December 4, 2022

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Best vitamin C serums 2022: From brightening to sensitive skin

Vitamin C serums are one of the most talked-about beauty buys at the moment. And with everyone from Olay to Omorovicza heralding theirs as the game-changing secret to beautiful skin,  a thorough test on all of our IndyBest favourite brands (and more) was a must.

Just like it is recommended as part of your diet for a healthy body – aiding your immune system, memory, blood pressure and many more health factors – vitamin C is also widely recommended for your skin health when used topically.

Working as an antioxidant, neutralising free radicals from a variety of sources, including UV rays and pollution, vitamin C has been known to reduce wrinkles, help prevent sun damage, increase collagen production and reduce scarring and dark spots – which is quite the impressive list of benefits for a serum that can simply be applied topically to the skin each morning.

But, as with anything, not all vitamin C serums are made equally. And, as you can imagine, when it comes to the skin, it’s not as easy as mixing some orange juice in with your morning moisturiser.

So, from the type of vitamin C you should be using, concentration, added ingredients and more, take a look at our FAQs below and, of course, our IndyBest round-up of the best vitamin C serums to buy no matter what your budget.

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How we tested

Over the course of many (many) weeks stretching into months, we corralled a huge number of vitamin C serums from fan favourite brands, budget-friendly buys and even celebrity-approved products to see which ones really are worth parting the cash for.

Applied every morning after cleansing and before moisturising, each vitamin C serum was tested on its ease of use, scent, feel, price point and ultimately the result seen on the skin. Most of the products come in a similar liquid state with a dropper pipette for easy application – simply apply three-four drops (or however many are recommended on the bottle) into the palm of the hands, rub together and pat into the face.

For reference, our tester has pale Caucasian skin, which is clear with the occasional hormonal acne breakout. Fine lines can be seen across the forehead and eye edges and slight redness across the cheeks, chin and nose. They were an avid vitamin C user before embarking on this experiment, attributing the product as a core element aiding their skin clarity and vibrancy. Here’s which ones they’d recommend.

The best vitamin C serums for 2022 are:

  • Best overall – Medik8 C-tetra luxe: £59, Medik8.com
  • Best for vitamin C lovers – RoC multi correxion revive + glow capsules: £35.99, Feelunique.com
  • Best budget buy – Revolution skincare 12.5% vitamin C glow serum 30ml: £10, Revolutionbeauty.com
  • Best for luxury lovers – Omorovicza daily vitamin C: £102, Omorovicza.co.uk
  • Best for dark spots – Olay vitamin C + AHA24 day gel serum for bright and even tone 40ml: £38, Boots.com
  • Best for beginners – Bondi Sands gold’n hour vitamin C serum 30ml: £9.99, Boots.com
  • Best high concentration – Trinny London boost up: £65, Trinnylondon.com
  • Best all-rounder – Aesop lucent facial concentrate 60ml: £87, Cultbeauty.co.uk
  • Best for something different – Catrice glow vit C power shots: £7, Notino.co.uk
  • Best for brightening – Ole Henriksen banana bright vitamin C serum 30ml: £44.80, Boots.com
  • Best quick fix – Trilogy vitamin C booster treatment 12.5ml: £29.50, HollandandBarrett.com
  • Best big spend – Naturopathica vitamin C15 wrinkle remedy serum: £217, Onbuy.com
  • Best for everyday use – Simple booster serum 10% vitamin C+E+F 30 ML: £7.99, Boots.com
  • Best for sensitive skin – La Roche-Posay pure vitamin C10 serum for sensitive skin 30ml: £30.40, Lookfantastic.com

Medik8 C-tetra luxe, 30ml

Best: Overall

Rating: 10/10

The instructions for this serum call for six drops to be massaged over the face and neck, but our tester found around three or four actually worked perfectly and, of course, made the product last a bit longer too. When applying, the soft citrusy smell is a great morning wake-up scent, while the silky feel is instantly luxurious and very easy to apply thanks to a precise small pipette.

The brand revolves around a CSA strategy – vitamin C, sunscreen by day and vitamin A by night – emphasising just how core an element vitamin C plays within the brand ethos and skincare in general. The catchily named, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate (THD) is the vitamin C of choice for this serum, meaning it’s gentler on the skin, easier to store and more stable in formulation.

