Vitamin C in skincare has some amazing skin benefits, including stimulation of collagen production, decreased hyperpigmentation, and neutralizing free radicals. But the best vitamin C serum doesn’t have to be the fanciest one money can buy. In fact, a lot of the most expensive products you'll come across have potentially pore-clogging ingredients that may contribute to breakouts.
Luckily, you don’t need to break out or break the bank just to enjoy this antioxidant! In fact, almost all of these picks are drugstore vitamin C serums. And if you’re acne-prone, these non-comedogenic serums don't tend to trigger breakouts.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that fights free radicals that can potentially cause signs of aging. Without getting too technical, free radicals are unstable molecules that shake up the structure of your skin on a microscopic level. This creates oxidative stress, so using antioxidants like vitamin C can quite literally help restore balance to your skin. Check our guide to Vitamin C for more info on the benefits and uses of this powerful antioxidant.
One thing to note about Vitamin C is that it's sensitive to heat, light, and air, which means your skincare products might suffer from a relatively short shelf life if not cared for properly (Spoiler: always follow the product instructions!). Now that we've covered that, here are 12 vitamin C serums that are generally safe for acne-prone skin:
This quick-absorbing, silky non-sticky gel serum is made from guava (which has a high vitamin C content) and other key ingredients including tranexamic and ferulic acids to promote glowing, even-toned skin. Plus, the gel serum stays pink after opening and the packaging is adorable.
Often referred to as the holy grail of vitamin C serum formulas (and also one of the priciest on this list), one of the reasons that the Skinceuticals C E Ferulic Serum is so hard to copy is because of its patented blend of active ingredients (15 percent L-ascorbic acid, 1 percent vitamin E, and 0.5 percent ferulic acid).
This light liquid formula absorbs quickly and is made with nearly the same blend of active ingredients as Skinceuticals C E Ferulic Serum—and a blend of peptides. Another bonus of this product is that you can either wear it alone or mix it in with your favorite moisturizer or primer without it pilling under your foundation.
A non-comedogenic formula made with vitamins C and E and ferulic acid for max antioxidant protection. Hyaluronic Acid will help hydrate while vitamins C (15% L-ascorbic acid), E, and ferulic acid brighten skin all day long.
Formulated with vitamins C and E, ferulic acid, and sodium ascorbyl phosphate, an advanced and stable form of vitamin C, this serum targets signs of aging to treat sun-damaged and acne-prone skin. Includes hyaluronic acid for an extra boost of hydration, too!
Formulated with a powerful form of Vitamin C, called THD ascorbate this quick-absorbing serum targets signs of aging to help improve in loss of firmness, the appearance of lines and wrinkles, and dark spots and dullness. As a bonus, includes saccharide isomerate extract to help reduce the appearance of pores!
This product from Clinique is a potent 10% vitamin C supplement to your skincare routine. Just add two drops to your AM/PM moisturizer and apply! It also has stay-fresh packaging that helps maintain vitamin C freshness — but we still don’t think you should buy it in bulk.
A richly hydrating formula, this serum has vitamin C and niacinamide to help restore sun-damaged skin (AKA good for dark spots) while boosting protection against UV rays. It has a richly hydrating formula that helps trap moisture in the skin with ingredients like squalane, butylene glycol, and dimethicone.
This vitamin C serum is focused on "brightening" (AKA anti-aging). Hyaluronic acid plumps skin by sealing in moisture. Meanwhile, retinyl palmitate may help with fine lines and dark spots (but of course, prescription-strength retinoids are stronger).
This soothing serum by Mario Badescu combines vitamin C with cucumber, lavender, and aloe to brighten and hydrate skin. Although collagen molecules are too large to be directly absorbed into the skin, vitamin C can stimulate collagen synthesis all by itself. It's good for acne-prone skin and may even help improve skin texture.
A lightly hydrating serum with pomegranate extract, hyaluronic acid, and antioxidants (vitamins C and E). Layer it with your sunscreen in the morning for a boost of protection against UV rays. Good for normal to dry skin types.
Arguably one of the best drugstore vitamin C serums, this product has Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, one of the most stable forms of vitamin C. Plus this non-comedogenic, fragrance-free formula is great for sensitive skin. The trade-off? Unscented vitamin C serums tend to have a strong musk to them that’s not for everyone.
Vitamin C serums are best when used fresh — don’t buy them in bulk! This is because many forms of vitamin C used in cosmetics lack stability, which allows them to lose potency quickly. Most products include stabilizing ingredients, but there’s no scientific consensus on which ones work best (if they work at all). You can usually tell if your vitamin C serum has turned if the product’s color changes (often to a yellowish hue). If a vitamin C serum has turned darker or brown, it may have oxidized and lost its efficacy. Check with your specific product instructions to be sure!
Curology is the easiest way to get prescription-strength skincare for acne or signs of aging. Just take our skincare quiz and snap a few selfies to get matched with one of our in-house medical providers. They’ll prescribe you a custom cream with a mix of 3 ingredients for your unique skin’s needs. When you sign up for a free month of Curology, you can add on our cleanser and your choice of moisturizer at no extra cost — just pay $4.95 (plus tax) to cover the cost of shipping and handling.*
This article was originally published on May 13, 2020 and updated on November 2, 2022.
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Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C