Today, I’m going to discuss the best vitamin C serums for hyperpigmentation (spoiler: my top pick is SkinCeuticals Serum 10 AOX+).
Vitamin C is a powerhouse ingredient that’s touted by dermatologists and beauty editors alike. Decades of research has shown that pure vitamin C (a.k.a. L-Ascorbic Acid) has three main benefits for your skin (source: The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health, 2017):
- Antioxidant Protection: Vitamin C protects your skin from free radical damage, including ultraviolet (UV) radiation, environmental pollution, and natural factors like stress & aging
- Melanin Inhibition (Skin Brightening): Vitamin C inhibits melanin production by deactivating an enzyme called tyrosinase (required to make melanin). This helps brighten dark spots and reduce uneven skin tone as excess melanin is the main cause of hyperpigmentation
- Collagen Synthesis: Vitamin C promotes collagen production in two ways: i) as a co-factor for the amino acids proline and lysine (used to stabilize the collagen molecule structure) and ii) through increased collagen gene expression in your DNA
The classic example of vitamin C’s overall importance for good health is scurvy, an old sailor’s disease where vitamin C deficiency resulted in weakness, bleeding gums, and skin deformities.
ⓘ Let’s help you find the right vitamin C serum for your skin concern and budget!
What Are The Best Vitamin C Serums for Hyperpigmentation?
Here are the best vitamin C serums for hyperpigmentation:
- Best Overall Vitamin C Serum: SkinCeuticals Serum 10 AOX+
- Best for Dark Spots: Vichy LiftActiv Vitamin C Serum
- Best for Uneven Skin Tone: OLEHENRIKSEN Banana Bright Vitamin C Serum
- Best for Melasma: Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Power Serum
- Best for Dull Skin: Murad Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum
- Best Budget Vitamin C Serum: Olay Tone Perfection Serum
- Best Value for Money: Derma E Vitamin C Concentrated Serum
- Best Tropical Drink: Glow Recipe Pineapple-C Bright Serum
- Best Cream: Sunday Riley C.E.O. Vitamin C Rich Hydration Cream
- Best Capsule: Elizabeth Arden Vitamin C Ceramide Capsules
- Honorable Mention: Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Serum
What To Look For In A Vitamin C Serum
Before we jump to my recommendations, I’d like to help you quickly understand what to look for in a vitamin C serum (source: Topical L-Ascorbic Acid: Percutaneous Absorption Studies, 2001):
- Type of Vitamin C: Not all vitamin C is created equal. The most effective and most studied form is pure vitamin C (called L-Ascorbic Acid) because your body can use this form directly. However, L-ascorbic acid has some drawbacks; notably, it’s not stable and oxidizes quickly which means products lose their effectiveness after about 3-6 months. For this reason, many companies use Vitamin C Derivatives that are more stable but generally less effective since the derivatives must be first converted into L-ascorbic acid by your body and some of them have difficulty penetrating the skin barrier.
- Formulation (including pH): While vitamin C is the star player, it’s even better when paired with good teammates like fellow antioxidants Vitamin E and Ferulic Acid which help increase the formula’s stability and effectiveness (Vitamin C can actually “recycle” depleted Vitamin E). Research also shows that a pH < 3.5 is required for pure vitamin C to penetrate your skin.
- Packaging: The best formulas in the world are no good without well-designed packaging. Since vitamin C is easily oxidized by air, light, and heat exposure, look for dark, UV-tinted bottles or pump-style opaque containers to protect the sensitive (and expensive) contents.
Ready to find the best vitamin C serum for you? Let’s jump into my top recommendations. ⭐
The 10 Best Vitamin C Serums in 2020
1. Best Overall Vitamin C Serum: SkinCeuticals Serum 10 AOX+
Summary: The Serum 10 AOX+ is a hidden gem by SkinCeuticals with 10% pure vitamin C for less than half the price of C E Ferulic. ????
Best For: Dark Spots, Uneven Tone
10% L-Ascorbic Acid
0.2% Ferulic Acid
Get It @ SkinCeuticals
If you’ve done any research on vitamin C serums, you’ll know that SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic is one of the most highly recommended products among dermatologists and beauty editors alike.
However, the main issue with C E Ferulic, is not its outstanding formulation, but its outstanding price, which makes this popular vitamin C serum out-of-reach for most people (currently retails for $166).
If you’ve ever wondered why SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic is so damn expensive, here is my theory: ????️♂️
- SkinCeuticals (through its parent company, L’Oréal USA Creative) owns a global patent on formulations of 10-20% pure vitamin C (a.k.a. L-Ascorbic Acid) in combination with various cinnamic acids (notably, Ferulic Acid) and the antioxidant Vitamin E, at a pH < 3.5.
