What are the Best Vitamin C Serums?

Personal/Inspirational, Skin Care

Looking for the best vitamin C serums? Good: 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.

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.

Screen shot 2013-06-29 at 5.43.15 PM

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 Vitamin C Serums Contain Both Vitamins C and E


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.

Looking for the best skin care? FutureDerm is committed to having its customers find — and create — the best skin care for their individual skin type, concern, and based on your ingredient preferences. Learn more by visiting the FutureDerm shop

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  • Nicki Zevola

    @Laura P – As per your request, here is an update: https://www.futurederm.com/what-are-the-best-vitamin-ce-serums/?doing_wp_cron=1442008199.3018789291381835937500

    I included silicones to be different and hydrating. I still also like alcohol-based serums.

  • Laura P.

    How wonderful to have the opportunity to formulate your own “dream” serum! I see that you’ve been improving it and it’s already second generation.

    You mentioned in your 2012 article about Vitamin C serums, and also in the comments, that you “tend to like the serums without the silicone or the gel base better, because they penetrate into the skin more readily.” Have you changed your mind about alcohol-based serums and their penetration in the last three years? Or is there some other reason why the FutureDerm Vitamin C serum features 4 silicones and no alcohol? Perhaps there is new information/research about how these components penetrate the skin.

    I’d love to see an updated comparison and I hope that you will include your previous favorite, Timeless, so that we can clearly see the differences (and innovations) between your serum, old standby’s and the new entrants on the market.

    Thanks so much for sharing information about beauty products in a way that it’s easy to understand!!



  • Nicki Zevola

    @Janelle – Drinking vitamin C is great for the skin. Studies show, however, that the highest concentrations of antioxidants get into the skin from both orally consuming and topically applying them.

  • Nicki Zevola

    @Sheila –

    Honestly? There are many plant extracts that are natural sources of vitamin C. But if you want the maximal effects of vitamin C, use a product that has concentrated vitamin C added. I’m not saying this because I make one. Rather, I make one because a concentrated vitamin C is almost always more effective than one with a plant extract that happens to be a source of vitamin C.

    For instance, let’s say sea buckthorn is 50% vitamin C (and that’s an extremely high estimate, but bear with me). Say your lotion contains 10% sea buckthorn (that’s also an extremely high estimate, but let’s keep with this example). That means your “vitamin C” cream contains 5% vitamin C. On the other hand, you can get creams and serums that are 20% or more vitamin C. It doesn’t make sense.

    If you love your sea buckthorn product (and I’ve tried the one I think you’re talking about, from a company that has a name that begins with “F”, and it has a great texture), just use it in combination with a more concentrated vitamin C serum. If that’s too strong for your skin, alternate nights.

  • Nicki Zevola

    @Laura —
    Yes, I still like Timeless over Cosmetics Solutions. Just a better experience for me.

    As for the body, I like Olay Quench. By my best estimates, this really inexpensive lotion (I think its something like 30 cents per use) has 4% niacinamide, the highest available over the counter. I apply it to still-damp skin immediately after the bath or shower, and put on 100% cotton pajamas, so it drinks in all night long. This has been a skin secret of mine for years, and my skin is still super soft and smooth and non-discolored (and I’m 30 now and live in an area of the country where the weather goes from hot and humid to cold and very dry, so that’s saying something). While niacinamide is not a traditional antioxidant, it does help with skin softening, aids with sunspots (albeit mildly), and treats discoloration (albeit mildly), and does have some mild antioxidant protection.

    Hope this helps!

  • Nicki Zevola

    @Madeline — I have tried the Timeless. It had a bit of a scent that I did not like, but aside from that, it did work.

  • Nicki Zevola

    @Josie Bell – I respectfully disagree. The phenoxyethanol in Skinceuticals CE Ferulic is in a concentration that, in my opinion, far surpasses the hydration from 2% vitamin E. I am definitely not a fan of the CE Ferulic for anything but normal to oily skin.

  • Nicki Zevola

    Hi @Livia —

    I’ve tried the Timeless and several Amazon brands.

    If you have a tolerance for a scent or a sometimes sticky texture, you are still legitimately getting 20% vitamin C with these serums.

    I like the Skinceuticals CE Ferulic for sunspots and our own FutureDerm Vitamin CE Caffeic for daily maintenance.

    But if you want to conserve funds, then yes, the Amazon brands are good also.

    Hope this helps,

  • Such a documented article! I’d love to try a Vitamin C Serum, to be honest, they are quite costly, at least the branded ones. I saw a lot of no-name brands on Amazon, selling Vitamin C Serums at 20% strength, like Timeless Vitamin C Serum or Petunia Skincare. Should these be trusted? I see a lot of mentions for Timeless Vitamin C serum in the comments, is this still a good product compared with SkinCeuticals or Cosmetic Skin Solutions?

  • Josie Bell

    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.

  • Madeline

    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.



  • Laura

    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!

  • 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

  • Janelle

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

  • Susanne

    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!

  • Lucy


    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?

    • Nicki Zevola

      Please see my answer below. Yes, I still love TImeless.

  • Catarina

    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.

    • Nicki Zevola

      Right. I added the THD ascorbate because it has been shown in independent studies to penetrate the skin better than L-ascorbic acid. But 8% THD ascorbate is not as potent as 8% L-ascorbic acid, you are correct about that.

  • Firn

    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?

    • Nicki Zevola

      @Firn —

      Yes, always apply concentrated vitamin C serums onto dry and not damp skin, especially if you are experiencing uncomfortable amounts of burning or tingling.

      Most vitamin C serums (and other skin care products) undergo bacterial testing that clears it for 2 years. After it is opened, I would try to use it within 3-4 months.

  • Jess

    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?

    • Nicki Zevola

      Hi @Jess –

      I love the Philosophy brand, but I don’t like the Hope is Not Enough product. I like the FutureDerm, Timeless, Kleem Organics, and Skinceuticals the best. If you want to spend more, YBF also makes a good one!

  • Kelly

    Does the $10 off offer already expired? Just tried it and I didn’t work.

  • @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.

  • 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.

  • @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.

  • @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.


  • Firn

    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.

  • Ashlee Kensington

    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.

  • @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.

    • Emily

      I’m curious about your criticism of Revision 30%. Isn’t “THD ascorbate” the same tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate used in your formula (8%)? I’ve read it’s actually superior than l-ascorbic acid because it is oil soluble which lends itself to increased penetration and higher conversion to vitamin C in the skin.

  • @Karen – Mad Hippie doesn’t contain vitamin E. It needs to contain vitamin E or ubiquinone (coenzyme Q10) to restore/replenish lost electrons of vitamin C.

  • @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.

  • @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,


    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.

  • Karen

    Have you tried Mad Hippie Vitamin C? It has worked miracles on my face and it is under 40.00

  • mary

    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.

  • Eileen

    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 🙁

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