15 best vitamin C skincare products for a brighter and clearer complexion

Tamara Corin
·14-min read
Choose between serums, creams, cleansers and moisturisers   (The Independent)
Choose between serums, creams, cleansers and moisturisers (The Independent)

More than just a quick-fix when you’re feeling run-down, vitamin C infused skincare has recently seen a 40 per cent increase in online searches. Often referred to as the holy grail of skincare, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps to reduce pigmentation and inflammation and can also boost collagen and protect against pollution.

As we age, our skin's natural levels of vitamin C decreases, which is why it's great to include it in your daily skincare routine. Although vitamin C can’t protect like an SPF does, it can help minimise the deep damage you can’t see, making it a powerful preventative ingredient too.

What types of products contain vitamin C?

In skincare, the most popular format for vitamin C is in a serum, ranging in different concentrations and formulas, however, you can now also find it in moisturisers, cleansers even suncream, so if you'd rather not add another step into your skincare routine, but don’t want to miss out on the wonder ingredient, there’s different ways to incorporate it. The supercharged C can usually be found on the ingredient list as L-ascorbic acid, which is the most effective form of vitamin C to apply topically to the skin.

How often should I use it?

Although vitamin C is a natural antioxidant, it can often cause mild irritation, so you should build up usage overtime. Start with twice a week, gradually moving up to three times a week and so on. This will ensure your skin gets used to the ingredient. However, if your skin does react, consider swapping to a vitamin C product that contains magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, a water-soluble vitamin C, which is far less irritating. This type is a good starting point for sensitive skin too. Alternatively, mix your serum into your regular moisturiser for a gentle yet still powerful hit of the C.

What strength should I use?

Similar to the application rule, begin with a low concentration of 10 per cent and then increase to 15 per cent and then if you feel your skin can tolerate more, then jump up to 20 per cent. With strict daily application, you should be able to notice results within a fortnight. If there’s no obvious change, consider increasing the concentration or applying your vitamin C product both day and night. It’s completely safe to do so.

You can usually find vitamin C-based products combined with vitamin E and B, ferulic acid and hyaluronic acid. This is because they are all strong antioxidants which will support and stabilize the vitamin C content.

It’s worth noting that you should keep an eye out for darker bottles – vitamin C is very sensitive and often inactivated when exposed to light. The best quality products come in dark bottles to retain their potency, quality and longevity and this is usually reflected in the price.

Speaking of which, the only real downside of vitamin C skincare is that it doesn’t come cheap. Budget-friendly options do exist, however they’re rare and often don’t have high potency ingredients, so it’s definitely worth saving up for a pricier option.

To ensure you make sensible choices that deliver results, we tested and trialed over 30 vitamin-C based products over a six-week period on different skin types. We focused on changes to the skin’s brightness, pigmentation, skin tone and texture and the ease of application.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

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Vitamin C: Everything you need to know about the skincare ingredient

Skinceuticals C E ferulic

Once you’ve looked beyond the eye watering price, this vitamin C, E and ferulic acid super serum is worth every single penny when it comes to results. The high concentrate formula contains a whopping 15 per cent of pure vitamin C, with 1 per cent vitamin E plus the addition of the antioxidant ferulic acid. Together they give the most amazing glow to even the dullest of skin. The glass packaging makes it very delicate, so don’t place it on a high shelf or anywhere there’s a chance of £140 worth of skincare falling! We really like the featherlight texture of the formula and it instantly gives a supple feeling to the skin, with a brightening glow. Unlike many high concentration vitamin C products, this is gentle enough for sensitive skins. Simply pat on your skin before your day moisturiser and we almost guarantee you’ll receive several compliments about your newly found radiant skin. Sun spots and hypigmentation will also fade over time, evening out your skin tone. An investment, but a very very worthy one.

Buy now £140.00, Look Fantastic

Super Facialist vitamin C+ skin renew cleansing oil

This may look like a regular facial oil, but mix it with water and it turns into a milky consistency that will easily dissolve make-up while also cleansing your face. Packed with pro-collagen and brightening vitamin C, it has a sweet citrusy scent that wakes up your spirits. Your skin will feel soft to touch and look much perkier than before. This formula is a gentle introduction to vitamin C, so is a great starting point for newbies. We love the packaging too – a flip top lid that makes application simple and mess-free. If you tend to double cleanse, then this works perfectly as the first step.

