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This post has been updated: read Five Best Vitamin C Serums of 2013
Vitamin C has an impressive track record as an anti-ager. However, it pays to know your Cs (see below for related posts that will give you than you ever wanted to know) and to choose your C potions with care. Here are our Five Best picks for serums packed with vitamin C.
Whether you choose Cellex-C's High-Potency serum, which contains 10% vitamin C, or their more "Advanced"-C serum, which contains 17.5% vitamin C, you'll be getting your vitamin C in its most pure, potent and effective form. Love it or hate it, ascorbic acid has an edge over other vitamin c derivatives: it's a good penetrator, and, once there, is the better performer when it comes to collagen synthesis and free-radical scavenging. "Why is that," you say? Check out my post: What is it? Vitamin C as L-Ascorbic Acid
I like Cellex-C's serums because the formulas are simple -- refined to include just the basics. Both versions include the super-moisturizer sodium hyaluronate, which you should read about here, and then the amino acid tyrosine. And, if you think you can handle it, the Advanced-C serum goes a step further to include zinc, an additional amino acid (glycine) and grapeseed extract (which brings in to the mix the antioxidant resveratrol). Resvertrol is a fat-soluble antioxidant, whereas vitaman C is water-soluble. By bringing them both into the mix, your entire cell benefits.
The only downside to this product is its inherent instability, which can irritate the skin. I know this from personal experience: the first time I applied Cellex-C I wanted to claw my face off. The next time, however, and ever since, I've had nothing but a pleasant experience. Cellex-C takes takes measure to prevent its formula from oxidizing by keeping it in small, dark bottles, which will help keep the irritation at bay. Still, I've had mine for just under two months, and already it's tinging a bit. Make sure to use your vitamin C serums regularly so they don't go to waste.
Also good L-ascrobic acid-heavy serums: As recommended by TIA reader Leslie Wayne: Alaur Clock-Stopping C ($105, 1 fl. oz), which features 25% vitamin c, along with green tea and licorice extract. And then an earlier reviewed serum: Sircuit Weapon 10% Vitamin C Therapy Serum ($85, 1 oz) with squalene, resveratrol, and glutathione.
MyChelle The Perfect C Serum ($41.71)
Like Cellex-C, MyChelle packages its serum in a tinted vile so as to keep the L-AA from destabilizing. Product packaging is important when dealing with vitamin C (and ascorbic acid in particular), so make sure to select serums that come in small, tinted or opaque air-tight containers.
This serum boasts a 17% concentration of L-ascorbic acid, which meets the 10% collagen-building threshold, and then adds glucosamine and retinol for extra effect. What's more, studies have shown that a Vit C/Retinol combo works well to reverse, at least in part, skin changes induced by both chronological aging and photoaging.
Also nice are the power-house antioxidants astaxanthin, resveratrol, lycopene, and ubiquinone, which bump of the anti-aging efficacy of this formula.
On a final note, I have to issue a word of warning to those with sensitive skin: Witch Hazel is the first ingredient on the list, which can be quite drying to the skin, and then we have the exfoliating glycolic acid not too far down the list -- that's a lot of extra drying and exfoliating ingredients on top of vitamin C. Make sure to follow this serum up with a good moisturizer to counterbalance any of these effects.
Ingredients: Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Water, Glycerin*, Ascorbic Acid (L), Aqua (Water), Resveratrol, Retinol, Glycolic Acid, Citrus Tangerina (Tangerine) Peel Oil*, Citrus Paradisi (Pink Grapefruit) Peel Oil*, Lycopene, Ubiquinone (CoQ10), Beta-carotene (D), Fructooligosaccharides (D-beta), Glucosamine HCL (D), Astaxanthin, Alcohol Denat.*, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil*, Aminoguanidine HCL, Xanthan Gum, Limonene***, Linalool***
Skinceuticals CE Ferulic ($135)
This serum is a real work horse, containing 15% pure L-ascorbic acid, 1% alpha tocopherol (or vitamin E), and then synergistic-friendly ferulic acid -- a combination that lends extra efficacy and stability to the formula.
As reported in The Journal of Nutrition, in order for vitamin E to inactivate a free radical it must first absorb the extra electron from the free radical. By doing this, however, the vitamin E molecule is inactivated. And this is where vitamin C comes into play: because vitamin C can recycle vitamin E, it is able to accept the extra electron from the vitamin E molecule, thereby restoring the antioxidant power to vitamin E. (Study) What's more, several studies have shown increased synergistic benefits from the combination of vitamins C and E together.
In the same way that vitamin E makes vitamin C a better antioxidant, ferulic acid makes both vitamin C and vitamin E better still. What's more, it's super effective for stamping out age spots. Marta had great fun and success making a DIY vitamin C and ferulic acid serum, which you can read about here.
Ingredients: Ingredients: Water, Ethoxydiglycol, L-ascorbic Acid, Propylene Glycol, Glycerin, Laureth-23, Alpha Tocopherol, Phenoxyethanol, Triethanolamine, Ferulic Acid, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate
Isomers Vitamin C Serum MAP + E ($39)
For those of you who are just too sensitive for pure ascorbic acid, my advice would be to try out the better-stabilized vitamin C derivative: magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, or MAP.
As you can read about in my post about vitamin C derivatives, it seems like there is a trade off when it comes to L-AA and its derivatives: more stability, but less efficacy. In my opinion, MAP is the better derivative all around, and nothing gives you more MAP that this Isomer's serum. At $39 it's a steal, especially since it adds in the fat-soluble and synergistec vitamin E to the mix.
Unlike other derivatives, MAP remains water-soluble. As such, it is much better equipped to make use of all that vitamin E has to give. Other derivatives, like ascorbyl palmitate and the like are fat-soluble, and so combining them with vitamin E would be just like adding more of the same.
Ingredients: Linum Usitatissimum (Linseed) Seed Extract, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (MAP), Disodium Lauriminodipropionate Tocopheryl Phosphates (Vitamin E Phosphates), Methylparaben, Propylparaben
Juice Beauty Antioxidant Serum ($45)
While this is not an exclusively C serum -- in fact, it shares the stage with a host of other notable ingredients -- it does contain my favorite vitamin C derivative MAP. Juice Beauty is a smart formulator, and here demonstrates the right way to use vitamin C in a general, catch-all antioxidant serum.
You should forget any serum that features L-ascorbic acid among a long list of other ingredients -- it most likely will be at too low of a concentration to work, and will invariably become destabilized since most of these serums tend not to take the proper packaging precautions.
MAP, however, it a stable form of vitamin C. And since it works well in small concentrations, don't be alarmed that it's a bit lower on the list. This looks like an outstanding serum, and I've just ordered myself a full-size bottle of the stuff.
Ingredients: Organic Juice Solution Of Vitis Vinifera (White Grape) Juice, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Juice & Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Glycerin, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Oil, Organic Essential Fatty Acids Of Oenothera Biennis (Evening Primrose), Linum Usitatissimum (Linseed) Seed & Borago Officinali (Borage) Seed, Organic Algae Extract, Ubiquinone (Coenzyme Q10), Thioctic Acid (Alpha-Lipoic Acid), Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (Vitamin C), Dipeptide-2, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Tocopheryl Acetate & Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A), Sclerotium Gum, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Hydroxide, Benzyl Alcohol, Disodium Edta, Phospholipids, Hyaluronic Acid, Dimethylaminoethanol(DMAE, Potassium Sorbate, Amyris Balsamifera & Litsea Cubeba (May Chang) Pure Essential Oils.