The best Vitamin C serums for a radiant glow at every budget

Brighten and protect your skin with the best Vitamin C serums, as tested by our beauty editors

A selection of the best vitamin C serums by L'Oreal paris, Farmacy and Drunk elephant
(Image credit: Future/brands)

The best Vitamin C serums are something beauty editors have a lot of opinions on. A casual mention of this topic to the w&h beauty team ended in an intense debate, with most of us talking over each other, eager to prove why our pick was the best option.

Why all the hype? Because when formulated carefully and used properly, Vitamin C serums are some of the best skincare products going. "As one of the most potent antioxidants for the skin, vitamin C has multiple benefits", agrees dermatologist, Dr Elif Benar. "They include fading dark spots and hyperpigmentation, brightening the skin, and helping to increase collagen production for an overall healthier complexion." She continues, "In addition, Vitamin C's anti-pigmentary and brightening effects will help with discoloration problems such as hyperpigmentation caused by acne."

Better still, even the most potent form of Vit C, ascorbic acid, is suitable for almost all skin types and is unlikely to cause irritation. This sets it apart from other feted actives such as alpha hydroxy acids and the notoriously reactive retinol, tipping the retinol vs Vitamin C debate in Vit C's favor. 

How we tested the best Vitamin C serums

Why you can trust Woman & Home Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

A selection of vitamin c serums that we tested for this guide

A selection of Vitamin C serums that we tested for this guide

(Image credit: Fiona McKim)

As we say, the w&h beauty team are Vitamin C obsessives, so many of the products that made this guide, including SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic, Medik8 C-Tetra and The Inkey List 15% Vitamin C and EGF are old favorites that we have used - and loved - for years. 

Any new products that we tested specifically for this guide were worn daily for a minimum of four weeks, as this is typically how long a Vit C serum needs to make a visible difference to skin tone and texture (although some results can appear more quickly) We also assessed each serum on: 

  • Ease of application 
  • Feel on the skin
  • Value for money 
  • Packaging
  • Texture
  • Other included ingredients

The best Vitamin C serums, as tested by our Beauty Editors

Farmacy 10% Waterless Vitamin C Serum

(Image credit: Farmacy)

1. Farmacy 10% Waterless Vitamin C Serum

Best overall Vitamin C serum

Specifications

RRP: $50 / £48
Vitamin C: 10%
Key ingredients: Lactic acid, alpha-arbutin

Reasons to buy

+
Ultra-stable formula
+
Oil-free 
+
Good Vit C concentration
+
Refines texture and brightens

Reasons to avoid

-
None, this is excellent!

If you haven't heard of Farmacy, this Vitamin C serum would be a perfect product to get to know the brand. Why? Because unless you are on a tight budget there's very little not to adore here. It contains 10% ascorbic acid, the most stable and powerful form of Vit C, and combines it with gentle exfoliant lactic acid plus alpha arbutin, another antioxidant, for extra skin-protecting powers. It also has a waterless base, which means that precious vitamin C won't be prematurely destabilized by the oxygen in H2O, while the airless pump bottle boosts this protection further. 

The texture of this oil-free serum is one of the things we loved most. Vitamin C serums, particularly waterless formulas, can have a gritty feel but somehow this is silky and even smells pretty nice thanks to the inclusion of bitter orange extract. One pump was easily enough for our face and neck, it sank in swiftly, and played well with our moisturizer. Essentially, this works as hard as possible for a topical product and more than lives up to its brightening promises - so it gets top marks from us. 

SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic

(Image credit: SkinCeuticals)

2. SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic

Best luxury Vitamin C serum

Specifications

RRP: $169/£150
Vitamin C: 15%
Key ingredients: Ferulic acid, Vitamin E

Reasons to buy

+
Industry-leading product
+
Incredibly effective
+
Excellent light texture
+
Combined antioxidants

Reasons to avoid

-
Ultra-pricy

CE Ferulic is never far from the top of any list of the best Vitamin C serums, and with good reason. SkinCeuticals are pioneers of antioxidant skincare and this is their hero product. In fact, the only thing keeping it off the top of this list is the price, which will be prohibitive to some. 

Budgets aside, if you can afford to buy this, you should. It combines 15% gold standard stable Vitamin C with Vitamin E plus ferulic acid, another antioxidant that's known to boost the power and stability of Vit C when combined. You'll spot this trio of ingredients together a few times in this list, but just know that these guys did it first. 

