The best vitamin C serums you can buy

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  • Vitamin C serums brighten your complexion, nourish your skin, and decrease inflammation as well as irregular pigmentation to leave your face glowing.
  • Maelove's Glow Maker serum is the best vitamin C serum we've tested because it's affordable and effective.

Getting a face lift doesn't have to mean going under the knife. Really, all you need is vitamin C. Over the last few years, a mysterious elixir known as vitamin C serum seems to have made its way onto every makeup and skincare trend in the world, and while you may not totally get what it is, you'll certainly get why it's so popular.

Vitamin C is key to reducing skin inflammation and irregular pigmentation and is also important for collagen production. Taken together, these aspects make your skin look brighter, smoother, and generally younger. And while you may think that your 20-something face doesn't need any help (yet), it is certainly the case that the sooner you begin taking care of your skin, the later your skin will look youthful.

While this antioxidant appears naturally in many of the foods you consume on a daily basis (think fruits, kale, broccoli, and the like), it's actually quite difficult to get the vitamin straight to your skin. Enter vitamin C serums, compounds that are spiked with the powerful natural substance and meant to keep your skin looking tight and bright.

When choosing your serum, you'll want to keep a few things in mind. First off, be sure to read the label for ingredients. While this seems like an obvious tip, you are putting this stuff directly on your face, so you'll want to be sure that everything is as natural and organic as possible. You'll also want a relatively high proportion of vitamin C. If it's only 5% or so, you're really not getting a vitamin C serum anymore.

Second, think about how sensitive your skin is. If you tend to react strongly to all sorts of different compounds, you'll want to be sure that you choose a serum that is safe for you and your complexion. After all, there's no point in giving yourself a rash while trying to improve your skin. Similarly, you might want to consider whether or not you want a fragrance in your serum. If you'd rather keep things simple, look for an option that doesn't have any perfumey additives.

Third, consider what you really want your serum to do. Are you looking to brighten your skin? Smooth it? Hide spots? Various serums will serve various purposes, so it's good to go in with a game plan. We have an explainer piece where we break down the benefits of vitamin C serums.

Finally, you'll want to keep price points in mind. Some vitamin C serums can run well over a hundred dollars and considering that you're only buying a small bottle at a time, that can be quite the investment. There are, luckily, more affordable options on the market as well.

Here are the best vitamin C serums you can buy:

Updated on 01/31/2019 by Lulu Chang: Added the Aura Organics serum and updated prices.

Read on in the slides below to check out our top picks.

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The best vitamin C serum overall

The best vitamin C serum overall
Why you'll love it: Maelove’s Glow Maker Vitamin C serum is as good as the expensive stuff, but it will only cost $28.

Maelove CEO Jackie Kim had a simple goal when she created her company. She wanted to make skincare “radically affordable,” and it’s safe to say that she’s achieved that with her cult-favorite $28 Glow Maker Vitamin C serum. It’s sold out multiple times, and it’s currently available for pre-order.

The Glow Maker’s goals are threefold: hyperpigmentation, smoothing, and hydration, and its ingredients all lend themselves to one of those goals. In the Glow Maker, you’ll find vitamins C (15% L-ascorbic acid), E and ferulic acid for antioxidation protection, hyaluronic acid for hydration, and a proprietary mix of botanicals (grape seed extract, aloe, aurantium dulcis, and magnolia) for nourishment and easier makeup application. Thanks to the aforementioned extracts, folks with sensitive skin shouldn’t have negative reactions to this particular serum.

As we’ve mentioned previously, the $28 Glow Maker is remarkably similar to the much pricier SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Serum. If you check out the ingredients of each solution, you’ll find that they’re nearly identical, but have a $138 price difference.

We’ve found that Maelove’s offering does a fantastic job brightening your complexion and lightening your dark spots, and has the added benefit of absorbing quickly into your skin. And while “glowing” skin often seems to be code for oily skin, that’s not the case with the Glow Maker. Really, it just makes you look brighter.

My skin is generally on the drier side, which made me a bit nervous that Maelove’s serum would add to this problem if I were to apply the Glow Maker consistently. Happily, that hasn’t been the case at all. Rather, it seems that the serum has helped alleviate flakiness and peeling, something I wasn’t necessarily expecting from the get-go.

If you don’t love the Maelove Glow Maker, you have 100 days to try it out and return it for a full refund. We don’t anticipate you using that option.

Pros: Extremely affordable, quick absorbing, makes skin look brighter without looking oily, good for sensitive skin

Cons: Due to its popularity, the Glow Maker is frequently on backorder

Buy Maelove Glow Maker Vitamin C Serum for $27.95 Read our full review on Insider Picks

The best serum for fading acne scars and dark spots

The best serum for fading acne scars and dark spots
Why you'll love it: For folks fighting skin discolorations from acne, the sun, or age, the No B.S. vitamin C serum will work wonders.

