What are the Best Vitamin C Serums?

Topical vitamin C is one of the few ingredients that have been shown in many peer-reviewed, independent scientific studies to make a big difference in sunspots, uneven skin texture, and skin dullness. But finding the right vitamin C for your skin can be difficult. This is mainly due to the fact that many companies don’t include enough vitamin C in their formulations to actually make a difference, as well as the fact that some use forms of vitamin C that aren’t proven to do anything when topically applied to the skin.

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FutureDerm CE Caffeic 16+2 Serum: Best for All Skin Types – Especially Dry to Normal Skin

Yes, of course we are going to say this. But it’s true: We had the advantage of formulating most recently, so we ran with it. FutureDerm CE Caffeic 16+2 contains 16% vitamin C (including 8% microencapsulated L-ascorbic acid and 8% tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate), 2% vitamin E, and the super antioxidant caffeic acid. In studies, caffeic acid has been shown to have greater antioxidant potential than its polyphenol cousin, ferulic acid. Within minutes of application, skin feels softer and smoother. And within 10 days, your skin will appear brighter and more even-toned. For more, read the full review.

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Skinceuticals CE Ferulic: Best for Oily Skin

Before I formulated FutureDerm CE Caffeic 16+2, Skinceuticals CE Ferulic was my favorite vitamin CE serum. The base in Skinceuticals CE Ferulic is phenoxyethanol, which I recommend for those with oily skin. The super-low Skinceuticals CE Ferulic pH can also be somewhat exfoliating, giving further relief to those with oily or acne-prone skin. This can also mean a bit more irritation for those with normal to dry skin. Still, with 15% vitamin C as L-ascorbic acid and 1% vitamin E, I still dig it. One caveat: Be sure to only buy the 1 mL size – I used to purchase the 2 mL value size, but the product would turn orange by the time I reached the bottom, indicating that the vitamin C had oxidized and was not as effective. For more, read the full review.

Cosmetic Skin Solutions Vitamin CE Serum

Cosmetic Skin Solutions Vitamin CE Serum: Best Under $40

Full disclosure: I didn’t grow up with a lot of money. In fact, I grew up with very little money. (But a whole lotta love, I will say that!)  With that said, I never spent over $40 for a beauty product until I graduated college, and staples like this vitamin CE knockoff were mainstream in my beauty routine.

From ingredients alone, Cosmetic Solutions Vitamin C + E Serum certainly looks promising, with slightly less vitamin C than FutureDerm CE Caffeic 16+2 (15% versus 16%) and the same concentration as Skinceuticals CE Ferulic. However, the fact that Cosmetic Solutions Vitamin C + E Serum contains half the amount of vitamin E of FutureDerm CE Caffeic 16+2 and Skinceuticals CE Ferulic concerns me, because vitamin E has many proven effects in the skin, particularly in conjunction with vitamin C.

Still, for under $40, it is the best one out there. One of its competitors, Cellbone 23 High Potency Serum ($31.00) is a definite no-go for me – it contains menthol, which irritates the skin and sensitizes it to other ingredients. On top of that, it contains idebenone, which can be irritating on its own, much less in conjunction with menthol. Ew.

One warning: Cosmetic Solutions Vitamin C + E Serum has a faint alcohol smell. I didn’t like it as much as Skinceuticals CE Ferulic and certainly not as much as FutureDerm CE Caffeic 16+2 (or else I would have reformulated it!), but if you’re on a tight budget, it’s the best under $40.

Revision Skin Care 30%

Revision Skincare Vitamin C 30% Serum: Best for Experimentalists

Added July 01, 2013. As Americans, we say, “More is more.” And why not – if more is more and bigger is better, then why not have it all?

Unfortunately, Revision Skincare Vitamin C 30% is not what it sounds like. Its 30% vitamin C does not contain one ounce of the most proven form of vitamin C, L-ascorbic acid. Instead, Revision Skincare Vitamin C 30% contains a form of vitamin C called THD ascorbate. There is very little research on THD ascorbate, but I have enough of a scientific background to tell you that the reason people get results from Revision Skincare Vitamin C 30% is because some of the THD ascorbate is being converted to L-ascorbic acid within the skin. How much? I’d have to run an experiment applying the serum to people’s skin and then measuring the L-ascorbic acid content in an assay later. So without running a trial on a product that is not my own, I will go ahead and tell you this: My best estimate is anywhere between 8-18%. Most likely on the lower end. Not all that helpful, I know.

So why am I putting Revision Skincare Vitamin C 30% on the “best” list? A few reasons. First, Revision Skincare Vitamin C 30% contains both vitamin E and ubiquinone (coenzyme Q10). Of all the antioxidants that could potentially “back up” vitamin C when it loses its electrons and is rendered inactive, only vitamin E and ubiquinone (coenzyme Q10) can donate electrons to vitamin C and render it stable once again (Cosmetic Dermatology text, 2009).

