturm believes that 5% is the sweet spot to brighten, improve the look of hyperpigmentation and boost collagen production—all without potentially impairing the protective skin barrier and leading to inflammation. Not to mention this powerhouse contains three different forms of vitamin C, including Kakadu Plum—a potent fruit source of plant-based vitamin C—and zinc, which aids with absorption into the skin.

Unlike most vitamin C formulas that are a deep orange shade, this is white and feels more like a watery cream. And as it's a completely stable form of vitamin C, there’s no danger of the liquid turning an unsightly brown color due to oxidation. Better still, it sinks quickly into the skin without leaving a sticky residue, although the brand recommends waiting five minutes before applying moisturizer over the top to let it works its magic.

tatcha V C vitamin c serum is one of the best vitamin c serums

(Image credit: Tatcha)

3. Tatcha Violet-C Brightening Serum

Best vitamin C serum for brightening acne scars and dark spots

Specifications

Type of vitamin C: oil-soluble Ascorbic Tetraisopalmitate
Strength: 20%
Additional ingredients: Japanese Beautyberry, AHAs, Japanese Angelica Root

Reasons to buy

+
Inclusion of resurfacing fruit AHAs turbo-charges its brightening properties
+
A good option for those with hyperpigmentation or acne scars
+
Formulated without: Mineral oil, synthetic fragrances, parabens, or phthalates

Reasons to avoid

-
Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate is a derivative of vitamin C, so not as potent as pure L-Ascorbic Acid
-
Not ideal for sensitive skin

J Beauty is all about balance and this formula is a testament to that. Alongside a vitamin C derivative that helps minimize attack on your collagen and DNA from free radicals, there’s Japanese Beautyberry, another rich source of antioxidants that helps to stabilize vitamin C. AHAs, derived largely from citrus fruits, have been added at a gentle yet effective 10% to lift away uneven, dull skin. These are given an additional boost by Japanese Angelica Root, which helps to diffuse the look of excess melanin. Given the built-in AHAs, you won’t need to use any chemical or mechanical exfoliators while using this product. 

Those with more sensitive skin may want to slowly introduce the serum into their routine, starting with use every other night to allow the skin to acclimate. The lack of mineral oil means this serum feels lightweight, won’t clog pores, and plays nicely under makeup. It’s an all-rounder when it comes to a more translucent, youthful glow.

Mad hippie vitamin c serum is one of the best vitamin c serums

(Image credit: Mad hippie)
Best natural vitamin C serum

Specifications

Type of vitamin C: sodium ascorbic phosphate
Strength: 10%
Additional ingredients: Ferulic acid, vitamin E

Reasons to buy

+
Natural ingredients
+
A good option for sensitive skin
+
Lightweight texture
+
Free from parabens, synthetic fragrance, dyes, petrochemicals, SLS, or other additives

Reasons to avoid

-
Less potent in vitamin C than others on this list (but depending on your skin type, that doesn't have to be a bad thing)
-
Isn't the best if you have dry skin

For those that prefer natural skincare options, this is best for you as it is free from parabens, synthetic fragrance, dyes, petrochemicals, SLS, or other additives.  The antioxidant ingredients (Ferulic acid, and vitamins C and E) are the stars of this serum super lightweight serum. 

When it comes to application, the jelly-like texture soaks in immediately and doesn't leave your skin feeling tacky. The fact that it’s water-based is good news for oily skin types, as it’s less likely to clog pores, and is undeniably a draw in summer when we’re lightening up our skincare layers. 

It’s also a beneficial serum for oily skin types and for those who normally find their skin becomes riled after using vitamin C.

See our full Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum review

SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic vitamin c serum is one of the best vitamin c serums

(Image credit: SkinCeuticals)
Best vitamin C serum for seasoned vitamin C pros

Specifications

Type of vitamin C: L-ascorbic acid
Strength: 15%
Additional ingredients: 1% vitamin E and 0.5% ferulic acid for extra added protection against the environment

Reasons to buy

+
The water-like serum is easy to apply
+
It absorbs quickly and has an extremely cult following

Reasons to avoid

-
It’s the most expensive of the bunch but some people say that it can oxidise quickly

In just a few weeks into using the SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic serum, the tester's skin was noticeably much more glowy than normal. Unlike other similar serums which tend to be on the slightly more viscous side, this one is like water—making it perfect to press into your face with the palms of your hands. It absorbs quickly and doesn’t leave skin feeling sticky or tacky, instead, it’s the perfect base to apply SPF on top of.

