The 12 Best Vitamin C Creams for a Bright, Even Complexion

SKIN CARE REVIEWS

02.04.22DISCLAIMER

For bright, tight skin that will look vibrant and youthful, vitamin C is essential. Sure, consuming vitamin C is good for your health, but it already occurs naturally in the skin. However, it has numerous benefits when applied topically — which is an excellent reason to try out one of the many vitamin C creams on the market.

While you may already have an arsenal of products, a vitamin C face cream is formulated with a remarkable and well-researched ingredient that can help reduce inflammation, fight pigmentation, and even stimulate collagen production. The result of using a vitamin C moisturizer is skin that appears healthier, more even, and less prone to wrinkling.

When you incorporate vitamin C skincare into your routine (vitamin C night cream, perhaps?), you’ll reap its benefits while taking advantage of other evidence-based ingredients that work well with this super-charged ingredient. How does a glowing, plump, and more youthful-looking complexion sound?

Whether you’ve spent too much time in the sun over the years, you’re getting older, or want to adopt a more solid regime for your skin, it’s never too late (or too early) to start using vitamin C products such as a vitamin C lotion or cream.

Not sure what to look for? No worries, here at The Derm Review, we’ve reviewed hundreds of products under a scientific lens to ensure you’re creating a skincare routine that’s safe and effective. Ahead are 12 of the best vitamin C creams for a bright, even complexion.

Vitamin C Creams: The List 

Sunday Riley C.E.O. C+E Antioxidant Protect + Repair Moisturizer, $74

Image Skincare Vital C Hydrating Intense Moisturizer, $74

TruSkin Naturals Vitamin C Daily Facial Moisturizer, $26.95

Ole Henriksen C-Rush Brightening Gel Crème, $48

Murad Essential-C Day Moisture Broad Spectrum 30, $66

Fresh Vitamin C Glow Moisturizer, $47

Bliss Bright Idea Vitamin C + Tri-Peptide Collagen Protecting & Brightening Moisturizer, $24

DERMAdoctor Kakadu C Face Crème, $65

Tula Skincare Beauty Sleep, $64

REN Clean Skincare Glow Daily Vitamin C Gel Cream, $48

Philosophy Anti-Wrinkle Miracle Worker Line-Correcting Moisturizer, $65

Peter Thomas Roth Camu Camu Power Cx30 Vitamin C Brightening Moisturizer, $75

The Science Behind Topical Vitamin C 

Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient that plays an integral role in maintaining healthy skin. It works to neutralize free radicals associated with sun exposure, pollution, cigarette smoke, stress, ozone, exposure to x-rays, and industrial chemicals.

When the skin is exposed to UV light, reactive oxygen species (ROS) such as the superoxide ion, peroxide, and singlet oxygen are generated. Vitamin C protects the skin from oxidative stress by sequentially donating electrons to neutralize the free radicals.

As a reducing substance and an electron donor, vitamin C donates high-energy electrons to neutralize free radicals and oxidize to dehydroascorbic acid.

When applied topically, vitamin C accelerates collagen and elastin production, which help keep the skin plump and firm. Topical vitamin C can help prevent premature aging of the skin, restoring a youthful, smooth appearance to the skin.

If you’re looking for a deeper dive into the science behind vitamin C, check out this detailed video about vitamin C from Elle, our in-house biochemist. 

What to Look for in a Vitamin C Face Cream 

The vitamin C found in skincare products is usually listed as ascorbic acid, L-ascorbic acid, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, sodium ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbyl palmitate, and retinyl ascorbate. The most commonly used is L-ascorbic acid, and it is also the most researched.

According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, L-ascorbic acid is the purest and most potent form of vitamin C and the only version the skin can fully absorb. ‘Once L-ascorbic acid is applied to the skin, it is immediately absorbed, cannot be washed off, and will remain in the skin for up to 72 hours.’

  • The correct concentration is vital when looking for the best vitamin C cream. The cream should have a concentration between 5 and 12 percent for the best results. 
  • Vitamin C comes in many forms, with the most effective being L-ascorbic acid or ascorbic acid.
  • Because vitamin C can break down in UV light, all packaging should be sealed correctly, packaged in a dark or opaque container, and kept in a dark environment to ensure continued cream potency and benefits.
  • Vitamin C creams tend to hold up better in tubes and pump bottles because this active ingredient is relatively unstable and tends to degrade faster the more it’s exposed to air and light.

