Things To Look For In A Vitamin C Serum

When it comes to skincare serums, vitamin C is all the rage and justifiably so! Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is known to do everything from repair and prevent sun damage, smooth texture and brighten skin’s tone, while also reducing the appearance of fine lines and deep wrinkles. The reason? Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant like those found in many antioxidant-rich foods such as spinach, blueberries or kale. These foods are vital to maintaining good health because they combat cell damage caused by free radicals, the unstable molecules our bodies create in reaction to stressors. It should come as no surprise then, given the skin is our body’s largest organ, that it too needs to fight free radicals. So now that we’ve got you convinced that a vitamin C serum should be included in your beauty regime, the question is how do you choose from the crazy amount of products out there?

1. The Concentration

For starters, consider the serum’s concentration of vitamin C. You’ll find products ranging from 1% up to 30%. What’s right for you? It will depend on your skin’s sensitivity. If you tend to be reactive then start with the lower percentages at first, topping out at 5%, and see how your skin does over the first two months. If you are tolerating it well then you can increase as needed.

If you don’t have sensitive skin and want faster results, go higher, say 10% and top out at 20%. There are higher concentrations on the market, but according to a study from Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute, which focuses on health maintenance, “Concentrations of vitamin C up to 30% have been used… maximal absorption was achieved with a 20% vitamin C solution, with higher concentrations showing lower absorption.” In other words, concentrations higher than 20% showed no benefit.

2. The Packaging

Next, be sure to take a closer look at the packaging. One challenge that skincare companies have is the stability of the ingredient itself. Exposure to air, light or heat can degrade the quality of its properties, so make sure the serum bottle is dark and opaque. If it’s clear it will eventually turn yellow and can actually color your skin.

The same study from Oregon State University stated that “Although the natural form of vitamin C, ascorbic acid, is the most effective for topical administration, it is the least stable in solution. However, stable synthetic derivatives, such as ascorbate phosphate, are considered to have limited permeability and function in skin.”

3. The Other Stabilizing Ingredients

Aside from the actual vitamin C itself, the other ingredients in a vitamin C serum can be just as important. One of the industry’s leading vitamin C serums is the SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Serum, which has ascorbic acid as its main ingredient. How does this brand (and others) maintain the chemical integrity of the antioxidant? By combining it with other antioxidants that act as stabilizers, such as vitamin E and/or hyaluronic acid which increases the efficacy of vitamin C.

Keeping stability in mind, you’ll notice serums with other derivatives of ascorbic acid, like magnesium ascorbyl, phosphate ascorbyl 6-palmitate and ascorbic acid sulfate, which according to SELF Magazine, and taken from the website and medical journal Science Direct, are “the most stable and efficacious.”

4. Your Skin Type

Another factor you should consider when purchasing a vitamin C serum is your skin type — whether it be oily, mature, dry or acne-prone. If your skin is sensitive, this is definitely another factor to consider since your skin is more prone to reactions from active ingredients. Aside from the vitamin C itself, be sure to check that the other ingredients in the formulation will work for you too. And if you’re still not sure, consult a dermatologist.

5. The Texture

Lastly, look at the texture of the product before purchasing and make sure it’s suitable for your needs and skin type. If your skin tends to be dry, try opting for a creamier formulated product that will add hydration and moisture. If you struggle with oily or acne-prone skin, try a thinner formulation that won’t clog pores or feel heavy on the skin. It also might be beneficial to have a thinner serum for the summer and a thicker one for the winter, if this is something you could fit into your budget.

Looking to shop some of the best vitamin C products in the market? These are a few of our favorites, which have been hand-picked by our beauty editors! 


Kim Izzo