The Complete Guide To Vitamin C Serums

by Gio
complete guide to vitamin c serums

Today, I’m very excited to bring you this guest post by the lovely Livia of Oily Skin Blog. She explains why we should use a Vitamin C serum and shares her favourite picks:

Discovered over 70 years ago, vitamin C has been used in the skincare industry to manufacture anything from cleansers, lotions, toners to moisturisers, serums and masks. Yet, not all of us are aware of the benefits that this powerhouse brings to our skincare routines. I bet you’re dying to know!

What is a vitamin C serum

Vitamin C serums are skincare products that use a high concentration of vitamin C to treat ageing signs like fine lines and sagging skin, brighten complexion, improve red or dark sports, even out skin tone and control breakouts. Although this might sound like another product with too many claims and a potential for a skincare fiasco, you will be surprised to know that vitamin C is one of the most researched ingredients that can prove almost all claims currently enforced by manufacturers.

Let’s meet the vitamin C family

There are more than one form of vitamin C that can be found in cosmetics, and the most researched of all is ascorbic acid or l-ascorbic acid. Other derivatives of vitamin C include  sodium ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbyl palmitate, retinyl ascorbate, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate.

While these have been less researched than l-ascorbic acid, they are still scientifically backed and considered efficient anti-oxidants with potential anti-inflammatory and lightening properties. However, these other forms of vitamin C are more valuable when used in combination with other potent anti-oxidants such as ascorbic acid, green tea or retinol, according Paula’s Choice website.

medik8 ce tetra vitamin c antioxidant serum

How are vitamin C serums formulated

All sounds good up to now, right? Well, the bad part is that vitamin C is unstable, especially when exposed to light or air. That is why other ingredients are added to the formulation in order to stabilize it. Most vitamin C Serums also contain vitamin E, feluric acid or hyaluronic acid so that the vitamin C can deliver the best results. Researchers say that 15% vitamin C combined with 0.5% ferulic acid and 1% vitamin E can enhance the efficacy of vitamin C.

Additionally, opaque and air-tight bottles are preferred in order to restrict exposure to sunlight and air.

What can Vitamin C serums do for my skin

It is important to know that, in order to be effective, the recommended strength of vit. C is up to 20%. Also, a pH of less than 3.5 is recommended for optimum absorption, although this is really hard to verify because most of the products don’t state anything about their pH.

Getting back to the benefits of Vitamin C, let’s take a quick look at what science says it can help you with:

  • Photo-protection: a concentration of 15%- 20% of l-ascorbic acid alone can reduce the signs of photo-ageing and provide protection against free radicals. Although Vitamin C can provide photo-protection on its own, it works best in conjunction with vitamin E to limit UV damage.
    Collagen production: l-ascorbic acid increases the production of collagen. This, coupled with its anti-oxidant ability, results in reducing fine lines, improves the elasticity of skin and brightens complexion.
    Depigmentation: vitamin C helps prevent melanin production by inhibiting the tyrosinase enzyme. This is useful in the case of hyperpigmentation, red/ dark spots or uneven skin tone.
    Inflammatory skin conditions: its anti-inflammatory properties makes it a good adjuvant in treating rosacea or acne vulgaris.
dr dennis gross c collagen brighten and firm vitamin c serum

What vitamin C serums should I go for

Even though vitamin C serums are costly, you can find products for every budget with prices ranging from 20 $ up to 100$ and above.

Going on the high end, SkinCeuticals sells CE Feluric (157$), a serum that uses 15% of l-ascorbic acid in combination with 0.5% ferulic acid and 1% alpha tocopherol (vitamin E). This is a highly appreciated product from both experts and users, unfortunately the price tag may not make it accessible to everyone.

A more decent-priced product is Timeless 20% Vitamin C + E Ferulic Acid Serum. This one sells via Amazon for 25$ and has positive reviews from bloggers, including FutureDerm’s founder Nicki, who considers it one of the best 20% Vitamin C serums on the market.

Of course, this was before she launched her own beauty line which leads us to our last product recommendation: FutureDerm’s Vitamin CE Caffeic Silk Serum 16+2 (89$). The product is formulated with l-ascorbic acid and etrahexyldecyl ascorbate, another form of vitamin C, target age spots and uneven skin tone.

I think the takeaway from all this is to start looking at simple ingredients. The beauty industry keeps introducing new products and improving its technology but still, the most effective products don’t need to have fancy names or list countless ingredients. One good ol’ vitamin C may just be your saviour! Wouldn’t you agree?

livia oily skin blog

“Livia is the Founder of Oily Skin Blog, a site that focuses on beauty tips for ladies and gentlemen with problematic skin. Have a tough beauty question? Drop her a comment below!”



