In the hierarchy of skincare ingredients, Vitamin C has emerged as a game-changer, celebrated for its brightening prowess and antioxidant-rich properties.
From brightening your complexion and reducing hyperpigmentation to protecting against environmental damage, the right vitamin C products can leave your skin glowing and more even in tone, whatever your skin type or colour. But, how do you choose the right vitamin C serum for you?
To help, here’s our guide to using vitamin C serums to brighten dull skin, including what makes it such a hero ingredient and the very best products that we have tried and tested.
Why is vitamin C so good in skincare?
As a skincare ingredient vitamin C is a great multitasker. But, what it’s really known for is being a potent antioxidant that actively helps block oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is things like sun, pollution, smoke and other stressors that cause problems within your skin because they produce something called “ROS” or reactive oxygen species. These can damage your skin at a cellular level, including ‘eating away’ at your skin’s collagen.
As an antioxidant, vitamin C can help neutralise the effects of oxidative stress, smoothing redness and inflammation in the process. At the same time, vitamin C is a crucial element for (gently) helping to even out skin tone, decreasing pigmentation as it eats up the copper that is used in the melanin-reaction that causes sun and acne spots. It can even boost collagen production as it is a cofactor (aka a necessary component) for two enzymes that help with this process: lysyl hydroxylase and prolyl hydroxylase.
What to look for in good vitamin C serums?
Vitamin C has many forms, which is part of what makes it so popular – there is a version for every person. It’s also an ingredient that you can slowly increase the percentage of, as your skin becomes accustomed to it, although anywhere between 8-20 per cent is going to be most effective.
One of the most popular active forms of vitamin C is L-ascorbic acid, which is highly effective for oily or normal skin. It is one of the most potent vitamin C formulations on the market, although it can be slightly irritating to those who are very sensitive. It also tends to need to be used quickly because it’s an unstable ingredient. That means it reacts readily with the air and if it ‘oxidises’ its potency quickly decreases, and you wouldn’t benefit from all its brilliance. It’s therefore recommended to buy products with L-ascorbic acid in small quantities, so you can use it quickly while the ingredients are still active. At the same time, dark, even airless pump bottles can keep your product stable (and useable for longer).
For sensitive skin or those totally new to vitamin C serums, there are other less-active formulations that use vitamin C derivatives, which are a great alternative option. These include sodium ascorbyl phosphate, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbyl glucoside, and tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate (which you will find on the ingredients list). These ingredients are more stable, and can often last longer, although you may have to wait a little longer to see your results, so stick with them.
How to use a vitamin C serum in your skincare routine
Start by adding a vitamin C serum into your skincare routine around three times a week, and then you can slowly build up to daily use. Vitamin C can be used both morning and night if you wish, but when used in the morning it is incredibly beneficial before SPF use – even maximising your sunscreen’s protective coverage – so make sure to layer it below your sunscreen to utilise it in the most effective way.
In fact, vitamin C is like the friend you could bring to every dinner party; she mixes with everyone, and there are very few products or ingredients that don’t work well with it. However, if you are prone to sensitivities and want to also use a retinoid, dermatologists suggest keeping your vitamin C serum to morning use, and using your retinol at night to maximise your results without triggering any irritation.
Tried and Tested: the best vitamin C serums
An iconic vitamin C serum and it really does measure up to the hype around it (which is why its often to be found in a beauty editor's skincare collection). Utilising a potent 15 per cent pure vitamin C, this formula supercharges the benefits with two other antioxidants – 0.5 per cent ferulic acid and 1 per cent vitamin E (which also helps keep the serum stable).
A product that tops the recommendations of many Harley Street dermatologists for those struggling with dark marks and hyperpigmentation. This clinically-proven serum is particularly good for city dwellers with its cocktail of antioxidant and skin brightening ingredients, including stabilised vitamin C.
A surprisingly affordable option from results-driven Medik8 (the brand also does amazing retinoids), if you are using vitamin C serums for the first time, this is a great place to start. The vegan serum combines stabilised vitamin C with vitamin E for a glow-boosting formula that really focuses on limiting any potential irritation.
If you want super-fast brightening and skin tone-evening results, Murad's clever formula could be for you. The brand quite uniquely combines L'ascorbic acid with glycolic acid – an exfoliating AHA also known for its glow-boosting results. The packaging is also worth mentioning as the dual-chamber means it can deliver a concentrated, fresh dose with every use.
One of our beauty editor's favourites, Naturium's entry-level Vitamin C relies on multiple types of its hero ingredient (to maximise results but also stability), plus brightening pineapple extracts to refresh and add radiance to your complexion. The gel-textured feel of the serum and opaque bottle to ensure it stays potent for as long as possible are also highlights.
Designed specifically with impatient people in mind, this creamy-textured serum combines vitamin C with super gentle exfoliating acids and hyaluronic acid to give you a hydrated, lit-from-within radiance as quickly as possible. And, if you don't even want to wait a second for your results, the formula also uses subtle glow-boosting pigments that instantly give your skin a brightening refresh.
Proving you don't need to compromise on your planet-friendly ethos for skincare results, The Organic Pharmacy's vitamin C serum delivers time and time again in terms of five-star customer feedback. A standout feature is that the serum is designed to moisturise your skin while it brightens, and you don't even have to be put off by the clear packaging. The formula has been designed to be really stable although, to be safe, don't leave it ages before you start using it.
We may earn a commission if you buy something from any affiliate links on our site.