Texture-wise this is loose and watery, so should be pressed into the skin rather than massaged. Due to this very light feel this is one of our favorite Vit C serums for layering, it sinks in pretty much instantly and you can top it with any other products, no problem, It doesn't smell great but it's not horrible either, not unlike a very weak instant coffee to our noses, some find it more on the herbal side. Either way, Vitamin C serum is one of those products that you don't want to feel or smell particularly spa-like. If it does, some effectiveness will likely have been sacrificed to get there. 

Revolution Skincare X Sali Hughes Must-C Serum, in peach packaging

(Image credit: Revolution Skincare)

3. Revolution Skincare X Sali Hughes Must-C Daily Serum

Best drugstore Vitamin C serum

Specifications

RRP: $16/$15
Vitamin C: 15%
Key ingredients: Niacinamide, Hyaluronic Acid, Vitamin E

Reasons to buy

+
Brilliantly affordable
+
Fuss-free and hardworking
+
Vegan-friendly

Reasons to avoid

-
None, we love this!

Chances are, if you're a beauty obsessive, you'll know who Sali Hughes is. The beauty journalist, author and influencer is known for her fuss-free approach to skincare, so there was a big buzz when she launched her minimalist skincare range with the affordable brand Revolution. Even if you don't necessarily know who Hughes is, it's worth paying attention to her incredibly democratic, hardworking collection. 

We are especially impressed with this serum. A lightly chemical, but generally inoffensive scent is the first impression. The cool gel formula glided smoothly onto our skin and didn't feel tacky or sticky, even without moisturizer on top. The 15% Vit C is from Ascorbyl Glucoside, one of the most stable versions of the antioxidant. Combined with Niacinamide to minimize the appearance of large pores, plus hyaluronic acid (HA) and glycerine to hydrate, this is, hands down one of the best serums we've tried for a long time - it's just a bonus that it's so well-priced.

Medik-8 C Tetra

(Image credit: Medik-8)

4. Medik8 C Tetra

Best nourishing Vitamin C Serum

Specifications

RRP: $48 / £39
Vitamin C: 7%
Key ingredients: Vitamin E, Jojoba oil

Reasons to buy

+
Gentle concentrations of active ingredient
+
Good value for Vit C
+
Nourishes and treats 
+
High-tech brand 

Reasons to avoid

-
Oily texture won't suit everyone

This was one of the serums we, as a team, all agreed on. We're big fans of this brand for their high-tech formulas and (as this sort of active skincare goes) affordable pricing. This serum is the hero of the range and would be the first product we'd recommend trying. 

This would suit anyone looking to get started with Vit C, and who wants a fuss-free one and done serum to use in the mornings. As well as a  gentle yet effective concentration of Vit C (7%) this contains Vitamin E for extra antioxidant powers and jojoba seed oil that gives it a lovely, plumping, and juicy feel. Obviously, if you have very oily or breakout-prone skin then oil-based products won't be for you but our dry-skinned texture absolutely loved it. 

Despite the richer texture, this sank in well and left our skin feeling comfortable, plump and perfectly smooth. Expect an instant dewy glow and results on skin tone within a few weeks. It also smells lovely and fresh due to natural citrus oils, and the tinted dropper keeps the ingredients super stable. You really can't go wrong with this one. 

L'Oreal Revitalift Clinical Pure Vitamin C + E + Salicylic Serum

(Image credit: L'Oreal Paris)

5. L'Oreal Revitalift Clinical Pure Vitamin C + E + Salicylic Serum

Best multi-tasking Vitamin C serum

Specifications

RRP: $30 / £
Vitamin C: 12%
Key ingredients: Salicylic acid, hyauronic acid Vitamin E

Reasons to buy

+
Pore-clearing salicylic acid
+
Affordable price
+
Slippy texture 
+
Hydrates and treats 

Reasons to avoid

-
Contains silicones

This packs a very respectable amount of skincare activity into a modest price tag. Oil-clearing salicylic acid gets to work quickly, hydrators hyaluronic acid and glycerin provide an instant plumping effect, while antioxidant Vitamins C and E are more of a long game. That makes this a nice cocktail for oily skin types as those instant effects offer all the motivation you need to achieve your long-term goals. 

On testing, the texture was thicker than most other products on this list, more of a velvety gel than the thin fluid you might expect from a Vitamin C serum. This does make it easier and in many ways more pleasant to massage in. Although it's worth noting that slippy feel, which sits beautifully under makeup, does come via the inclusion of silicones, which some people may not be into.