Far be it from me to ever suggest that your skin is in any way imperfect, but if you’re looking to make it more perfect by reducing the number of sunspots, acne scars, or other discolorations that may have come about over time, there’s a serum for you. The aptly named No B.S. vitamin C serum is one of the best in the market for getting rid of hyperpigmentation, and as an additional bonus, it won’t break the bank.

As its name suggests, the No B.S. serum hangs its hat on what it doesn’t include in its compound. You won’t find any parabens, sulfates, phthalates, or synthetic fragrances (which means that it does smell a little funky). But you will find plant-based ingredients like Aloe Vera, coconut oil, and jojoba oil, as well as hyaluronic acid, retinol, and salicylic acid, all of which help to smooth out your skin and give it that healthy glow associated with such serums.

It’s not entirely clear what percentage of the serum is vitamin C, but seeing as it’s the fourth listed ingredient, chances are it’s pretty potent. Plus, vitamin C is the primary ingredient for actually fighting pigmentation, and given how well the No B.S. formula completes that task, it’s safe to say that there’s enough of the antioxidant.

The hyaluronic acid coupled with pomegranate and green tea extracts help to smooth away lines and makes the serum safe to use underneath your eyes. Plus, you can rest easy knowing that No B.S. formulas are never tested on animals, and better still, the company donates one product for every product sold.

Using the No B.S. serum on the daily hasn’t proven to be problematic for me. I generally put it on in the morning before applying moisturizer and have certainly noticed an improvement in my overall complexion when it comes to smoothness and brightness. And for just $40, it feels like a steal.

Pros: Great for scar and hyperpigmentation reduction, cruelty free, safe for sensitive skin

Cons: Doesn’t smell great

Buy No B.S. vitamin C serum for $40 Read our full review on Insider Picks

The best super concentrated vitamin C serum

The best super concentrated vitamin C serum
Why you'll love it: For folks who don’t want to play around with their vitamin C, the COSRX Triple C Lightning Liquid is the way to go.

There are vitamin C serums and then there are vitamin C serums, and if anything deserves the italics, it’s the COSRX Triple C Lightning Liquid. This beloved product is part of part of the Korean beauty regimen, which automatically gives it an extra dose of legitimacy. I mean, seriously — Have you ever tried a K-beauty product that doesn’t work wonders?

The first time the Lightning Liquid launched on Soko Glam, it was gone within the hour. Successive restocks have proven just as popular, and even today, it’s one of Soko Glam’s best-selling products. Once you’ve tried it, it’s not difficult to see why.

Created as a collaboration between Korean skin-care line COSRX and online beauty retailer Soko Glam’s CEO, COSRX Triple C Lightning Liquid is no ordinary vitamin C serum. Rather, it’s packed to the brim with an impressive 20.5% ascorbic acid, aka vitamin C. That makes it one of the most potent serums on the market, and one of the most effective.

The high dosage of vitamin C allows Lightning Liquid to help reduce scarring and other irregularities in your skin extremely quickly. And even if you think that you don’t have these sorts of issues with your skin, you’ll be able to benefit from this particular serum. It helps remove dead skin cells, which gives your skin more room to glow.

Plus, Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, told Allure, "[Vitamin C] may even help protect the skin from pre-cancerous changes from UV light exposure by neutralizing free radicals." Of course, you need a high concentration of the antioxidant for this to prove true, which makes Lightning Liquid particularly unique.

Using the COSRX product requires a bit more care than some other serums due to its potency. Rather than applying it directly to your skin, you’ll likely want to add a couple drops to your moisturizer. If you don’t see any irritation in a couple weeks, then you can start applying one or two drops to your skin every other day, but always follow it up with a good moisturizer to provide dry-out.

Pros: Extremely high vitamin C concentration allows you to reap all the benefits, inexpensive, extremely effective at reducing discoloration

Cons: Could cause skin to dry out, not the best for sensitive skin

Buy the COSRX Triple C Lightning Liquid for $27

The best smelling vitamin C serum

The best smelling vitamin C serum
Why you'll love it: While most vitamin C serums resign themselves to smelling less than rosy, the Korres Wild Rose 15% Vitamin C Spotless Serum literally turns that on its head.

Who says making your skin look good has to smell bad? Certainly not the Korres Wild Rose 15% Vitamin C Spotless Serum. As you might surmise from its name, this is one serum that doesn’t smell like water you’ve been boiling lunch meat in (because yes, that is what most of these serums smell like thanks to their high concentrations of ascorbic acid).

Korres, however, has saved you from smelling like a sandwich with its serum that is infused with wild rose oil, which not only works to make you smell floral and delightful, but also aids in brightening, toning, and softening your skin.

