10 best vitamin C skincare products for a brighter and clearer complexion

·11 min read
Using vitamin C products along with your daily SPF enhances your levels of sun protection too (iStock/The Independent)
Using vitamin C products along with your daily SPF enhances your levels of sun protection too (iStock/The Independent)

When it comes to rejuvenating skincare ingredients, there are only a handful experts recommend time and time again. Up there among these elites is the powerful, effective and backed-by-science skincare superstar, vitamin C.

It should 100 per cent be in your skincare routine if you’re looking for a brighter, smoother, plumper complexion that oozes radiance.

Our tester has been obsessed with vitamin C skincare since developing pigmentation in her early 30s, so there’s not a formulation she hasn’t tried.

To ensure you get the most from your money, as vitamin C skincare doesn’t come cheap, our winning line-up was marked on its ability to brighten and even out the skin tone, as well as reduce the look of pigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles.

Serums typically have the highest concentration of actives, so we recommend starting with one and then adding a moisturiser or mask for added glow.

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The best vitamin C skincare products for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – SkinCeuticals silymarin CF: £139.99, Facethefuture.co.uk

  • Best for brightening skin – Allies of Skin 20% vitamin C brighten + firm serum: £28, Cultbeauty.co.uk

  • Best for dull, tired, lacklustre complexions – Youth to the People 15% vitamin C + clean caffeine energy serum: £59, Cultbeauty.co.uk

  • Best exfoliating mask – Murad environmental shield vita-c triple exfoliating facial: £55.60, Feelunique.com

  • Best serum for normal to dry skin – Summer Fridays cc me serum: £57, Spacenk.com

  • Best night cream – Kate Somerville retinol vitamin C moisturiser: £79, Spacenk.com

  • Best value serum – SkinSense anti-ageing reinforcing vitamin complex: £25, Qvcuk.com

  • Best daily moisturiser for normal to dry skin – Sunday Riley C.E.O vitamin C rich hydration cream: £60, Cultbeauty.co.uk

  • Best gel-cream moisturiser for all skin types – REN glow daily vitamin C gel cream: £38, Lookfantastic.com

  • Best booster – 111skin vitamin c brightening booster: £95, Lookfantastic.com

SkinCeuticals silymarin CF, 30ml

Best: Overall

Rating: 10/10

This new bottle, formulated specifically for oily and blemish-prone skin types, means there’s now a perfect SkinCeuticals formula for every skin type. It might be the priciest of the lot, but it’s a worthy skincare investment if you’re looking to protect your complexion from further sun damage. The potent oil-free formula is made up of a high concentration of pure vitamin C – 15 per cent to be exact, as well as boasting antioxidant ferulic acid and skin-smoothing salicylic acid. Expect less oily breakouts and excess sebum, as well as a radiant complexion with faded signs of ageing in the form of lines and dark spots with ongoing use.

Buy now £139.99, Facethefuture.co.uk

Allies of Skin 20% vitamin C brighten and firm serum, 8ml

Best:For brightening skin

Rating: 9/10

Thicker in texture to other serums on the beauty shelves, almost honey-like, this nourishing formula sits on the skin and makes it instantly ooze dewiness – so much so it shows up in a photo (we tried it). A high strength pure vitamin C in a stable form combines with added antioxidants to produce a brighter skin that people will comment on. After two weeks of use, fine lines, as well as dark spots were less visible. We love how you can test it out with a mini-sized version before you commit to the full-sized bottle, which costs around £85, too.

Buy now £28.00, Cultbeauty.co.uk

Youth to the People 15% vitamin C and clean caffeine energy serum, 30ml

Best: For dull, tired, lacklustre complexions

Rating: 8/10

Eco-conscious and vegan, highly-anticipated US skincare brand Youth to the People has recently launched in the UK and has this powerful serum in its collection. It boasts three types of next-generation vitamin C that are staple and non-irritating, housed in a UV coated amber glass bottle so it remains that way. A dose of de-puffing caffeine and hydrating-hero squalane adds to the mix, to produce a lightweight, skin-smoothing and radiance-boosting serum.

After just one use, we found skin looked vibrant, but the best results are found with continuous morning use – after two weeks skin felt plump, looked glowy and there was even a slight fade to dark spots. The only negative is there is a slight tackiness to it, but if you let it soak in for a few minutes it’s gone.

Buy now £59.00, Cultbeauty.co.uk

Murad environmental shield vita-c triple exfoliating facial, 80ml

Best: Exfoliating mask

Rating: 8/10

The whole vitamin C line-up from Murad is very effective, we seriously love every single product, including this new exfoliating mask which also packs a brightening punch. Regular exfoliation is key to boosting skin’s radiance and this triple-action formula makes light work of eradicating dulling, dead skin cells. It uses physical exfoliants to remove dead surface cells, enzymes to dissolve oil and a chemical mix of glycolic, lactic (AHAs) and salicylic acid’s (BHA) penetrating into the pores. It’s also loaded with the brand’s pure L-ascorbic acid in its gold stabilised delivery system to treat the skin to its brightening benefits.

Massage on and watch the formula turn from orange to white to indicate sufficient physical exfoliation and leave on to let the formula work its magic for another 10 minutes. Expect skin to feel baby soft after just one use and glow like you’ve just stepped out of a professional microdermabrasion facial.

Buy now £55.60, Feelunique.com

Summer Fridays cc me serum, 30ml

Best: Serum for normal to dry skin

Rating: 9/10

This vegan bottle is like a who’s who of buzzy skincare ingredients. Not only does it contain two types of vitamin C for a potent combination of antioxidant skin-protection and brightening benefits, but multitasking niacinamide (also known as vitamin B3) for its skin-strengthening, pore-shrinking and hydration-boosting capabilities. And it doesn’t stop there. Squalane boosts hydration and seals in moisture, and peptides promote the production of collagen and elastin for plump and firm skin.

