What are the Best Vitamin CE Serums?

Skin Care
What are the Best Vitamin CE Serums?

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 Dry to Normal Skin

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Yes, of course we are going to say this. But it’s true: We had the advantage of formulating just two years ago, so we ran with the ability to improve upon every other existing serum out there. FutureDerm CE Caffeic 16+2 contains 16% vitamin C (including 8% microencapsulatedL-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.

Skinceuticals CE Ferulic: Best for Oily Skin

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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.

Kleem Organics Vitamin CE Serum: Best Under $40

Kleem Organics Vitamin C Serum

Though it was a while ago now (how long ago, I’ll never tell!), I refused to spend over $40 for a beauty product until I graduated college. Staples like this affordable vitamin CE serum were mainstream in my beauty routine.

Kleem Organics Intensive Rejuvenating Vitamin C Serum contains a lot of my favorite ingredients, including vitamins C and E, ferulic acid, hyaluronic acid, jojoba oil, and witch hazel. It is perfect for normal to dry and dry skin types for regular use. It is also a 72% organic serum, which is saying a lot, considering that all of the ingredients are quite potent.

Besides the fact that this serum is organic — something I don’t think is much of a benefit anyway — the unique feature I support about Kleem Organics Intensive Rejuvenating Vitamin C Serum is that it contains hyaluronic acid. Like vitamin E, hyaluronic acid is naturally produced within the skin, but its production levels and natural stores will deplete with age. And it’s a shame: As a prominent natural moisturizing factor (NMF), hyaluronic acid can retain up to 1000 times its weight in water (Skin Pharmacology and Physiology2004).

Hyaluronic acid also helps for the skin to heal after injury (American Journal of Clinical Dermatology2005; Biologicals2011). That might be, in part, because it’s a free-radical scavenger that could be helpful in preventing free-radical damage to the skin (International Journal of Pharmaceutics2003). In a product like Kleem Organics Intensive Rejuvenating Vitamin C Serum, hyaluronic acid gives the product a smooth, “gliding” texture, and gently plumps up the skin and temporarily (though slightly) fills in fine lines and wrinkles.

Kleem Organics Intensive Rejuvenating Vitamin C Serum is a very lightweight, clear serum. It glides across the skin very easily, and a two to three pumps is enough for the face, neck, and decolletage. It has a very faint smell that I can only describe as reminiscent of orange peel. It drinks into the skin within thirty seconds and has a slight tackiness to it, but not so much so that you cannot apply primer or makeup over it with any issue.

Due to the 20% L-ascorbic acid, you may notice a slight tingling or burning. That is normal.

I used Kleem Organics Intensive Rejuvenating Vitamin C Serum for a week under my favorite sunscreen, and I thought that it made my face smoother. I obviously use vitamin CE serum all of the time, so I wasn’t expecting miracles, but I definitely noticed the acidity of the product helped cell turnover.

Revision Skincare Vitamin C 30% Serum: Best for Experimentalists

Revision Skin Care 30%

If bigger is better, then this serum has 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 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 within their skin in an assay hours later. So without running a trial on this product, 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

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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

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  • girlfoe

    My wife has been using The Made from Earth Vitamin Firming Serum for around three weeks now and both she and I have noticed a definite reduction in the surface lines and wrinkles that she hates. She has been using it before bedtime….she has been very pleased with this product….

  • Katherine

    Do you have an opinion on the Mario Badescu Vitamin C Serum? Just curious! Thanks!

  • Angela

    Hi Nicki, thanks for this great article! I was wondering if you still recommend Timeless Skin Care’s 20% Vitamin C + E Ferulic Acid Serum, which you reviewed favourably a few years ago? Or would you recommend Kleem Organic’s serum for those looking for budget-friendly options? I don’t live in the U.S. so I have to factor shipping into the cost of my skincare products, but I’m eager to incorporate Vit CE into my routine. Your site has been wonderful with regard to educating myself and many others on the science of skincare – thank you so very much!

  • lana

    Hi Nicki,

    This is a wonderful article. After reading your blog many years ago, I started to use SC CE Ferrulic (my skin is normal with oily nose). I’d really appreciate if you could please answer my questions below:

    1. What color should the serum be? I’ve seen it pale yellow turning to practically orange.

    2. I now see a lot of cheaper brands offering the same product, particularly Cosmetic Skin Solutions. Is there any upside in going with the SC?

    Thanks so much!

  • Maud

    Should a CE serum be used in the morning, the evening or both? Can’t seem to find the answer. Thanks

  • christine thuerk

    SALE on Kleem Vitamin C on Amazon! . Scroll down the page on product listing page and you will see an offer of discounts for purchasing multiple items, the last entry states a 41% discount for an honest review. I an not kidding! Check it out.

  • christine thuerk

    Hi, I noticed that you didn’t include Paula’s Choice Reset C15 Super Booster. Can you tell me why? I thought this was supposed to be a very good serum. What are your thoughts?

    • Amy

      Hi Christine! I hope you don’t mind me replying so I can get the answer too! I was wondering the same.

      I’d love to buy the FutureDerm one, but can’t afford it at the moment, so I bought the PC one. Would Kleem be a better option?

  • V

    Hi Nicki! Speaking of Vitamin C serums, every single Vitamin C serum (including, alas, the FutureDerm one) that I have tried has always oxidized on my face after sweating, leaving embarrassing brown streaks behind. Can you please explain this phenomenon? Is it just my body chemistry?

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