Vitamin C deserves a spot in your skincare routine.
I’ve had a long term love affair with this amazing ingredient and it’s now firmly placed in my morning skincare lineup. As someone who is prone to those pesky dark spots that hang around after a breakout, as well as pigmentation from sun exposure, vitamin C has made a huge difference in evening out my skin tone and brightening up those darker patches. I’m totally hooked and feel naked without my daily dose of Vit C! It has some really impressive science behind it and is one of the most well-studied and peer reviewed ingredients found in topical skincare products - so it’s definitely an ingredient that’s worth your time and money. It has three proven ‘magical’ abilities that benefit our skin: antioxidant protector, skin brightener and collagen booster. For all its amazing skin benefits, it has one drawback: vitamin C in its purest form is extremely unstable and oxidises in the presence of light and air. I look for the inclusion of vitamin E and ferulic acid as these antioxidants help stabilise vitamin C and keep it active for longer. Among skincare nerds, this trio is known as the ‘holy trinity’ and is a telltale sign you’ve found a great product. It’s important to know what to look for in a vitamin C serum to make sure you’re not wasting your time with an ineffective product and you’re getting the most bang for your buck.
After trying countless vitamin C serums over the years I’ve developed a checklist of factors that need to be ticked off before I invest in this ingredient. These include air and light protective packaging, correct pH level, percentage of the ingredient and the inclusion of stabilising antioxidants, for the most effective serum possible. In the world of vitamin C serums, there are two camps: ones that contain the active and bioavailable form known as ‘ascorbic acid’ and the other which utilise derivatives (kinda like cousins) of vitamin C. I’ve tried many versions of both and my preference is for the active variant because of the quicker results and glow-giving benefits that this ingredient can deliver! Here are my favourite tried and true vitamin C formulas:
TIMELESS SKIN CARE 20% VITAMIN C+E FERULIC ACID SERUM
This is my go-to vitamin C serum and no matter what else I might be testing, I always eventually come back to this one. I’ve used it the most consistently over the past decade and I can attribute the majority of the improvements in my sun damage and pigmentation to this product. It ticks all the boxes and is formulated in line with the scientific literature on active vitamin C. It has a light, refreshing texture and sinks into the skin beautifully, leaving no tacky or shiny residue behind. At a 20% concentration, it’s considered a megadose of vitamin C and at this high amount it’s able to help in the formation of nice new ‘skin firming’ collagen. This is the serum to go for if you’re wanting to target signs of ageing and repair some of the environmental damage that can show up in our skin as we get older. Keep in mind this one isn’t for the faint hearted; it’s formulated at a low pH to maximise the stability of the vit C and can therefore be a little tingly when you first apply it. Some sensitive skins might find it stings too much to be able to use it regularly.
TIMELESS SKIN CARE 10% VITAMIN C+E FERULIC ACID SERUM
For most of us, it takes some time to adjust to this ingredient and it’s a great idea to start slowly to build up your skin’s tolerance. This is where the 10% version really shines; it’s perfect for beginners or those with more sensitive skin. It helps to brighten, hydrate and even out skin tone. Airless packaging, supportive antioxidants and an effective pH for absorption make this a standout formula. It’s available in a 15ml size which is a great way to see if your skin enjoys it and there’s definitely less of a ‘tingle’ with this version. Unfortunately at this concentration it’s unable to boast the collagen-building benefits that the 20% version enjoys, making it less targeted for improving fine lines and wrinkles.
GEEK & GORGEOUS C-GLOW
C-Glow is a superstar formula at an incredible price! It contains 15% ascorbic acid alongside ferulic acid and vitamin E. It’s incredibly lightweight in texture and disappears for a skin-like finish under sunscreen and makeup. This does make it a little hard to apply as it has a tendency to run down your fingers before you can get it onto your face - it takes some practice! It has a minimal ingredients list with no fluffy extras and is also fungal acne safe which is pretty hard to come by in a vit C serum. Geek & Gorgeous is a brand that’s passionate about vitamin C and they are really committed to manufacturing small batches frequently to make sure we are getting the freshest product possible. The main difference between this and the other products I’m mentioning here is its packaging; the dropper bottle isn’t as effective at keeping this delicate ingredient safe from exposure to air and light. This means that it has a tendency to oxidise faster than the others but when kept in the fridge with the lid on tightly, I’ve never had a problem using up the whole bottle before it turns brownish and oxidises.
REGIMEN LAB VITAMIN X
In the unlikely event of a fire, this is the one I’d save first! It’s my newest obsession because it takes the idea of a vitamin C serum to a whole new level. Vitamin X contains 11 antioxidants (including 15% ascorbic acid) in a powerfully preventative serum that effectively helps reduce the appearance of age spots and hyperpigmentation for the ultimate investment in your skin's future. With a more viscous but still lightweight texture, it gives me an instant glow and is a complete ‘one and done’ serum for my morning routine. This serum means business and boasts the highest clinically proven percentages of the active ingredients it contains which deserves a round of applause! It’s the most expensive option here but well worth it in my (skincare obsessed) opinion.
THE ORDINARY ETHYLATED ASCORBIC ACID 15% SOLUTION
The ‘odd one out’ but still one of my favourites! This serum contains a vitamin C derivative and is better suited for those who have sensitive skin and can’t tolerate ascorbic acid. It’s a glow-giving serum that helps visibly reduce signs of ageing by brightening and balancing uneven skin tone, although it takes longer with this form of vitamin C to see results compared to the others. The texture is unique and loved by normal to dry skin types the most. It’s oil and water free but has an oil-like feel that sinks in nicely for a dewy finish. Ethylated ascorbic acid is a stabilised form of vitamin C so it will last much longer on your shelf before oxidising when compared to the others. There’s no need for me to feel the rush to use it up like I experience with the other active serums - I can just relax! The only downside here is that there’s less clinical data available on the efficacy of this form of vitamin C derivative compared to ascorbic acid. You can’t have your cake and eat it too ;)
Add a Vitamin C into your routine and enjoy the glow!
Words by Julia Pratt
Julia is a self-confessed skincare nerd and co-founder of The Formula. She has been obsessed with skincare for many years and researches and talks about skincare almost every hour of every day. After many years working for some of the world’s top skincare brands, she is focusing on sharing her experience and knowledge learned from her countless hours of research and experimenting with every product she can get her hands on.