Precautions When Using a Vitamin C Moisturizer

Whether you’re new to vitamin C skincare or you’re trying a fresh vitamin C face cream, conduct a patch test first to make sure you don’t get a reaction. Some mild tingly is normal, but excessive stinging or burning suggests the concentration is too intense or you’re having a reaction to other ingredients in the formula.

When using vitamin C skincare, avoid using products with AHAs and BHAs, such as glycolic, salicylic, and lactic acids. Like these ingredients, vitamin C is an acid — an unstable one at that — so the pH balance will be thrown off when used together, which will have a useless effect on the skin. Additionally, you may experience irritation.

Lastly, vitamin C can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, so don’t forget to apply sun protection — a minimum SPF of 30 — on top of your moisturizer during the day.

The Best Vitamin C Creams

Sunday Riley C.E.O. C+E Antioxidant Protect + Repair Moisturizer, $74
Sunday Riley has quickly risen in the beauty hierarchy to become one of the best-selling brands available. Thanks to its efficacy, this vitamin C and E (both antioxidants) infused moisturizer is particularly popular. According to researchers, vitamin C’s potency is multiplied four-fold when combined with vitamin E, as it is in this formula.

This formula also contains a highly stable form of vitamin C called tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate — it’s less likely to deteriorate when exposed to oxygen. Though this is a more expensive moisturizer, you’ll be getting your money’s worth.

Image Skincare Vital C Hydrating Intense Moisturizer, $74
This is an excellent formula for sensitive skin, thanks to time-release moisture that hydrates throughout the day. Vitamin C brightens areas of discoloration caused by photodamage and scarring while also supporting skin’s elasticity to keep it firm.

The addition of tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate indicates that you’re getting the best kind of vitamin C currently available. Other vital ingredients include hyaluronic acid (acting as a sponge to help draw in moisture to the skin) and shea butter for thorough hydration and skin conditioning.

TruSkin Naturals Vitamin C Daily Facial Moisturizer, $26.95
TruSkin Naturals Vitamin C Daily Facial Moisturizer is packed with 15% vitamin C to help brighten and tighten, reducing signs of aging and sun damage signs. It also contains vitamin B5, an extremely hydrating ingredient that will provide plenty of moisture, along with pure organic jojoba oil.

This formula also contains green tea. The polyphenols in green tea have been shown to protect against photodamage (damage from the sun). This moisturizer is also an antioxidant that will protect against oxidative stress (an imbalance of antioxidants and free radicals) that can damage skin cells.

Ole Henriksen C-Rush Brightening Gel Crème, $48
This formula boasts three different sources of vitamin C, including 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid, ascorbic acid, and tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate. In combination, the three sources of vitamin C provide optimum results, reducing fine lines and fading away discoloration like sunspots and acne scars. Other vital ingredients in this moisturizer include hyaluronic acid and rose of winter extract, which provide nourishment and hydration while plumping up wrinkles to make them less prominent.

Murad Essential-C Day Moisture Broad Spectrum 30, $66
Murad’s Essential-C Day Moisture cream is a great vitamin C moisturizer for oily skin, but all skin types can benefit from using it. It’s designed to target age spots and sun spots, fine lines and wrinkles, and uneven texture and tone.

Thanks to the addition of sun protection, you don’t have to worry about layering an additional product. Other key ingredients include a vitamin A derivative called retinyl palmitate, which helps with fine lines, and vitamin E to help boost vitamin C’s powers.

Fresh Vitamin C Glow Moisturizer, $47
Vitamins C and E work together in this formula to limit sun damage, thus protecting against sunspots and wrinkling. Vitamin B5 provides hydration while reducing transepidermal water loss (TEWL). TEWL can increase dryness, making skin look dull while also making wrinkles appear more noticeable and more prominent.

Another key ingredient, glucosyl hesperidin, a flavonoid found in citrus fruits, helps combat dullness and fatigued skin. Regular use of this moisturizer will improve radiance, reduce tiredness and help reinvigorate the skin in general.