Buy now £12.00, Boots

Murad vita-C eyes dark circle corrector

The skin around your eyes is exceptionally thin which is why discolouration and fine lines seem more obvious in this area. The L-absorbic acid (or vitamin C) in this formula is stabilised by gold, which helps with the potency and absorption of the ingredient, delivering better results. In just a couple of weeks, we noticed a distinct difference in our skin. The eye area looked brighter, de-puffed and less wrinkly even when we smiled. And skin was smoother and altogether calmer, even on little sleep. Other ingredients are at work here too – red and brown algae extracts that de-puff, the light-reflecting pigments illuminate while cucumber cools and hydrates. Dark circles will look brighter in just two weeks. This creamy formula can be used both morning and night, while the pump applicator makes it easy to judge exactly how much product you should be applying (one pump per eye is ample). Like with the rest of Dr Murad’s vitamin C range, this will help your skin look luminous and amazingly healthy.

Buy now £56.00, Murad

REN Clean Skincare glow daily vitamin c gel cream

If you have sensitive skin, you may have struggled to find a vitamin C-based product that doesn’t cause irritation. Say hello to this offering from REN. This cooling gel-cream hybrid contains vitamin C housed in a glucose-type bubble that is slowly released evenly on your skin, delivering results without causing irritation. The cream is completely acid-free and gentle to use. Just days after trying this, our tester was amazed with the change in her usual dull and tired complexion. Expect baby soft skin too. And let’s not forget that clean beauty doesn't come much cleaner than REN, which thrives itself on using natural ingredients from sustainable sources in eco-friendly packaging. We're impressed.

Buy now £38.00, REN Clean Skincare

Rodial vit C brightening cleansing pads

If you’re looking for a quick and easy fix to bring some zing to your skin, then try these cleansing pads which are soaked in pure vitamin C, 0.5 per cent salicylic acid and 1 per cent fruit acid complex. This combination of ingredients will stimulate, tone, exfoliate and brighten in just one swipe. Don’t underestimate these pads; your skin’s texture will dramatically improve while pigmentation will slowly fade. They’re a great choice if you travel frequently or quite simply can’t be bothered for faffing with products that require a little more care in application. The pads are beautifully soft and gentle for everyday use and they have a good amount of fluff to them. With 50 pads in a pot, you can justify the price because you only need to use one a day to see the radiant effects they have on your skin.

Buy now £45.00, Rodial

Seed to Skin the alche’mist serum spray

From the weighty green glass packaging and beautiful fabric pouch that houses this serum spray, we weren’t surprised that it had a hefty price tag to match. Born in Tuscany, this independent, all natural brand is gaining traction as a film favourite in skincare. The colourless serum spray is a great taster to the range, combining the lightweight feel of a spray with the efficiency of a powerful serum. Packed with vitamin C as well as anti-ageing vitamins E and A, expect a dewy healthy-looking complexion straight after use. If bouncy, plump skin is your top priority, this won’t disappoint. The spray applicator makes it easy to use, though you can get a little carried away with the trigger.

Buy now £145.00, Liberty London

Dermalogica biolumin-c serum

Part of the brand's award-winning "age smart" range, this high-performance vitamin C serum cleverly works with your skin’s own defences to brighten, firm, reduce fine lines and wrinkles and fight sun spots and even scars. Basically, it does it all. The dual-action power of vitamin C and lactic acid encourages skin to work at its premium to reveal a healthy-looking complexion. Although the bottle is pretty small, especially for its price point, you just need a few drops of the serum with every application. The consistency is very light and pleasant to use, it feels like an oil/water-based hybrid. Our only bugbear is that it contains essential oils which is not necessary, other than for the fact that it makes the serum smell gorgeous. Many people with sensitive skin can’t go near essential oils, which makes their inclusion in this formula is a shame, because it’s otherwise an impressive addition to the brand's line.

Buy now £85.00, Dermalogica

The Sanctuary wet skin face moisturiser

Extending its popular "wet skin" bodycare line into facial skincare, this new moisturiser will energise your skin while encouraging a youthful glow. Powered with a blend of vitamin C, hydrating hyaluronic acid, fruit extracts and caffeine, this energising moisturiser also contains glycofilm which creates a barrier to fight environmental aggressors. The major highlight of this moisturiser however, is that it’s designed to be used on wet skin (hence the name) so there’s no waiting around or rubbing your face dry. Quite simply wash your face and then apply to wet skin and let the extra hydration take its course and boost your natural glow. This product didn't help with pigmentation, so we'd suggest looking elsewhere in this round-up if that is your main concern. But if you're looking for a quick hydrating and brightening pick-me-up, you will fall in love with this unique concept. The lazy girl’s way to gorgeously glowy skin.

