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18 Best Brightening Vitamin C Serums for Glowy, Radiant Skin, Tested by Pros and Editors

Dermatologist-recommended superstars for dry skin, sensitive skin, oily skin and beyond.

best vitamin c serums

As far as buzzy skincare ingredients go, vitamin C is one of the most talked about — and for good reason. "Packed with antioxidants, vitamin C has shown to improve dull skin texture and tone, fight free radical damage, reduce signs of aging, dark spots and hyperpigmentation, hydrate, increase collagen production, brighten and provide anti-inflammatory effects," says Geeta Yadav, M.D., a board certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Science Dermatology.

"Also known as ascorbic acid and L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C provides antioxidant protection, as it uses electrons to neutralize the free radicals found on skin from environmental stressors like solar radiation and pollution," says Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab chemist Danusia Wnek. Additionally, vitamin C blocks the enzyme responsible for melanin (or pigmentation) production, which means it can help brighten skin. Dr. Yadav explains that because the vitamin is a water-soluble nutrient, it can be used topically in many different forms, including vitamin C serums.

Does vitamin C serum really work?

Yes! When used on a daily basis, a vitamin C serum can help brighten dull skin, diminish acne scars, even out skin tone, hydrate skin and protect it from pollution. Once you find the most effective vitamin C product for your skin type (more on that below), simply apply the vitamin C serum to clean, dry skin twice a day — in the morning and at night — for best results, and follow with your favorite face moisturizer to seal in the serum and further hydrate skin.

What is the best vitamin C serum for my skin?

In theory, almost everyone can incorporate a vitamin C serum into their skincare routine. However, Ellen Marmur, M.D., a New York based dermatologist and founder of Marmur Metamorphosis Skincare, cautions that too much vitamin C can potentially irritate skin. It depends on your skin type, but she personally recommends products that contain between 10-15% potency for best results.

According to Wnek, vitamin C is highly effective in its pure form, but it is a tricky ingredient to formulate with because it is very unstable and can degrade with exposure to oxygen, light, water and high pH. That means that while it is a hero ingredient, its properties are difficult to stabilize — and because of that, some vitamin C serums and other skincare products work better (and for longer) than others.

  • If you have dry skin, you might want to look for added moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid.
  • If you have oily skin, look for "ascorbic acid" on the labels rather than the oil soluble "ascorbyl palmitate."
  • If you have rosacea, know that your skin is already compromised, so using a vitamin C serum can possibly cause irritation and you may want to steer clear.

    How we test vitamin C serums

    The Good Housekeeping Institute regularly tests skincare products to find the best ones on the market. When we review vitamin C serums, we look for technology to preserve the vitamin C, unique packaging to protect against light degradation and ingredients with synergistic benefits to improve efficacy. The below picks reflect our Lab picks, Good Housekeeping Seal-holders and top-rated items from our favorite trusted brands, plus favorites from consumers and dermatologist recommendations. Below, you'll find the best vitamin C serums you can buy for your skin type:

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    Best Overall Vitamin C Serum
    C E Ferulic

    • Non-irritating
    • Popular brand

    • Pricey

    Sabina Wizemann, senior chemist in the GH Beauty Lab, loves this serum for its gentle yet effective performance. “Even with a high concentration of 15% of L-Ascorbic acid — an outstanding and proven form of vitamin C — this serum doesn’t irritate my skin like other products I’ve tried,” she says. "It firms and brightens skin, and leaves it supple and glowy," thanks to the conditioning and anti-inflammatory properties of added vitamin E. This is also Dr. Yadav's top pick. "It contains vitamin E and ferulic acid, and this combination has been shown to complement sunscreens and reduce the effects of environmental stressors on the skin," she says.

    Best Value Vitamin C Serum
    Luminous Miracle Boost Concentrate

    • Reduces dark spots
    • Lightweight
    • Softens skin

    This Olay serum is like radiance bottled, with concentrated skin tone-evening ingredients such as niacinamide. A study of 144 women showed that it reduced dark spots and uneven tone after two weeks. It's also an Amazon favorite, can be found in drugstores and costs less than $30. "From the first night, I saw, and felt, a difference in my skin," shares one reviewer. "The next morning, it felt more hydrated and smooth." The brand says the serum delivers best results when paired with Olay Luminous Tone Perfecting Cream.

