For brighter, smoother and healthier looking skin, these are the vitamin C serums we rate whatever your budget

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It's heralded as the skincare ingredient to diminish pigmentation, give your skin a genuine glow factor and reduce acne scarring, no wonder finding the best vitamin C serum is an essential step in everyone’s regime. Vitamin C is a slight ‘everyman’ ingredient, a bit like the benefits of niacinamide, and because it ticks a lot of skincare boxes of course, there are millions out there so knowing which one to choose can get confusing.

But let’s start with some basics to help unravel everything you need to know about vitamin C. First up, thankfully most of the time you will see just plain old ‘vitamin C’ written on the packaging making it quite easy to know you’re looking at the right product. However, there are a few sub categories within vitamin C, just like there are with retinol and retoinoids. The king of kings when it comes to vitamin C is ascorbic acid, or you may see it written on products, L-ascorbic acid. It’s the most common version of vitamin C and it is used in differing percentages but normally between 5 and 15 per cent. As a general rule of thumb, if your skin is sensitive then start with a lower concentration, see how your skin reacts and work your way up from there.

Vitamin C does have a few other names by which it goes by in case you can’t automatically see it on the packaging. Vitamin C Ester is another variety that may catch your eye. This version is a lot more stable (more on that to come below), “it’s also non-acidic and non-abrasive,” explains Rosalba Martone, Director of Education at skincare brand Perricone MD. “It’s also water and fat-soluble meaning that it can fully be absorbed by our skin cells for maximum antioxidant benefits, unlike traditional vitamin C.”

You may also see Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (THD) listed. “This is a highly bioavailable form of vitamin C that can easily be absorbed by the skin,” explains dermatologist, Dr Murad.

What does vitamin C in skincare do?

As already mentioned, vitamin C is a very efficient ingredient with a multi-tasking work ethic. “Vitamin C is a very powerful antioxidant with great clinical evidence in small studies to show that it neutralises free radicals which in turn slows down the ageing process and prevents further environmental damage including UV damage to skin cells,” explains Dr Ana Mansouri, Aesthetic Doctor. Murad adds, “it is well known for its brightening and radiance-boosting benefits. It’s a useful ingredient to help improve the appearance of hyperpigmentation, age spots and post-acne scarring, which are all signs of melanin coming to the surface of damaged skin.

How do I choose the right vitamin C serum?

The formulation is key when it comes to finding the best vitamin C serum for you, because as an ingredient vitamin C can be a little bit troublesome. “It is a highly unstable active which presents a number of challenges in skincare as it quickly degrades and can be difficult for the skin to absorb,” explains dermatologist and brand founder, Dr Murad.

How your vitamin C is packaged is also key. Due to it being such an unstable ingredient, if it oxidises then it becomes less efficient. Therefore packaging that allows minimal light and air to enter is essential for keeping your vitamin C serum as potent as possible. “Not only must you close the lid as promptly as possible but make sure you keep the bottle in a dark area to prevent oxidation rendering the serum ineffective,” says Mansouri.

Should I use vitamin C serum in the morning or at night?

“I recommend for the vast majority of my patients to use their vitamin C serum in the morning as the first ingredient to be applied to clean dry skin and underneath their SPF throughout the year. A little goes a long way, typically 3-5 drops for the face and neck. And vitamin C is a great product to wear with your SPF as it actually improves the protection effect,” says Mansouri.

17 of the best vitamin C serums

1. Best luxury vitamin C serum: Skinceuticals CE Ferulic, £129 for 30ml

A staple in our beauty director, SJ’s bathroom cabinet. This combines a high potency vitamin C with ferulic acid and vitamin E, both of which are particularly effective at helping enhance the protective and brightening effects of vitamin C and this super serum contains all three to provide a triple threat of antioxidants. It has a very watery consistency and you only need two or three drops to cover your face (remember to take it down the neck too). It is pricey but you truly are paying for what you get with Skinceuticals as a brand. There is a reason it’s the brand you will see in most clinics and dermatologists' offices; because it really does deliver results. So if your budget can stretch this far then we can promise you won’t be disappointed.