- This patent is known as the Duke Antioxidant Patent (US Patent No. 7,179,841 B2) and was filed by Dr. Sheldon Pinnell (the founding scientist of SkinCeuticals) and Jan E. Zielinski in January 2005. Like most utility patents (relating to inventions), it’s valid for 20 years from the date of application and is scheduled to expire in March 2025 (source: Google Patents).
- This patent is significant because Dr. Pinnell’s years of research has shown that vitamin C serums formulated under these parameters are more stable and more readily absorbed by the skin (source: Topical L-Ascorbic Acid: Percutaneous Absorption Studies, 2001 and UV Photoprotection by Combination Topical Antioxidants Vitamin C and Vitamin E, 2003).
By holding this patent, SkinCeuticals can prevent competitors from creating vitamin C serums with similar formulations (i.e. 10-20% L-ascorbic acid, cinnamic acids, and vitamin E, at a pH below 3.5).
In fact, SkinCeuticals recently filed a lawsuit against Drunk Elephant in 2018 over allegations that the brand’s popular C-Firma Day Serum violated the Duke Antioxidant Patent (source: The Fashion Law).
Alright, so back to my theory on SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic: once the patent expires in 2025, other competitors will be able to freely replicate the original formula and sell “knock-off” versions of this vitamin C serum (much like how generic drugs are way cheaper than brand name ones).
That’s why SkinCeuticals is charging an arm-and-a-leg for its products today, while it’s still covered by patent protection, before competitors like Drunk Elephant move in with their own versions.
But this review is not for SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic (even if I did spend 90% of my time on it ????♀️). As I said earlier, C E Ferulic is just too expensive for most consumers, even as an occasional splurge.
Instead, I’m recommending the lesser-known (yet still very effective) SkinCeuticals Serum 10 AOX+ which currently retails for less than half the price of C E Ferulic! ($70 at the time of this review)
The Serum 10 AOX+ features 10% L-Ascorbic Acid and 0.2% Ferulic Acid for powerful antioxidant protection against environmental stressors like UVA/UVB radiation and free radical damage.
It’s the perfect daytime vitamin C serum for brightening dark spots, improving uneven skin tone, and reducing common signs of aging like sun spots, wrinkles, and fine lines.
The best part is that Serum 10 AOX+ is also formulated according to the Duke Antioxidant Patent (notably, at a pH below 3.5 which is required for vitamin C to penetrate your skin). That means you get to enjoy an effective formulation based on years of research for a fraction of the price. ????
- It’s very suitable for sensitive skin due to the lower concentration of active ingredients and simple ingredient list (11 in total with no parabens, dyes, fragrances, or alcohols)
- It helped many users achieve brighter skin with more even skin tone, reverse sun damage, keep skin looking younger and smoother, and reduce pore sizes
- It’s quickly absorbed by the skin and doesn’t just stay on the surface like thicker serums do
In addition, users shared some of the common drawbacks to Serum 10 AOX+, including how:
- It has a watery consistency that some may find difficult to apply (SkinCeuticals recommends adding 4-5 drops to the palm of your hands and patting over your face, neck, and chest)
- It has a mild smell (some say it’s like hotdogs) due to the lack of fragrances or perfumes that are commonly used in the industry to mask scents (this is a good thing, in my opinion)
- It’s best used within 3 months of opening (but has a full shelf life of 12 months). This is because L-ascorbic acid oxidizes over time which reduces its antioxidant abilities. One clever user suggested transferring this serum into separate UV-tinted glass spray bottles to minimize oxygen exposure (which happens every time you open the dropper bottle)
My Verdict: If you want the best vitamin C serum on the market, you really can’t go wrong with the classic SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic (just make sure you buy from an authorized retailer like Dermstore). But if you’re looking for a balance between effective formulation and reasonable affordability, I’d recommend SkinCeuticals Serum 10 AOX+ as the better vitamin C serum for most people. ????
Bonus Tip: If you want a stronger vitamin C serum, check out SkinCeuticals Serum 20 AOX+.
2. Best for Dark Spots: Vichy LiftActiv Vitamin C Serum
Summary: The Vichy LiftActiv Vitamin C Serum brightens dark spots with 15% pure vitamin C and hydrates with hyaluronic acid. ????
Best For: Dark Spots, Age Spots
15% L-Ascorbic Acid
Natural Origin Hyaluronic Acid
Get It @ Amazon
If you’re looking for a vitamin C serum that’s both high-quality (which, in my opinion, means having the right ingredients at the right concentrations in a clean formulation) and relatively affordable, I highly recommend Vichy’s LiftActiv Vitamin C Serum with 15% L-ascorbic acid and hyaluronic acid.