Unusually at this price, the 12% Vitamin C included is ultra-stable L-ascorbic acid, kept more so by the tinted pipette packaging. It does start to oxidize after a few weeks of use so you will notice the formula taking on an orangey hue, but this is the case for almost all Vit C serums - usually costing three times what this does - so we can't grumble.

La Roche-Posay Vitamin C serum in a white glass bottle with white pipette lid

(Image credit: La Roche-Posay)

6. La Roche-Posay Pure Vitamin C 10 Serum

The best Vitamin C serum for sensitive skin

Specifications

RRP: $39.99/£38
Vitamin C: 10%
Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, salicylic acid

Reasons to buy

+
Won't irritate sensitive skins
+
Gentle enough for daily use
+
Includes hydrating hyaluronic acid

Reasons to avoid

-
Won't suit very dry skin

If you have sensitive skin, this is the antioxidant serum for you. La Roche-Posay is known for ultra-gentle skincare that, crucially, doesn't compromise on real results. In our opinion, the brand's serums are the best La Roche-Posay products in their roster. W&h Senior Beauty Editor Rhiannon Derbyshire raves about them to everyone - and uses every single one (honorary mention to their Effaclar serum, which is a non-negotiable part of her skincare routine for acne). 

A clear and non-sticky formula, this sinks nicely into the skin thanks to comfort-boosting HA and sits nicely under a moisturizer and SPF. A 10% concentration of Vitamin C is a nice sweet spot for the active ingredient, too. Not too delicate, not too harsh. This is the best Vitamin C for cautious first-timers, it's one we mention most often to those trying to introduce the ingredient into their routine. A brilliant, frill-free buy that's not intimidating (or wildly expensive). 

INKEY List 15% Vitamin C and EGF Serum

(Image credit: Inkey List)

7. INKEY List 15% Vitamin C and EGF Serum

Best ultra-affordable Vitamin C serum

Specifications

RRP: $21/£14.99
Vitamin C: 15%
Key ingredients: Epidermal growth factors

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent value 
+
Effective ingredients
+
Easy to incorporate into any routine

Reasons to avoid

-
Slightly tacky feel

The INKEY List is known for knocking out active skincare at 'how did they manage that?' prices, and this certainly delivers the punchy ingredient-to-cost ratio we've come to expect from the brand. 

The formula is built around a solid 15% ascorbic acid, plus epidermal growth factors (EGF) a signal peptide that, in broad brush strokes, binds to tired old cells and revs them up into behaving like energetic young ones. We also get phytic acid to gently refine and unclog congestion. 

All this for the cost of your average movie ticket, you say, what's the catch? Well, the texture is a little bit sticky when first applied, you need to wait a good five minutes to apply other products so it won't pill. Plus, the packaging is basic-looking, if that's important to you. Fripperies aside, this is effective and highly impressive skincare. 

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum

(Image credit: Drunk Elephant)

8. Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum

Best 'clean' Vitamin C serum

Specifications

RRP: $78/£67
Vitamin C: 15%
Key ingredients: Ferulic acid, Vitamin E

Reasons to buy

+
Clever airproof packaging 
+
'Nasty-free' formula
+
Includes botanical extracts

Reasons to avoid

-
Pricy
-
Texture not for everyone

There is something so satisfying about Drunk Elephant C-Firma's packaging. Twist the chunky tangerine lid and out pops a spout ready to dispense the perfect amount of glossy orange-hued serum into your palm. Aside from looking and feeling great, this airless mechanism also ensures the stability of your actives are kept in tip-top nick for maximum effectiveness, so we're onto a great start.

You'll recognize the holy trinity of antioxidant ingredients - Vits C, E, and Ferulic Acid - plus, this packs in some other good stuff like a pumpkin ferment and pomegranate enzymes that gently exfoliate and refine skin texture. As per Drunk Elephant's 'clean beauty' philosophy, it also leaves out a good few things you might be glad to know aren't in there like parabens, sulfates, oil, fragrance, and alcohol. 

For an oil-free formula, there is something strangely rich about the texture, which might put off oily or combination skinned types.  But it sinks in fast and leaves behind just the tiniest touch of sheen. Like most good Vit Cs, it smells a tiny bit funky but is not strong enough to be offputting, and sits happily under any cream you want to top it off with. 