While squalane, vitamin E, F, maracuja oil and red ginseng are also included for a deeply moisturising treatment helping to protect the skin barrier, stimulate collagen production and nourish cells. For anyone who wants to strip their skincare routine back even further, the brand’s two-in-one moisturiser vitamin C cream was also loved by our tester.

RoC multi correxion revive and glow capsules, pack of 30

Best: For vitamin C lovers

Rating: 9/10

We’ve emphasised how difficult it can be to store certain vitamin C serums already and even had a real-life example of just how easy they can be to spoil with Bondi Sands. So, coming in capsule form, this RoC option is one of our favourites for fuss-free, easy use whether at home or on the go.

With 20 per cent ascorbic acid, it’s on the higher end of concentration and luckily the capsule has already dictated the exact amount needed, meaning there’s no need to worry about overdoing it and causing irritation. Although, in saying that, beginners would be better suited to lower levels before moving on to this.

Dimethicone is the main ingredient, an intense moisturising ingredient known to help with conditions such as eczema, so it is intensely hydrating too. While rubus idaeus leaf cell cultures hydrate and work to reduce signs of ageing, polygonum aviculare extract helps protect against UV and infrared rays, and terminalia ferdinandiana soothes inflammation. Fine lines were notably reduced, skin felt hydrated, and it instantly absorbed with no greasy residue. For well-versed vitamin C users looking for a change, this is one to go for.

Revolution skincare 12.5% vitamin C glow serum, 30ml

Best: Budget buy

Rating: 8/10

Revolution is quickly becoming one of the most popular go-to’s for bargain beauty buys, and we can see why. At just £10, this 12.5 per cent vitamin C serum is a great option for anyone who has already started using it and is looking to take one step up without breaking the bank.

Ascorbic acid is the type of vitamin C used, with water, glycerin, grape seed oil and orange peel oil all adding hydrating, skin-nourishing benefits to the formula. The scent isn’t too strong and reminded us more of a fake tan smell than punchy citrus, but our self-tan-loving tester didn’t mind this at all. Our tester’s skin texture did appear smoother and the silky, lightweight formula did feel quite luxurious when applied to the skin. And, even better, for those looking for a smaller concentration, there is also a three per cent option available.

Omorovicza daily vitamin C, 30ml

Best: For luxury lovers

Rating: 8/10

Luxury skincare lovers rejoice, as of course we’ve included Omorovicza in this round-up, how could we not? Firstly, we have to note that it is quite the expense. The Hungarian brand prides itself on its ingredients, history, results and science-led design, so our tester was more than excited to give this vitamin C serum a whirl.

Using sodium ascorbyl phosphate as the form of vitamin C – the same structure as used in the Aesop version – it’s again very stable with no chance of oxidisation, a huge relief when spending over £100. The main ingredient is water – which seems like quite a shame when considering the price – but it’s not just any water, it’s Hungarian thermal water, which is said to have impressive healing properties and a high mineral concentration. Niacinamide, nasturtium officinale flower/leaf extract, radish root ferment filtrate and actinidia arguta fruit extract work to nourish and protect the skin while keeping it clear and free from acne-inducing bacteria.

So, packed with skin-boosting ingredients and with a boujee bottle to match, we can see where the price point comes in. But, if you do have the money to spend then definitely give it a go – one drop was enough to cover our entire face so it’s sure to last you a very long time.

Olay vitamin C + AHA 24 day gel serum for bright and even tone, 40ml

Best: For dark spots

Rating: 8/10

Olay has been backing its vitamin C range for a while now with Amelia Dimoldenberg, aka host of Chicken Shop Date, as the face of it. But, it takes more than a celeb face to sway us here at IndyBest so we put this product through its paces, just like the others, to see if it really is worth parting the cash for.

The first thing to note is the scent, a fresh citrus banana whiff that reminded us of that yellow medicine as kids – both a good and a bad thing. The pipette is very easy to use, and only a few drops cover the whole face. Do note this product is cloudy, so don’t be thinking it has spoiled if the scent is still intact.

