Vitamin C (aka ascorbic acid) is a powerful antioxidant that's essential for the growth, development, and repair of the body's skin, bones, and blood vessels. Since our bodies don't produce vitamin C we must get it from other sources, such as vitamin C-rich foods and/or dietary supplements. High levels of the vitamin naturally occur in citrus fruits, berries, and cruciferous vegetables, and most people usually get ample amounts from eating a balanced diet.
But as far as vitamin C's particular benefits to the skin, its role as an antioxidant enables it to neutralize free radicals (think: tobacco smoke, UV radiation from the sun's rays) and help repair damaged skin cells by promoting collagen synthesis. "Collagen gives our skin support and structure, and as it degrades with age, we begin to notice wrinkles and folds," explains the dermatologist Jennifer Herrmann, MD, FAAD. "Vitamin C is a necessary cofactor for building collagen bundles, without which this process halts." These properties, along with its power to diminish hyperpigmentation and under-eye circles, too, make vitamin C one of the most beneficial antiaging (and skin-rejuvenating) ingredients in skincare today.
Yes, adding a topical vitamin-C serum to your daily skincare routine—it goes on after cleansing and before moisturizing—is pretty much a no-brainer. But its typically high price tag can tend to be a bit off-putting. So instead of dropping hundreds on high-end cosmeceuticals, here are 10 of the most effective and affordable vitamin-C serums readily found in drugstores and big-boxers like Amazon, Target, and Walmart. (Plus one pro-grade splurge—in case you don't mind spending a little extra.) Bonus: Most of these drugstore serums cost less than $50.
In addition to vitamin C, this botanical, plant-based serum (meaning: its active ingredients are found in nature) contains hyaluronic acid and vitamin E (another powerful antioxidant), which all help to brighten, hydrate, and plump skin while targeting, dark spots, sun spots, and fine lines and wrinkles. Plus, it doesn't contain artificial stabilizers, fillers, or coloring—making it a boon for vegans and those who favor largely unadulterated skincare products.
It's a lightweight serum that's designed to boost skin's radiance while retexturizing and smoothing it, too. Sodium hyaluronate (a highly effective moisturizer) and collagen combine with vitamin C to hydrate and plump skin while encouraging new skin cell growth.
Another vegan option, this serum works for a variety of skin types (even on sensitive faces) and is particularly helpful in improving the appearance of uneven skin tone. Vitamin E and aloe soothe and moisturize dried-out skin.
Ferulic acid (a natural antioxidant found in the cell walls of plants) along with konjac root (a flower from Asia with skin-softening and -smoothing properties), vitamin E, and hyaluronic acid are blended to create, yes, another vegan serum you can feel good about putting on your skin. Other added botanicals, such as chamomile extract and clary sage soothe, calm, and tone skin, respectively.
L'Oreal tests its skincare products rigorously, and this serum was developed with and tested by an advisory panel of dermatologists who say it boosts skin's radiance and visibly reduces wrinkles in two weeks' time. (It's also safe for sensitive skin.) Its measure of 10% pure vitamin C (l-ascorbic acid), said to be the magic number when it comes to optimal skin absorption and efficacy, delivers potent antioxidant power. It's also free of hormone-disrupting parabens, harmful preservatives that are added to many skincare products.
This two-week treatment—meant to be applied in the morning and again in the evening—contains 5% pure vitamin C and has been developed by the British health and beauty powerhouse, Boots. (Vitamin C powder comes in a separate container that dispenses the powder and activates the formula.) During testing, and after the two weeks' time had elapsed, 91% of the women testers said their skin looked brighter and more radiant.
Since 2005, CeraVe has been developing each of its 70 skincare products—known the world over for their patented moisturizing properties—with dermatologists. This lightweight formula contains 10% pure vitamin C, hyaluronic aid, and the moisture-absorbing vitamin B5 (aka pantothenic acid), along with three ceramides—ceramides 1, 3, and 6-II—which are lipids that help form the skin’s barrier and help skin retain moisture.
As the word Lumene suggests, the Nordic skincare brand is so named for Lake Lummenne in central Finland—and it sources its natural ingredients from plants and botanicals native to the region. This serum contains vitamin C extracted from cloudberries (found in Nordic swamplands), which contain four times as much vitamin C as oranges, as well as ellagitannins (ellagic acid), which slow collagen degradation. Arctic spring water and hyaluronic acid duly plump and smooth.
With 15% pure vitamin C, natural-origin hyaluronic acid, and the brand's proprietary mineral-rich thermal water, this dermatologist-grade, oil-free serum reduces fine lines, firms skin, evens skin tone, and delivers brighter skin in 10 days.
It's a velvety, nongreasy serum that targets fine lines and wrinkles via active ingredients such as 10% pure vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, and the company's selenium-rich thermal spring water, which has clinically-proven skincare benefits. It also targets dullness and uneven skin tone.
It's a powerful (albeit pricey) pro-grade serum that delivers the highest concentration of L-ascorbic acid available (20%) and is said to provide significantly better penetration into the outermost skin layer (epidermis) and the deeper, middle layer (dermis) than most other comparable vitamin C serums on the market.