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2. Best budget vitamin C serum: The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%, £6.90

While we do love this serum and we especially love its price tag there are a few caveats that come with it. Firstly, it contains a water-free suspension of L-Ascorbic acid powder, it has a slightly grainy texture which takes a bit of getting used to and might mean, slightly controversially you want to use it at night rather than during the day. However, it’s more stable as a result and its incorporation of hyaluronic acid and squalane provides a well-balanced dose of hydration too. It’s a very effective product but it's not the nicest to use however at under £7 it’s hard to knock it too much.

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3. Best drugstore vitamin C serum: Garnier Skin Active Vitamin C Brightening Serum, £7.99 

Combining 3.5% niacinamide - which improves skin hydration and calms sensitivity, vitamin C and salicylic acid that gently exfoliates dead skin to make the complexion look brighter, this is a very clever vitamin C serum. It has a low percentage of vitamin C but that makes it a great starter option as well as a great choice for anyone with sensitive skin who’s dipping their toe into the vitamin C arena for the first time.

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4. Best vitamin C serum for dry skin: Allies of Skin 20% Vitamin C Brighten + Firm Serum, £85

Containing 20% ethylated l-ascorbic acid, which is a more stable version of vitamin C, this is a super effective vitamin C serum that also contains lots of antioxidants and amino acids that will get to work on making your skin look brighter and more even. It has a slightly oilier consistency so definitely suits slightly drier skins that will drink it up.

5. Best hydrating vitamin C serum: Medik8 C-Tetra Lipid Vitamin C Radiance Serum, £37 

This very fluid vitamin C serum - it has a watery consistency - has been combined with vitamin E to help give the skin an extra hit of hydration and nourishment and leave it feeling it soft. It uses a stabilised form of vitamin C, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate but even so, comes in a dark glass apothecary-style bottle with a pipette dropper to minimise any degradation.

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6. Best instant brightening vitamin C serum: Ole Henriksen Banana Bright Vitamin C Serum, £58

Utilising 15% vitamin C alongside polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) that smooth the skin, not only does this vitamin C serum give your skin everything it needs for a long-term brightening effect, but it also contains banana powder for an instant glow. Banana powder is frequently used in makeup (it’s one of the products that made it into the Rihanna Super Bowl 2023 makeup kit) because it creates a universal glow on every skin tone and after a few pumps of this your skin will look instantly more refreshed.

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7. Best vitamin C serum for sensitive skin: Tula Skincare Brightening Treatment Drops Triple Vitamin C Serum, £44 

Formulated with 10 per cent vitamin C, this is no ordinary vitamin C serum. It actually contains three types of vitamin C in one. The first two are versions of ascorbic acid, which does all the things we know ascorbic acid to do. The third type acts like a charger for the first two, jolting them into action throughout the day so they continue working for longer. As with all Tula products, because this is the USP of the brand, it is combined with pre and probiotics to help strengthen the skin barrier and boost the integrity of the skin.

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8. Best vitamin C serum for mature skin: Beauty Pie Superdose C Power Brightener, £16.50 for members (£80 for non-members) 

A powerhouse of a serum, this contains 15 per cent vitamin C alongside 1 per cent tranexamic acid, which also gets to work on pigmentation and 0.5 per cent ferulic acid which helps neutralise free radicals as well as also helping reduce the appearance of pigmentation. It has a watery consistency but sinks in really quickly leaving zero residue or oiliness on the skin. Because of the combination of ingredients in the formulation, this is a great option for anyone with established age spots that are looking for a product to help reduce the appearance as it really will make a difference.

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9. Best vitamin C serum for spot-prone skin: Murad Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum, £82 

Combining both vitamin C and glycolic acid in separate chambers, so as not to destabilise the vitamin C, this serum has a velvety gel consistency that sinks into the skin and is ideal for oilier skin types that can’t cope with greasier consistencies. It also contains very subtle shimmering particles which give the skin an instant radiance and glow. The glycolic acid works as a gentle exfoliator and keeps oil levels more balanced, essential for skin that’s prone to clogged pores and spots.

