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Budget-friendly radiance: Best drugstore vitamin C serums of 2023

Vitamin C serums can help give your skin a much-coveted glow. Here are a few our dermatology providers recommend.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Nov 10, 2023 • 10 min read
Medically reviewed by Jessica Mefford, NP
Vitamin C
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Nov 10, 2023 • 10 min read
Medically reviewed by Jessica Mefford, NP
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

In this article

The benefits of vitamin C serum
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Summary

  • Topical vitamin C can provide antioxidant protection, hydration, protection from sun damage, increased collagen, and anti-inflammatory benefits for your skin.

  • You can find several affordable and effective vitamin C serums in the beauty aisle of your nearest drugstore.

  • Look for serums with concentrations of vitamin C between 10-20% plus other hydrating and anti-aging ingredients.

  • For prescription-strength anti-aging options, consult a licensed dermatology provider like those at Curology.

  • Many Curology patients use vitamin C serums alongside their customized formula under the direction of their dermatology provider. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all in skincare. What works for one person may not necessarily have the same results for someone else. But it’s only natural to want the best, so our team of licensed dermatology providers reviews and assesses countless products on the market to offer a few recommendations. So here you’ll find the products that hold up to our rigorous standards.

Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant essential for our health and skin, has taken center stage in the world of skincare. This vitamin has the potential to brighten, protect, and rejuvenate the skin, making vitamin C serums a staple in many people’s skincare routines.¹ 

The best part? You don't have to break the bank to enjoy the benefits of this ingredient. The skincare market is full of affordable vitamin C serums that deliver impressive results. And many of them can be found in the beauty aisle at your local pharmacy. 

To help you figure out how to incorporate this product into your routine—or if you should—we’ll discuss the benefits of vitamin C serum, share our picks for the best drugstore vitamin C serums of 2023, and explain which factors to consider when choosing one to fit your skin’s needs. 

The benefits of vitamin C serum

Vitamin C serums can come with a host of benefits that can optimize your skincare routine. Here’s why you might consider adding one to your daily regimen:

Antioxidant protection: Vitamin C is the most abundant antioxidant in the skin.² Antioxidants are vital defenders against harmful free radicals—unstable molecules that cause skin damage and premature aging.³ By neutralizing these free radicals, vitamin C serum helps to protect your skin from oxidative stress and the harmful effects of pollution and other environmental stressors.⁴

Hydration boost: Our skin has multiple layers, and vitamin C is found in every one of them.⁵ Vitamin C stimulates the production of ceramides, lipid compounds essential for maintaining proper skin hydration.⁶ Well-hydrated skin may appear more plump, youthful, and radiant.

Protection against sun damage: While you should always wear sunscreen, vitamin C offers an extra layer of defense by helping protect the skin against signs of photoaging caused by harmful UV rays.⁷

Collagen boost: Collagen is one of the proteins responsible for maintaining the skin’s elasticity and firmness. Vitamin C is essential for its production and, when applied topically, has been shown to increase collagen production in both young and aged skin.⁸ 

Brightening and evening skin tone: Struggling with dark spots? Vitamin C can give you a hand. It interacts with copper ions to the enzyme tyrosinase, reducing melanin formation.⁹ This means a more even skin tone and reduced appearance of dark spots

Anti-inflammatory benefits: The anti-inflammatory properties of vitamin C promote wound healing and can also prevent post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation,¹⁰ helping your skin remain clear and radiant.

Our picks for best drugstore vitamin C serum

Some people believe you have to spend a lot of money to get high-quality skincare products, but that’s not true! There are many quality, effective products available at reasonable price points. The following picks for the best drugstore vitamin C serums are proof. You can find all of them online or in your local pharmacy beauty aisle. 

