You may have been taught from a young age to start the day with a revitalising glass of orange juice, or that downing a Berocca can help to ward off a looming cold – but are you clued up on how antioxidant vitamin C can help your skin?
You see, derms agree that vitamin C is one of the most important steps in any skincare routine, following happily behind SPF and thorough cleansing. Not only that, but if you want your skin to truly reap the benefits of vitamin C, more can be achieved if you apply it topically rather than ingesting it.
But don’t take our word for it. We called on Cosmetic Doctor Sophie Shotter to reveal why vitamin C is such a BFF to your skin and to dispel some common misconceptions about the potent ingredient.
Plus, WH has rounded up a guide to the 20 best vitamin C face serums below so you can add one to your routine, pronto.
What does Vitamin C serum do for the skin?
'Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, helping your skin to fight free radical damage from sunlight and pollution. Vitamin C also helps to boost collagen production, keeping skin firmer and healthier,' explains Dr Shotter. '[On top of that, it works] on the melanin production pathway in the skin, meaning vitamin C can help to give you a more even skin tone with less pigmentation.'
Is it good to put Vitamin C on your face?
'Most skin types will benefit from using vitamin C serum, and used early it can help to prevent pigmentation from forming.
'Those with sensitive skin should be careful as the acidity of the vitamin C may be an irritant for them, and they should start with a low percentage.
A sensitive skin may only need a 5% formulation
An average type skin can benefit from 10-15%
An oilier skin might need 20%
'Research suggests there is no additional benefit to using higher percentages than this.
'Those with acne-prone skin types should also be cautious as several vitamin C serums are oil-based and can therefore exacerbate breakouts – there are some good water-based antioxidant serums available though,' notes Dr Shotter.
Does Vitamin C really work for skin?
Yes. There are now multiple studies that show vitamin C is a potent powerhouse of skin-protecting antioxidants with the ability to boost collagen production (hello, plump, pillowy skin), whilst simultaneously tackling unwanted pigmentation and dullness.
It’s best applied via a serum. Why? Well, serums are lighter in consistency than moisturiser and so are effectively absorbed into the skin, where the stuff can get to work. Good news is, all of your favourite skincare makers, from glow-getting Danish brand Ole Henriksen, to Boots, who are now doing an own-brand 'ingredients line,' are now making versions to suit each price point.
Who is Vitamin C best for?
'Vitamin C is useful for almost all skin types. If used from your twenties onwards it will help to prevent pigmentation and help collagen levels boosted.
'If you use it once your skin has begun to age it will work well to improve pigmentation and to boost collagen production. It is one of the core pillars of any skincare regime that I put together, but the exact product I use will vary depending on skin type,' explains Dr Shotter.
Can I use Vitamin C serum every day?
'Yes, vitamin C serum can be used every day. I would recommend using it in the morning as it will working synergistically with your sunscreen to improve your skin’s protection from sunlight,' suggests Dr Shotter. 'Sensitive skins may need to build up their tolerance to vitamin C serums by starting with using it on alternate days.'
Should I apply Vitamin C morning and night?
'Vitamin C is best used in the morning, where it will help protect your skin from the day’s environmental [assaults],' says Dr Shotter.
Does Vitamin C brighten skin?
Yes, it can help with dullness as well as pigmentation because it blocks the enzyme tyrosinase, which is responsible for accelerating melanin production, and left unchecked, it leads to dark spots. Vitamin C also breaks down over-pigmented cells on the skin's surface, helping skin to look brighter, which it does without altering normal skin pigmentation.
How do I apply Vitamin C serum to my face?
'Vitamin C should be applied after cleansing and toning, but before applying anything creamy in texture. I recommend applying vitamin C serum with your fingertips rather than the palm of the hand, as your will waste a lot of product on your palms. Dab small amounts over the cheeks, forehead, chin and nose before massaging in with the fingertips,' advises Shotter.
Why does Vitamin C burn my face?
'Vitamin C is acidic in pH, so it can tingle. If it is burning then it is likely the formulation is too strong for your skin type,' warns Shotter. 'Take a break for a few days and consider using a product with a lower percentage of vitamin C in it.'
How long does it take Vitamin C serum to work?
'Vitamin C will start working very quickly on your skin, but you may not see the visible improvement immediately,' says Dr Shotter. 'At 12 weeks most people will be seeing a good result, but many people start to notice improvements from four weeks onwards.'
Are there any ingredients Vitamin C shouldn't be mixed with?
'I would avoid mixing vitamin C with skincare acids such as AHAs and BHAs. Vitamin C is an acid in its own right, and the two acids could change each other’s properties and performance, as well as causing irritation.
'Acne treatment Benzoyl Peroxide can oxidise vitamin C and, even though you may not see a reaction, it would potentially reduce the effectiveness of vitamin C,' explains Dr Shotter.
On the flipside, Dr Shotter notes that 'vitamin C works even better in conjunction with other antioxidants such as vitamin E, as the two ingredients work synergistically.'
What are the different types of Vitamin C I should be aware of?
'L Ascorbic Acid is the most active form of vitamin C and is the one I would look out for in the ingredients list,' says Dr Shotter.
20 best Vitamin C serums
1. Ole Henriksen Banana Bright™ Vitamin C Serum
Fresh from the glow-getting Danish brand. As well as vitamin C, this potent blend includes exfoliating acids and banana powder-inspired pigments, to help to revive your fresh, morning-ready look.