Bliss Bright Idea Vitamin C + Tri-Peptide Collagen Protecting & Brightening Moisturizer, $24
Bliss developed this super-charged moisturizer formulated with clinical-grade vitamin C plus tri-peptide — a patented signal tri-peptide — to brighten and visibly boost the skin’s natural elasticity. It’s powered by 3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid, an ultra-stable, extremely effective, non-irritating form of vitamin C to noticeably plump, illuminate, and visibly diminish the look of dark spots over time.

Green tea extract provides skin-protecting antioxidants to help reinforce the skin’s natural defenses against free radical damage. When hydrating the skin, a unique plant-derived carbohydrate complex delivers long-lasting, deep hydration.

DERMAdoctor Kakadu C Face Crème, $65
Loaded with vitamin C from the Kakadu plum, this face cream from DERMAdoctor packs quite a punch in combination with various other exotic ingredients. Desert lime and Quandong peach extracts also help provide a boost of natural vitamins. Meanwhile, palmitoyl tripeptide-38 is said to improve the appearance of wrinkles by making them less noticeable.

In one study of a cream that included palmitoyl tripeptide-38 among other ingredients, participants noted that overall skin appearance improved, including fine lines, uneven tone and texture, and visual and tactile roughness. Daily use of this cream is recommended to enhance the appearance of wrinkles and discoloration and refine skin to bring in more radiance.

Tula Skincare Beauty Sleep, $64
All of Tula’s products are formulated with probiotics and superfoods to ensure that your skin’s microbiome remains balanced. Beauty Sleep is Tula’s most potent cream. It’s also formulated with alpha hydroxy acids and vitamin C to soften the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improve texture and tone, and brighten the skin’s appearance. While nothing truly replaces a solid 7-8 hours of sleep, this vitamin C night cream comes pretty darn close.

REN Clean Skincare Glow Daily Vitamin C Gel Cream, $48
Here’s an excellent vitamin C moisturizer for those with oily skin. It has a gel-cream consistency that absorbs quickly and doesn’t leave behind a heavy, greasy film. In addition to vitamin C, this formula from REN features a blend of citrus oils to clarify, hydrate, and perk up your complexion. Magnesium helps calm inflammation and balance oil production, making it the ideal vitamin C face cream for those with acne, too.

Philosophy Anti-Wrinkle Miracle Worker Line-Correcting Moisturizer, $65
Philosophy’s Miracle Worker Moisturizer contains vitamin C, resveratrol, and glutathione. Resveratrol is an antioxidant derived from red grapes. As an antioxidant, it can scavenge free radicals and thus help treat and prevent cell damage that can lead to wrinkles and other signs of aging.

A study on glutathione (which occurs naturally in the human body) found that it is “safe and effectively whitens the skin and improves skin condition in healthy women.” Like vitamin C, it can help lighten dark spots caused by exposure to sunlight. Glutathione improves skin condition by increasing moisture and hydration and making skin smoother in texture.

Peter Thomas Roth Camu Camu Power Cx30 Vitamin C Brightening Moisturizer, $75
According to Peter Thomas Roth, the Camu Camu berry sourced from the Amazon provides 30 times more vitamin C than an orange. This is quite a lot, and what gives this formula its potency to help fight against wrinkles, fine lines, and discoloration. Additionally, vitamin A, or retinol, is especially adept at treating wrinkles and fine lines by improving cell turnover. With all these vitamins, you can be sure that your skin will improve in texture and tone with regular use.

Vitamin C Creams: The Bottom Line 

While you may already have an arsenal of products, a vitamin C face cream is formulated with a remarkable and well-researched ingredient that can help reduce inflammation, fight pigmentation, and even stimulate collagen production. The result of using a vitamin C moisturizer is skin that appears healthier, more even, and less prone to wrinkling.

When the skin is exposed to UV light, reactive oxygen species (ROS) such as the superoxide ion, peroxide, and singlet oxygen are generated. Vitamin C protects the skin from oxidative stress by sequentially donating electrons to neutralize the free radicals.