I still love FutureDerm CE Caffeic 16+2 Serum, and would choose it over Revision Skincare Vitamin C 30% not only because I designed it (!), but because it is microencapsulated, contains actual L-ascorbic acid, and the powerhouse antioxidant caffeic acid as well. But I’d still give Revision’s version a thumbs-up.

Keep This in Mind: The Best C Serums Contain Both Vitamins C and E

FutureDerm_How_Vitamin_C_Works_infographic_the_science_of_beauty_full1

As you age and undergo stress, your body produces toxic free radicals. These toxic free radicals are capable of causing nearly every sign of damage there is, including DNA damage within your cells. Antioxidants work by stabilizing free radicals.

After stabilizing toxic free radicals, the antioxidants are usually less effective.  This is because antioxidants donate electrons to stabilize free radicals. But after donating the electrons, the antioxidants are depleted of electrons themselves!

Vitamins C and E combat this problem. Vitamins C and E are what are known as “network antioxidants.” When vitamin C donates an electron to stabilize a toxic free radical, vitamin E can donate an electron and replenish vitamin C. Which is awesome, because then you’re getting extra antioxidant strength!

In addition, in research studies, vitamin C has been reported to enhance UVA protection, whereas vitamin E is more effective against UVB radiation. So together, there is strengthened UVA/UVB protection when worn under sunscreen.

So I’m not as much a fan of a lot of the vitamin C only serums out there, like Ole Henriksen Vitamin C or Orange Daily. I prefer vitamin C serums with both vitamins C and E.

Bottom Line

I like our FutureDerm CE Caffeic 16+2 Serum best – but then again, I formulated it. If you must use another brand, look for one with at least 15% vitamin C and 1% vitamin E for maximal antioxidant benefits.

Try FutureDerm CE Caffeic 16+2 Serum today for $10 off. Use coupon code futurederm10. No exclusions.

Related Posts

  • Coenzyme Q-10 — also known as ubiquinone — is found naturally in the human body as something essential for the production of cells (Mayo Clinic). Coenzyme Q-10 levels are at their highest for the first 20 years of life and then subsequently decrease as we age. Researchers are investigating how this antioxidant might be related to…
  • As longtime readers of the FutureDerm blog know, we love vitamin C here. Loooove it.  But we’re particularly excited today because our Vitamin CE Caffeic Serum is almost here, and for the next week (until March 31) you can pre-order yours! Vitamin C is known for doing all kinds of wonderful things for your skin…

by Nicki Zevola

25 thoughts on “What are the Best Vitamin C Serums?

  1. Eileen says:

    Hi Nicki,

    Both SkinCeuticles and Cosmetic Skin Solutions state that their respective CE+Ferulic and C+E Serum Advanced Formula contain 15% C, 1% E, and .5% ferulic acid, but you said SkinCeuticles contains 2% E. I’m curious as to where you got your information.

    Also, your paragraph about Cosmetic Skin Solutions has been muddled up with reference to Cellbone; making it unclear as to which serum you are discussing at that point. I assume you meant to write Cosmetic Skin Solutions and not Cellbone.

    Last, you warned that the CSS serum has an alcohol smell. Is it that you just don’t like the smell or that the glycols in the product are objectionable? If the glycols are the problem, how so since they’re basically skin conditioners and slip agents?

    Sorry to say, it’s very evident that your post wasn’t proofread :-(

  2. mary says:

    Hi Nicki,
    I have been contemplating buying your vitamin c serum. I have been using ‘Topix Citrix CRS 20% Serum with Growth Factor” for a while now and I really like it. It is slightly more expensive than yours (~110) and I was wondering how does it compare to your vitamin C serum?
    I have been told that I can use it once in two days because the vitamin C will stay in skin for 48 hours to save some money but I don’t think it contains vitamin E.

  3. CARYN says:

    What about Revision’s Advanced line the 30% vitamin C? Have used for more then a year and had pretty good results with no problems as in breakouts,etc.

  4. Nicki Zevola says:

    @Eileen –

    Yes, you are correct. I’m a little embarrassed: I wrote this post late on Sunday night. I was quite tired, and you caught me – I didn’t proofread. :-( My bad. I’ll do better in the future.

    Skinceuticals does contain 1% vitamin E, you are right. I also messed up the Cosmetic Skin Solutions < -> Cellbone formulas; I will correct that now.

    The CSS serum does have a faint alcohol smell. I don’t think they are objectionable, but I do not like the smell personally.