L'Oreal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives Vitamin C Serum 

What we like about it:

  • 10% vitamin C concentration, good for vitamin C newbies

  • Fragrance-free, non-comedogenic formula for those with acne or sensitive skin

  • Also contains hyaluronic acid for additional moisture

TruSkin Naturals Vitamin C Facial Serum 

What we like about it:

  • Use a more stable form of vitamin C that is less prone to oxidation

  • Formulated for all skin types

  • Also contains hyaluronic acid to help keep skin hydrated

Peach & Lily Transparen-C Pro Spot Treatment

What we like about it:

  • Features a stronger 20% vitamin C concentration

  • Also includes other popular anti-aging and hydrating ingredients such as vitamin E, squalanekojic acid, and tranexamic acid

  • Formulated without perfumes or fragrances

RoC Multi-Correxion Revive + Glow Daily Serum

What we like about it:

  • Formulated with a 10% vitamin C concentration

  • Includes peptides and other antioxidants to increase effects

  • Uses a more stable form of vitamin C to resist oxidation

Olay Tone Perfection Vitamin B3 + Vitamin C Serum

What we like about it:

  • Combines vitamin C with vitamin B3 (niacinamide) to boost effects

  • Fragrance-free formula for sensitive skin

  • Absorbs quickly and won’t leave skin greasy

No7 Radiance+ 15% Vitamin C Serum

What we like about it:

  • Contains 15% vitamin C for a mid-strength serum

  • Suitable for all skin types

  • Certified cruelty-free

Neutrogena Rapid Tone Repair 20% Vitamin C Serum Capsules

What we like about it:

  • Uses a stronger 20% vitamin C concentration 

  • Capsule packaging helps prevent serum oxidation

  • Free of alcohol, oil, fragrance, and dyes

Mario Badescu Vitamin C Serum

What we like about it:

  • Also contains collagen and sodium hyaluronate, which is similar to hyaluronic acid 

  • Formulated for all skin types

  • Gluten-free formula for those with allergies

Paula’s Choice Resist C15 Super Booster

What we like about it:

  • Contains a 15% concentration of vitamin C

  • Can be used alone or mixed with other serums or your moisturizer

  • Also contains vitamin E, ferulic acid, and peptides

What to consider when choosing a drugstore vitamin C serum 

Navigating the aisles of a drugstore in search of the right vitamin C serum can be daunting. But with the right information at your fingertips, you can make an informed decision that will benefit your skin. Here’s what you need to keep in mind:

Complementary Ingredients: Vitamin C is a powerhouse on its own, but it truly shines when paired with vitamin E, especially when it comes to photoprotection. So, look for serums that combine these two vitamins for optimal results.¹¹ Additionally, many serums are formulated with other anti-aging or moisturizing ingredients to enhance benefits. However, be vigilant and ensure the product doesn’t contain any pore-clogging components that might lead to breakouts. 

Concentration Matters: Not all vitamin C serums are created equal. The effectiveness of the serum is closely tied to its concentration.¹² Ideally, choose a serum with a vitamin C concentration between 10-20%. While you might think more is better, concentrations above 20% don’t offer additional benefits and may even irritate your skin.¹³

Packaging: Vitamin C is a delicate compound that can quickly degrade if exposed to light.¹⁴ This oxidation can turn the serum yellow and reduce its effectiveness. To ensure you’re getting the most out of your product, keep serum out of direct sunlight.¹⁵

Application: For the best results, apply your vitamin C serum after cleansing, but before moisturizing or putting on sunscreen. Making vitamin C serum a regular part of your routine is essential, as consistent application is needed to maintain its photoprotective benefits.¹⁶ 

Remember, the right vitamin C serum can be a game-changer for your skin, offering brightening, anti-aging, and protective benefits. By keeping these factors in mind, you can choose a product that will serve your skin’s needs best.

Accessible anti-aging skincare

If you’re looking for skincare products to treat signs of aging like fine lines, wrinkles, dullness, or dark spots, there’s no shortage of options. From drugstore serums to prescription strength options available from a licensed dermatology provider (like Curology!), the right combination of products to help you meet your anti-aging goals is within reach. 

