Best Vitamin C Serum for Acne Scars 2019

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Best Vitamin C Serum for Acne Scars

Best Vitamin C Serum for Acne Scars

Here are my top recommendations for the best vitamin C serum for acne scars:

Best Overall Pick

Arguably the best vitamin C serum that money can buy.

There’s a reason why SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic commands an eye-popping premium over its competitors. Years of clinical research and a patented vitamin C formulation have created a cult-like following for this prestigious skincare product.

Runner-Up

A vitamin C serum with stellar reviews and clean ingredients.

Drunk Elephant has created a well-loved vitamin C serum with the same ingredients as SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic. It features boosters like pumpkin ferment and pomegranate extract (exfoliators), plant-based antioxidants, and virgin marula oil (moisturizer).

Best Budget Pick

A budget friendly serum featuring a proven vitamin C derivative.

Amara Organics is a budget-friendly option with over 4.5K reviews on Amazon. It features 20% sodium ascorbyl phosphate (a vitamin C derivative) and is well-suited for mild hyperpigmentation. 

Best Value for the Money

An affordable vitamin C serum with the same great formula.

With the same ingredients we know and love from SkinCeuticals, Paula’s Choice has turned the prized C E Ferulic formulation into an affordable vitamin C serum. A great value of the money.

Best for Sensitive Skin

A 5% pure vitamin C serum from a reputable Korean brand.

Klairs (or Dear, Klairs) has created a low concentration vitamin C serum that won’t irritate those with sensitive skin. It works great as a daily vitamin C serum for mild cases of hyperpigmentation.

What are Acne Scars?

I’ve had acne for most of my life and acne scars are a constant reminder of my struggle.

When I began to take better care of my skin, I also wanted to get rid of my acne scars.

But at the time, I didn’t realize there were so many different types of acne scars. 

Here’s what you need to know.

RELATED:

Atrophic Scars

These are pitted scars that look like tiny valleys or indentations.

Atrophic scars include:

  • Ice pick scars: deep and narrow holes in the skin
  • Boxcar scars: indentations with sharp edges (looks like a fingernail pushed into skin)
  • Rolling scars: indentations with smooth edges (looks like waves or ripples)

Raised Scars

These are thick bands of scar tissue that have grown above the skin. They are smooth, shiny, and feel hard/lumpy when you touch them.

There are two types of raised scars:

  • Keloids: these continue to grow over time (“scars that don’t know when to stop”)
  • Hypertrophic Scars: these do not grow and may disappear on their own

Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH)

We often get brown or dark spots after a pimple clears up. 

This is called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) or simply just hyperpigmentation.

The root cause of PIH is excess melanin. This is a pigment in our skin that determines skin color and protects us from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation (UV rays).

Too much melanin, however, leads to unwanted dark spots like PIH.

Post-Inflammatory Erythema (PIE)

If you have red marks from acne, you may have post-inflammatory erythema (PIE). This is not the same as hyperpigmentation! 

PIE is when the blood vessels close to the skin surface have been damaged by chronic inflammation. This leaves behind redness and red marks on the skin.

For years, I didn’t know I had PIE instead of PIH. It’s funny how one letter makes such a big difference! 

Does Vitamin C Reduce Hyperpigmentation?

Vitamin C is one of the best ingredients for treating hyperpigmentation. 

To understand why, we need to dig into the science.

Vitamin C Slows Down Melanin Production

Remember how hyperpigmentation is caused by excess melanin?

Well, many studies show that vitamin C slows down melanin production. This helps to reverse signs of hyperpigmentation and brighten your skin tone.

Vitamin C works by inhibiting an enzyme called tyrosinase. This is the enzyme responsible for producing melanin. 

By deactivating tyrosinase, vitamin C reduces the level of melanin in our skin. This helps fade dark spots, age spots, and acne scars.

But keep in mind this won’t happen overnight! It takes many months of consistent treatment before seeing any results.

Vitamin C Protects Skin from UV Radiation

What’s more, vitamin C also protects our skin from sun damage! UVA and UVB radiation are known causes of sunburn, dark spots, and skin cancer.

Vitamin C has antioxidant properties that prevent UV rays from damaging our skin cells. 

It does this by “mopping up” the free radicals that UV rays leave behind. If left unchecked, free radicals cause cellular damage and contribute to wrinkles, aging, and even cancer.

But this doesn’t mean you should skip sunscreen altogether! 

Buyer's Guide to Vitamin C Serums

Woman Holding Shopping Bags

With thousands of options available, how can you find the best vitamin C serum for hyperpigmentation

We recommend looking at 7 key factors to help you decide.

