The Best Drugstore Vitamin C Serums - The Dermatology Review

The Best Drugstore Vitamin C Serums

SKIN CARE REVIEWS

04.12.21DISCLAIMER

From supplements to citrus fruits and selected vegetables, vitamin C has numerous health benefits. It’s necessary for the growth, development, and repair of all body tissues. It assists many body functions, including the immune system, wound healing, iron absorption, and cartilage, bone, and teeth maintenance. While vitamin C aids collagen formation internally, topically, it’s an anti-aging superhero skincare ingredient. In fact, few skincare ingredients have as much solid evidence as to their effectiveness as Vitamin C.

It’s a powerful antioxidant that protects your skin from elements like the sun (though it is not a replacement for sunscreen), pollution, and cigarette smoke. Vitamin C also discourages melanin production in the skin, which means it helps hyperpigmentation issues (think brown spots), evens skin tone, and increases radiance. C also has a hydrating effect on the skin. It decreases transepidermal water loss, allowing your skin to retain moisture better.

collagen serum

Vitamin C can have a fantastic effect on the skin at any age, and one of the best ways to reap its benefits is with a concentrated vitamin C serum. Considering C has numerous benefits, it’s no surprise that many skincare brands are selling serums at a prime price. But truth be told, several drugstore formulas can significantly improve your complexion but for a fraction of the cost — proof lies ahead.

Related: Best Face Serums

The List

Best Overall: RoC Multi-Correxion Revive + Glow Daily Serum, $32.99

Best for Anti-Aging: LilyAna Naturals Super C Serum, $28

Best for Evening Out Skin Tone: Olay Tone Perfection Serum, $28

Best for Acne-Prone Skin: La Roche-Posay Pure Vitamin C Face Serum with Salicylic Acid, $40

Best for Oily Skin: Sérumtologié C Serum- 22, $35

Best for Brightening: Vichy LiftActiv Vitamin C Serum and Brightening Skin Corrector, $28.50

Best for Plumping: Lumene Valo Light Glow Boost, $24.99

Best French Pharmacy Find: La Roche Posay 10% Vitamin C Serum, $39.99

Best Budget: The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 30% in Silicone, $8

Best Plant-Based: TruSkin Naturals Vitamin C, $19.99

Best for Sensitive Skin: Derma E Vitamin C Concentrated Serum, $25

Best Two-Week Treatment: No7 Youthful Vitamin C Fresh Radiance Essence, $20

Best for Hydrating: CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum, $15.69

Best for Radiance: L’Oreal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives Vitamin C Serum, $18

Best French Pharmacy Find: La Roche Posay 10% Vitamin C Serum, $39.99

Best Natural: Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum, $33.99

Drugstore Vitamin C Serum Versus Luxury Brand

While this isn’t a blog article to tell you that luxury vitamin C serums aren’t effective, not everyone can (or is willing) to pay 50-plus dollars for a skincare product — especially when it’s just one of several components to make up an entire routine. However, when shopping for a drugstore vitamin C serum, there are a couple of things to look for to get a quality product at a lower price point.

For starters, the packaging is vital. To get the best vitamin C serum benefits, the first thing to look for is how the vitamin C serum is packaged. While traditionally, dark glass bottles were the preferred material, companies have made many packaging innovations to keep the C stable. When C is exposed to light, the product turns yellow — you don’t want this to happen because it may darken your skin instead of helping with hyperpigmentation issues. Always store your vitamin C serum in a cool, dark place.

Second, keep an eye out for the concentration level of vitamin C in the serum to ensure its effectiveness. Most experts agree that a level between 10 and 20% is the sweet spot — 8% is too low, whereas going over 20% could cause irritation and isn’t any more effective. Note that L-ascorbic acid, ascorbyl palmitate, and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate are vitamin C derivatives designed to retain potency for longer. Lastly, you should also make sure that the product has a water-free formulation.

vitamin c serum

When to Start Using a Vitamin C Serum

It’s never too late to start using vitamin C because it has the power to suppress skin damage by increasing the protein synthesis of collagen. Not to mention, prevention is probably the best anti-aging arsenal there is. From younger individuals who are starting to see the first signs of aging in their 20s to more mature skin types with or without the visible effects of sun damage, everyone can benefit from using a vitamin C serum.

Related: Best Night Serums

How to Use a Vitamin C Serum

If you’re crafting the ultimate anti-aging skincare routine, vitamin C and retinol go hand-in-hand. With that said, apply your C serum during the day and your retinol serum or cream at night. If you’re not using a retinol product, you can apply your C serum day and night, providing you’re not using a different serum in the P.M. to target other skin concerns. You only need a few drops — serums are concentrated, so you don’t need the same amount of product as you would a moisturizer. Gently pat, don’t rub the serum onto your face and neck.

