Vitamin C Serums
Vitamin C is a tricky ingredient. You want a product that is packaged properly (minimize exposure to light and air), absorbs well into the skin, and contains active vitamin C. I also tend to favour clean products (eg "Clean at Sephora"). The following reviews are based on formulation and ingredients, packaging, stability, scent, and texture in order of most to least favourite!
#1 YOUTH TO THE PEOPLE 15% Vitamin C + Clean Caffeine Energy Serum
Vitamin C Assessment: as a 15% vitamin C complex made of THD ascorbate, ethyl ascorbic acid, and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, this product claims to be “ultra-stable” by the company. It is within the desirable concentration range for an effective product (10-15%). It is also beautifully packaged in an amber glass bottle for UV protection, with a pump to minimize air exposure (which we know affects vitamin C stability). The serum itself is a smooth, opaque, milky texture - no signs of yellowing/browning to indicate oxidation.
Impression: this Youth To The People (YTTP) serum is lightweight and gentle, absorbing quickly after application. In addition to its vitamin C complex, it contains other antioxidants for added skin benefits. It isn’t sticky, and my sensitive skin felt hydrated, soft, and glowing after use. It is fragrance-free, but does have a light scent that is refreshing (and smells “natural” if that makes sense!). I did feel my skin looked more radiant after use!
Verdict: YTTP has considered all the important aspects when formulating a vitamin C skincare product, from ingredients to packaging. Although pricey, a little goes a long way and you are paying for a quality product. It’s the winner!
Clean at Sephora
Normal, dry, combination, oily
For dark spots, dullness, uneven texture, anti-aging
15% Vitamin C Complex (brighten, reduce hyperpigmentation, firm skin)
Yerba Mate and Guayusa (Clean Caffeine) contains high caffeine content and and antioxidants (depuff, contour)
Passion and Dragon Fruit contains a high content of antioxidants (scavenge free radicals, replenish moisture)
#2 TATCHA Violet-C Brightening Serum
Vitamin C Assessment: this Tatcha 20% vitamin C serum contains two types of vitamin C, bis-glyceryl ascorbate and ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate, claimed to be stabilized by Japanese beautyberry. It is within the range of the desired concentration for effective vitamin C (10-20%). The tester package I had was plastic, blocking out all light, with a pump to minimize air exposure. The serum itself is a clear fluid, with no signs of oxidation.
Impression: a lightweight, watery-gel serum that claims to smooth, soften, brighten, and lessen fine lines. I like that it also contains AHAs and Japanese Angelica Root Extract as well to help reduce dark spots and post-acne scarring. Applying it was easy as it glides nicely over the skin, however I found it a bit tacky even after drying. It is fragrance-free, but the scent is a bit metallic as some vitamin C formulations are (but much better than other vitamin C products).
Verdict: Packed with a multitude of gentle, skin-boosting ingredients, this is a pleasant formula. However, due to the scent and residual “tackiness” I felt on my skin, it comes second to the YTTP serum.
Clean at Sephora
Gluten, silicone, oil free
Normal, dry, combination, oily
For fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, dullness/uneven texture
20% Vitamin C Blend (protect against free radicals, supports cell turnover)
Mild Fruit AHAs 10% made of seven fruits: apple, grapefruit, orange, lemon, lime, hawthorn, and jujube (remove debris, dead skin cells for smooth skin)
Japanese Angelica Root Extract helps even skin tone (reduce dark spots, discoloration, post-acne scarring, works on melanin)
#2 MURAD Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum
Vitamin C Assessment: contains three vitamin C “technologies”, claiming this enhances potency and stability. Looking at the ingredient list, vitamin C derivatives include ascorbic acid (the most potent) and tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate. By doing some digging, it looks like the Vita-C Complex that Dr Murad has created involves gold-stabilized vitamin C (my guess is ascorbic acid stabilized by binding it to gold), THD ascorbate, and glutathione (an antioxidant). The company claims this formula won’t degrade or lose its potency, has excellent absorption, and a 55% higher antioxidant defence. By also including glycolic acid for resurfacing, the idea is vitamin C will penetrate more into the skin. The sample I have is in a plastic bottle with a pump, for prevention of air and light exposure. The serum itself is a light cream colour.