Buy now £14.50, Boots

The Body Shop vitamin C microdermabrasion

This facial scrub will rid your face of dead skin cells and even out skin texture and tone after just one use, and thanks to the vitamin C it will also give you that post-facial glow that we all strive for. If you suffer from congested skin, this is a great way of getting your hit of brightening vitamin C while simultaneously refining texture. Fine exfoliating micro particles and crushed garnet stones remove dead skin cells to reveal a brighter complexion. These particles are so fine that even sensitive skins won’t react. The Body Shop has without doubt upped its game, this is a great quality product at a reasonable price.

Buy now £18.00, The Body Shop

Volition strawberry C-serum

Who knew that strawberries are packed full of vitamin C? Well, this serum was born after its creator heard someone talking about the amazing skincare results they got after smearing their face with strawberry stems. This serum is far more refined than that method, of course. This non-sticky formula is brimming with glow-giving fruits that tackle issues such as pigmentation, scarring and dark spots. It offers a generous dose of vitamin C from strawberries and the supercharged Kakadu plum (one of the most potent sources of vitamin C and a powerful skin protectant). It has a pleasant scent but unfortunately doesn’t smell of strawberries as you would expect, so don’t be disappointed. While the packaging is gorgeous, it detracts from the seriousness of this product. This serum punches well above its mediocre price point, it’s a complete steal for this skincare category and the impressive results speak for themselves.

Buy now £36.00, Cult Beauty

Dr Dennis Gross - C + collagen brighten + firm eye cream

​This energising eye cream is supercharged with both vitamin C to brighten and collagen to plump. This duo formula work in unison to give a wide-eyed look to exhausted peepers while also strengthening the eye area as a whole. The fun rollerball applicator is a treat on tired, puffy eyes, while the reflective particles lift dull skin. One pump is enough to cover both the areas around the eyes. It also works well as an eye primer too, we found that make-up stayed put for longer after use. If anti-ageing is high on your list of skin priorities but you also need a helping hand in brightening your eye area, then this will soon become your new best friend.

Buy now £69.00, Space NK

Drunk Elephant vitamin C serum

This thick serum is a great multi-tasker helping to brighten, plump, and also hydrate dull complexions. The product contains additional ingredients such as vitamin E, ferulic acid, and fruit enzymes that help even the skin's texture while delivering a healthy glow. We love the air-tight packaging and natural formula, but there’s a slight stickiness to the serum that takes a little while to settle. It is however lightweight and comfortable on the skin once it dries down, and great at fighting pesky sun spots. Be sure to store the serum in the fridge to keep the product fresh.

Buy now £67.00, Space NK

Lixirskin vitamin C paste

This thick (but not gloopy) paste can double up as either a serum or a quick five-minute mask to give skin a little helping hand in the glow department. Packed with 10 per cent L-ascorbic acid, it offers a potent dose of skin brightening and antioxidant protection that will help fight pigmentation too. Not only will this product wake up tired complexions, but the soothing jasmine and mandarin scent will instantly transport you to a happy place. We’re obsessed.

Buy now £32.00, Cult Beauty

Elizabeth Arden vitamin C ceramide

Oh, how we love a single-use capsule, it makes application so much easier without the need to question how much product we should actually be using. Plus, it’s great for frequent travellers to throw into their toiletry bag without the worry of weight restrictions. These serum capsules have a silky texture that leaves skin looking instantly brighter and gorgeously soft to touch. As well as the powerful C, they contain ceramides that help to boost moisture levels, so if you suffer from dry skin, this is a good hydrating pick-me-up. With two sizes to choose from (40 or 60 capsules) it’s easy to keep track of your skin’s progress overtime – and believe us, you won’t be disappointed.

Buy now £42.00, Boots

Clinique fresh pressed vitamin C daily booster

​Customising your skincare couldn’t be easier with this concentrated vitamin C booster. Simply add two drops into your favourite skincare product, i.e., a day moisturiser, then continue your usual daily skin routine. Containing 10 per cent pure vitamin C, this promises to smooth skin tone, reduce the appearance of wrinkles and add radiance. We can confirm we experienced those results. It may look fiddly at first, but it’s really easy to use, and your skin will thank you for it.

Buy now £58.00, Clinique

The verdict: Vitamin C skincare

The standout product here is without doubt from Skinceuticals. Yes, it’s expensive, it offers the best results when it comes to brightening the complexion. For a more affordable options, the Super Facialist cleansing oil is a great introduction to vitamin C. It smells heavenly, lathers up into a satisfying milky-oil texture and removes even waterproof make-up. Plus, you’re left with gorgeously glowing skin.

For more reviews, visit our skincare section