    Hang in there with me! We have a new site coming out at the end of the month – I’ve been concentrating on that, but you’re right. We can’t let content fall by the wayside in the meantime!
    All the best,
    Nicki

  5. Nicki Zevola says:

    @Mary – I don’t like any vitamin C serum that doesn’t contain vitamin E. Vitamin C is extremely reactive to light and air, so without microencapsulation, you absolutely need to have vitamin E or ubiquinone (coenzyme Q10), one of the enzymes that works in the same antioxidant pathway, to reinforce the antioxidant pathway/restore vitamin C to its original state.

  6. Nicki Zevola says:

    @Caryn – Revision serum with 30% vitamin C does contain vitamin E and ubiquinone (coenzyme Q10). I might go ahead and add it to the list. The only problems: one, the only form of vitamin C used is THD ascorbate. This is one of the lesser-proven forms of vitamin C. The low pH of the most commonly used form, L-ascorbic acid, gives it exfoliating action. THD ascorbate does not have this low of a pH and therefore will not exfoliate as well.

    Second, THD ascorbate may have to be converted to L-ascorbic acid within the skin in order to be effective. So the 30% vitamin C is, in my opinion, most likely acting as somewhere between 8-15% L-ascorbic acid. But I could be wrong.

    This is a solid product. I don’t like THD ascorbate all that much, but at the same time, enough should convert to L-ascorbic acid in the skin for it to demonstrate results for you. Nice find.

  7. Ashlee Kensington says:

    WOW…I must say how disappointed I am with someone of your credentials commenting on Vitamin C products. Certainly you have not done due diligence.

    I have worked in the cosmeceutical industry for over 17 years with all of the prominent physician based companies, and you have failed to mention the Father of Vitamin C, Dr Mostafa Omar. He is the ORIGINAL and FIRST to stabilize bioavailable Vitamin C (L-Ascorbic Acid). His formula’s began with Cellex-C, then SkinCeuticals, and now he solely distributes his products under the name Phyto-Ceuticals or Phyto-C Skincare.

    Dr Omar has been awarded several grants from NCI (National Cancer Institute) for his renowned research and has put topical vitamin C on the map.

    disclaimer: I DO NOT work for Dr Omar and work for another physician based company. I have yet to find a Vitamin C product that works as well as his Vitamin C. I believe in strong science and have a medical and scientific background.

  8. Firn says:

    I bought and tried Futurederm’s CE Ferulic serum but it always stung my sensitive skin when I applied it. Plus it broke me out. I did try emailing the admin to ask for my 30 day money-back guarantee but no response.

    Can someone please help me? I don’t care about the money-back anymore but it’s frustrating! Plus I feel the orange oil is totally unnecessary in your product.

  9. Nicki Zevola says:

    @Firn –

    Hi Firn, we will gladly refund your purchase. I am also sorry to hear that. For the record, we have not had any other complaints about our vitamin C. The microencapsulation makes it more gentle than other forms, but the slow release generates results over the course of hours. It also should not make you break out – there is nothing comedogenic about it. Are you sure it isn’t another product you are using in conjunction with it?

    I have not received an email of this kind, and neither has our customer service person. Please email Chris [at] FutureDerm [dot] com, and he will take care of this directly for you. We are in the midst of switching systems – our new website will be complete at the end of July 2013 – so perhaps that had something to do with it. My apologies there.

    Last comment: The natural orange extract is 0.1% of a 0.1% solution, so there is 0.01% orange oil in the product. Our formulation is NOT photosensitizing.

    Thanks,
    Nicki

  10. Nicki Zevola says:

    @Ashlee – I am quite aware of Dr. Omar and certainly have done my research. While he is a respected scientist, please keep I do not necessarily believe that the first to come out with a certain type of product is necessarily the best. This article is also not about individual scientists, but superior products. I don’t mention any developing scientist’s background or credentials with any of the formulations.

    Second, I simply do not like the Phyto-C or the Cellex C products as much as Skinceuticals CE Ferulic. I find them to oxidize more quickly whenever I have tried them. Perhaps this is due to the fact that they are sourced from a different location, as they may have been exposed to more heat or light. Nonetheless, in a side-by-side comparison, there is absolutely no advantage to PhytoC or Cellex-C over Skinceuticals CE Ferulic, both from what I have researched and in my own personal use/opinion. Neither of these products is microencapsulated or optimized for stability in any way over Skinceuticals CE Ferulic, to the best of my knowledge and research.

  11. Veronica says:

    I wouldn’t have put CE Ferulic as a good option for oily skin. It is indicated by Skinceuticals for normal to dry skin, which has been my experience both using it and getting feedback from clients and coworkers. It is a great serum, though. I’d be curious to hear what you think of La Roche-Posay’s Active C line, which has always been one of my lower cost favorites.