    Best Vitamin C Serum for Hyperpigmentation
    Revitalift Vitamin C Serum
    L'Oreal Paris
    L'Oreal Paris
    Now 27% off

    • Tip applicator is good for spot-treating marks
    • Absorbs quickly; doesn't leave residue
    • Brightens skin and smoothes fine lines

    Formulated for optimal skin absorption, the airtight packaging on this standout L'Oreal product helps ensure that the vitamin C inside stays stable and therefore effective. Our Lab experts think it's especially great for targeting hyperpigmentation (a.k.a. dark spots) since you can use the precise, pointed applicator to spot-treat problem areas. Reviewers rave that "skin looks brighter" and "smoother" after using this serum.

    Best Vitamin C Serum for Acne Scars
    Fresh Pressed 7-Day System

    • Innovative packaging keeps actives fresh
    • Brightens overall skin tone

    To keep the vitamin C potent and fresh, this Clinique product keeps it isolated. To use, press the button to release the vitamin C powder into an emulsion serum, ensuring optimal efficiency and a strong, potent product to perfect your skin. Reviewers say they saw acne scarring go away within a week — but a couple note that overuse can cause mild redness or dryness.

    Best Vitamin C Serum for Beginners
    Grapefruit Daily Brightening Serum
    yes to
    Yes To

    • Gentle on skin
    • Brightening

    "For something a little more accessible, and a great entry into vitamin C, I love this treatment," says Dr. Yadav. "It’s widely available, gentle on the skin and contains grapefruit, which adds another citrus ingredient into the mix!" You can use it directly on your skin or mix a few drops into your favorite moisturizers or serums.

    Best Vitamin C Serum for Dry Skin
    Active C10
    la roche posay
    La Roche-Posay

    • Moisturizing cream formula
    • Gentle enough for sensitive skin

    If you suffer from dry skin, this serum from La Roche-Posay has a creamier formula that contains 10% vitamin C and hyaluronic acid, which is great for hydrating and plumping the skin. The brand also claims it helps to fill lines and fight wrinkles. La Roche-Posay thermal spring water is also said to "repel free radicals and soothe skin." After using it daily for a little over a month, one reviewer shares that her skin looks brighter and feels smoother. "I had tried other vitamin C creams and this is the first one that did not irritate my sensitive skin."

    Best Vitamin C Serum for Oily Skin
    C-Firma Day Serum
    Drunk Elephant
    Drunk Elephant

    • Hydrates and plumps skin
    • Lightweight formula

    • Can be sticky

    "This serum has the right amount of vitamin C and brightens, plumps and hydrates," says Dr. Marmur. The product contains additional products such as vitamin E, ferulic acid and fruit enzymes that help brighten and buff the skin's texture. Keep in mind that some reviewers complained about the formula being too sticky, but others say it's lightweight and sinks into the skin.

    Best Vitamin C Serum for Sensitive Skin
    TimeWise Replenishing Serum C+E
    Mary Kay

    • Age-defying formula is great for mature skin
    • Gentle enough for sensitive skin
    • Combines three types of Vitamin C

    The Mary Kay TimeWise line is nothing new to the Good Housekeeping Institute team: For years, our Beauty Lab experts have been recommending TimeWise products for various skincare concerns. This replenishing serum contains vitamin C and E for an age-defying combination. Clinical studies have shown the serum is generally mild and does not bother testers with sensitive skin. One Amazon reviewer with sensitive skin shares that "it nourishes my face and helps to maintain the right balance my face requires."

    Best Restorative Vitamin C Serum
    Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum

    • Affordable
    • Ceramides create a stronger skin barrier

    • Oxidizes/turns orange quickly

    If you're looking to avoid irritation, this serum holds a relatively lower level of vitamin C at 10%, and it contains ceramides that help protect and maintain the skin barrier. Hyaluronic acid is another key ingredient in the formula that helps moisturize the skin and retain moisture. One reviewer shares that it "feels like a very light gel moisturizer" and "if you wear makeup, this is an excellent primer, too."

    Best Drugstore Vitamin C Serum
    Multi Correxion Revive + Glow Daily Serum
    Now 24% off

    • Helps promote a more even skin tone
    • Hydrates skin

    A 2021 Beauty Award winner, Roc's serum is rich with antioxidants and vitamins. It features a unique blend of vitamin C, castor oil and glycerin, all of which help brighten and moisturize the skin. In Lab tests, 94% of users found a more even skin tone with daily use. "I am almost done with my first bottle of this vitamin C serum and my skin tone looks clear," shares one Amazon reviewer. "I love this serum!"

