3 Simple Rules for Choosing the Best Vitamin C Serum

We all love vitamin c serums, don’t we? Especially when we’ve found the right one.

Who doesn’t want brighter, clearer, younger-looking skin, right?

And the beauty industry is happy to accommodate our lust for these things by providing us with vitamin c serums at nearly every drugstore, grocery store, big box store, and online, for virtually any budget.

So how do you choose? What do you look for?

I’ve got you.

Below I explain 3 simple ways to evaluate any vitamin c serum and pick the one that’s best for your skin type.

Because they’re not all created equal.


Why We Love Vitamin C Serums

A good vitamin c serum is super-effective at targeting several signs of aging, and thus has long been a favorite of dermatologists who treat anti-aging issues.

Dr. Melanie Palm, a San Diego-area cosmetic surgeon and dermatologist explains vitamin c skin benefits this way: “First, vitamin C is a clinically-proven brightening agent. Secondly, it is a co-factor for collagen synthesis and we can all use abundant sources of that. Lastly, it is a potent antioxidant that wards off free-radical production from UV exposure, helps protect against the damaging effects of infrared light and visible light, and neutralizes some of the stressors from environmental exposure during the day.”

And Manhattan Beach–based, board-certified dermatologist Ashley Magovern made this recommendation: “The benefits of the topical application of vitamin C on the skin are well-studied and quite strong. In my opinion, everyone should be applying vitamin C to the skin as part of a daily regimen.”

Vitamin C serum can:  

  • Fade hyperpigmentation and prevent new dark spots from appearing
  • Remove dullness and brighten skin
  • Offer some protection against sun damage
  • Improve acne and help fade scars
  • Boost collagen production
  • Provide antioxidant support

That last point needs extra emphasis because of its serious anti-aging action. Dr. Dennis Gross, board-certified dermatologist of Dr. Dennis Gross Dermatology told Women’s Health, “Think of free radicals as tiny spears that poke holes in your collagen fibers and weaken them,” says Gross. “Antioxidants [like vitamin C] cut off the pointy tips of the spear and render them harmless.”

So, yeah, we all need to be using vitamin c serum. Let’s figure out how to find a good one.

Think of free radicals as tiny spears that poke holes in your collagen fibers and weaken them.  Antioxidants [like vitamin C] cut off the pointy tips of the spear and render them harmless.   -Dr. Dennis Gross

 A Note About the Types of Vitamin C


There seems to be a divergence of opinion among some dermatologists about which type of vitamin c is best in a serum.

For example, Dr. Dennis Gross, mentioned above, suggests,  “Look for products that have 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid.  It is the most effective stabilized form of vitamin C and penetrates deep into the skin.”

While Dr. Magovern points out, “Most serums on the market contain vitamin C in the form of L-ascorbic acid, but some experts prefer the ester form, called tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, which they believe can be more effective.” 

There does seem to be consensus,  though, that L-ascorbic is ubiquitous and fairly well tolerated by most skin types. However, it is very unstable in water-based formulas and can oxidize easily.

3 Simple Rules for Choosing the Best Vitamin C Serum Sources

1. Check the vitamin C concentration

If you have sensitive skin or you are worried about how your skin may react to a vitamin c serum, dermatologists advise to go low and slow.

Start at under 10% vitamin c concentration and work up to higher formulations as you can tolerate it.

Look for L-ascorbic acid as the vitamin C source if you have sensitive skin, as this form tends to be less irritating.

Generally, though, many people can start at 15-30 percent vitamin c, explains Dr. Rhonda Q. Klein,  a board-certified dermatologist.

2. Look At the Supporting Players

Dr. Macgovern tells Dermstore.com: “There is a great deal of evidence showing that combining vitamin C with vitamin E and ferulic acid makes for a much more potent antioxidant with added benefits. Vitamin E itself acts as an antioxidant and also enhances the function of vitamin C. It also helps to maintain the skin barrier. Ferulic acid enhances both vitamin C and vitamin E.

