Stroll into any drugstore these days, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by plenty of vitamin C serums to choose from. But as you probably already know, vitamin C serums definitely aren’t created equal. The best drugstore vitamin C serums are balanced out by other, high-performing active ingredients, such as vitamin E, which helps enhance the efficacy of vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid, whose benefits complement that of vitamin C’s. Keep in mind that, in the skin care world, vitamin C itself isn’t created equal, either: You’ll want a serum that contains a potent form of vitamin C, like l-ascorbic acid, or a more stable form of vitamin C, like ascorbyl glucoside. To prevent your vitamin C serum from degrading, make sure you choose one that’s packaged in an opaque or dark-colored bottle, or a tube or airtight pump.
Admittedly, all of these considerations can feel overwhelming — so to make things easy, you’ll find a curated selection of the best vitamin C serums ahead. They meet all of the aforementioned criteria in terms of packaging and formula, and come from reputable drugstore brands — but best of all, they all cost less than $50 on Amazon. Scroll on to find your perfect, vitamin-C match.
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1. The Overall Best
Taking the formula, reviews, brand reputation, and price into consideration, this is — in my humble opinion — the best vitamin C serum you can buy from a drugstore brand. It contains 10% l-ascorbic acid (aka vitamin C) to help shield your skin from environmental damage, while humectants like hyaluronic acid and glycerin aid in attracting and sealing in moisture. But the impressive formula doesn’t end there: Vitamins E and B5 offer even more moisturizing benefits, while three different types of ceramides (the star ingredients in every CeraVe product) help promote a stronger skin barrier. Layer this under the brand’s foolproof moisturizing cream before slathering on your sunscreen of choice.
2. Runner Up
This creamy serum from L’Oreal’s Revitalift line is pretty similar to the CeraVe serum featured above, but it does have a few noteworthy differences. They’re both fragrance-free, packaged in 1-ounce squeeze tubes, have nearly identical price tags, and contain 10% vitamin C (in the form of ascorbic acid) and hyaluronic acid. But this one doesn’t contain any of those skin-strengthening ceramides, nor does it contain panthenol (aka vitamin B5). For those reasons, I prefer CeraVe’s formula — but this is still a very solid contender in the drugstore vitamin C arena, especially if you find that L’Oreal’s products work nicely for your skin.
3. Editor’s Pick
I’ve been using Avène’s A-Oxitive serum on my dry, dehydration-prone skin for years. It has a creamy consistency, so it almost feels more like a lightweight lotion than a watery serum, and it uses two time-released antioxidants — pre-tocopheryl (vitamin E) and ascorbyl glucoside (vitamin C) to deliver up to 24 hours worth of hydration and free radical protection. It’s formulated with quite a few hydrating and moisturizing ingredients as well, like glycerin, sodium hyaluronate (a derivative of hyaluronic acid), and the brand’s signature, skin-soothing thermal water, which makes up the base of this serum. I also love that the airless packaging helps prevent the serum from oxidizing — always important when you’re dealing with vitamin C.
4. Best Ampoules
I really love these little ampoules for traveling — I keep a Ziploc full of them inside my toiletry kit at all times, and I’ve stashed a few inside the pill case that’s always in my bag for last-minute gym classes and nights away from home. Like the CeraVe and L’Oreal serums, these contain 10% vitamin C and hyaluronic acid, but these are also bolstered by peptides, which help boost our skin’s ability to produce collagen, elastin, and keratin. In each box, you’ll get 10 ampoules — each ampoule stays fresh for up to two days and contains enough product for two applications — though you can also buy them in a pack of 30 if you wind up falling in love.
5. Best Multitasker
Technically Naturium isn’t a drugstore brand — but it does come at a drugstore price (and it’s sold at Target, which is basically a drugstore, right?). Anyway.
This serum covers all of your active-ingredient bases in one, and though it’s marketed toward all skin types, the formula is especially ideal for oily and acne-prone skin, since it contains retinol and salicylic acid, which are both known to help clear out congested pores. Other hero ingredients in here include the antioxidant niacinamide, hydrating hyaluronic acid, and 10% l-ascorbic acid for your dose of vitamin C. In other words, this contains everything you could need for clearer, more even-looking skin.
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You may or may not already know this, but vitamin C serums and sunscreens pair wonderfully together because they work to keep your skin protected from the two most common types of environmental aggressors: free radicals and the sun. So, when you layer on both every morning — serum first, followed by sunscreen — you’re basically ensuring that your skin stays protected from any type of damage the environment could throw at it.
This genius serum from La Roche Posay combines the powers of vitamin C and sunscreen in one product. It has an SPF of 50, and it’s also rich in antioxidants (courtesy of vitamins E and Cg, as well as the plant extract baicalin) to help keep your skin protected from those pesky free radicals. It’s my personal favorite sunscreen of all time, because unlike most sunscreens, which tend to be heavy creams or greasy lotions, this really does feel like a lightweight serum (and leaves behind no noticeable feel or oily residue). The perfect one-and-done product for people who don’t have a lot of time to fuss in the morning.
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