Another serum with a relatively high dosage of vitamin C, the Korres formula contains 15% of the antioxidant, which helps to tone down the appearances of spots, while brightening your overall skin tone for a more luminous glow.

What the serum does not contain is anything that Sephora customers (which is to say, all of us), have indicated we’d like to avoid — that includes sulfates, parabens, formaldehydes, formaldehyde-releasing agents, phthalates, mineral oil, retinyl palmitate, oxybenzone, coal tar, hydroquinone, triclosan, and triclocarban. And even though this serum smells good, it’s not relying on artificial scents to achieve that result.

While some serums work best on specific skin types, the Korres offering seems to be surprisingly effective across a wide range of customers. Oily and dry skin types alike can benefit from the bi-phase serum, and as someone with both dry and sensitive skin, I haven’t had any issues while using the Korres thus far.

Shoppers at Sephora seem to be in love with the Spotless Serum, with one reviewer raving, “I am obsessed with this serum. It has made my skin look so amazing I barely wear foundation. Using this at night I wake up with nice clear soft skin.”

Pros: Great rosy smell without being overpowering, 15% vitamin C, works well for fading discoloration and evening tone

Cons: Some customers have complained that the serum is too oily

Buy the Korres Wild Rose 15% Vitamin C Spotless Serum for $75

The best high-end vitamin C serum

The best high-end vitamin C serum
Why you'll love it: No list would be complete without the OG SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, a pricey but effective compound that’s been a favorite for what seems like forever.

It’s been over a decade since the SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Serum was first released, and in more than 10 years, it doesn’t seem as though any other vitamin C serum has truly been able to unseat the original queen from her throne. Sure, the SkinCeuticals is expensive (it’s certainly the priciest on this list), but when push comes to shove, this is one of the most tried and true options on the market. And nothing lasts this long without having some rhyme or reason behind it.

The serum contains 15% vitamin C, along with vitamin E and ferulic acid, both of which aid in brightening your skin and reducing signs of aging. Ferulic acid is particularly important in serums, not only because of its anti-aging capabilities but also because it prevents the vitamin C from oxidizing. In other words, it makes helps ensure that your serum is shelf-stable because if you’re paying well over $100 per bottle, you don’t want to lose half the bottle simply because you were being judicious about your application.

SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic contains just 12 ingredients, each of which were included only after extensive testing. This reliance on cold, hard facts has certainly contributed to the formula’s longstanding popularity — there are no gimmicks or big marketing plays around this serum. It just works because it’s been designed to do so.

As dermatologist William Kwan told Refinery 29, "It has scientifically proven effectiveness that I knew would catch on."

Other than the fact that C E Ferulic has become a cult favorite since its 2005 release, there’s really nothing trendy about the serum. It doesn’t make any outsized promises, nor does it smell like flowers (really, it smells like hot dogs). But what it does do is grant your skin environmental protection by neutralizing free radicals from UV rays and ozone pollution.

It also makes your skin look noticeably younger, and no matter how unadvanced you may be in years, believe me, you can always look more youthful.

Pros: Tried and true formula, no gimmicks, helps skin look more youthful, extremely stable

Cons: Expensive

Buy the SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Serum for $166 Read our guide to the best anti-aging serums

The best vitamin C serum for less than $20

The best vitamin C serum for less than $20
Why you'll love it: Not only is Aura Organics Vitamin C serum fast-acting and gentle on the skin, it’s also just $15.

While it takes most skin products quite a bit of time to begin displaying their effects, this certainly is not the case with Aura Organics.

The team has managed to develop an organic formula that founder Winston Starr tells Business Insider is the “strongest, most potent and pure formula on the market.” And while I was a bit skeptical at first, I will say that the immediacy of results that I found from using Aura Organics was indeed quite impressive.

The key ingredients of the serum are about as straightforward as you’d hope. It’s comprised of 20% Vitamin C, 5% Hyaluronic Acid (a moisture-binding ingredient that helps keep your skin looking hydrated and healthy), 3.5% Niacinamide (a form of Vitamin B3 that helps improve the appearance of uneven skin tone, fine lines, and other signs of aging), and 1% Vitamin E for some extra glow.

Whether it’s the proportions of these ingredients or their potency that contributes to the fast action of the formula, I’m not sure, but it does begin to take effect surprisingly quickly. Within just a couple uses, I noticed that my skin had begun to look brighter and, dare I say, more buoyant.

Although I tend toward dry skin, I didn’t find that this formula resulted in any flakiness or peeling, though I was sure to moisturize carefully after.

Aura Organics makes its Vitamin C serum in the US, and its formula is entirely paraben and cruelty free (as well as non-GMO). There is no added palm or mineral oil, which allows this serum to go on quite easily. It’s less viscous than water, to be sure, but it doesn’t sit heavily on your face all day.