Precautions When Using a Vitamin C Serum

While vitamin C is generally considered safe for most skin types and has an excellent safety profile, it does have the slight potential to irritate certain skin types or conditions (or cause an allergic reaction), so always conduct a patch test first. Select a small area of your skin on your forearm and apply a small amount of product. Make sure not to wash it off for at least 24 hours. If you don’t experience any side effects such as redness, hives, or a rash, you can continue to use it on your face. And remember, always apply sun protection (a minimum SPF of 30) during the day.

vitamin c product reviews

The Best Drugstore Vitamin C Serums

Best Overall: RoC Multi-Correxion Revive + Glow Daily Serum, $32.99
Perhaps the best vitamin C serum from a drugstore recommended by a dermatologist, RoC claims that their formula brightens and tightens better than the best c serums in the luxury skincare market. Formulated with a 10% active vitamin C blend, clinical tests show that this lightweight formula delivers a brighter, tighter, and more even skin tone in just four weeks. Even elasticity and texture are improved within a week.

Best for Anti-Aging: LilyAna Naturals Super C Serum, $28
This cult-favorite natural (and vegan) beauty brand formulated the secret sauce for glowing skin with 85% natural — and naturally derived — ingredients. Along with vitamin 10% C, plant stem cells, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, coenzyme Q10, rose flower water, aloe vera juice, and a seaweed complex work together to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, hydrate, improve elasticity, calm inflammation, brighten, restore, and neutralize free radicals. In other words, it’s a one-stop-shop.

Related: Best Hydrating Serums

Best for Evening Out Skin Tone: Olay Tone Perfection Serum, $28
Along with vitamin C, vitamin B3 (niacinamide) even out the skin tone in as little as two weeks — though it will be noticeably brighter after just one day. Fun fact: One single drop has the power to renew one million skin cells visibly — it just may be the best vitamin C serum for hyperpigmentation. It’s also fragrance-free, non-greasy, and free from parabens, phthalates, mineral oil, or synthetic dyes.

Best for Acne-Prone Skin: La Roche-Posay Pure Vitamin C Face Serum with Salicylic Acid, $40
The addition of salicylic acid in this serum works to purify the pores and help treat acne while refining tone and texture, thanks to vitamin C. Additionally, glycerin and La Roche-Posay’s proprietary prebiotic thermal water ensure that the skin is also hydrated, soothed, and balanced. As an added assurance, all of the brand’s products are clinically tested in a French dermatology laboratory.

Best for Oily Skin: Sérumtologié C Serum- 22, $35
The alcohol present in astringents like witch hazel — as found in this vitamin C serum — helps remove excess oil, giving the skin a matte appearance. Along with vitamin C, wild dandelion, gotu kola, hyaluronic acid, jojoba oil, vitamin E, ferulic acid, and wild geranium work together to boost collagen production, hydrate, minimize imperfections, neutralize free radicals, and reduce visible signs of aging.

Best for Brightening: Vichy LiftActivVitamin C Serum and Brightening Skin Corrector, $28.50
Just four drops of this dermatologist grade 15% pure vitamin C serum each morning, and you’ll see noticeably brighter and firmer skin in just ten days. The addition of vitamin E, natural origin hyaluronic acid, and antioxidants bolster its effects. The brand suggests pairing this serum with its Vichy LiftActiv Retinol Serum at night for optimal results.

Related: Best Hyaluronic Acid Serums

Best for Plumping: Lumene Valo Light Glow Boost, $24.99
This Nordic skincare brand sources its natural ingredients from botanicals native to Finland. The vitamin C in this drugstore serum is extracted from cloudberries (found in Nordic swamplands), which have four times as much C as oranges. Hyaluronic acid and Arctic spring water plump and smooth, while ellagitannins (aka ellagic acid) slow down collagen loss.

Best French Pharmacy Find: La Roche Posay 10% Vitamin C Serum, $39.99
This vitamin C serum by La Roche Posay is said to leave skin more radiant, softer, and hydrated. This serum contains 10% ascorbic acid, the active form of vitamin C, that provides several different benefits to the skin. Perhaps the most well-known benefit is its ability to protect the skin from free radicals due to its potent antioxidant activity. Ascorbic acid also supports collagen synthesis and helps to fade dark spots/brighten the skin tone.

Unfortunately, this serum contains a high concentration of denatured alcohol (it is the fifth highest concentration ingredient). Alcohol gives products a quick-drying finish, immediately degreases the skin, and imparts a weightless feel. However, these short term benefits can lead to long term problems. The major problem with using high concentrations of denatured alcohol is that this ingredient is well known to cause skin dryness, irritation, and even disruption of the skin barrier.

Best Budget: The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 30% in Silicone, $8
The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 30% in Silicone is the newest addition to The Ordinary Vitamin C line up. This serum combines pure L-ascorbic acid powder with silicones to give the serum a silky feel when applied to the skin. This is the perfect The Ordinary Vitamin C serum for people who are new to using vitamin C and want something that is easy and feels good to apply. L-ascorbic acid provides numerous benefits to the skin, such as protecting the skin from free radical damage, supporting collagen synthesis, and inhibiting the production of melanin. The result? A more even, brighter, firmer complexion.