    Best Vitamin C Serum for Acne-Prone Skin
    SkinCeuticals Silymarin CF

    • Excellent for oily skin

    • Pricey

    This variation on SkinCeuticals' popular CE Ferulic serum contains salicylic acid and is specially formulated for oily and blemish-prone skin. One online reviewer says that after a month's use, she's noticed a reduction in oiliness and breakouts on her skin. 

    Best Vitamin C Serum with Tri-Peptide
    Bright Idea Vitamin C & Tri-Peptide Collagen Serum

    • Good for sensitive skin
    • Helps with collagen production

    This is formulated with a newer form of vitamin C called 3-O ethyl ascorbic acid, which is thought to be less irritating without sacrificing efficacy. The formula is collagen-protecting and brightening to fade dark spots, firm skin and improve texture. The brand claims the formula is ultra-stable, so it can live right in your medicine cabinet or vanity. "I love its fresh — not cloying! — citrus scent, and that it’s dye, paraben and cruelty-free," says deputy editor Jessica Teich.

    Best Long-Lasting Vitamin C Serum
    C15 Super Booster
    paula's choice
    Paula's Choice

    • Packaging design promotes longer shelf life
    • Mixes well with other products

    This C15 Super Booster contains the trifecta of vitamin C, vitamin E and ferulic acid that has been shown to have synergistic benefits and help protect vitamin C formulas from losing efficaciousness quickly. The container is not clear so it protects it from sunlight, which degrades vitamin C formulas. Thus, this shelf-stable product will last and last, even if you don't use it every day. Multiple reviewers noted that it mixes well with their moisturizers and was easy to use. 

    Best Vitamin C Serum for Dark Spots
    Visionnaire Skin Solutions 15% Vitamin C

    • Promises quick results
    • Absorbs quickly

    • Expensive

    With 15% pure vitamin C, hyaluronic acid and jasmonate deritives, Lancôme's vitamin C serum will help even your skin tone and protect the skin barrier from free radicals with continued use. Simply apply 4-5 drops of this concentrated serum onto skin every morning to notice results in as little as 10 days. Make sure to let it sit for a few moments before applying your usual cream, and don't use more than once a day. Reviewers agree with its speedy results: "My face is almost clear after 2 weeks of use," shares one. "The dark spots are going away and my skin looks great."

    Best Vitamin C Serum for Wrinkles
    Universal C Skin Refiner Vitamin C Treatment

    • Formulated by a cosmetic chemist
    • Formula is stable; doesn't oxidize

    • Pricey

    This potent serum contains microscopically encapsulated vitamin C to prevent degradation from light and air. According to the brand, stabilization and efficacy were of the utmost importance in the development of this formula, which was created by a cosmetic chemist. One reviewer loves that "I don't have to store this product in a dark drawer, because this product doesn't oxidize." In a special study, they found that consumers saw significant improvement in crow's feet and skin firmness.  

    Best Vitamin C Serum for Dull Skin
    C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum
    sunday riley

    • Fades dark spots
    • Makes skin glow

    • Can leave skin a little shiny

    Several online reviewers admit that this serum is a tad overpriced, but most agree that it really works. One Sephora reviewer shares "In three weeks, I have seen a huge change in my skin," shares one Sephora reviewer. "My dark spots have reduced significantly." It contains 15% antioxidant vitamin C to help lighten dark spots, smooth fine lines and minimize the appearance of pores.

    Best Anti-Aging Vitamin C Serum
    Professional-C 20% Vitamin C Serum

    • Non-drying formula
    • Helps reduce signs of aging

    • Pricey

    A Dermstore best-seller, this serum contains one of the higher concentrates of vitamin C at 20%. Key ingredient hyaluronic acid helps bind moisture to the skin, and online reviewers said they liked that the formula wasn't drying.

    Best Line-Reducing Vitamin C Serum
    Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate

    • Smoothes out fine lines
    • Good for mature skin

    This lightweight cream formula uses 10% vitamin C, ascorbyl glucoside and hyaluronic acid to help brighten your skin and improve your skin texture's appearance. The brand claims to even reduce the look of deep-set wrinkles and pores over time with continued use. One reviewer noticed an abundance of benefits: "My skin tone evened out, my pores seemed to minimize and the skin looked noticeably soft." Plus, she noticed her fine lines on her forehead and around her eyes softened as well. 

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