MonicaP February 3, 2015 - 7:31 pm

I love using a vit c serum so chose a more natural one. I’ve tried SkinCeuticals CE Feluric and so disliked how the product smelled that I just couldn’t use it.


Gio February 4, 2015 - 9:43 pm

Monica, what a shame! I don’t usually like fragrances in serums, but sometimes, when ingredients stink, adding one would be a good thing.

Stavroula DrugstoreBLover February 4, 2015 - 12:46 am

Awesome post Olivia, very detailed and helpful! I love using Vitamin C serums 🙂 x

Livia February 4, 2015 - 6:39 am

Thanks, glad you liked it.

Cindy (Prime Beauty) February 11, 2015 - 2:36 am

Great post! Another good vitamin C serum is Mario Badescu.

Gio February 11, 2015 - 8:13 pm

Cindy, I agree. That’s very good too.

Rachel @ The Conscious Dietitian February 20, 2015 - 12:59 am

Wow, super informative. I have heard good reports of people making their own vitamin C face cream. Such as getting powdered ascorbic acid and mixing it into a generic face cream. Making sure to store it in the fridge. Have you ever tried this? Thanks for sharing! Rachel

Gio February 20, 2015 - 2:21 pm

Rachel, glad you enjoyed the post. Nope, I haven’t yet. I’m a bit hesitant about DIY Vitamin C creams because this is not an easy ingredient to formulate with. You need to use the right amount (too low and will hardly do anything, too high and it will irritate skin), and store it properly (opaque, air-tight container). Vitamin C loses a bit of its effectiveness every time it is exposed to light and air, so if you add it to a moisturizer in a jar, it will be effective only for a few weeks. I prefer to save myself the headache and just buy a properly formulated Vitamin C serum.

Somi August 30, 2019 - 7:05 am

Hi Gio,

Love the post, any other CEF serums you could suggest?

Gio September 14, 2019 - 5:32 pm

Somi, I love the new Maelove Glow Maker serum.

Selene Li May 10, 2017 - 7:39 pm

I have been using skinceutical CEF for a long time. Recently, I thought I may be able to switch to a cheaper and higher VC concentration alternative. So I purchased the one from futurederm. Regardless the good Ingredients, it has one huge problem. It gets rubbed out crazy. I use VC in the morning with sunscreen and makeup. I can’t blend my makeup because it rubs off like my skin is super dry and sheds. Strongly dislike the product.

Gio May 14, 2017 - 3:49 pm

Selene, oh no, sorry to hear that, what a nuisance! Have you tried using it at night instead?

As June 25, 2018 - 6:37 pm

Hi Gio. What is ur opinion regarding Mary Kay’s serum C?

Gio June 29, 2018 - 9:22 am

AS, do you have the ingredient list? I can only find the “key ingredients” online and that doesn’t tell us if there’s enough vitamin C to work.

Claire July 5, 2018 - 3:21 pm


I am new to acids and have heard wonderful things about Vitanim C serum, Retinol, Lactic acids and Glycoloc acids.

A little bit about myself, I’m 28 years old and I have dry and dull skin. Not so sure about my skin sensitivity as I have been using mild skincare products from Korea all these years. So far my skin has not experienced any irritation.

I just bought Artnaturals Trio Set which consists of 1)Vitamin C serum (20%)
2) Hyaluronic acid
3) Retinol 2.5%
and The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5%.

May I know if it is alright for me to start using them? Otherwise, please recommend which other brands are more suitable for me.

My current skincare routine is Cleanse>SCINIC First Treatment Essence>Missha Time Revolution Night Ampoule>Mosturizer>SPF. Kindly advice how should I incorporate the 4 products mentioned above (especially Vitamin C and Lactic acid) into my AM/PM routine.

I might not use retinol at the moment as it is unsafe for nursing mum, is it true?

Hope to hear from you soon.

Thank you!

Gio July 5, 2018 - 6:23 pm

Hi Claire, first of all, both glycolic acid and lactic acid are awesome but you don’t need both. If you find that lactic acid is working well for you, just keep using that.

I wouldn’t say those products are bad for you but 20% Vitamin C and Retinol 2.5% are very high concentrations. If you have sensitive skin, they may irritate it.

I wouldn’t use such a high concentration of retinol why you’re nursing so we can leave that aside for now. By the way, is it microencapsulated? That would make it a little gentler and less likely to cause irritations.

You can try introducing the vitamin C serum three or four times a week in the morning after your essence and see how your skin reacts. If all goes well, you can use it daily. If not, switch to a smaller dose.

Use lactic acid a couple of times a week at night after cleansing. You can use hyaluronic acid either morning or night after your ampoule.


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