Vitamin C is one of my favorite anti-aging skincare ingredients and I’ve been using it daily for years, but there are so many Vitamin C Serums out there that it can be hard to choose one that will actually be effective. Just because a serum says “Vitamin C” on the label doesn’t mean it will be worth your money or time to use it.
The problem is that there are many forms of “Vitamin C” used in skincare and they all claim to be “The Best”! So how do you know which one actually works? Is it the one that’s least irritating? The one with the most scientific research? The one with the prettiest packaging? The most expensive one? The one your favorite blogger uses?
For me the answer is the one with the most scientific research showing it works. I want a vitamin c serum that will deliver all the great benefits this antioxidant has to offer!
Benefits of Using Vitamin C Serum
- Neutralizes free radicals that damage collagen
- Reduces fine lines & wrinkles
- Brightens skin tone
- Protects against sun damage
- Increases collagen production
- Reduces dark spots
Forms of Vitamin C
- L Ascorbic Acid/Ascorbic Acid
- MAP Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate
- THD Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate
- SAP Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate
- AA-PAL Ascorbyl Palmitate
- AA-2G Ascorbyl Glucoside
- EAC 3-O-Ethyl Ascorbate
- Ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate
L Ascorbic Acid is the most abundant antioxidant in human skin but its levels reduce as we age so the goal with a vitamin c serum is to supplement the ascorbic acid in the skin. Unfortunately, drinking orange juice doesn’t send much of the vitamin c to the skin, so applying it topically is the way to go.
What you’ll notice about the forms of vitamin c listed above is that only one is already in the form used by the skin: L Ascorbic Acid. All the rest are esters that need to be converted by the skin into Ascorbic Acid for use and no one knows how much (if any) is absorbed, then converted and finally used.
L Ascorbic Acid is also the form with the most research behind it making it the gold standard of vitamin c. So when looking for the best vitamin c serum, always look for L Ascorbic Acid or Ascorbic Acid on the ingredient label.
Formulating Is Key
Unfortunately, while L Ascorbic Acid is the gold standard and most effective form of Vitamin C, it’s also the most difficult to create a serum with because it becomes unstable in water based formulas. Once mixed with water, ascorbic acid starts to break down and oxidizes further when exposed to light and air.
Fortunately, formulators have found ways to stabilize it long enough to last in a water based serum. Ascorbic Acid can also be put it in waterless serums so it’s stable in the package and there’s even the option to DIY it by adding pure ascorbic acid powder to your favorite serum.
Water-Based L Ascorbic Acid Requirements
- 10-20% Concentration
- Low pH (2.5-3.5 is best) to penetrate skin & stability
- Helper antioxidants Vitamin E & Ferulic Acid for stability & boosting effectiveness
- Dark container to keep light out
- Airless pump to keep air out
Waterless and powder forms don’t need to be at a certain pH, and it doesn’t need to be in a dark or airless container but they should have the 10-20% concentration of ascorbic acid and the helper antioxidants to make it most effective.
The Best Water-Based Serums
Look for water as the first ingredient followed by L Ascorbic Acid or Ascorbic Acid. Also look for tocopherol acetate (vitamin e) and ferulic acid lower on the list. Other good ingredients are hyaluronic acid which is hydrating and propanediol which is an absorption enhancer.
My favorite water-based Vitamin C serum is the Timeless Skincare 20% Vitamin C + E Ferulic Acid Serum! It’s 20% LAA with 1% Vitamin E and .5% Ferulic Acid. It’s in an airless pump bottle and the pH is 3.0 so it meets ALL the requirements and the price is great at $25.95.
$5 Off at Timeless Skincare use this link: https://www.timelessha.com/discount/HOTANDFLASHY ($5 discount will automatically be applied at checkout, no code needed)
Maelove The Glowmaker is another option that checks all the requirements and is reasonably priced at $27.95! It’s got 15% Ascorbic Acid with Vitamin E and Ferulic Acid. Maelove offers a 100 day freshness guarantee as well! It’s got some added botanical extracts that aren’t 100% necessary but some people like them in the formula!
Paula’s Choice Resist C15 Booster uses 15% Ascorbic acid and contains Vitamin E and Ferulic Acid. It also checks all the boxes but is a little more pricey at $40 for .67 oz.
Skinceuticals CE Ferulic is the grande dame of Vitamin C serums. For a while it was the only option so the $166 price tag while steep was what you had to pay. It uses 15% Ascorbic Acid, 1% Vitamin E, and .5% Ferulic Acid and meets all the formulary/packaging requirements!
I just discovered Dr. Brenners C Serum with Vit. E, Ferulic & Hyaluronic Acid but haven’t had the chance to use it or test its pH yet (will update) but it seems to check all the boxes and with a price of $17 for 1 oz., it’s the best deal I’ve seen! They just upgraded to 20% Ascorbic Acid and it also contains 1% Vitamin E and .5% Ferulic Acid!
The Best Water-Free Serums
I’ve used a couple of these waterless suspensions and I can’t say I’ve loved any of them… but they can be a great option for those who don’t want to worry about oxidation.
None of these have the helper antioxidants Vitamin E & Ferulic Acid so these aren’t my top recommendations.
The Best Powders for DIY-ers
Pure Ascorbic Acid powder has a naturally low pH so you can mix it with water and apply but the pH might actually be too low and over time could irritate your skin (5% LAA in water has a pH between 2.2 – 2.5) so these are best used short term or in a pinch. I like them for vacation. For long term use I prefer the water-based formulas with vitamin E & Ferulic Acid.
Clinique Fresh Pressed Daily Booster with Pure Vitamin C is a good option for travel and it does the measuring for you! There’s a 7-10 day supply of Ascorbic Acid powder and serum in each vial that you mix when ready to use!
Neither of these options will give you the Vitamin E or Ferulic Acid though so my top choice is still a water-based formula!
I hope this post will help you to weed out the imposters and get an effective Vitamin C serum to use in your skincare routine!
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