As we discussed earlier in my top overall recommendation, the SkinCeuticals Serum 10 AOX+, not all vitamin C serums are created (formulated) equally. In particular, years of research by Dr. Pinnell has shown that vitamin C only penetrates your skin under certain conditions: i) using L-Ascorbic Acid, ii) at a 10-20% concentration, and iii) formulated at a pH level below 3.5 (source: Topical L-Ascorbic Acid: Percutaneous Absorption Studies, 2001 and Duke Antioxidant Patent, 2005).
Remember, SkinCeuticals holds a global patent until 2025 that prevents competitors from creating vitamin C serums with these formulation parameters. (looking at you, Drunk Elephant!)
With this in mind, Vichy Laboratories, a luxury brand born out of the mineral waters in Vichy, France, has taken a slightly different approach with its vitamin C serum:
- Similar to C E Ferulic, you get a highly potent dose of 15% L-Ascorbic Acid ????
- Unlike C E Ferulic, you don’t get the stabilizing benefits of 0.5% Ferulic Acid; but you do get the antioxidant power of Vitamin E and Pycnogenol (Pinus Pinaster Bark Extract) which comes from the bark of French maritime trees
- Vichy also added Hyaluronic Acid to increase skin hydration and soften fine lines & wrinkles
- The ingredient list is nice and short (11 in total) but unfortunately contains drying alcohol ????
Overall, I do like Vichy’s formulation (especially at the current price point which is $28.50 per 0.34 oz or roughly $84.00 per 1.0 oz). Obviously, the company cannot copy everything from C E Ferulic as that would be patent infringement. In particular, I couldn’t find any info on the pH level of this product (which plays a significant role in how well the vitamin C will actually penetrate your skin).
I also like the mini-bottle size (0.34 oz) which means you’ll have an easier time finishing this product before L-ascorbic acid oxidizes (as shown by changes in color from clear amber to dark yellow). It’s also smart marketing as the price tag drops to under $30 compared to $80+ per 1.0 oz.
Now, if you have the budget and can commit to using a vitamin C serum on a daily basis, I’d still recommend SkinCeuticals Serum 10 AOX+ (currently $70 per 1.0 oz) over the Vichy Vitamin C Serum. You’ll get a best-in-class formulation and better value for your money on a per oz basis.
In terms of results, here’s what most users had to say about the Vichy Vitamin C Serum:
- It absorbs very quickly but leaves behind a sticky residue
- It helps brighten dark spots and clear up uneven skin tone
- It helps tighten aging skin and soften rough skin texture
- For a small bottle, it lasts quite a while and provides good value for money
- It has a mild scent which some people found unpleasant (no fragrance is added)
In addition, I noticed that many reviews on Vichy and Ulta Beauty were from those who received free samples or submitted their review to enter a sweepstakes contest (take it for what it’s worth). Many people also did not use the product long enough before posting their review.
My Verdict: The Vichy LiftActiv Vitamin C Serum offers a rare combination of effective formulation (featuring 15% L-Ascorbic Acid) at an entry-level price ($28.50 for 0.34 oz). It’s the perfect way to get started with pure vitamin C serums on a budget before upgrading to SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic or SkinCeuticals Serum 10 AOX+ in the future.
3. Best for Uneven Skin Tone: OLEHENRIKSEN Banana Bright Vitamin C Serum
Summary: The new Banana Bright Vitamin C Serum is a more potent version of the OG Truth Serum. ????
Best For: Uneven Skin Tone
15% Vitamin C (3-O-C)
5% PHA (Gluconolactone)
Get It @ Sephora
Move over, Truth Serum!
The new Banana Bright Vitamin C Serum is OLEHENRIKSEN’s most powerful vitamin C serum yet.
In many ways, though, it’s more like a Truth Serum+ as it builds upon its bestselling predecessor in terms of both the formulation and product design (right down to the same citrus scent! ????).
Years ago, I splurged on the 3.4 oz version of Truth Serum (the largest size) for over CAD $180 but wasn’t too impressed with it after 4-6 months of usage. At the time, I was looking for a solution to my uneven skin tone and acne scars; unfortunately, Truth Serum was not it. ????
So how does the new Banana Bright stack up against the original Truth Serum?