 It’s formulated with ferulic acid, a plant-based antioxidant that helps protect skin against free radicals and other environmental damage, as well as vitamin E which offers additional protection. It left skin looking and feeling plump, hydrated, and glowing.

See our full SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic review

The Ordinary Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution vitamin c serum is one of the best vitamin c serums

(Image credit: The Ordinary)

6. The Ordinary Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12%

Best vitamin C serum for beginners

Specifications

Type of vitamin C: Ascorbyl Glucoside
Strength: 12%
Additional ingredients: This one is just a vitamin with no additional benefits

Reasons to buy

+
It’s the most affordable
+
Comes from a popular, wildly trusted brand

Reasons to avoid

-
Doesn't contain additional antioxidants unlike others on this list
-
It may cause pilling if used with too many other products

The Ordinary has gained cult status by democratizing the skincare industry and as the go-to skincare brand for ingredients-led and results-driven products—its aim is to simplify the overcrowded, often-confusing world of skincare and this serum is yet another great product that does exactly what it says on the bottle.

Formulated with ascorbyl glucoside, a type of water-soluble vitamin C that has a longer shelf left in terms of stability than some, it’s a true no-frills serum that glides onto the skin. The non-oily texture absorbs easily but it can be a bit sticky and can ‘pill’ if too much is applied. It can be mixed with other antioxidants, such as resveratrol or ferulic acid, for a full 360 approach—granted, you need to do your research though.

La Roche Posay pure vitamin c10 serum is one of the best vitamin c serums

(Image credit: La Roche Posay)

7. La Roche Posay Pure Vitamin C10 Serum

Best vitamin C serum for sensitive skin

Specifications

Type of vitamin C: L-ascorbic acid
Strength: 10%
Additional ingredients: Hyaluronic acid to hydrate and salicylic acid to gently exfoliate

Reasons to buy

+
Created by sensitive skin experts
+
It’s infused with thermal spring water which helps repair and protect the skin’s barrier

Reasons to avoid

-
It doesn’t come in a UV-safe bottle
-
The pipette is slightly too big for the bottle making it harder to apply

La Roche-Posay is the go-to brand for those with sensitive skin so products are developed with that in mind, and this serum is no different. Formulated with 10% vitamin C, it’s the lowest strength of the lot but it still works to even and smooth skin, while the added salicylic acid gently sloughs away surface layers of skin and hyaluronic acid deeply hydrates, leaving it plump and radiant. It’s also infused with La Roche-Posay’s iconic thermal spring water which promises to deliver soothing, barrier-repairing benefits. Its texture sits somewhere between water and a lightweight gel, and it leaves skin looking healthy. 

Clinique vitamin c serum is one of the best vitamin c serums

(Image credit: Clinique)

8. Clinique Fresh Pressed Daily Booster with Vitamin Pure Vitamin C 10%

Best vitamin C serum for an intense course

Specifications

Type of vitamin C: L-ascorbic acid
Strength: 10%
Additional ingredients: Glycerin and squalene to intensely hydrate

Reasons to buy

+
Individual vials mean it stays fresher for longer
+
Can be used alone or to boost your moisturiser, good for travelling

Reasons to avoid

-
More expensive cost per use
-
Is quite potent so may be too much for super sensitive skin types

Four individual vials with two compartments—one holds the ready-to-mix pure vitamin C powder and the other houses the serum. Peel the foil away at the base, click and press the powder into the serum, give it a shake and it’s ready to use, either alone or dispense a couple of drops into your favorite daily moisturizer in order to give it a boost.

The so-called ‘stay fresh’ packaging is designed to keep the vitamin C powder as fresh and as active as possible, therefore meaning maximum results and impressive efficacy. Each vial is designed to last seven days and is available to buy in boxes of four—to last a month—or one, to see you through a week.