It was slightly sticky compared to other options but did absorb into the skin quickly with long-lasting moisture. It’s the 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid that is used here along with glycerin, niacinamide, dimethicone and lactic acid for a moisturising yet exfoliating treatment that can be used both morning and night, making it a great option for anyone looking to reduce dark spots and brighten skin.

Bondi Sands gold’n hour vitamin C serum, 30ml

Best: For beginners

Rating: 7/10

Working as a sun protection agent when combined with SPF, it’s unsurprising that sun expert Bondi Sands has brought out its own vitamin C serum. With 10 per cent ascorbic acid and a touch of vitamin C-filled kakadu plum fruit extract, this is a great option for beginners. Easy to use, simply drop three to four drops into the palms and massage into the skin post-cleansing and before moisturising and it’s an extra skincare step that won’t take more than a few seconds.

Licorice root extract has been added to help reduce inflammation along with microcitrus Australasica fruit extract for exfoliation, giving it extra skin-enhancing properties. But, being an active form of vitamin C, it did spoil, turn bright yellow and smell rancid after around three weeks of being open – which could’ve been user error of not tightening the lid enough, or could be a downfall of the unstable ascorbic acid type.

Trinny London boost up, 30ml

Best: High concentration

Rating: 9/10

We know we’ve already said that 20 per cent is really the maximum recommended concentration of vitamin C when going by general consensus, but Trinny has blown everyone out of the water with this 30 per cent concentrate. Once again, 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid is the vitamin C of choice and the main ingredient in this serum, meaning it is incredibly strong. But, even after a couple of weeks of use, we experienced no irritation, sensitivity or burning. Perhaps this could be due to the other potent and nourishing ingredients, jojoba oil, olive oil, plankton extract, lemon peel ferment, lactococcus ferment and meadowfoam seed oil.

As with the majority of the Trinny London range, this serum has been created with older skin in mind, so anyone in that category is sure to love this product. But, if new to vitamin C, be sure to train your skin for a couple of months beforehand with one or two of the lower concentrate options in this round-up first, just in case.

Our skin appeared brighter, smoother and more even in tone after continued use which is sure to increase as time goes on. And, best of all, it’s also refillable meaning less waste.

Aesop lucent facial concentrate, 60ml

Best: All-rounder

Rating: 9/10

Not strictly just a vitamin C serum, but marketed as such, the Aesop lucent facial concentrate is the brand’s take on a classic vitamin C product. In the classic aesthetic Aesop packaging, we loved having this sit pride of place on our bathroom shelf and the pipette was easy to use and large enough that just two drops covered most of the face and neck with the silky, instantly absorbing liquid.

Sodium ascorbyl phosphate is the vitamin C of choice here and being the most stable option it won’t oxidise, so there’s much less worry about spending this much money on a product that could quickly go off. Niacinamide, hydrogenated castor oil, boswellia carterii oil, fusanus spicatus wood oil and rosa damascena flower oil closely follow in the ingredient list providing a blend of moisturising, conditioning and nourishing ingredients that really are worth their weight in gold.

Vitamin-rich, any skin type will soak this up and look radiant with a glowy yet semi-matte finish our tester fell in love with.

Catrice glow vit C power shots pack of 5, 1.8ml

Best: For something different

Rating: 7/10

Unlike any of the other serums, these Catrice vitamin C shots come individually portioned in a pack of five small glass tubes. Unscented and non-pigmented, each one contains 1.8ml of serum, which actually is quite a lot when viewed in the case. Annoyingly it needs to be used at once for an intense treatment and we actually ended up using the excess on scars and marks across the body too.

The type of vitamin C included here is the 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid – a stable, water and oil-soluble derivative of ascorbic acid that offers all of the benefits without the unstable nature. At 12 per cent, it’s a good level for those who already use a gentle vitamin C serum and beginners are encouraged to use it every two or three days. For anyone using it every day the price is sure to rack up to be higher than that of most other serums, so maybe keep this one for a spa-like treat every now and again.