For a great, affordable formula that combines vitamin C with vitamin E and ferulic acid, check out Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum, listed below in the Product Recommendations.

Hyaluronic acid is also an excellent addition to a vitamin C serum. It is very soothing and extremely moisturizing, thus helping to minimize any irritation, while boosting the texture-refining action of vitamin C.

Find out more about the hydration-powerhouse hyaluronic acid and how to easily work it into your skincare routine by clicking here.

3.  Look For Dark/Opaque/Airtight Packaging

Vitamin C formulations are notoriously delicate and unstable. Light, heat and air can cause them to oxidize quickly and lose their potency.

Therefore, look for products that are packaged in dark or opaque containers, preferably with an airtight opening.

How do you know if your serum has oxidized? If it has turned brown or smells “off”, it’s time to toss it.

Check out this free Buying Guide to the 10 hottest vitamin C serums on the market right now, from Allure Magazine’s Best of Beauty 2019 Awards, Sephora, and Amazon.  Get info about each serum’s vitamin C concentration, other active ingredients, whether it is cruelty-free, its hazardous ingredient profile, and more below!

Free Buying Guide!

The Top 10 Hottest Vitamin C Serums

The most popular vitamin C serums from Allure Magazine’s Best of Beauty 2019 Awards Sephora, and Amazon

So how do you use vitamin C serum?

Vitamin C serum is best used on clean skin, and it layers well on top of toners and essences.

Follow the C serum with moisturizer and sunscreen (even though a vitamin C serum  will mitigate some sun damage, it will not provide the range of coverage that a broad spectrum SPF 30+ would.).


Related: 5 Amazing Ways Hyaluronic Acid Benefits Your Skin (#3 is must-know info if you’re concerned about signs of aging in your skin!)

Should you use vitamin C serum everyday?

Yes, to protect against the daily assault of sun damage and free radicals against your skin, daily use is ideal, although you may want to work up to that pace, especially if you have sensitive or acne-prone skin.

Some people have trouble with vitamin C serums and breakouts, so you may want to start slowly. And if one form of vitamin C doesn’t agree with your skin, try another form or concentration. 

Can you use vitamin C serum overnight?

Connecticut-based dermatologist Dr. Mona Gohara explains to Townandcountry.com:  “It’s best to use in the AM because it fights off free radical damage caused by UV light.”

Whereas Dr. Anjali Mahato, a dermatologist at the Cadogan Clinic suggests it can be used more often, explaining, “There’s growing evidence that applying at night time too won’t hurt. Some research suggests that free radical damage continues to affect your skin overnight, so you could add in vitamin C to your end of day routine as well.”

Just be careful that mixing vitamin C with other active ingredients like retinol, AHAs, BHAs and other acids may be too irritating. You will want to move slowly with other actives to see how your skin reacts.

Vitamin C Superstars

Paula’s Choice Hyaluronic Acid Booster

This is meant to be added to your daily moisturizer

Osea Hyaluronic Sea Serum

3 hyaluronic acid weights + 3 antioxidant seaweed extracts

Alpyn Beauty Alpyn PlantGenius Melt Moisturizer

Great for dry, mature, or sensitive skin

Ursa Major Brighten Up Vitamin C Serum

Great for dry skin, hydrating with aloe vera, rosehip seed extract and shea butter

Don’t forget your free Buying Guide!

The Top 10 Hottest Vitamin C Serums

The most popular vitamin C serums from Allure Magazine’s Best of Beauty 2019 Awards Sephora, and Amazon

Hey, natural beauty!

If you’re like me, you’ve long ago switched from plastic to reusable, you’ve tossed out those toxic air freshener things, and you support your local farmer’s market. And maybe you’d like to “green up” your beauty routine and swap some DIY beauty recipes. If so, you’re definitely in the right place!

Hi, I’m Soraya, an autism mom, a wife, former nurse, Zumba sub instructor, and East Coast transplant living in TX. I love to talk about all things natural beauty, DIY and essential oils.

So if you’re into that, too, grab a cup of tea or glass of wine and stick around. Learn more about me.



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