Skincare experts explain why you need to add this ingredient to your beauty routine.

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best vitamin c serums 2020 2021
Credit: Neutrogena, SkinCeuticals, Tatcha

Finding the best beauty products has never been easier thanks to Pia's Picks, our weekly curated list. As the senior beauty editor at HelloGiggles, I test and examine the latest skincare, makeup, hair, and nail products so I can confidently recommend the best ones to you.

By this point we all know that vitamin C is the powerhouse ingredient behind the best brightening skincare ingredients. It's found in our favorite face oils, serums, and moisturizers, and it's deemed by dermatologists to be the best ingredient to get brighter, glowier skin.

However, there's a plethora of skincare products to choose from, and it can be overwhelming to evaluate which ones work best. Who among us hasn't spent hours in a beauty shop unsure of which vitamin C serum to invest in? To get past the confusion and uncertainty, we tapped several dermatologists and skin care experts to find out all there is to know about vitamin C—and learn about the best skincare products to help us get our glow on.

What is vitamin C?

Vitamin C is a natural antioxidant found in the skin, and it neutralizes free radicals on the skin. Ashley Magovern, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and the medical director for Dermstore, explains that it's important to protect the skin from free radicals since they can damage the cells' DNA. "This can lead to premature aging and skin cancer," she explains.

What is a vitamin C serum?

Studies show that when applied topically, vitamin C reduces hyperpigmentation and is anti-aging—and a serum is just one type of vehicle to apply topical vitamin C. "Serums are popular because they're thin and feel silky going on—I like them because it's easy to layer other products on them," says Dr. Magovern.

How does vitamin C serum work?

"The antioxidant properties of vitamin C means it scavenges free radicals caused by UV exposure that would otherwise cause sun damage," explains Sarah Biggers-Stewart, CLOVE + HALLOW founder and CEO. "It's also acidic and reduces melanin production in the skin, which in turn triggers collagen production and reduces hyperpigmentation or other damaged skin spots."

What are the benefits of a vitamin C serum?

It's all about the collagen. According to Dr. Magovern, vitamin C "boosts collagen production and reverses cell damage, which helps keep the skin firmer and looking younger, and even helps fade and prevent brown spots or pigmentation." The best part? A vitamin C serum doesn't need to be applied every day. As Dr. Magovern explains,

With that in mind, vitamin C serums can be used every 48 to 72 hours since, as Dr. Magovern notes, its "effectiveness may reach a plateau with daily use, so you may be able to stretch your dollar." We're all for spending a little less.

Now that you've got the scoop on vitamin C serums, here are the 11 best ones.

1. Vichy LiftActiv Peptide-C Anti-Aging Ampoules

Vichy LiftActiv Peptide-C Anti-Aging Ampoules
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We were very impressed by the formula of this 2020 Beauty Crush Award-winning vitamin C, and so was one of our experts. "These ampoules (small, sealed vials) are perfectly dosed for a daily application of vitamin C to help fight free radical and pollution damage on the skin and brighten brown spots," says Kavita Mariwalla, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist. "The sourcing of the ingredients is very high-end, but the retail price is a good buy for what you are getting."  

2. No7 Laboratories Dark Spot Correcting Booster Serum

No7 Laboratories Dark Spot Correcting Booster Serum
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If you're lookin for a spot-treatment to help reduce dark spots, try this award-winning pick. This highly concentrated brightening formula packs on vitamin C with superstar ingredients emblica (a powerful antioxidant) and sophora to significantly reduce the appearance of sun spots, age spots, and acne-caused dark spots in one month.  

3. SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic

SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
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This cult-classic serum will help combat sun damage and skin dehydration while also reducing the appearance of fine lines and dark spots. "It's amazing because you get the benefits of all three [skin acids] which makes it so incredibly effective," says Biggers-Stewart.

4. Dr. Dennis Gross Clinical Grade IPL Dark Spot Correcting Serum

Dr. Dennis Gross Clinical Grade IPL Dark Spot Correcting Serum
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"This serum includes l-ascorbic acid, lactic acid, and kojic acid. L-ascorbic acid is a highly effective form of vitamin C that helps protect skin against free radical assaults by neutralizing oxidative stress that can cause cell damage," explains Dendy Engelman, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and expert for our Beauty Crush Awards. "The lactic acid in it will gently exfoliate and kojic acid will lighten the hyperpigmentation."

5. Drunk Elephant C-Firma Vitamin C Day Serum

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Vitamin C Day Serum
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Drunk Elephant's serum treats uneven and dull skin through its firming and brightening formula that's packed with antioxidants, essential nutrients, and fruit enzymes. We love Drunk Elephants products and have determined that this one is in the top-five.

6. Honest Beauty Vitamin C Radiance Serum

Honest Beauty Vitamin C Radiance Serum
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Leave it to Jessica Alba to create one of the best, and most affordable, vitamin C serums on the market. Over time it will give your skin a mega radiance-boost, but it also works instantly to make your skin look super dewy and supple—it's why we gave it a Beauty Crush Award.

7. Neutrogena Rapid Tone Repair 20% Vitamin C Serum

Neutrogena Rapid Tone Repair 20% Vitamin C Serum
($28.29 save 54%)
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The encapsulated vitamin C in this drugstore pick helps ensure that the active ingredient remains, well, active. Vitamin C is known for oxidizing quickly and being photo-active, so keeping it encapsulated helps keep it from breaking down when exposed to oxygen. Simply twist the cap off and apply the serum over clean, dry skin.

8. Lancôme 15% Vitamin C Concentrate

Lancôme 15% Vitamin C Concentrate
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Give your skin a glow boost by adding in a few drops of this concentrated vitamin C formula to your favorite moisturizer.

9. Eminence Organic Skin Care Citrus & Kale Potent C+E Serum

Eminence Organic Skin Care Citrus & Kale Potent C+E Serum
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If you're in need of a clean and organic vitamin C serum, look no further. This pick combines vitamin C and E to boost each other's benefits and brighten the skin.

10. Tatcha Violet-C Brightening Serum

Tatcha Violet-C Brightening Serum 20% Vitamin C + 10% AHA
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Tatcha's vitamin C serum will do all sorts of important work such as combating dullness, fine lines, and discoloration while hydrating the skin, buffing away dead skin cells, and reducing UV damage. It features 20% Vitamin C + 10% AHA, so this serum is no joke. But because of what the brand states is "a new type of water-soluble vitamin C derivative called 'Moisturizing Vitamin C' that absorbs into skin," it's gentler than you'd expect.

11. BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner

BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner
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Formulated by cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson, this vitamin C is the real deal. It will visibly improve uneven skin tone and texture, firm the skin, and brighten your complexion. Trust us, this is a product you don't want to miss out on.