RELATED:

1. Type of Vitamin C

There are several types of vitamin C in skincare products. They can be classified as:

  • Pure Vitamin C: L-ascorbic acid
  • Vitamin C Derivatives: chemically modified versions of L-ascorbic acid

Here’s what you need to know.

L-Ascorbic Acid (LAA)

If you have severe hyperpigmentation, look for vitamin C serums with L-ascorbic acid.

This is the most studied and effective type of vitamin C

Often called pure vitamin C, LAA is what our body uses naturally.

In contrast, almost all vitamin C derivatives must be converted to LAA before our body can use them.

But there is one major drawback.

LAA oxidizes (spoils) very quickly which means a short shelf life. Most serums must be used within 3-6 months after opening before they turn into expensive water. For this reason, don’t stock up on LAA products either!

The other drawback is that LAA may cause skin irritation and sensitivity. 

That’s because it must be formulated at a pH of 3.5 or lower to penetrate the skin barrier. This is fairly acidic (similar to soda) which may not be suitable for sensitive skin.

If you have severe hyperpigmentation, look for serums with L-ascorbic acid.

Vitamin C Derivatives

Given the downsides of LAA, scientists have created dozens of vitamin C derivatives. The ideal derivative would be more stable (longer shelf life) but still provide similar results.

research paper published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology summarizes the key differences between L-ascorbic acid and its various vitamin C derivatives. 

In short, here are the vitamin C derivatives that can help with mild hyperpigmentation:

  • Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (SAP)
  • Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (MAP)
  • Ascorbyl Glucoside

Vitamin C derivatives are less expensive and work well on mild hyperpigmentation.

2. Vitamin C Concentration

Best Vitamin C Serums for Hyperpigmentation in 2019

Hyperpigmentation is often difficult to remove, especially age spots and old acne scars. You need a serum with an adequate concentration of vitamin C to achieve any results. 

For LAA serums, look for a concentration between 10-20%

For vitamin C derivatives, the concentration can vary greatly

For LAA serums, look for a concentration between 10-20%.

3. pH Level

The pH level impacts how well the vitamin C serum penetrates our skin barrier. Even the best ingredients are no good if they cannot be absorbed by the skin.

For LAA, look for a pH below 3.5 for effective skin penetration.

Since vitamin C derivatives are more stable, they can have a milder pH of 5-7. This makes them suitable for sensitive skin.

For LAA serums, look for a pH below 3.5. For serums with vitamin C derivatives, look for a pH between 5-7.

4. Packaging

Aromatherapy Bottle

Packaging is quite important for vitamin C serums. The bottle must prevent premature vitamin C oxidation by keeping out air, heat, and light.

Look for an opaque or tinted bottle and avoid transparent packaging!

Look for an opaque or tinted bottle that keeps out air, heat, and light.

5. Shelf Life

Remember, vitamin C serums will oxidize over time and have a limited shelf life.

For LAA, you can expect a shelf life of 6-12 months depending on the product. For most products, the serum is best used within 3-6 months of opening.

Some companies, like SkinCeuticals, have developed unique formulations that increase vitamin C stability. This translates to a longer shelf life and usage time.

For vitamin C derivatives, the shelf life is usually not an issue.

To avoid oxidation (and wasting your money), use vitamin C serums quickly after opening and keep track of the expiration date.

6. Serum Color

When vitamin C oxidizes, the mixture turn into a yellowish colorBut many manufacturers add synthetic dyes that make it impossible to spot oxidation. 

For LAA, look for a colorless serum if possible. 

Vitamin C derivatives are more stable so spotting oxidation is less important.

Look for colorless serums so you can easily spot vitamin C oxidization.

7. Ingredient Safety

As with any skincare product, you don’t want any toxic ingredients going into your skin. These include parabens, phthalates, sulfates, sodium lauryl sulfate, and drying alcohols. 

When in doubt, you can always check the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database.

Avoid products with toxic or harsh ingredients.

8. Bonus Tip: Product Authenticity

When it comes to vitamin C serums, there are many fake products sold by unauthorized sellers. These are often knock-offs of more expensive brand names.

Always read reviews to see if any customers have received fakes. Make sure to check the company’s list of authorized retailers as well.

Make sure to buy from one of the company's authorized retailers.

Our Recommendations

Best Overall Pick

One of the best vitamin C serums that money can buy.

The SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic is one of the best vitamin C serums for treating dark spots and acne scars. This cult-favorite has over 800 five-star ratings on DermStore!

SkinCeuticals was the first to develop a unique formula of 15% L-ascorbic acid with 1% vitamin E and 0.5% ferulic acid (simply known as C E Ferulic). 

