Topical vitamin C is one of the few ingredients that has 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 serum 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 in your skin 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. But there are some companies that make effective vitamin C products, so here are my recommendations for the best vitamin C serums.
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 Vitamin CE Caffeic Silk Serum 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.
Before I formulated FutureDerm Vitamin CE Caffeic Silk Serum 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.
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 from college, and staples like this vitamin CE knockoff of hirer end brands were mainstays in my beauty routine. From ingredients alone, Cosmetic Solutions Vitamin C + E Serum certainly looks promising, with slightly less vitamin C than FutureDerm Vitamin CE Caffeic Silk Serum 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 Vitamin CE Caffeic Silk Serum 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 Vitamin CE Caffeic Silk Serum 16+2 (or else I would have reformulated it!), but if you're on a tight budget, it's the best under $40.
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 Vitamin CE Caffeic Silk Serum 16+2, 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.
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. That's 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. That's why I'm not a fan of a lot of vitamin C serums out there, like Ole Henriksen Vitamin C or Orange Daily. I prefer vitamin C serums with both vitamins C and E.
I like our FutureDerm Vitamon CE Caffeic Silk Serum 16+2 best — but then again, I formulated it to be the ideal vitamin C serum based on all the research I've found, so I feel very passionate about how effective it is. If you must use another brand, look for one with at least 15% vitamin C and 1% vitamin E for maximal antioxidant benefits.
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