Impression: If you know me, I love glycolic acid for all its skin benefits. However, as it is the second ingredient in this formulation, I wonder if the results from this product are not due to the glycolic acid content (often smoothing and brightening on its own) rather than the vitamin C component. There was also only a mild scent to this formulation, which I actually preferred over the Tatcha serum.
Verdict: with claims to improve hyperpigmentation and result in “dramatically brighter-looking skin”, unfortunately I did not see a dramatic difference. However, I will keep testing as out of the formulations, the Vita-C Complex does sound like scientifically it may provide the most benefits. Murad gets points for proper packaging and glycolic acid content - a great ingredient, but I tend to wonder if the vitamin C component isn't overshadowed by this power ingredient. It was a pretty close tie between the Tatcha serum and this Murad option - the deciding factor was that this formulation from Murad is not considered Clean at Sephora, and my preference for skincare always rests on ingredients I can feel confident absorbing into my body.
NOT Clean at Sephora; but paraben, formaldehyde, phthalate, mineral oil, oxybenzone, sulfate (SLES & SLS), petrolatum free
Best for dry, combination, normal skin
Dullness, uneven texture, dark spots
Proprietary Vita-C Complex (stable, potent)
Glycolic Acid removes surface cells (increase vitamin C penetration)
Phyto-Luminescent Extract turns UV energy into a light source to illuminate skin
L'Oreal Revitalift Derm Intensives Vitamin C Serum
Pros: as the only drugstore vitamin C option I tried, this one actually wasn't bad. With 10% pure vitamin C (ascorbic acid), it claims to boost skin radiance in 1 week, and reduce wrinkle visibility in 2. The scent is almost non-existent, and the packaging is ideal to maintain stability (minimize light/air exposure). It's a great option if you don't want to splurge. Although not a "clean" beauty brand, it is formulated without parabens or fragrances and is safe for sensitive skin.
Cons: I just wasn't a fan of the silicone feel of the product (not surprising given the amount the ingredient list), and not keen on using this daily since it has some meh ingredients (dimethicone, plastic microspheres, isobutane (propellant), preservative) . I hope to try some clean vitamin C drugstore options in the future!
Summer Fridays CC Me Vitamin C Serum
Pros: Clean at Sephora, vegan, gluten, and cruelty-free, the formula contains two forms of vitamin C and squalene to add moisture.
Cons: I found this serum to be too thick for my liking (maybe it was the squalene?). Also REALLY didn't like the smell. The packaging is also not great, as the serum dropper top means the whole formula is continually exposed to air (I believe the full size is a pump so that's better). I wonder if maybe the product went bad before I even could see if it would work?
Sunday Riley C.E.O. Glow Vitamin C + Turmeric Face Oil
Pros: well, I can't comment on much, because I couldn't get past the smell to test it properly. It does have THD ascorbate (stable form of vitamin C found in my favourite product above), turmeric (known to help with redness). It's also vegan, gluten, and cruelty-free.
Cons: it STINKS! I couldn't get past the chemical smell. I even put it on a spot on my back and the smell bothered me through my shirt. Ew! It's also not Clean at Sephora, and I'm very skeptical of it remaining stable, as it's packaged in a CLEAR glass bottle (exposure to light) with a dropper top (continuous exposure to air).
That summarizes the vitamin C formulations I've tried so far. I have my eye on some clean brands, like Versed, e.l.f, Pixi, and Good Molecules. Have you tried any of their vitamin C products? What vitamin C do you love using? Let me know!
DISCLAIMER: The contents of this blog are for educational purposes and are not intended as medical advice. I enjoy researching but the information is general and not comprehensive. Please seek the advice of your healthcare provider (pharmacist/physician etc) with any questions you may have regarding your personal health. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read online. Any mention of specific products or personal recommendations are my opinion and not to be taken as medical advice.