Sunday Riley C.E.O 15% Vitamin C Serum in bright orange packaging with white writing and lid

(Image credit: Sunday Riley)

9. Sunday Riley C.E.O 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum

Best Vitamin C Serum plus exfoliation

Specifications

RRP: $85/ £70
Vitamin C: 15%
Key ingredients: Glycolic acid

Reasons to buy

+
A noticeable difference after a few days
+
Glycolic acid makes it work harder
+
Stable airless packaging 

Reasons to avoid

-
Fairly expensive compared with others

As well as it's own double dity action, this is our favorite pick for skincare accomplices. What we mean by that is brilliant, coordinating buys in the range that make the product work even better. Namely, when it comes to this product, Sunday Riley's Vitamin C-infused C.E.O Oil, which we're also a huge fans of (Helen Mirren loves this facial oil too - you can't argue with that recommendation). You can use it in the evening after cleansing, to double up on your Vit C intake.

There's good stuff here as a standalone serum too - a decent 15% concentration, plus a phytosterols complex, which will help balance out any redness you may experience. It also contains glycolic acid to help speed up the brightening process. A more creamy than liquid serum, this felt soft and smooth on our skin, but leave it around 5-10 minutes before following on with your moisturizer and SPF, as there's potential for pilling. Apart from that, there's little here to dislike.

SkinCeuticals Silymarin CF

(Image credit: SkinCeuticals)

10. SkinCeuticals Silymarin CF

Best Vitamin C serum for oily skin

Specifications

RRP: $205/£145
Vitamin C: 15%
Key ingredients: Silymarin, ferulic acid

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent formulation
+
Pore-clearing plus brightening
+
Pleasant texture

Reasons to avoid

-
Won't suit dry skin types

Another SkinCeuticals product, and another pricy one at that. Hey, we told you this brand was the industry leader for antioxidants and this serum covers an important corner of the market that's not often addressed: Vit C for oily skin. 

Many breakout-prone or combination types complain Vitamin C serums have a pore-clogging or heavy texture on the skin, but not Silymarin CF. It combines all your top antioxidants with salicylic acid, the most powerful skincare acid for clearing pores. Plus we get silymarin, another antioxidant derived from milk thistle that regulates oil production and the tinted dropper keeps everything inside fresh and active. 

The texture is thin and watery, which feels refreshing on oilier skin. Press it in first thing after cleansing and it'll disappear without leaving any sheen or residue behind. We experienced less congestion within a week or so, then within a few more weeks longer-term improvements in tone as Vitamin C gets to work. As ever with SkinCeuticals this is a formula you can trust at an elevated but justifiable cost.

Elizabeth Arden Vitamin C Ceramide Capsules Radiance Renewal Serum

(Image credit: Elizabeth Arden)

11. Elizabeth Arden Vitamin C Ceramide Capsules Radiance Renewal Serum

Best Vitamin C serum for dry skin

Specifications

RRP: $87/£47
Vitamin C: Unknown
Key ingredients: Ceramides, clary sage

Reasons to buy

+
Portable and stably packaged
+
Nourishing properties 
+
Kind to barrier ceramides

Reasons to avoid

-
Oil base won't suit all
-
Unclear on the concentration of Vitamin C

Ampoules are everywhere now, but Elizabeth Arden pioneered individual, active skincare with the original ceramide skincare capsules, and this Vitamin C version proves they still lead where others follow. 

First things first - the ampoules are biodegradable, which should assuage any environmental concern. The second thing to say is, naturally, individual dosing could not be more suited to Vitamin C as an ingredient, as every drop is kept safely away from light and air until it's going onto your face in fully active form. The capsules also contain ceramides, Arden's signature ingredient, which nourishes and rebuilds the skin's barrier function for soft, plump, protected skin. 

A dry oil base gives the texture plenty of slip and ensures you can get a decent massage on as you apply. Plus, it leaves a light juicy sheen on the skin that's very flattering. Oilier types may wish to avoid this product for that reason, but for drier or mature skin there's not much you can say against these pocket rockets. 

Paula's Choice C15 Super Booster

(Image credit: Paula's Choice)

12. Paula's Choice C15 Super Booster

Best Vitamin C serum for layering

Specifications

RRP: $52/£49
Vitamin C: 15%
Key ingredients: Vitamin E, ferulic acid

Reasons to buy

+
Can be mixed into creams
+
Good value 
+
Stable formulation

Reasons to avoid

-
Texture not for all 

Paula's Choice is something of an insider's favorite amongst beauty editors. Founded by the inimitable Paula Begoun, a.k.a. The Cosmetic Cop, this brand specializes in no-nonsense ingredient-led skincare that never oversells itself, and this Vitamin C serum fits into the cannon very nicely. 

