If you’ve delved into the wild world of skin care at all, you probably already know that finding the best vitamin C serums for your skin can be an incredibly beneficial—and challenging—endeavor. In particular, this antioxidant ingredient is great at managing hyperpigmentation issues (including acne scars and dark spots) and evening out your skin tone. But how do you know which serum is right for you?
There are a ton of serums out there, as well as moisturizers and cleansers that also contain vitamin C. So how do you know what’s right for your skin? What’s the best way to use these products to get the most benefit from them? And when can you expect to see results?
Here’s everything you need to know when you’re looking for the best vitamin C serum to add to your skin-care routine.
What can vitamin C do for your skin?
In skin-care products, vitamin C does a few really helpful things, SELF explained previously. First, vitamin C can actually inhibit the production of melanin, the pigment in skin, which makes it a crucial ingredient for managing hyperpigmentation (including sun spots and age spots) and generally evening out skin tone.
Second, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, which means it can help neutralize free radicals. These are unstable atoms that form as a result of exposure to environmental stressors like U.V. rays and pollution. Over time, free radicals can cause oxidative stress, which can harm skin and cause premature signs of aging. Using sunscreen daily along with a potent antioxidant like vitamin C is the best way to protect yourself from damage due to free radicals.
What should you look for in a vitamin C serum?
If you think you might benefit from using a vitamin C serum for your face, think about the concentration of vitamin you might need. If your pigmentation issues are mild or you have dry or sensitive skin, definitely start at the lower end, around 5%, because vitamin C products can be irritating at higher concentrations. But if your issues are more moderate to severe or you’ve been using vitamin C products for a while without any sensitivity problems, you can go all the way up to 20%. However, as SELF explained previously, the effects you’ll get from vitamin C products plateau after 20%, so there’s no reason to pay more for anything above that concentration. Unfortunately, not all companies clearly label how much vitamin C their products contain.
Second, think about the form of vitamin C the product you’re looking at contains. This is an ingredient that can be highly unstable, as it’s sensitive to both oxygen and light, so you’ll want to be on the lookout for products that use more stable and efficacious forms of vitamin C. Some forms of vitamin C are also better suited to certain skin types, like acne-prone skin.
For instance, as SELF explained previously, sodium ascorbyl phosphate is water-soluble, meaning it will more likely be used in lighter, water-based products that are great for oilier skin. But ascorbyl palmitate is lipid-soluble, meaning you’re more likely to see it in vitamin C oils or other moisturizing formulas that are better for mature and/or dry skin.
Finally, pay attention to how the product is designed and stored. Because vitamin C is such a temperamental ingredient, opt for products that come in dark or opaque packaging that will block light. If a product also utilizes an airless pump rather than a dropper, that’s a plus because it will prevent it from being exposed to oxygen.
How should you incorporate vitamin C into your skin-care routine?
Sara Hogan, M.D., dermatologist at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, previously told SELF that the right time to add vitamin C into your skin-care routine depends on what kind of product it is. As far as serums are concerned, they’re best applied directly after cleansing your skin but before moisturizing it.
Since vitamin C is available in a number of concentrations—from below 5% up to 30%—it’s important to choose yours wisely depending on your skin type. Dr. Hogan suggested those with dry or sensitive skin stick to lower concentrations, which are usually less irritating, as we mentioned above. Oily skin types, or those who deal with extensive pigmentation issues, can likely handle higher serum intensities to improve tone and texture.
If you use retinol or benzoyl peroxide on a regular basis, dermatologists advise steering clear of using a vitamin C serum at the same time, as the combination can cause it to lose potency. Since it’s more effective to use vitamin C in the morning—it becomes unstable once the ingredient is exposed to light, and that’s when UV radiation is at its highest—professionals recommend using benzoyl peroxide and retinol at night, or on different days of the week for the best results. And if you’re wondering about the effects of using a vitamin C serum along with a different active ingredient you rely on in your skin-care routine, be sure to do some research into whether it makes sense to combine them before you dive in.
Where to start:
When it comes to vitamin C serums, there are a few classic go-to products that dermatologists recommend over and over again because they’re proven to work. But they’re also often expensive, and there are cheaper alternatives out there. Check out your options before you splurge and think about what’s really important to you in a vitamin C product.
And remember that how you use the product is just as important as the product itself. Using a vitamin C serum consistently (ideally in the mornings!) and storing it well to preserve its potency can result in noticeable skin improvements—but not overnight. Even the best products may take weeks to months to have an effect.
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