Let’s take a quick look at the key differences & similarities:
- Key Ingredients: Banana Bright uses a 15% concentration of 3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid (3-O-C) which is a stable vitamin C derivative, while Truth Serum uses “True-C Complex”, a blend of two vitamin C derivatives: Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate and Calcium Ascorbate. Although OLEHENRIKSEN does not disclose the vitamin C concentration used in Truth Serum, they tell us that Banana Bright “contains our highest concentration of vitamin C for daily use”.
- Booster Ingredients: Banana Bright includes a 5% polyhydroxy acid called Gluconolactone (a gentler type of acid than AHAs like Glycolic Acid) and Banana Powder Inspired Pigments (which help conceal imperfections and uneven skin tone), whereas Truth Serum included boosters like Hydrolyzed Collagen and Green Tea Extract.
- Similar Ingredients: Both Banana Bright and Truth Serum include Hyaluronic Acid, Vitamin E, Artificial Color, and Orange Extract (used to create the iconic “citrus” scent).
- Other Similarities: Both have long ingredient lists (39 in Truth Serum, 45 in Banana Bright!) and use the same type of packaging (a semi-opaque glass bottle with a plastic pump).
Overall, the Banana Bright Vitamin C Serum is a much more powerful version of OG Truth Serum, with a higher concentration of Vitamin C and additional exfoliation benefits from Gluconolactone to brighten and correct uneven skin tone, while Banana Powder helps conceal existing imperfections.
In addition, 3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid is a derivative of L-Ascorbic Acid (it consists of an ethyl group attached at the 3rd carbon position) and like most vitamin C derivatives, offers increased stability (longer shelf life and oxidation resistance) but at the cost of decreased efficacy.
Notably, it has more difficulty penetrating your skin and must be first converted into L-ascorbic acid by your body before it can deliver any potential skin benefits (source: Stability, Transdermal Penetration, and Cutaneous Effects of Ascorbic Acid and Its Derivatives, 2012).
In terms of results, the community feedback so far has been generally positive:
- Many people mentioned that Banana Bright helped their skin look more radiant
- Some people said it had a good consistency and layered well under makeup
- Most people enjoyed the citrus scent (which, based on my experience with Truth Serum, is the sweet smell of peeled oranges).
Others, however, were more critical of the product’s effectiveness, including its potential to cause adverse skin reactions (always do a patch test before applying it to your entire face). Moreover, it can be difficult to isolate which ingredient is causing it given the long ingredient list.
Finally, I noticed that many reviews for Banana Bright were from those who received free samples from Influenster or OLEHENRIKSEN (again, take it for what it’s worth). While I don’t hold anything against this type of marketing strategy, I do feel that it inflates the ratings because you’re not going to be nearly as critical of a free product compared to one that you actually paid for. ????
My Verdict: The Banana Bright Vitamin C Serum is a more powerful version of the OG Truth Serum and helps correct uneven skin tone with 15% Vitamin C and 5% PHA while Banana Powder Pigments help conceal existing imperfections. OLEHENRIKSEN also offers a bundle kit on their home page.
4. Best for Melasma: Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Power Serum
Summary: The Potent-C Power Serum offers a high concentration of stable vitamin C to help fade stubborn hyperpigmentation. ????
Best For: Melasma, Age Spots
20% Vitamin C (THD Ascorbate)
3% Vitamin E
2% Ferulic Acid
Get It @ Amazon
For more stubborn forms of hyperpigmentation like melasma and age spots, I recommend trying a higher potency vitamin C serum like the Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Power Serum.
(Sorry, I just couldn’t resist making that pun ????).
Peter Thomas Roth is a skincare brand inspired by the old-world spas in Hungary’s thermal springs. I’ve bought a few of their products in the past and have always been impressed with the results, including the Acne Spot & Area Treatment and Anti-Aging Cleansing Gel.
The Potent-C Power Serum features a high concentration of 20% Tetrahexyldecyl (THD) Ascorbate, which is an oil-soluble vitamin C derivative (called an ester), plus 3% Vitamin E and 2% Ferulic Acid.
But what exactly is Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate? Let’s break down what this really means:
- Tetra (meaning four)
- Hexyl (a chemical derivative of hexane, C6H14, but with one less hydrogen molecule, C6H13)
- Decyl (a chemical derivative of decane, C10H22, but with one less hydrogen molecule, C10H21)
- Ascorbate (the conjugate base of L-Ascorbic Acid, for our purposes, just Vitamin C)
In short, THD ascorbate is a vitamin C derivative where four long carbon chains (the hexyl-decyl’s) are attached to our good friend, L-ascorbic acid. This makes the resulting compound more stable and oil-soluble, which might even increase its skin penetration abilities (source: Stability, Transdermal Penetration, and Cutaneous Effects of Ascorbic Acid and its Derivatives, 2012).