Ole Henriksen banana bright vitamin C serum, 30ml

Best: For brightening

Rating: 8/10

Famous for its banana bright eye crème, Ole Henriksen is a beauty lover’s go-to for brighter eyes. And the main ingredient? Vitamin C. What many people don’t know is that the brand also has a pretty impressive vitamin C serum for the whole face, and that’s what we put to the test.

With 15 per cent vitamin C – stemming from 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid – and five per cent polyhydroxy acids (PHA’s) stemming from fruit acids, this serum works to instantly brighten and boost skin for a fresh-faced glow. Hyaluronic acid is included for added moisture while banana powder-inspired pigments nourish the skin from the inside.

Our tester fell in love with the fresh citrusy scent and the silky feel of the product immediately. Although it feels a little heavy on the skin at first, it absorbs within around ten seconds with a semi-matte finish while feeling hydrating for hours afterwards. Do note, unlike most other options in this round-up that are best applied in the morning, due to the level of PHA exfoliants, this one is best to be used at night to avoid instant sun exposure.

Trilogy vitamin C booster treatment, 12.5ml

Best: Quick fix

Rating: 8/10

The majority of at-home skincare products don’t work wonders overnight. And vitamin C serums are no different, with a usual recommended usage of between six and eight weeks before results start to become visible. So, this two-week at-home treatment promising to improve skin tone, brightness and glow was something we just had to try.

Different in many ways from all of the other products in this round-up, this serum includes six per cent ascorbic acid in powder form – reducing its risk of spoiling – which can then be popped into a hyaluronic acid, aloe vera extract concentrate for a fresh, potent serum that lasts for a maximum of four weeks. Alongside the vitamin C, hyaluronic acid and aloe vera is daisy flower extract, orange peel oil and rosehip seed oil which create a cocktail of nourishing, antioxidant properties that hydrate and plump the skin.

After the two weeks, our skin appeared brighter and more luminous, but the daisy flower extract is also known to lighten skin too – so be mindful of this if lightening is something you’d rather not opt for. Although, if you’re after a quick fix and almost instant results, this may be the one for you.

Naturopathica vitamin C15 wrinkle remedy serum, 30ml

Best: Big spend

Rating: 8/10

At over £100, we were expecting a lot from this vitamin C serum and we weren’t disappointed. Firstly, the container feels very luxurious in a similar heavy way to the Omorovicza option, so if you like a heavy bottle, you’ll be pretty chuffed. And secondly, just one pump was enough to cover our entire face meaning it will last a very long time.

Being a 15 per cent concentrate of L-ascorbic acid it is fairly strong, and thanks to being a pump jar there’s no worry of exposing it to the air for it to spoil. Vitamin E and hyaluronic acid are the other two hero ingredients, along with propanediol which aids the skin in absorbing all of this goodness. Of course, both the Medik8 (£59, Medik8.com) and Simple (£7.99, Boots.com) options also both included vitamin E and the Ole Henriksen (£44.80, Boots.com) and Trilogy (£29.50, HollandandBarrett.com) options have hyaluronic acid, so these ingredients aren’t rare to see in the serum. But chamomile flower oil and cymbopogon martini oil are two skin-nourishing ingredients that do seem to be much harder to find.

Just as with most of the other options, our skin was bright, even in colour and glowy but our favourite part of this serum was how quickly it absorbed, making it a great makeup primer. Ultimately, if you like to be a big spender when it comes to skincare then this is a brand to certainly try, but you aren’t missing out on too much by opting for a cheaper option.

Simple booster serum 10% vitamin C+E+F, 30ml

Best: For everyday use

Rating: 7/10

Coming in at under £10, this Simple serum really is a great budget buy for an everyday essential. Incorporating vitamins C, E and F, it’s a bit of an all-rounder. But, if you’re now wondering why some of the other options in the round-up are considerably more expensive, let’s take a closer look.

Claiming to be ten per cent concentration of all of those vitamins, this product actually breaks down to include two per cent vitamin C, one per cent vitamin E and seven per cent vitamin F. So, while it still will provide some goodness to your skin, you’re unlikely to see many of the key vitamin C benefits occur anytime soon if solely using this. The vitamin C used is again sodium ascorbyl phosphate, making it very stable, and aside from water the other hero ingredient is cannabis sativa seed oil, bringing in the moisturising properties of vitamin F.