And you may not have to choose between your favorite serum and your prescription skincare. In fact, many Curology patients use vitamin C serums alongside their customized formula under the direction of their dermatology provider. 

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Getting started is easy. Just complete a quick skin quiz (you can do it here), snap a few selfies, and you’ll be paired with one of Curology’s licensed dermatology providers. If Curology* is right for you, they’ll prescribe you a customized anti-aging formula with up to three active ingredients. These include tretinoin, azelaic acid, tranexamic acid, and niacinamide—all proven to help fight signs of aging on your skin.

FAQs

What percentage of vitamin C serum should a beginner use?

Choosing the right concentration of vitamin C serum for your skin is key. For a product to be effective, it should have a vitamin C concentration above 8%.¹⁷ Most reputable products today fall within the 10-20% range. However, concentrations above 20% don't offer added benefits and may irritate the skin.¹⁸

For those who are new to the ingredient, especially those with sensitive skin or concerns about potential irritation, it’s wise to start with a lower concentration and gradually work your way up as your skin gets acclimated.

What is the bad side of vitamin C serum?

While vitamin C serum is generally safe for daily use over extended periods, there are a few potential drawbacks to be aware of.¹⁹ Some might experience minor adverse reactions, such as a yellowish discoloration of the skin, lightening of hair, or staining of clothes due to the oxidative changes of the vitamin. 

Additionally, vitamin C doesn’t completely wash or wipe off once applied.²⁰ In rare cases, people may experience stinging, redness (erythema), or dryness after application. However, these side effects can typically be treated with the use of a moisturizer.²¹

Is it OK to use vitamin C serum every day?

Absolutely! Vitamin C serum is generally safe for daily application over extended periods.²² You can use it daily as it has an excellent safety profile.²³ This makes it a versatile and beneficial addition to your daily skincare routine, enhancing your skin’s health and appearance.

How do I choose a vitamin C serum?

Choosing the right vitamin C serum for your skin can be easier with a few simple tips. Look for serums formulated with vitamin E and other moisturizing ingredients.²⁴ You’ll want a serum with a vitamin C concentration between 10-20% (concentrations above 20% don’t offer additional benefits and may irritate your skin).²⁵ And finally, since vitamin C degrades when exposed to light, look for packaging that protects your serum from direct sunlight.²⁶

What are the negatives of vitamin C serum?

Vitamin C is generally considered fairly safe for daily use over an extended period of time. However, like any product, there are a few potential side effects you should be aware of.²⁷ In rare cases, some people may experience stinging, redness, or dryness after using a vitamin C serum. This can typically be treated by using a moisturizer along with your serum.²⁸

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. (April-June 2013).

  2. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. Ibid.

  3. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. Ibid.

  4. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. Ibid.

  5. Michalak, M. Plant-Derived Antioxidants: Significance in Skin Health and the Ageing Process. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. (January 2022).

  6. Michalak, M. Plant-Derived Antioxidants: Significance in Skin Health and the Ageing Process. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Ibid.

  7. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. Ibid.

  8. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. Ibid.

  9. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. Ibid.

  10. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. Ibid.

  11. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. Ibid.

  12. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. Ibid.

  13. Pandey, A., et al. Cosmeceuticals. StatPearls. (2023, August 7).

  14. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. Ibid.

  15. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. Ibid.

  16. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. Ibid.

  17. Pandey, A., et al. Cosmeceuticals. StatPearls. Ibid.

  18. Pandey, A., et al. Cosmeceuticals. StatPearls. Ibid.

  19. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. Ibid.

  20. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. Ibid.

  21. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. Ibid.

  22. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. Ibid.

  23. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. Ibid.

  24. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. Ibid.

  25.  Pandey, A., et al. Cosmeceuticals. StatPearls. Ibid.

  26. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. Ibid.

  27. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. Ibid.

  28. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. Ibid.

Jessica Lee is a certified Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She received her Master in Nursing from Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, CA.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
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Jessica Mefford, NP

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