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):
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!
Here are the best vitamin C serums for hyperpigmentation:
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):
Ready to find the best vitamin C serum for you? Let's jump into my top recommendations. ⭐
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: ????️♂️
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. ????
In addition, users shared some of the common drawbacks to Serum 10 AOX+, including how:
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+.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
On the other hand, some of the most common complaints included:
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. ????
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:
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.
On the other hand, the more critical feedback included:
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! ⭐)
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:
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. ????
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:
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. ????
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
On the other hand, common complaints tended to focus on:
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.
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:
On the other hand, some of the negative feedback included:
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. ????