This trio of ingredients works well together to increase the effectiveness and stability of the overall serum. That means a longer shelf life and more effective results for your skin.

What’s more, SkinCeuticals holds a patent that prevents competitors from making similar formulations at a pH level of 2.5-3.0. Remember, the pH level affects how well your skin can absorb the vitamin C.

If budget is not an issue, the SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic is an excellent choice for treating stubborn hyperpigmentation like age spots and acne scars.

Due to its high popularity and price, there are many fakes out there. You can find a list of authorized retailers on the official website.

PROS

  • Patent-protected formula
  • Excellent reviews
  • Tinted bottle
  • Colorless serum

CONS

  • Very expensive

Runner-Up

A vitamin C serum with stellar reviews and clean ingredients.

The Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum is an excellent vitamin C serum with the same key ingredients as SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic. 

You’ll also get the benefits of boosters like pumpkin ferment and pomegranate extract (exfoliators), plant-based antioxidants, and virgin marula oil (moisturizer).

Drunk Elephant is known for creating products without potentially irritating ingredients, which they call the Suspicious 6 (essential oils, drying alcohols, silicones, chemical screens, fragrances, and sodium lauryl sulfate). 

They also designed a cool twist-open pop-up container that prevents vitamin C oxidation.

The Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum is an excellent alternative with stellar reviews and a super clean ingredient list. Read our full review here.

PROS

  • Same key ingredients as SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
  • Stellar reviews
  • No harsh ingredients (certified Clean at Sephora)
  • Includes additional boosters
  • Opaque and airtight bottle

CONS

  • Expensive
  • May feel heavy on oily skin
  • Difficult to spot oxidation; however, you can email the company for the expiry date

Best Budget Pick

The Amara Organics Vitamin C Serum is a budget-friendly option with over 4,500 reviews on Amazon. 

The key ingredient is 20% sodium ascorbyl phosphate, a vitamin C derivative. 

Vitamin C derivatives must be converted into L-ascorbic acid so they are less effective but offer a longer shelf live. This product is also suitable for those with sensitive skin. 

The serum has a lightweight and watery texture that dries quickly.

If you have mild hyperpigmentation, Amara Organics can be a great option for you. 

For more severe hyperpigmentation, I’d recommend a serum with L-ascorbic acid.

PROS

  • Suitable for sensitive skin
  • Tinted bottle
  • Great reviews
  • Budget-friendly

CONS

  • Not effective for severe hyperpigmentation

Best Value for the Money

Paula’s Choice C15 Super Booster is a hidden gem with the same ingredients we know and love from SkinCeuticals – 15% L-ascorbic acid with 1% vitamin E and 0.5% ferulic acid.

Unlike the Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum, you don’t get any extra boosters like pumpkin ferment and pomegranate extract, plant-based antioxidants, or virgin marula oil. 

But at a lower price point, Paula’s Choice C15 Super Booster is an affordable alternative that works well for hyperpigmentation. Read our full review here.

PROS

  • Same key ingredients as SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
  • Opaque bottle
  • Lightweight texture
  • Affordable

CONS

  • Short shelf life (3 months)

Best for Sensitive Skin

Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin C Drop is a vitamin C serum by the Korean beauty brand Klairs (also called Dear, Klairs). 

Unlike conventional vitamin C serums, Klairs opted to use 5% L-ascorbic Acid. Most vitamin C serums tend to be in the 10-20% range like SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic.

For this reason, Klairs is more suitable as a daily vitamin C serum that won’t irritate those with sensitive skin. Vitamin E is also included, which works nicely alongside vitamin C.

This serum has a lightweight texture and is stored in a translucent dropper bottle. As we saw in our buyer’s guide to vitamin C, opaque bottles are best for preventing oxidation (spoilage).

However, the company claims that their “advanced Korean technology” enables a more stable formulation of vitamin C that does not require additional UV protection.

The best part is the super affordable price. Klairs has made pure vitamin C serums accessible to everyone, while still delivering a great quality product.

PROS

  • 5% pure vitamin C
  • Added benefits of vitamin E, centella asiatica extract, and sodium hyaluronate
  • Very affordable

CONS

  • Clear bottle (may permit premature vitamin C oxidation)
  • Not effective for severe hyperpigmentation

The Bottom-Line

I hope our buyer’s guide helps you find the best vitamin C serum for acne scars. 

My top recommendation is SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic. It’s trusted by many dermatologists and has a patented formula that works well on all types of hyperpigmentation. 

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Tom Qiao

I solve skin mysteries using simple science to provide you the best skincare advice!

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