It contains 15% ascorbic acid plus its best friend ferulic acid and unusually lists its pH as a selling point (an acidic 3.5, which gently stimulates the skin, in case you were wondering). As well as applying it directly onto clean skin, as with the other products, you can also drop this into your moisturizer or hydrating serum. This makes it a great choice for those of us who like to keep steps in our skincare routine to a minimum and speed up that morning routine. We love the light, mixable texture although some may wish it was a little richer and more nourishing. Avoid blending it with other skincare ingredients that you should never mix, like retinol. Stick to one active at a time!


Your Vitamin C FAQs answered

How to choose a Vitamin C serum

How do you pick the right option for you? we've enlisted the help of dermatologists, Dr Elif Benar, and  Dr Salomé Metreveli to provide their expert thoughts. 

  • Packaging matters: Vitamin C is a famously unstable ingredient. It is incredibly sensitive to light and air and must be kept protected from both as far as possible in order to remain active and effective. Avoid jars and opt for pipette applicators, or even better - light-shielding airtight bottles. 
  • Save the date: Because of its unstable nature, even the best Vitamin C serums can go out of date much quicker than the rest of your best skincare products. Check the little symbol on the packaging of a jar with a number on it. 6 means it'll last 6 months, 12 is a year, and so on. In general, most Vitamin C serums have a 6-12 month shelf life.
  • Check the concentration:  Not all serums are created equal - the concentration of the active ingredient will impact how effective it is, and how quickly it'll get to work. "In general, you’d use a minimum of 5%, and a maximum of 20-30%" says Dr Metreveli.
  • Beginners should ease in: Don't jump straight into 20% concentrations if your skin's not used to active ingredients, warns Dr Metreveli. "Those with more sensitive skin should start on a lower percentage, and gradually work their way up once the skin begins to tolerate it."

Why use a Vitamin C serum?

Why a serum over a cream, or infused in your best cleanser? To cut to the chase, serums' concentrated formulas are the best way to treat any skincare concerns. Their light, liquid consistency means they sink deeper into the skin than even your best face moisturizer, and get to work much quicker. We're always wary of all-singing, all-dancing cleansers infused with hyped-up ingredients like retinol and acids. Really, these don't sit on your skin for long enough to get to work, washing those active ingredients (and to be frank your cash), down the plughole. 

If you're wondering how to apply serum, it's always onto clean skin after cleansing, before your moisturiser. 

What does a vitamin c serum do to the face?

After using the best Vitamin C serums, you'll notice your face looking brighter. It's also one of the best hyperpigmentation treatments that you can safely do at home. How does all of this brightening, protecting magic work exactly?

Skincare expert Fiona Brackenbury explains,  "Vitamin C is an antioxidant powerhouse that prevents cellular damage from UV rays and pollution, which are the top two most damaging elements which our skin comes into contact with daily."

She continues, "If that wasn’t enough to make you reach for a vitamin C serum, it's also essential for collagen production. We lose 1.5% a year after the age of 30 and this reduction speeds up during menopause where we can lose a whopping 30% of our collagen."

Is it okay to use a vitamin c serum every day?

In theory, yes! If you don't notice any sensitivity or irritation from using it, it's safe to use your Vitamin C serum daily. For me personally, I alternate between Vitamin C and HA serums daily but feel free to pick what works best for you.

Brackenbury agrees, "Vitamin C is best used daily as you don’t want to miss out on the antioxidant protection, however, I would always caveat that with saying to listen to your skin and consider any stress, medication, menopause or sun exposure that may cause your skin to be more sensitive."

Who should not use a vitamin c serum?

Really, everyone can use the best Vitamin C serums - there's really no downside to using one. I've you're not sure whether Vitamin C can be bad for the skin, the short answer is no, it's usually not - if it's in date and the right concentration for your skin type.

Easily-irritated skin should proceed with caution, as you would when you're introducing any new product to your skincare routine for sensitive skin

"Every skin is different and unique and has a sweet spot for skincare actives", says Brackenbury. "If you have sensitive skin or have never used a vitamin C before, vitamin C derivatives such as  tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate will be easier for you to tolerate." If you'd rather avoid Vit C altogether, niacinamide is often touted as a gentler alternative, and does offer some of the same antioxidant and brightening benefits (hence the longstanding niacinamide vs vitamin C skincare debate)

Fiona McKim