12 best vitamin C skincare products for brighter and clearer skin
It's the secret skin-boosting ingredient you need to know about
Vitamin C is a wonder ingredient – and not just for fending off colds. Along with retinol, it is one of the few proven anti-ageing skincare ingredients (it encourages collagen production), can improve visible signs of sun damage and scarring, and helps defend skin against environmental damage caused by free radicals.
It comes in lots of different forms in skincare, which can be confusing, but ascorbic acid is the one that has the most research backing its powers, so if in doubt, that's the one to look for.
It's worth noting that vitamin C is a tricky ingredient – it is difficult to formulate in a way that makes it pleasant to apply to skin, and ascorbic acid breaks down with regular exposure to air and light (to prevent this, choose products that come in airtight, opaque packaging, or are even one-use) – all of which makes it an expensive ingredient, but we’d argue the results are worth it.
To make the most of vitamin C's anti-pollution powers, we recommend using a vitamin C product in the morning before you head out, unless otherwise stated.
You might find you experience mild irritation when you first use vitamin C; if this is the case, start using it three times a week and build up to daily use.
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Clinique fresh pressed 7-day system with pure vitamin C: £25, Clinique
A week-long bootcamp for dull and lined skin, Clinique's 7-day system has two steps, both containing vitamin C. Empty a packet of the “powder cleansing” into wet hands and massage into skin, leave for one minute and then remove with a flannel. Double up by adding a couple of drops of the “daily booster” to your regular moisturiser morning and evening. This is expensive considering it only lasts seven days, but it gives some of the best brightening, anti-ageing results we saw. Its limited-use nature also means there is less time for the antioxidant to break down, making it a highly effective option.
LixirSkin vitamin C paste: £32, Cult Beauty
LixirSkin is like a capsule wardrobe for your skincare: six super-effective products that cover all your needs with minimum fuss. Throw in the minimalist millennial pink packaging and we're sold. Its ascorbic, acid-based Vitamin C paste is a mask – warm a pea-sized amount in damp hands and massage it into your face, leave for a few minutes (we wear it while straightening our hair), then remove with a warm flannel. Skin was luminous and redness soothed after just a couple of days.
The Ordinary vitamin C suspension 30% in silicone: £5.80, Cult Beauty
We're coming to rely heavily on The Ordinary for its high-results, low-prices skincare. This is our choice of its vitamin C formulas because the slightly gritty feel of ascorbic acid powder is made more pleasant to apply by its suspension in silicone. Skin was brighter and clearer after just a week's use, and our tester found it worked wonders on the acne scars along her jaw. We recommend you use this at night, as its high concentration means it may irritate slightly when you first start using it (30 per cent may be too high for sensitive skins), and because the use of silicone may cause peeling if soon followed by a silicone-based foundation.
Vichy liftactiv vitamin C brightening skin corrector: £23.80, Escentual
Fifteen per cent ascorbic acid plus vitamin E and hydrating hyaluronic acid packs a punch in Vichy's offering. The bottle is tiny at just 10ml, but the small size minimises possibility for degradation before you use it up. Vichy recommends you apply four or five drops a day for 10 days, which is the recommended length of time for use, four times a year, but we used it for two weeks, no problem. Our tester saw visible reduction in stubborn lines on her forehead, plus redness around the nose was evened out.
Murad intensive-C radiance peel: £55, Look Fantastic
A slightly different method of application, this combines ascorbic acid with glycolic acid – a winning pairing to smooth, brighten and protect. Apply a layer on to cleansed skin once a week and leave for 10 minutes before washing off. It’s the perfect Sunday night pamper product to put your best face forward for the week. You may experience a slight tingling while using; don't apply it to any areas of broken skin.
Sunday Riley CEO glow: £68, Space NK
This is the latest addition to Sunday Riley's vitamin C range CEO, joining the brilliant rapid flash brightening serum, which is already a staple in our bathroom. The addition of turmeric root is a clever one considering its current prominence in health trends; in skincare it is an antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. Combined with vitamin C and evening primrose oil it is rich, gives a more even skintone and reduces spot scarring.
Rodial vit C energising individual sheet mask: £14, Rodial
Perfect for when your skin needs a quick pep-up, the thin, gel sheet mask from Rodial's vit C range combines vitamin C with vitamin B3 (for reducing the appearance of lines), soothing green tea and moisturising hyaluronic acid. Also available as a pack of four masks for £43 (just under £11 a pop).
Ole Henriksen truth serum: £43, Boots
This has a delicious, if slightly medicinal, orange scent, that makes it feel good for you before you've even applied it. It has a light, silky texture so a little spreads across the face easily, and feels slightly tacky on the skin for the first couple of minutes before it sinks in. After just a few weeks of use we found skin was noticeably less red and brighter.
REN glow daily vitamin C gel cream: £38, REN
A moisturiser is an easy way to incorporate vitamin C into your routine as it doesn't require you to add an extra step. REN's has a gel-to-cream texture that melts into skin and is leaves skin comfortably moisturised and glowy. With regular use, we saw a good improvement in smoothness and brightness, and we found it totally safe for daily use without irritation.
Drunk Elephant c-firma day serum: £67, Space NK
This, from the cult US brand that recently launched in the UK, contains a hefty 15 per cent vitamin C, so you know it will be effective. Usually, the higher the percentage the more irritating, but the blend with marula oil keeps it nourishing and the formula feels very light. Our only niggle is that we found that the serum has a slightly fake tan-like scent on the skin, presumably as it oxidises throughout the day.
Balance Me vitamin C repair serum: £32, Balance Me
This, from the natural skincare brand, is particularly brilliant for more mature skins or those who are noticing the effects of sun damage. It contains “stabilised vitamin C”, which releases on the skin over time (unlike most vitamin C, which breaks down when exposed to air), boosting its efficacy targeting dark spots. We can't speak for the science, but combined with a tone-evening anti-inflammatory and hydrating hyaluronic acid, it gave a noticeably more even and radiant complexion and improved the appearance of lines on the forehead.
Pixi vitamin C tonic: £10, Cult Beauty
Pixi's glycolic acid-based glow tonic has become a cult buy, being both a highly effective exfoliating toner and a very accessibly priced product, especially as this is a 100ml bottle. The brand has recently introduced a Vitamin C range, which includes a cleanser, serum, balm, mist and a new toner. It combines ferulic acid, which removes dead skin cells, with all the protective and brightening powers of vitamin C for clearer, more radiant skin. Soak a cotton pad and swipe over your face after cleansing.
The verdict: Vitamin C skincare
For an affordable and quick-fix boost, we recommend Clinique's 7-day system for a first foray into vitamin C.
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