In contrast, L-ascorbic acid is supported by in-vitro and in-vivo studies for antioxidant protection, melanin inhibition (skin brightening), and collagen synthesis. It remains the gold standard.
Finally, Peter Thomas Roth claims THD ascorbate is “50x more powerful than traditional Vitamin C”, but I have not found any evidence to support this claim. THD ascorbate is more stable but no studies have directly compared the efficacy between the two forms.
In terms of additional ingredients in Potent-C Power Serum, there’s a very strong antioxidant blend of 3% Vitamin E and 2% Ferulic Acid (compared to 1% and 0.5% in SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic). Hyaluronic Acid and botanical extracts of Ginger, Turmeric, and Ginseng are also included.
Customer reviews have been very positive so far, including comments about:
- Clearer, smoother, and more even-looking complexion
- Leaves skin feeling hydrated and tightened at the same time
- Product feels like a lotion and absorbs well into the skin
- Helps resolve dark spots, sun spots, milia, redness, and bumps
- Pump container packaging prevents vitamin C oxidation
On the other hand, some of the most common complaints included:
- One user said it smelled “horrible”, others said the smell was tolerable and like hot dog juice (notably, Peter Thomas Roth does not use any fragrance in this product)
- Some users also said that it left their skin feeling greasy afterwards
My Verdict: If you need a more powerful vitamin C serum for stubborn forms of hyperpigmentation, I recommend the Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Power Serum with next-generation Vitamin C alongside antioxidants Vitamin E and Ferulic Acid. But bring your wallet because the Power Serum comes with a pretty potent price tag as well. ????
5. Best for Dull Skin: Murad Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum
Summary: The Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum combines the power of vitamin C & glycolic acid for effective skin brightening. ????
Best For: Dull Skin, Aging Skin
Get It @ Amazon
Founded by Dr. Howard Murad in 1989, Murad is known for its bestselling 2% hydroquinone product, the Rapid Age Spot & Pigment Lightening Serum. This product uses the highest level of hydroquinone available over-the-counter (i.e. without a prescription) to help brighten dark spots.
However, there is some concern regarding the safety of hydroquinone. ⚠️
In 2006, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) proposed to ban 2% hydroquinone products over: i) animal studies that showed “some evidence” of carcinogenicity (i.e. cancer), and ii) rare reports of a skin darkening condition called exogenous ochronosis (source: The Federal Register, 2006)
While the FDA has not finalized its proposed decision on hydroquinone, many consumers have already switched to non-hydroquinone alternatives like vitamin C, niacinamide, and beta arbutin.
To keep up with the changing times, Murad has released its own hydroquinone-free skin brightener, the Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum with Gold-Stabilized Vitamin C and Glycolic Acid.
This new product is designed to brighten dull skin and rejuvenate aging skin by combining the antioxidant and free radical scavenging properties of pure vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) with the exfoliation and cell turnover properties of glycolic acid. ????
Moreover, Murad claims it’s the “first-to-market” with a Gold-Stabilized Vitamin C product line (including the Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum and Vita-C Eyes Dark Circle Corrector). However, other brands offer gold-based products as well like the Peter Thomas Roth 24K Gold collection.
Gold, in this context, doesn’t mean gold in the traditional sense, but microscopic gold nanoparticles that are used to increase the absorption of a product’s active ingredients by target skin cells (source: Role of Nanotechnology in Cosmeceuticals: A Review of Recent Advances, 2018).
Research into gold nanoparticles (also called colloidal gold) is still relatively new but there is some early evidence to support its use in skincare formulations:
- Researchers at Bharati Vidyapeeth University in India found that gold nanoparticles were an effective liposome carrier that increased the absorption and stability of topical vitamin C (source: Chitosan-reduced Gold Nanoparticles: A Novel Carrier for the Preparation of Spray-Dried Liposomes for Topical Delivery, 2011)
- Another study by the National University of Singapore tested sheet masks with combinations of vitamin C, vitamin A, collagen, and gold nanoparticles; they found that sheet masks with both vitamin C AND gold nanoparticles actually resulted in less absorption than vitamin C alone, which may have been due to the low concentration of gold in their formulation (source: Novel Vitamin and Gold-Loaded Nanofiber Facial Mask for Topical Delivery, 2010)
Overall, gold nanoparticles are a new and potentially promising addition to vitamin C serums.
Plus, when else do you get to put gold on your face? ????
The Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum also uses a dual-chamber dispenser system that protects the vitamin C in an airless inner chamber while other ingredients are held in the outer chamber.