This cocktail of ingredients combine to make a beautifully light serum without the stickiness and odour you get from some vitamin C products. We found this instantly adds a luminosity to the skin that intensifies with continued use, after two weeks there was a definite fade to dark spots making them look less prominent.

Buy now £57.00, Spacenk.com

Kate Somerville retinol vitamin C moisturiser, 50ml

Best: Night cream

Rating: 8/10

This is a great option for those looking to streamline their skincare routine, as it packs two of the most effective skin rejuvenating ingredients into one powerhouse formula that diminishes signs of ageing including pigmentation and fine lines. Pure vitamin C brightens and evens skin tone, while retinol increases cell turnover to diminish discolouration and boost collagen production. And that’s not all, they’ve even added moisture-boosting hyaluronic acid, so you wake up with noticeably smoother, brighter and firmer skin. Remember, as with all retinol formulas, use, as we did, on alternative evenings to let your skin guide you on how well it tolerates the ingredient.

Buy now £79.00, Spacenk.com

SkinSense anti-ageing reinforcing vitamin complex, 15ml

Best: Value serum

Rating: 7/10

With vitamin C serums tending to be on the pricey side of the scale, this came up top against the purse-friendly options. It’s a milky concentrate that feels cool and refreshing on contact with the skin and while it’s not a potent vitamin C formula like some of our other favourites, we were so impressed with the instant luminosity this gives the skin.

Enriched with hyaluronic acid too, the hydration punch this gives complexions makes it a winner for skin on the dry side, and expect it to last throughout the day thanks to the clever lamellar technology. And, at the moment you can grab a bargain, and get two bottles for £32 (£32, Qvcuk.com).

Buy now £25.00, Qvcuk.com

Sunday Riley C.E.O vitamin C rich hydration cream, 50g

Best: Daily moisturiser for dry to normal skin

Rating: 8/10

Reach for this moisturiser if your skin’s on the dry side of the spectrum. Luxuriously rich but still non-greasy, you can use this antioxidant-rich cream to protect your skin from the day’s aggressors, as well as use it as a repairing night cream. The star ingredient is a stable vitamin C known to be less irritating to skin, so great for sensitive skin types too. We found our skin would drink up this formula, leaving it feeling comfortably hydrated and looking dewy in an instant.

Buy now £60.00, Cultbeauty.co.uk

REN glow daily vitamin C gel cream, 50ml

Best: Gel-cream moisturiser for all skin types

Rating: 7/10

Featherlight gel-cream formulations like this one make brilliant summer moisturisers for all skin types, as well as a top choice for those with combination and oily skin. Enriched with a small but stable dose of vitamin C, thanks to magnesium that helps to retain its potency, expect this to melt into skin, leaving an instantly smooth and silky base for make-up with a dewy finish. On warmer days we liked to keep this one in the fridge for a soothing cooling effect that works well with the uplifting slight citrus fragrance to it. It’s recently been reformulated, so it’s now suitable for vegans too.

Buy now £38.00, Lookfantastic.com

111skin vitamin c brightening booster, 20ml

Best: Booster

Rating: 9/10

For a bespoke way of incorporating vitamin C into your skincare routine, turn to this bottle. Use straight onto the skin for a concentrated dose or mix 1-2 drops into the palm of your hand with your favourite moisturiser. We tested it neat on dark spots and discolouration, for three weeks, and there was a marked improvement in this short amount of time. It also works a treat on speeding up the healing process of redness left over from spots. When blended with a basic hyaluronic acid moisturiser and used continuously for the same amount of time it perks up a tired, dull complexion leaving it bright and healthy-looking.

Buy now £95.00, Lookfantastic.com

Vitamin C FAQs

What are the benefits of using vitamin C?

Referred to often as the holy grail of skincare, vitamin C does two very clever things for our skin. Firstly, it’s a powerful antioxidant protectant. “It protects our skin from free radicals that are formed when your skin is exposed to the sun or pollution,” explains Dr Emily MacGregor, co-founder of Story aesthetic clinic. These free radicals are responsible for breaking down skin’s collagen, leading to signs of premature ageing like fine lines and wrinkles, pigmentation and loss of firmness.

Secondly, it has correcting benefits too, aiding the repair from damage already caused by these daily aggressors. It has brilliant brightening abilities, a must for those with pigmentation or dark spots, and it’s proven to stimulate collagen production, which helps reduce fine lines and wrinkles, as well as making skin plump and elastic.

Who should use vitamin C?

We all should be! “Not only does vitamin C protect our skin from free radicals and environmental damage, but it also enhances your level of sun protection,” says Dr Murad, dermatologist and founder of Murad skincare. “When you’re exposed to sunlight, you’re also exposed to other wavelengths that sunscreen cannot block that can cause free radical damage. So pairing an SPF with vitamin C gives you a broader range of protection.”

How to pick the best formula

The problem with vitamin C is it is hard to formulate, as it is destabilised by light and air. Look for next-generation formulas that use the word “stable” on their packaging and have been paired with bonus ingredients so that it can withstand this degradation. It’s also important to “choose a product in an airtight, opaque container that protects the vitamin C and prevents its deterioration,” warns Abi Cleeve, founder of SkinSense. And remember to store it away from light and humid bathrooms.

The verdict: Vitamin C skincare

SkinCeuticals silymarin CF now joins a winning line-up of vitamin C serums from the brand that are hard to beat when it comes to performance – both protecting skin from environmental damage and promoting a radiant complexion. They make a worthy investment for the skin, but if you’re looking for a more mid-range price point, try Summer Fridays cc me serum.

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Want to get the most out of your skincare routine? Read our A-Z glossary of hero ingredients, according to the experts