  12. Nicki Zevola says:

    @Veronica – I’m surprised you like CE Ferulic for normal to dry skin; I know Skinceuticals recommends it for normal to dry skin, but I’ve talked to many customers through FutureDerm.com for the past six years with dry skin who find it to be too drying.

    That said, I’m not a fan of the LaRoche Posay Active C line. I love their sunscreens and a few other of their products, but the Active C line fails to specify concentration of vitamin C on the website or accompanying materials (it’s not legal in the US to publish concentrations on labels). It also contains canola oil, which can be greasy for many. No vitamin E, no hydroxycinnamic acids like caffeic or ferulic, and no stabilization method to boot. Not a fan. 2/4 stars.

  13. Jess says:

    Hi Nicki,

    I really like your writing and enjoyed this article. I am on a budget, so I would not be able to spend over $40 on a product. I currently use Philosophy’s “When Hope is Not Enough” serum in the mornings. After reading this article, I am considering switching to the Cosmetic Skin Solutions Vitamin CE serum. Do you have an opinion on which serum is better?

  14. Firn says:

    Dear Nicki, thanks for the reply!

    I want to give it another go. I’ve only been using the tiniest amount but the stinging is quite unbearable. Should I apply it onto dry skin and not damp? I’ve always thought it best to apply serum on to moist skin for better absorption.

    How long will the bottle last if I’ve kept it closed tightly in a cool dark drawer?

  15. Catarina says:

    Hi Nicki,
    you don’t like THD Ascorbate that much? But that is what you have in your Futurederm CE Caffeic Serum. And for it’s Vitamin C content you add the L – Ascorbic Acid Content to the THD content to 16% Vitamin C. If it is not sure to which rate THD Ascorbate turns into L-Ascorbic Acid within the skin then your high Vitamin C of 16% may not be there in the skin also.

  16. Lucy says:

    Nicki,

    What about the Timeless 20% C+E+Ferulic? You’ve written favorably about it in the past. Is it off of your ‘good’ list now, and if so, why?

  17. Susanne says:

    I just came across another article of yours (Feb. 15 2012) that recommended the Timeless Vitamin C + E Serum for someone on a budget. I don’t see it mentioned here. Do you still recommend it over the Cosmetic Skin Solutions Ferulic Serum with C & E? Is it the same thing? I’m so confused about all of this stuff.

    Thanks for your help!
    Susanne

  18. Janelle says:

    Hi Nicki! I have just one question: Won’t drinking vitamin C supplements be enough to keep the skin healthy?

  19. Sheila says:

    I use Seabuckthorn oil for my skin and tablets for my body. What do you believe? It is enough? I read that it has the highest amount of vitamin C. Thank you for this article , I found it very useful

  20. Laura says:

    Two quick questions, I hope:

    1. In the past, you recommended Timeless Vitamin C and E Serum over the Cosmetic Skin Solutions one. Is that still the case?

    2. Do you know of a good, equally powerful antioxidant lotion for the body? (I imagine squeezing little drops of serum all over would be tedious and very expensive, lol.)

    Thank you!

  21. Madeline says:

    I was also wondering about the omission of the Timeless C+E+Ferulic serum? You ranked it as your favorite behind Skinceuticals in a piece written on Feb 15, 2012 (and voiced your preference for it over Cosmetic Solutions’ C+E). I’m hoping you didn’t omit this product because it compares favorably to your own (with 20% Vit C, Ferulic, Vit E, Hyaluronic and matryxl). I’ve been an avid follower and promoter of this site and your readers would greatly appreciate a response to this query.

    Thanks!
    Madeline

    http://www.amazon.com/20-Vitamin-Ferulic-Acid-Serum/dp/B0036BI56G

  22. Josie Bell says:

    SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic is recommended for dry skin. The Vitamin E in the formula adds just enough hydration to the epidermis to prevent TEWL. However, those with oily skin will find it too oily or heavy. Further, CE Ferulic does not provide any exfoliation at all. SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF is recommended for those with combo to oily skin as it contains an apple bark extract that causes gentle exfoliation and oil control.

    Re: Ashlee Kensington’s comment – Dr. Omar was just one contributor to the original Vitamin C studies conducted and led by Dr. Sheldon Pinnell at Duke University. Dr. Pinnell founded Cellex-C and SkinCeuticals based on those clinical studies. Dr. Omar then went on to use some of the information from those studies to create his own lines. However, he was a small contributor to Dr. Pinnell’s studies and is in no way thought of as the “Father of Vitamin C”. That title belongs to Dr. Pinnell if anyone.

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