3 Dermatologist-Approved Vitamin C Creams for "Brighter, Firmer Skin"

Updated 02/22/18

Aside from taking age-defying supplements and eating our way to glowing skin, we'll admit that we're also intrigued by the benefits of using topical vitamin C products for attaining Liv Tyler–level luminous skin. In the pursuit of a more radiant complexion, we set out to discover whether or not we should add products with this active ingredient to our top shelves.

To learn more about this powerful antioxidant, we consulted Jennifer Herrmann, MD, FAAD, of Moy, Fincher, Chipps Dermatology to find out exactly what vitamin C can do for our skin and which potent products we should be using to reap the benefits of this water-soluble vitamin. According to Herrmann, vitamin C can "keep skin healthy by scavenging free radicals, aiding in collagen synthesis, and lightening unwanted pigmentation."

Ahead, shop three dermatologist-approved vitamin C creams for brighter, firmer skin, including a $44 miracle worker you can (and should) add to your Sephora cart stat.

vitamin c creams
Honey and Silk

Why should I incorporate vitamin C into my skincare routine?

If you're wondering why you should opt for a topical vitamin C treatment (instead of pouring yourself a glass of orange juice), let Herrman explain. "One of vitamin C's main benefits is its function as an antioxidant," she says. "Normal cellular processes, as well as environmental insults like ultraviolet light and pollution, create free radicals in the skin," Herrmann adds. "Free radicals are inherently unstable molecules that damage cells, promoting skin dullness, wrinkles, and even cancers. By scavenging these free radicals, vitamin C protects the skin, keeping it healthy."

In addition to its ability to keep free radicals at bay, "vitamin C is also praised for its role in collagen synthesis," says Herrmann. "Collagen gives our skin support and structure, and as it degrades with age, we begin to notice wrinkles and folds," she explains. "Vitamin C is a necessary cofactor for building collagen bundles, without which this process halts." In case you need more convincing, "vitamin C is helpful in decreasing skin pigment or brown discoloration," says Herrmann. "By blocking the pathway of pigment synthesis, vitamin C can lighten unwanted brown spots."

Who should use vitamin C (and who should avoid it)?

"Because vitamin C has many benefits, it is helpful for many people wishing to brighten and keep skin healthy," says Herrmann. "People with sensitive skin should be careful of formulations that contain alcohol or fragrance as these can be allergens or irritants," she advises. "It should also be used at night, not during the day, because it degrades more quickly in the light."

Which vitamin C cream is right for me?

According to Herrmann, shopping for the right vitamin C cream isn't as easy as you might think. "The problem with vitamin C is that it doesn't easily penetrate the skin's barrier," she explains. "Vitamin C is hydrophilic, meaning it loves water," she adds. "This presents a challenge because the skin barrier is mostly made of fats—think trying to mix oil and water."

Not only is it a hydrophilic skincare ingredient, but it's also relatively unstable. Vitamin C is "very reactive and easily loses its antioxidant properties," Herrmann explains. "Certain alkaline environments, high temperatures, and the presence of oxygen and metal elements can render it ineffective in seconds."

"To overcome these challenges, biologically minded manufacturers have altered vitamin C's structure, so that it better penetrates the skin and stays active longer," she says "But, this is a costly process, and many companies just don't invest in necessary formulation improvements."

Keep scrolling to shop Herrmann's picks.

C.E.O. C + E antiOXIDANT Protect + Repair Moisturizer 0.5 oz/ 15 g
Sunday Riley C.E.O. C + E Antioxidant Protect + Repair Moisturizer $65

This Sunday Riley reparative moisturizer contains "tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, a lipid-soluble form of vitamin C that helps it get through the skin," says Herrmann. Though the $65 price tag isn't for the faint of heart, this dermatologist-approved pick is worth the cash if you're looking for a product that will deliver serious results.

SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic $165

When it comes to choosing the right vitamin C cream, "try a product that has been researched extensively by dermatologists or scientists not affiliated with the product," advises Herrmann. "One example is SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic," she offers. "Multiple independent studies have shown this product to improve skin brilliance, firmness, and pigment problems."

Vine Activ 3-in-1 Moisturizer 1.3 oz/ 40 mL
Caudalie Vine Activ 3-in-1 Moisturizer $44

This $44 cream is "made with ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate, a stabilized form of vitamin C," explains Herrmann, so you can reap the benefits of the collagen-boosting skincare ingredient without needing to worry about whether or not it's being absorbed into your pores.

One last thing that you need to know about creams containing this potent antioxidant is that you should "throw out any vitamin C product that has a yellowish-brown discoloration," advises Herrmann. "This means that it has degraded and is no longer biologically active."

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