2. ZENii Antioxidant Power Serum
This is water-based and therefore great for acne-prone skins.
3. Kiehl's Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate
If you're after vitamin C for its collagen-boosting abilities, this serum is designed to reduce fine lines and wrinkles thanks to its potent vitamin C and hydrating hyaluronic acid.
4. SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
A favourite of WH Beauty Editor Perdita Nouril's, this serum boasts 15% L-Ascorbic Acid (the most potent type of vitamin C), alongside vitamin E, which makes vitamin C 4 times more potent, Ferulic acid is another potent antioxidant, so consider this your skin's first line of defense.
5. Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum
Like the Skinceuticals serum, this contains L-Ascorbic Acid, vitamin E and ferulic acid. If dull skin is your concern, pumpkin ferment extract and pomegranate enzymes work to dissolve unwanted dead skin.
6. Boots Ingredients Vitamin C Serum 30ml
The Boots 'ingredients' line follows the model mapped out by The Ordinary: individual ingredients which you can then layer for a customised routine. This super affordable serum has less of the fancy added extras than more expensive brands- and the bottle is on the small side – but as an entry-level serum, it's hard to beat.
7. Sunday Riley C.E.O. Glow
In this serum, vitamin C is combined with turmeric face oil to really brighten the complexion. If pigmentation is a specific concern, this is a good serum to try.
8. FEMMUE Lumiere Vital C Serum
Aside from vitamin C and E, added safflower seed oil and alpha-bisabolol work together to bring back your skin's natural radiance. Hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5 also impart moisture while centella asiatica comforts and soothes skin. A great one for really dry complexions.
9. Sister&Co Vitamin C Brightening Booster
If dullness is robbing your complexion's glow, this hero serum, is formulated with a combined 20% tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, as well as Australian Kakadu plum, the richest natural source of vitamin C in the world. A daily dose evens out skin tone to noticeably brighten your skin.
10. Vichy Liftactiv Vitamin C Skin Brightening Corrector
Containing more vitamin C than 20 oranges, this will boost your skin's glow in as little as 10 days.
11. The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
Packed with hyaluronic acid to draw moisture from the air, this serum is great is dryness is a problem. Plus, it costs less than a takeaway coffee.
12. Medik8 C-Tetra
Packed with vitamins C and E, Tetra sinks past the defensive lipid barrier and deep into your skin, for extra protection against sun and pollution-induced damage. Beauty editors and skincare pros rave about this hero product.
13. Pixi Vitamin C Remedy Mask
Ok, so technically this isn't a serum. But, if you're in rush to seek radiance, this mask is a good shout. Apply before big events to help dial up your glow quickly and works well as booster to your daily Vit C serum.
14. Ubuna Brighten Maximum Glow Serum
J Beauty brand UBUNA uses AntiBody Technology to target the ‘bad guys’ responsible for accelerating your skincell's demise. An unexpected by-product of medical research, a leading professor at Kyoto’s Prefecture University discovered that the antibodies used to fight a virus also helped to boost skin’s ceramide replenishment and nutralise skin-damaging antigens (the aforementioned ‘bad guys’) – then found a way to harness this to mitigate fine lines, wrinkles and dullness.
It's spenny yes, but the science and the results all pretty ground-breaking.
15. Biossance Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Oil
Although it's labeled an oil, it has a really lightweight feel that's akin to a serum. Its texture is perfect for really dry skin and while Vitamin C helps to brighten, the squalane (that's ethically sourced) helps to provide extreme nourishment so all signs of dehydration and dullness are well and truly banished.
16. Paula's Choice C15 Super Booster
This brand has a legion of fans and for good reason. Their no-nonsense formulas are slide easily into your routine and this 15% stabilised vitamin C is formulated at a skin-friendly pH of 3.0, so is good for sensitive skin types. It also boasts potent antioxidants such as vitamin E and ferulic acid as well as skin-smoothing peptides.
17. iS Clinical Pro Heal Serum Advance Plus
Loved by dermatologists such as use the iS Clinical Pro Heal Serum Advance+ which features scientifically advanced Vitamin C time release technology in a 15% concentration – it delivers anti-oxidant protection and exceptional healing properties.
18. StriVectin Super-C Retinol Serum
A first-of-its-kind serum that combines the brightening power of Vitamin C with the correcting power of retinol – two ingredients that are typically difficult to formulate together. Its impressive tech uses a patented form of vitamin B3 that not only supercharges both vitamin C and retinol to make them more potent but is also able to reach deeper into the skin to aid cellular regeneration. It’s the type of super strength formula your skin needs when it's running on empty.
19. Oskia Super-C Smart Nutrient Beauty Capsules
Skincare guru Caroline Hirons is a big fan of these capsules. Of them, she has previously said: 'I love this vitamin C product and have found it to be gentle and non-aggravating, but extremely efficacious. As you get older, your collagen production slows down quite significantly, so vitamin C is fundamental for improving collagen turnover. Aside from the science, the formula sits beautifully on and in my skin.'
20. Alumier MD EverActive C&E
This collection is loved by WH beauty editor Perdita Nouril for their ability to wage war on dullness, uneven tone and fine lines. These waterless bottles contains 15% L-ascorbic acid powder that is stored in a separate cap above the serum so you only mix it as and when you want to use it, ensuring the vitamin C’s efficacy.
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