Applied topically, vitamin C accelerates collagen and elastin production, which help keep the skin plump and firm. Topical vitamin C can help prevent premature aging of the skin, restoring a youthful, smooth appearance to the skin.

Vitamin C comes in many forms, with the most effective being L-ascorbic acid or ascorbic acid. 

The correct concentration is vital when looking for the best vitamin C cream. The cream should have a concentration between 5 and 12 percent for the best results. 

What’s the best vitamin C cream, in your opinion? Let us know in the comments below!

Why do we recommend a serum?

Serums are more concentrated and penetrate deeper. We recommend using vitamin C in serum form. Our top pick is Carrot & Stick Defense Serum.

Carrot & Stick Defense Serum, $70
Packed with antioxidants, this revitalizing serum helps promote collagen production and visibly brightens skin. Three distinct vitamin C derivatives work together to fight visible free radical damage and enhance cellular longevity. Regular use transforms dull, uneven-looking skin into clear, radiant beauty.

 

FAQs

According to the National Institute of Health, vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble nutrient. Bodies need it to form muscle and collagen, which assists in wound healing and keeping skin looking plump and firm.

Vitamin C is also considered an antioxidant in the body and, according to the Mayo Clinic, may help protect against damaging free radicals. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruit and broccoli, peppers, baked potatoes, and tomatoes.

Vitamin C is found naturally in the skin. In a 2017 article, the authors note that ‘normal skin contains high concentrations of vitamin C, which supports important and well-known functions, stimulating collagen synthesis and assisting in antioxidant protection against UV-induced photodamage.’

All skin types can use vitamin C. However, those with sensitive skin should use a lower concentration and reduce the frequency of use.
Yes, just not at the same time as exfoliating acids. Reserve those for the evening on an alternating basis.
The benefits of vitamin C in skincare have been under debate for many years in the scientific community. While some studies indicate that skincare products with vitamin C do have the ability to fight free radicals, most scientists agree that the benefits of a vitamin C cream need to be studied further.

There are many different kinds of cells in the human body, each composed of various molecules. Protons or electrons positively or negatively charge the molecules, and a molecule will usually seek to become balanced. The molecule will either gain or lose electrons or may bond with other atoms to do this.

Typically, a molecule won’t go for long without adjusting the number of electrons to achieve a well-balanced state. That is where free radicals and the use of vitamin C come in. Free radicals are unstable electrons that bond quickly to molecules that have created a weak, unbalanced bond. The human body naturally creates free radicals to combat infection, neutralize viruses, and destroy bacteria.

The problem occurs when one free radical attaches to a molecule and causes a chain reaction that makes large groups of molecules unstable. Thus, exposure to a significant amount of free radicals results in damage to the body and skin. The deterioration of free radicals on the skin takes the shape of wrinkles, lines, skin discoloration, and other skin damage.

Antioxidant products are an essential part of a balanced skincare regimen. Antioxidants such as Vitamin C work against free radicals by sharing one of their electrons to stop the free radicals from stealing electrons from other molecules. Because it is a water-soluble antioxidant, it primarily deals with cellular fluids, like blood or the water contained in skin cells.

Sources:
Indian Dermatology Online Journal, “Vitamin C in Dermatology”; Dermatologic Surgery,
Double-Blind, Half-Face Study Comparing Topical Vitamin C and Vehicle for Rejuvenation of Photodamage”; Research Gate,
Skin Moisturizing Effects of Panthenol-Based Formulations”; Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity,
Protective Mechanisms of Green Tea Polyphenols in Skin”; Journal of Drugs in Dermatology,
An Open-Label Clinical Trial of a Multi-Ingredient Anti-Aging Moisturizer Designed to Improve the Appearance of Facial Skin”; International Journal of Cosmetic Science,
Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate Shows In Vitro and In Vivo Efficacy in the Prevention and Treatment of Acne Vulgaris”; Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology,
Skin-Whitening and Skin-Condition-Improving Effects of Topical Oxidized Glutathione: A Double-Blind and Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial in Healthy Women.”

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Carrot & Stick

Carrot & Stick takes a tough love approach to skincare. What does this mean? It perfectly balances the power of plants with innovative science, offering the best of both worlds. Read More
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Formulyst

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