- Many said it absorbed very quickly and remained lightweight throughout the day
- Some said it helped clear up acne scars and brighten uneven skin tone
- Some said it made their skin look healthier and more radiant after 3-4 weeks
- Others also said it made their skin feel softer and smoother with regular use
On the other hand, the more critical feedback included:
- It did not improve skin tone or skin texture as advertised
- One person noted the packaging was wasteful (but saw good results from the product)
- In a few cases, there were complaints about skin reactions (given the very long ingredient list, I’m actually surprised there weren’t as many complaints as this is a common problem)
- The concentrations of L-ascorbic acid and glycolic acid are not disclosed
My Verdict: The Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum is a promising hydroquinone-free successor to Murad’s bestselling Rapid Age Spot & Pigment Lightening Serum. It features L-ascorbic acid and glycolic acid for powerful skin brightening results while gold nanoparticles help stabilize and enhance the overall formula (so skip the 24K gold and get this instead! ⭐)
6. Best Budget Vitamin C Serum: Olay Tone Perfection Serum
Summary: The Tone Perfection Serum helps brighten & exfoliate your skin with vitamins B3 and C (and all for under $30 ????).
Best For: Uneven Skin Tone
Vitamin B3 (Niacinamide)
Vitamin C (SAP)
Get It @ Amazon
If you’re on a limited budget, Olay’s got you covered with its budget-friendly Tone Perfection Serum.
This 1.3 oz product features two main ingredients:
- Vitamin B3 (Niacinamide): Found in yeast & root vegetables, niacinamide helps brighten your skin tone by suppressing melanosome transfer from melanocytes to keratinocytes (in English, it prevents melanin from reaching the surface of your skin) (source: Are Natural Ingredients Effective in the Management of Hyperpigmentation? A Systematic Review, 2018)
- Vitamin C (Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate): This is yet another derivative of L-Ascorbic Acid. SAP is stable at a pH of 7 but is less effective than pure vitamin C and also has some more difficulty penetrating your skin barrier (source: Stability, Transdermal Penetration, and Cutaneous Effects of Ascorbic Acid and Its Derivatives, 2012)
Olay claims the Tone Perfection Serum will help you achieve “noticeably brighter skin on day 1 and more even skin tone in just 2 weeks.” It also claims to renew dull skin and refresh your complexion.
The product has a light cream texture and uses 19 ingredients in total (including thickening agents). Notably, it’s free of parabens, phthalates, mineral oil, synthetic dyes, and fragrances.
In terms of results, there’s been positive feedback from customers about clearer and smoother skin, reductions in acne marks, more even skin tone, as well as the light texture and quick drying time.
My Verdict: If you have a limited budget (or you love the Olay brand), the Tone Perfection Serum offers a double-shot of Vitamin B3 and Vitamin C in a 1.3 oz bottle for under $30 right now. ????
7. Best Value for Money: Derma E Vitamin C Concentrated Serum
Summary: The Derma E Vitamin C Concentrated Serum offers amazing value with a large 2.0 oz bottle selling for under $25. ????
Best For: Saving Money!
Vitamin C (SAP)
Get It @ Amazon
My second budget pick is the Derma E Vitamin C Concentrated Serum, one of the bestselling products by clean beauty brand Derma E from Southern California.
This 2.0 oz value-size bottle features Vitamin C (in the form of Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate), along with hydrating ingredients like Aloe Vera, Glycerin, Hyaluronic Acid, Allantoin, and Panthenol. ????
Unfortunately, the vitamin C concentration is not disclosed (which is a common practice among the cheaper, mass-market products). But we can assume it’s not a very high percentage, otherwise the manufacturer would explicitly tell us (as with brands like SkinCeuticals),
For the price, however, it’s not a bad option if you’re looking for a low-cost vitamin C serum that also doubles as a hydration booster. Some customers have reported that it “pills” under makeup, though, so keep that in mind if you’re planning to use it during the day.
In terms of results, customers noted that:
- The product was quickly absorbed (but did not layer well under makeup)
- Some noticed brighter skin, tighter pores, and more even tone
- Many said this product kept their skin “plump and moisturized”
- Others experienced breakouts or skin reactions after using this product
- One person noted the bottle is not tinted (it’s translucent) which doesn’t prevent oxidation
My Verdict: If you want to really stretch your dollar, the Derma E Vitamin C Concentrated Serum offers a 2.0 oz value-size bottle for daily doses of brightening & tightening vitamin C goodness. ????
8. Best Tropical Drink: Glow Recipe Pineapple-C Bright Serum
Summary: The Glow Recipe Pineapple-C Bright Serum brings back memories of sunny skies, warm sand, and cool waves.