Related: Best Niacinamide Serums

Best Plant-Based: TruSkin Naturals Vitamin C, $19.99
The vitamin C serum by TruSkin Naturals is said to provide several benefits to the skin, including fighting free radicals, brightening and evening skin tone, and reducing signs of aging. The formula includes antioxidant vitamins C and E, which work synergistically to combat free radicals, the unstable molecules that contribute to the formation of premature wrinkles and fine lines on the skin.

TruSkin Naturals Vitamin C also includes several botanical extracts to improve skin hydration, such as organic aloe vera leaf extract and botanical hyaluronic acid. The final key ingredient in this serum is MSM, or methylsulfonylmethane. MSM is a naturally occurring sulfur compound that has the ability to strengthen skin by boosting collagen production. The result is smoother, firmer skin.

Best for Sensitive Skin: Derma E Vitamin C Concentrated Serum, $25
Dermatologist recommended and clinically proven, this drugstore vitamin C serum is suitable for those with sensitive skin, thanks to soothing vitamin E and aloe. It’s formulated with Stay C-50, a vitamin C derivative with superior stability in formulations compared to straight ascorbic acid. Hyaluronic acid and powerful antioxidants ensure that the skin is amply moisturized.

Best Two-Week Treatment: No7 Youthful Vitamin C Fresh Radiance Essence, $20
As mentioned, packaging is one of the critical factors in an effective vitamin C serum. This two-week, twice-a-day treatment’s 5% vitamin C powder is packaged in a separate container that dispenses into the essence when you’re ready to use it. Shake well to activate the product and apply 3-5 drops to cleansed skin. Any remaining product after the two weeks can be used for up to one month after activation.

Related: Best Retinol Serum

Best for Hydrating: CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum, $15.69
CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum is a lightweight facial serum that is said to visibly brighten your complexion, promote a more even skin tone, improve texture, restore the skin’s protective barrier, and enhance hydration for soft, healthy-looking skin. It is claimed to be suitable for all skin types, including those with sensitive skin. Unfortunately, this serum contains a high concentration of denatured alcohol, which can lead to skin dryness, irritation, and disruption of the skin barrier.

Best for Radiance: L’Oreal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives Vitamin C Serum, $18
L’Oreal’s Revitalift line encompasses some of the best drugstore skincare products, and this 10% pure vitamin C serum is no exception. Dermatological studies show that the skin is brighter, softer, more youthful, and radiant after just two weeks. After a month, dark spots, wrinkles, and pores are visibly reduced. It’s formulated without water and protectively sealed in an innovative air-tight metal tube to minimize UV and oxygen exposure to protect the serum’s integrity.

Best French Pharmacy Find: La Roche Posay 10% Vitamin C Serum, $39.99
You need not jet off to Paris to reap the benefits of this French pharmacy favorite. This serum is formulated with 10% pure vitamin C and salicylic acid to improve texture and tone while softening wrinkles’ appearance. The addition of neurosensine makes it a desirable pick for those with sensitive skin, eczema, or rosacea as it soothes skin reactions such as redness and itching.

Best Natural: Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum, $33.99
Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum is an antioxidant facial serum that includes a combination of three powerful antioxidants: vitamin C, vitamin E, and ferulic acid. Together, these antioxidants are said to help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and discoloration. Instead of using pure vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid), the brand uses sodium ascorbyl phosphate (SAP). SAP is much more stable and less prone to oxidation than some traditionally used forms of vitamin C. This serum is comparable to a 15 to 20% L-ascorbic acid serum. Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum can be used by anyone who has mild hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone, and/or signs of aging such as fine lines and wrinkles. It is suitable for all skin types, including those with sensitive skin and acne-prone skin.

Related: Best Anti Aging Face Serums

Drugstore Vitamin C Serums: The Final Word

While vitamin C aids collagen formation internally, topically, it’s an anti-aging superhero skincare ingredient. In fact, few skincare ingredients have as much solid evidence as to their effectiveness as Vitamin C.

It’s a powerful antioxidant that protects your skin from elements like the sun (though it is not a replacement for sunscreen), pollution, and cigarette smoke. Vitamin C also discourages melanin production in the skin, which means it helps hyperpigmentation issues (think brown spots), evens skin tone, and increases radiance. C also has a hydrating effect on the skin. It decreases transepidermal water loss, allowing your skin to retain moisture better.

Vitamin C can have a fantastic effect on the skin at any age, and one of the best ways to reap its benefits is with a concentrated vitamin C serum. Considering C has numerous benefits, it’s no surprise that many skincare brands are selling serums at a prime price. But truth be told, several drugstore formulas can significantly improve your complexion but for a fraction of the cost.

Sources: The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health,” US National Library of Medicine
National Institutes of Health, August 2017.
Vitamin C in Dermatology,” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, August 2017.

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