What is Vitamin C serum good for and how do you use it? If you’ve wondered what the heck does Vitamin C serum do for your skin, you’re not alone. In fact, interest in Vitamin C serums has spiked in recent years, with Google searches more than doubling since Jan. 2017.
It’s no surprise given the marketing of popular brands like Drunk Elephant’s C-Firma Day Serum and Perricone MD’s Vitamin C Ester Brightening Serum. With splashy packaging slapped with advertising-worthy benefits like reducing fine lines and wrinkles, diminishing dark spots and vanishing redness, it’s easy to give in to the hype. But, what do dermatologists think of this so-called skin superfood?
Turns out, Vitamin C actually is the “powerhouse ingredient” it claims to be, says esthetician Melissa Lekus of Melissa Lekus Skincare Consulting. “Vitamin C is the most abundant antioxidant in the body fighting free radicals to slow the aging process,” Lekus told HuffPost. “It can help lighten pigmentation, prevents the breakdown [of collagen] and increases collagen production.”
Vitamin C is the most abundant antioxidant in the body fighting free radicals to slow the aging process.Melissa Lekus, Melissa Lekus Skincare Consulting
That said, eating an orange doesn’t necessarily give you the same skin-loving benefits as a serum, says Susie Wang, cofounder of 100% PURE. That’s because topical Vitamin C works much faster than downing a glass of OJ. “Ingesting Vitamin C boosts the immune system and, although this helps bolster collagen and elastin production, it’s not targeted and works a lot slower since our body only accepts a certain amount of Vitamin C,” Wang says.
Though the court of public opinion has a few thoughts on the best-selling Vitamin C serums at Sephora, the majority of dermatologists we spoke with overwhelmingly recommended one serum in particular. The SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic serum earned marks from dermatologists for its ability to lighten fine lines, firm skin, provide environmental protection and brighten a dull complexion. But fair warning: It’s doesn’t come cheap. A 1-ounce bottle of this stuff rings up at over $160.
In fact, there is a scientific reason Vitamin C serums are likely to be the most expensive products in your beauty cabinet. Vitamin C is quite unstable in its purest form, which means it’s typically mixed with Vitamin E or ferulic acid to balance it out.
“Not all Vitamin C’s are equal,” says Wang, the cofounder of 100% PURE. “There are very unstable Vitamin C’s and more stable forms of it; very high quality and very low quality; very cheap and very expensive.”
All in all, there are a few things dermatologists agree on when it comes to using a Vitamin C serum for the first time, like wearing it under your moisturizer. That said, there’s no real consensus on whether it’s best worn at morning or night.
Not all Vitamin C’s are equal.Susie Wang, 100% PURE
Also, keep an eye on the color of your serum, which should be very light — almost clear. Over time it’ll start to darken as it oxidizes, much like a sliced apple. “If the serum has turned brown, return it and cease any use of it,” Wang says. “Absolutely do not use if it has turned brown.”
Finally, take note of the type of Vitamin C in the formula. “Make sure the concentration and type of Vitamin C is listed. L-ascorbic acid or tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate are the most active types,” says dermatologist Erum Ilyas of Montgomery Dermatology. “Also make sure the concentration is listed as between 10 to 20 percent. If this is not the case, Vitamin C can be very unstable on exposure to light and essentially be useless. That’s money wasted.”
Hungry for more? We asked eight skincare experts for their favorite Vitamin C serums, from expensive cult classics to affordable options under $10.
Take a look below at their over-the-counter recommendations:
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Peter Thomas Roth
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare
Sephora’s Highest-Rated Vitamin C Serums [slideshow]