Best For: Sipping On The Beach ????
22% Pineapple Extract
Vitamin C (3-O-C, L-AA)
Get It @ Amazon
Grab your shades and flip-flops because the Glow Recipe Pineapple-C Bright Serum will bring back good times at the beach with 22% Pineapple Extract (piña colada, anyone? ????????) and two types of Vitamin C (3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid and L-Ascorbic Acid).
This unique vitamin C serum looks, feels, and smells like a tropical cocktail… because it is one! The primary ingredient is pineapple juice which you’ll find listed at the very top of the ingredient list.
While we know pineapples contain high amounts of vitamin C (very important for good health), it’s unclear how effectively that vitamin C is actually absorbed by your skin.
Pineapples also contain bromelain enzymes, traditionally used for digestive disorders in Central and South America, that may help exfoliate your dead skin cells in a similar way to AHAs and BHAs.
The two forms of vitamin C include:
- 3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid: a stable molecule formed by combining an ethyl group with L-AA and widely used in many products like OLEHENRIKSEN’s Banana Bright Vitamin C Serum
- L-Ascorbic Acid: the pure form of vitamin C that can be used directly by your body. It’s listed in the bottom third of the ingredient list so don’t expect too much in terms of concentration.
Hyaluronic Acid, Aloe Vera, and Vitamin E round out the formula for additional hydration.
Moving on to the product texture & packaging, Pineapple-C Bright Serum is a much thicker serum (some would even say “gooey”) than most and housed inside an opaque, UV-coated glass bottle.
In terms of fragrance, Glow Recipe claims to use the minimum level of fragrance at less than 0.5% of the total formulation. However, judging by the user feedback, many people could not tolerate the smell (seems like it was too strong) while others said it was not a deal breaker.
A few more comments from users include:
- Many noticed smoother and brighter skin with fewer dark spots
- Some said it minimized their pores and reduced redness from acne scars
- Some mentioned this product was “too strong” for their sensitive skin and caused breakouts
- Others did not notice any improvements in skin tone or brightness
My Verdict: The Glow Recipe Pineapple-C Bright Serum is a “beach-in-a-bottle” with a tropical mix of Pineapple Extract and two types of Vitamin C. Based on user feedback, this product was effective for some at reducing hyperpigmentation but needs a re-formulation with less scent & thickness.
9. Best Cream: Sunday Riley C.E.O. Vitamin C Rich Hydration Cream
If you’re looking for a good vitamin C cream, the Sunday Riley C.E.O. Rich Hydration Cream is one of the most popular ones right now with 5% THD Ascorbate (a stable oil-based vitamin C derivative that we discussed earlier under Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Power Serum).
This low level of vitamin C is suitable for improving your skin’s overall radiance, but not for dark spots, age spots, sun damage, or melasma issues. Have a look at my earlier product recommendations if any of those are your primary skin concerns.
Sunday Riley also included:
- Exopolysaccharides from French Polynesia: to protect your skin from pollution damage
- Lime Pearl from Caviar Lime: a natural source of AHAs for exfoliation
- Bisabolol from Chamomile Flower: to soothe and calm sensitive skin
One drawback of this product is there’s many types of alcohol present, including Alcohol Denat., which is known to be drying and potentially damaging to your skin (source: Paula’s Choice).
The overall formulation is also a bit too complicated for my liking with a total of 48 ingredients (compare that with only 11 ingredients in SkinCeuticals Serum 10 AOX+).
Based on user feedback, the C.E.O. Rich Hydration Cream is perfect for those with dry to normal skin as it provides a ton of hydration for more supple and nourished-looking skin. Those with oily skin, however, said the product felt too greasy and sat on the surface rather than being absorbed.
Some other comments from users included:
- It helps reduce eczema and uneven skin tone
- It increases skin hydration in cold & dry climates like Colorado
- It has a mild scent (citrus) even though Sunday Riley says it’s “fragrance-free”
- One user said her skin looked “dewy, glowly, and feels incredible” afterwards
- Some reported skin reactions including breakouts and redness
- Many complained about the heavy texture and “greasiness” of this cream
My Verdict: If you want to add an ultra-hydrating vitamin C cream to your daily routine, or in combination with a vitamin C serum for double the goodness, the Sunday Riley C.E.O. Cream is a great option with 5% THD Ascorbate and a nourishing formula of fruit extracts & flower waxes.
10. Best Capsule: Elizabeth Arden Vitamin C Ceramide Capsules (60 Count)
Summary: The Elizabeth Arden Vitamin C Ceramide Capsules are packed with a double dose of vitamin C oil and ceramides. ????