Alas, Aura Organics does not include any fragrance, which means that your face does smell vaguely like a hot dog in the minutes immediately after you’ve applied. But that seems like a small price to pay for an otherwise fantastic product.

And speaking of small prices to pay, Aura Organics’ serum will only set you back $14.99 on Amazon, which makes it one of the most affordable options we’ve found.

Pros: Fast-acting, inexpensive, gentle on the skin, packed with good-for-your-skin vitamins

Cons: As with most unscented serums, you’ll smell like a hot dog

Buy Aura Vitamin C Serum on Amazon for $14.99

Check out our other skincare product buying guides

Check out our other skincare product buying guides
The best anti-aging serums you can buy

Using a serum as part of your skincare routine is essential to keep your skin looking youthful and to keep those darn wrinkles at bay. Considered the superheroes of skincare, serums are packed with powerful ingredients that penetrate deep into the skin.

Anti-aging serums deal primarily with fine lines, wrinkles, and dehydration, but also tone, texture, and dark spots. Some of the best anti-aging Ingredients to look out for are vitamin C, for brightening the skin, hyaluronic acid for plumping it up, and Retinol, a vitamin A derivative that treats a multitude of skin concerns from wrinkles to acne.

Here are our top picks for the best anti-aging serums you can buy:

The best makeup remover you can buy

It's good for your skin to remove makeup every night, but it can be a pain without the right makeup remover.

We've done our research and tested the best makeup removers on the market to come up our top recommendations. Whether you're a devout double cleanser or prefer removing makeup on the fly, there's something on this list for everyone.

Here are the best makeup removers you can buy:

The best exfoliators you can buy for any skin type or budget

Whether you're new to the exfoliation game or a seasoned skincare pro, Glossier's Solution is the exfoliator you should be reaching for. Its powerful mix of acids dissolves dead skin cells and improves your complexion, giving your face a gorgeous glow.

You might also like the Simple Kind to Skin Smoothing Facial Scrub, the Dermalogical Daily Microfoliant, the Juara Radiance Enzyme Scrub, and the Ole Henriksen Transforming Walnut Scrub.

The best moisturizers you can buy

Everyone wants healthy, smooth, and soft skin. Dry skin not only looks dull and flaky, it also feels tight and itchy. The solution? A good moisturizer. Our favorite moisturizer for both face and body is the CeraVe Moisturizing Cream.

You might also like the Neutrogena Hydro Boost, the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Mat, the Pacifica Coconut Probiotic Water Rehab Cream, the Vaseline Intensive Care Advanced Repair Unscented Lotion, the Vanicream Moisturizing Skin Cream, the Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream, and the Aveeno Active Naturals Skin Relief Hand Cream.

The best sunscreen you can buy

Daily use of a good sunscreen like the Coppertone Ultraguard SPF 70 or the Goddess Garden Organics' Everyday SPF 30 Natural Sunscreen will fend off sunburns today, and help prevent the skin damage that leads to aged, wrinkled, blotchy skin later on in life. Here are our top picks for the best sunscreen you can buy:

The best eye creams you can buy

Eye creams and serums are likely the product you know you should be using but have no idea how to actually shop for. If you're unsure of where to start, reach for the Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic + Retinol Eye Serum. Buyers and experts agree that this is the cream of the crop when it comes to treating under eye circles.

You'll also love the Sunday Riley Auto Correct Brightening and Depuffing Eye Cream, the Aveeno Absolutely Ageless Eye Cream, the Uma Absolute Aging Eye Oil, and theLancôme Vissionaire Yeux.

The best clay masks you can buy

Clay masks are an easy and cost-effective way to give your skin a boost without hitting the spa. Our top pick is the Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay Mask because it is a super affordable all-natural mask that deep cleans your pores.

You might also like the Glossier Mega Greens Galaxy Pack Mask, the Pure Biology Clay Face Mask, the L'Oréal Paris Pure Clay Exfoliate & Refine Mask, or the Charlotte Tilbury Goddess Skin Clay Mask.

The best body oil you can buy

If smooth, supple skin is what you're looking for, then the Fresh Sugar Ultra-Nourishing Body Oil is the bottle you want to reach for.

You might also like the Jao Goe Oil, the Herbivore Jasmine Glowing Hydrating Oil, theKypris Body Elixir Inflorescence, and the Burt's Bees Body Oil.

The best face cream for dry skin

If you're one of those people whose face feels flaky whether it's December or August, finding the right face cream can be difficult. But if full-on hydration and protection are what you're after, Dr. Jart+ Ceramindin Cream is your best bet.

You should also consider the Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel, the CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, the Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Cream, and the Youth To The People Age Prevention Superfood Cream.

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