Murad vitamin c serum is one of the best vitamin c serums

(Image credit: Murad)

9. Murad Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum

Best vitamin C serum for quick results

Specifications

Type of vitamin C: L-ascorbic acid
Strength: 5%
Additional Ingredients: Glycollic acid, Phyto-Luminescent Extract

Reasons to buy

+
Created by skin experts
+
Leaves skin feeling radient

Reasons to avoid

-
Can be strong for sensitive skin
-
Slightly heavy formula

Glycolic acid slews away dead skin cells, which clears the way for vitamin C to really get to work thus supercharging the effects.

This serum, from Murad, is perfect for targeted treatment. This formula works with most skin types from normal to dry and combination. 

Skin Regimen vitamin c serum is one of the best vitamin c serums

(Image credit: Skin Regimen)

10. Skin Regimen Vitamin C Booster

Best vitamin C serum for an instant boost

Specifications

Type of vitamin C: Sodium Ascorbate, Ascorbic Acid
Strength: 15%
Additional Ingredients: Longevity ComplexTM.

Reasons to buy

+
Soaks into the skin perfectly
+
Great for dark spots

Reasons to avoid

-
Is pricey—but it ACTUALLY works

Suitable for all skin types, you only need a few drops as it’s not very viscous. The texture is quite loose and can be compared to that of the Skin Ceuticals C E Ferulic. That being said, it soaks into the skin like a dream. 

To activate this product, you have a separate sachet of vitamin C powder which you carefully add to the bottle. You then need to shake it for 30 seconds to ensure the product is completely mixed through and leave for 2 minutes before application. But, you only have to do this once. 

Skin was definitely noticeably brighter after the first use, and this continued with solid use, both in the morning—followed by SPF, of course—and at night. 

They say the product is at its most efficacious up to one month after using, so in terms of price, it is definitely at the top bracket of products. But even so, if you're looking for an instant boost, this is the one to try. It does have a tendency to sell out quite quickly, so definitely one to add to your wishlist so that you can snap it up asap. 

How to choose the best vitamin C serum for you

Whilst we can acknowledge that Vitamin C is undoubtedly an incredible addition to any skincare routine—the vitamin C serum benefits are seriously impressive—it's worth noting that not all products were made equal. If you're wondering how to fade dark spots, vitamin C can do this and it also works to help even out skin tone while improving the appearance of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. It can also help to protect against pollution and free radicals, both of which can cause premature aging. 

Despite being considered one of the best antioxidants by almost all dermatologists and skin experts, vitamin C is notoriously difficult to formulate because it’s extremely unstable in water-based products. That means it’s always best to choose a vitamin C serum that’s oil-based to ensure maximum efficacy for the longest possible time.

Vitamin C serums tend to come in different strengths and can range anywhere from 2% through to 20 or 30%—the optimum is around 10-20%. The higher the number, the more potent the product will be. However, there’s no need to choose something higher for the sake of it. If you have sensitive skin, it's always advisable to start lower and gradually work your way up. That way, your skin is able to adapt and is less likely to react.

There are also various types of vitamin C, and while they will all have the same end result, some are easier for brands to formulate with than others. The most popular and most common form of vitamin C is L-ascorbic acid—it’s the most potent but it’s also the most unstable. Other forms include tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, which is the most gentle and least likely to cause irritation; and ascorbyl glucoside, which is a stable form of vitamin C that’s been combined with glucose, making it more tolerable in sensitive skin.

Can you use vitamin C everyday?

Vitamin C is fine for daily use, but it's best not to use with retinol—so we'd recommend alternating between the two or using them at different times of day.

And if you're wondering whether you should use your vitamin C serum morning or night, it's actually suitable to use both morning and night—or one or the other, depending on your skin’s needs.

Lucy Partington has been a beauty journalist for eight years, writing for titles including Stylist and Cosmopolitan. She’s a true skincare nerd who’s on a lifelong quest for a glowing complexion and loves nothing more than learning about new ingredients and products. She’s obsessed with having perfect eyebrows and collecting eyeshadow palettes she’ll probably never use.