While it felt instantly cooling on the skin with a milky-looking odourless formula, we would only recommend this to those at the very beginning of their skincare journey rather than beauty buffs looking for serious results.

La Roche-Posay pure vitamin C10 serum for sensitive skin, 30ml

Best: For sensitive skin

Rating: 8/10

La Roche-Posay is quickly becoming one of our skincare favourites with a huge range of affordable products that do exactly what they say on the tin. And, if it’s growing on you too then you may want to add this vitamin C serum to your basket. Combining 10 per cent ascorbic acid, salicylic acid and hydrolysed hyaluronic acid, it’s built to reduce signs of ageing – tackling fine lines and wrinkles and plumping skin with moisture.

The pipette wasn’t our favourite and is a bit tricky to get the liquid drawn up into it, but the light citrusy scent, weightless feel and instant absorbency of the serum had our tester reaching for this over and over again.

Vitamin C FAQs

Are there different types of vitamin C in skincare?

There are a few different varieties of vitamin C within skincare – L-ascorbic acid (or just ascorbic acid) is the most common, most researched and usually the most potent, which can work great for oily or normal skin but has been dubbed as too harsh on sensitive skin. It’s also the specific structure of vitamin C that’s found within the body and is the most biologically active, meaning it is the most beneficial.

But you do have to be careful when storing L-ascorbic acid as it can become unstable and oxidise when in contact with light or air. However, brands usually combat this by housing it in dark glass bottles with air-tight lids and adding additional ingredients to help stabilise the formula.

For more sensitive skin, other variations including sodium ascorbyl phosphate and Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (THD) are seen to be great alternatives that are often less irritating and easier to formulate due to being more stable.

Who should be using vitamin C serums?

Any skin type is sure to benefit from regularly using a vitamin C serum unless you have an allergy to triethanolamine. Anyone with sensitive skin or those using vitamin C for the first time should start with a low concentration (less than 10 per cent) and work your way up slowly to see what your skin can handle. You can also combine it with your moisturiser each morning for a gentler application or opt for a moisturiser that also includes vitamin C.

What does concentration of vitamin C mean?

Similar to alcohol, for example, vitamin C serums will have a percentage concentration of either L-ascorbic acid or other types of vitamin C. Ideally, you want to start off at 10 per cent or under and ease your way up the scale to see what works best with your skin.

The general consensus is that anything above 20 per cent is too potent and can lead to irritation without increasing any skincare benefits, so there really is a sweet spot between the two.

How to store vitamin C serums?

Each individual product will tell you exactly how to store it, but the general rule of thumb is in a cool, dry place with the lid tightly sealed. If you notice a rancid smell or the colour of the product changes to a deep yellow, dark or cloudy colour, it may have already oxidised and not be suitable for use.

Which other ingredients make for a great vitamin C serum?

Due to the often unstable nature of vitamin C serums, other antioxidants and vitamins are often included to help balance the products and provide additional benefits. Core ingredients include vitamin E and ferulic acid to protect cell damage, reduce inflammation and brighten skin tone.

The verdict: Vitamin C serums

We may have given you a bit of information overload with this round-up, and we really only scratched the surface with the scientific side of vitamin C and the skin. But, if you take just two things away please make it these: almost any vitamin C serum will benefit your skin (as long as it hasn’t spoiled) but if starting from scratch please be sure to opt for a lower concentration first and do some reading around how it will react with products already in your skincare routine.

While we loved each and every one of these options, Medik8 beat the others to the mark when looking at its rich ingredient list, price point and ease of use with just sunscreen and vitamin A. We do however wish the brand – and many others – would disclose exactly what concentrate of vitamin C is used just to give an idea of strength.

For anyone on a tighter budget, Revolution is a great place to start for any bargain beauty buys and for any big spenders out there Omorovicza or Aesop are the ones to go for.

Finally, our second-best choice has to be the RoC capsules, perfectly measured out for on-the-go use or for those who aren’t that confident with knowing the right amount of product to apply.

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For more on all things skincare this summer, check out our guide to the best suncreens to protect you from the rays