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10. Best all-round vitamin C serum: L’Oreal Paris Revitalift Clinical Pure 12% Vitamin C, £15 

Packed with l-ascorbic acid as well as gently exfoliating salicylic acid, vitamin E for extra nourishment and super hydrating hyaluronic acid, this vitamin C serum has the most gorgeous velvety texture that leaves the skin feeling really smooth and like velvet. It also has a lovely light scent which makes it even more enjoyable to use. This is a perfect example of a serum that ticks lots of skincare boxes, and feels luxurious but comes with a very affordable price tag.

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11. Best vitamin C serum to upgrade to: Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Day Serum, £67 

With a slight DIY element to it - you mix the powder with the serum to activate the 15 per cent l-ascorbic acid and keep it as potent as possible. The formulation also contains 0.5 per cent ferulic acid, an antioxidant which boosts the efficacy of vitamin C, and 1 per cent vitamin E for skin nourishment. With the higher concentration of vitamin C, this is a great serum to move onto if you’ve been using a lower dosage and are ready to up your glow.

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12. Best vitamin C serum for travel: Elizabeth Arden Vitamin C Ceramide Capsules Radiance Renewal Serum, £37.60 

Housed in biodegradable capsules, these deliver the perfect single dose and are a great option to have on hand for when you’re travelling to save on space and weight in your toiletry bag. The consistency is a dry oil which drier skin types will lap up almost instantly. Oilier complexions may need to take a few minutes to allow the serum to sink in fully but then your skin will be prepped and ready for any skincare and makeup you want to apply on top.

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13. Best eco vitamin C serum: Jāsön C-Effects Hyper-C Serum, £24.29 

Containing super stable ester C as well as antioxidants such as green tea this is a well-formulated vitamin C serum. But if it’s eco credentials you’re looking for, then this does a great job at that too. The packaging is totally recyclable and the formulation is completely biodegradable as well as vegan. You won’t find any paragons or plastics and the brand is leaping bunny approved.

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14. Best vitamin C serum for wrinkles: Kiehl’s Powerful Strength Line Reducing Concentrate, £49.50 

A souped-up version of the original bestseller, this new addition surpasses its predecessor in terms of both potency and performance. Increasing its vitamin C concentration to 12.5% (10.5% L-Ascorbic acid and 2% ascorbyl glucoside), it also contains small-sized fragmented hyaluronic acid and glycerin (a humectant) to improve skin’s ability to attract and hold onto moisture. Formulated to improve fine lines, radiance and skin texture too, it’s delicately citrusy scented and fast absorbing too.

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15. Best cult vitamin C serum: Sunday Riley CEO Rapid Flash Brightening Serum, £70 for 30ml 

With a slightly richer texture that’ll appeal to dry and combination skin types in particular, this serum’s 15% concentration of THD ascorbate proves effective in improving mild cases of uneven skin tone and tackling dullness too. Its inclusion of hydrating squalane also provides a useful surge of moisture to leave skin smoother and plumper too. And it seems it’s a firm favourite with lots of people as Google searches for it have increased by 180 per cent in the last year.

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16. Best vitamin C serum for stressed skin: Vichy Liftactiv Vitamin C Brightening Skin Corrector, £30.40

Formulated without perfume or silicone, this silky textured serum sinks into the skin quickly, with zero sticky residue left behind. Also containing soothing maritime pine extract, glycerin, fragmented hyaluronic acid to deeply hydrate and the brand’s signature strengthening Mineralizing Thermal Water, it delivers on its claim to help skin appear brighter and smoother in just 10 days. Particularly handy if the skin’s showing the effects of a particularly stressful period.

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17. The best high potency vitamin C serum: DCL C Scape High Potency Night Booster 30, £108 

The heavyweight in our edit, this supercharged serum contains a sizeable 30% serving of L-Ascorbic acid alongside barrier-boosting essential fatty acids and other goodies to help even out skin tone and improve fine lines and wrinkles. Not for the faint-hearted, it’s a gritty-textured nighttime treatment that gives skin a glow boost and, after a good few months of use, can provide noticeable improvements to areas of pigmentation too.

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