Fact: We need vitamin C to help our bodies absorb iron and ward off infections. But what else does vitamin C do? It works to preserve our complexions. Jeannel Astarita, licensed esthetician and founder of Just Ageless NYC, says to picture an avocado after it's been sliced—it quickly turns brown and deteriorates. This is just one example how free radicals cause oxidative damage. In the avocado's case, just a squeeze of lime juice brings back the fruit's true color and protects against future damage. The ascorbic acid in the lime is the antioxidant that corrects and protects against the constant attack of free radicals. "This is a simplified version of the way vitamin C aids in the fight against premature aging," explains Astarita. "If only a squeeze of lime worked on our skin," she says.
Because our bodies do not produce vitamin C, it's very important that we obtain the nutrient through our diet—especially since the vitamin is critical to producing collagen. "The slowing down of collagen production in the skin results in wrinkles and poor skin tone and texture," continues Astarita, "that's why topical vitamin C is critical."
However, there are challenges surrounding the vitamin. For one, it tends to be pricey. It can also prove to be ineffective after just a few weeks, as it loses efficacy if the manufacturing-to-sale process takes too long. And since its shelf life is short, the packaging is crucial. Astarita suggests buying vitamin C products that are packaged in a container that protects it from light. She also says to avoid storing it in a hot or humid room. Pro tip: If you can't control the temperature, stick it in the fridge.
To find out more, we tapped Astarita and a few other skin experts to find out the very best vitamin C serums on the market right now (and why they work). Scroll through to see their picks.
"Dr. Mostafa Omar of Phyto-C Skin Care and Dr. Sheldon Pinnell of SkinCeuticals are the fathers of the development of a topical vitamin C that remains stable until the bottle is finished. These are the only brands I would recommend that don't have an airtight pump delivery due to their well-documented stable formulations proven to last a year after opening in a temperate climate," says Jeannel Astarita, licensed esthetician and founder of Just Ageless NYC.
"Another exciting new option is SkinBetter Science's serum. Its proprietary combination of 19 antioxidants features their WEL technology that contains water-soluble, enzymatic, and lipid soluble antioxidants," says Astarita.
"This formula is a highly stabilized, very powerful form of vitamin C that helps to brighten dull skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It also provides a full lineup of antioxidants, including vitamin E and coenzyme Q10," says Sheila Nazarian, MD, MMM, and plastic surgeon.
"This product contains 10% vitamin C along with other powerful antioxidants to reverse photodamage and even out pigmentation," says Stefani T. Kappel, MD, cosmetic dermatologist and dermatological surgeon.
"C-Boost contains a special oil-soluble derivative of vitamin C in a light and non-greasy formula. It is formulated to help improve the appearance of uneven skin tone and sun damage while stimulating collagen and promoting healing. With the use of a fat-soluble form of vitamin C, we can get 10 times more active vitamin C into the skin cell in addition to a longer shelf life," says Sandra Velandia, esthetician, founder, and CEO of Esthetics by Sandra Velandia.
"This is one of the most exciting new formulations, as it stores powdered vitamin C and niacinamide in a separate chamber from the serum and is mixed when the pump is activated. This freshly mixed formulation should be used twice daily for two weeks before activating the second bottle in the package," says Astarita.
"These ampoules contain an advanced combination of antioxidants and moisturizers that brighten skin's complexion, increase firmness, and reduce the appearance of fine lines and dark spots. I personally recommend this product to my patients because it is formulated with 5% L-ascorbic acid (a pure form of vitamin C), which helps combat the effects of UV rays and stimulates cell growth," says Dendy Engelman, certified dermatologic surgeon and associate at Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery.
"The vitamin C products that I prefer have a concentration of 15% to 20% L-ascorbic acid. IS Clinical has three vitamin C–based serums that are beneficial to my clientele," says Shani Darden, esthetician and founder of Shani Darden Skin Care.
Know of an effective vitamin C serum we didn't include? Share with us in the comments, and then read about the healthiest nightly routine.