Best For: Targeted Treatment
Vitamin C (THD Ascorbate)
Get It @ Amazon
Skincare enthusiasts should be no stranger to capsules (or ampoules in K-Beauty circles). Each individually sealed capsule keeps its contents protected from oxidation, such as air, light, or heat.
This is significant in the context of keeping a vitamin C serum “fresh” to maintain its potency.
Here, the Elizabeth Arden Vitamin C Ceramide Capsules offer the dual benefits of encapsulated vitamin C along with hydrating ceramides:
- Vitamin C (THD Ascorbate): a vitamin C ester (oil) that is more stable than pure vitamin C. Elizabeth Arden claims it’s “178x more potent than traditional vitamin C”, but if you check the footnote, what they really mean is stability, not potency (the latter requires effective absorption into your skin and then further conversion into L-ascorbic acid).
- Ceramides: these are naturally occurring lipids (fats) in your skin barrier that help retain moisture and protect the skin. CeraVe, for example, is a brand that uses ceramides.
Overall, this product is a lightweight dry oil, as it’s mainly a vitamin C ester (oil) mixed with various ceramides (fats), along with additional boosters like Clary Sage, Vitamin E, and other Emollient Oils.
This makes it well-suited for those with dry & aging skin as the oil will help nourish your skin barrier while reducing dark spots and uneven tone. Those with normal to oily skin may find this product too heavy or greasy and should stick with a water-based serum like SkinCeuticals Serum 10 AOX+.
In terms of results, these capsules have gained a lot of positive feedback, including:
- “My face has never felt this glow before…”
- “Convenient easy to use and feels great on the skin…”
- “You get so much product in the capsules! So worth the money!”
- “I love these! I take them on the airplane for long flights when we travel…”
On the other hand, common complaints tended to focus on:
- The capsules were difficult to twist open (some had to use scissors)
- Some experienced skin reactions such as irritation
- Some did not notice significant results and expected more for the price
My Verdict: If you’re looking for a different way to experience vitamin C in your skincare routine, try adding a high potency capsule like the Elizabeth Arden Vitamin C Ceramide Capsules. This lightweight dry oil can help brighten uneven tone, reduce signs of aging, and boost hydration.
11. Honorable Mention: Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Serum
Last but not least, I wanted to include an outstanding alternative to vitamin C serums for treating hyperpigmentation and fading dark spots: the Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Serum. ????
Unlike my previous recommendations, this product uses a natural ingredient found in French vineyards, specifically grapevine sap, that the company calls “Viniferine” (source: Caudalie).
Upon further investigation, I found that Viniferine is actually ε-viniferin (epsilon), a substance discovered by Professor Joseph Vercauteren at the University of Montpellier in France.
The professor’s research into grape extract and collaboration with Mathilde and Bertrand Thomas led to the creation of Caudalie in 1993 (otherwise known as the year I was born ????).
So how good is ε-viniferin compared to traditional vitamin C?
Well, a 2014 study led by Professor Vercauteren found that trans-ε-viniferin was 4x more effective than kojic acid and 62x more effective than L-ascorbic acid at inhibiting melanin in mushroom tyrosinase. (source: A Huge PVDF Adsorption Difference Between Resveratrol and ε-Viniferin Allows to Quantitatively Purify Them and to Assess Their Anti-Tyrosinase Property, 2014)
In English, this means ε-viniferin is a powerful dark spot remover, since excess melanin is the main cause of hyperpigmentation. However, I’d add that this has only been studied in-vitro (lab tests) with no randomized control trials (RCT) yet to compare the real-world results against vitamin C. ????
Finally, Caudalie owns a global patent on skin brightening formulas with ε-viniferin (filed in 2002) and you already know how I feel about patents: it encourages innovation but it means consumers will have to pay a higher price to get the “real deal”. (source: Google Patents)
In terms of customer feedback, there’s definitely been a lot of good comments about this product:
- First of all, it’s very lightweight and has a luxurious gel texture
- It helps even out dark spots and brighten your complexion
- It also helps hydrates your skin and promote a healthy glow
- Many commented that it’s suitable for sensitive skin, however, it does contain fragrance (supposedly smells like notes of citrus blossom, orange tree leaves, watermelon, and mint)
On the other hand, some of the negative feedback included:
- Some felt the texture was too sticky and did not absorb well
- Others did not notice any significant improvements and expected more for the price
My Verdict: The Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Serum is one of my all-time favorites when it comes to non-conventional dark spot correctors. Instead of vitamin C, it uses a promising new ingredient, Viniferine (grapevine sap extract), to brighten dark spots and correct uneven tone. ????