The 11 Best Vitamin C Serums For Brighter, Radiant Skin

Plus: Everything you need to know about the powerhouse ingredient!
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While we often associate vitamin C with skin brightening (which it definitely does), the powerful antioxidant is much more efficacious than we give it credit for. When taken orally, it plays a vital role in supporting metabolism and the immune system. Applied topically, it’s one of the most powerful anti-ageing ingredients on the market, with proven results in boosting collagen production (think firmer, plumper skin), hydrating skin (through encouraging hyaluronic acid production) and reducing redness and inflammation. Its direct action on melanin cells (which are responsible for pigmentation) allows for a more even, balanced skin tone. Skincare founders Ole Henriksen, of Ole Henriksen, and Dr Garry Cussell, of Rejuvaus, are both advocates for vitamin C. They give us the facts.

What types of Vitamin C are there?

From pure vitamin C to derivatives and superfoods, the different forms of vitamin C have their specific uses.

Pure vitamin C (aka L-ascorbic acid) is high-performing and collagen boosting. This is the most refined and active version of vitamin C, and is often found in serums. The downside is that it can be unstable and needs to be formulated with a relatively low pH.

Ascorbyl palmitate is a fat-soluble C, which makes it one of the few forms that can be delivered in a cream. It’s particularly useful for skin barrier repair and free-radical protection.

Oil-based Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate has become increasingly popular for its intense potency and ability to deeply penetrate skin. This one is great for sensitive and damaged skin.

Why should I use Vitamin C?

Ole Henriksen’s bestselling Banana Bright Vitamin C Serum “is formulated with 15 per cent of a composition of 3-O ethyl ascorbic acid and ascorbic acid – tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate”, says Henriksen. “Both extremely potent and transformative.” Cussell opts to use superfood ingredient Kakadu plum in the Rejuvaus range. “It is not an acid or pH dependent. It’s deeply absorbed and does not clash with any of the other ingredients.”

How to store my Vitamin C?

Vitamin C is an inherently unstable ingredient, some forms more so than others. It can degrade and become unstable if exposed to environmental factors such as heat, oxygen, light or microbes (from air, fingers or another substance). Once degraded, it will lose its full effect. Cussell advises looking for vitamn C “packaged in an airless and lightproof container with an airless pump. If packaged correctly, and used with caution, the formula will remain stable and active until the bottle is finished.”

How to tell if my Vitamin C is off?

“If the serum or cream becomes oxidised, it will change colour and become a darker orange or brown. It can have an unpleasant, metallic scent,” says Cussell, who also notes your C could have been exposed to microbes. If you notice this, bin it.

How potent should my Vitamin C be?

In a movement towards ingredient transparency (or great marketing), we’re suddenly seeing vitamin C percentages included on product labels. This raises the question of what percentage of vitamin C is needed. “Clinical [trials] clearly prove higher percentages of vitamin C will make skincare formulations perform better,” Henriksen says. “If derived from a stable form and applied safely, the more vitamin C in your routine the better.” As a rule of thumb, look for formulas of 10-20 per cent.

Can you use Vitamin C on sensitive skin?

“Many forms of vitamin C are not suitable for sensitive or acne-prone skin and can cause reactivity and worsen acne breakouts,” says Cussell, who suggests a patch test with a low concentration. He also advises incorporating C into your routine slowly and consulting a dermatologist where needed.

How to add Vitamin C to my skincare routine?

Widely regarded as a daytime ingredient for its ability to protect against environmental aggressors such as UV light and pollution, Henriksen suggests daily vitamin C usage, or every second day for sensitive skin, and applying in the morning. He advises applying to cleansed, dry skin, as any residue will create a barrier preventing effective absorption. For boosted effects, he also advises to layer antioxidants, such as vitamin E or ferulic acid, and finish with moisturiser and sunscreen. 

The Best Vitamin C Serums You Can Buy In Australia

The Ordinary Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20%, $24.90 at Adore Beauty

The Ordinary is beloved for bringing the world high-quality skincare at an affordable price point, and this vitamin C serum is no exception: the vit-C is combined with essential fatty acids for a formula that’s ideal for dry skin types.

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Olay Luminous Niacinamide + Vitamin C Super Serum

Olay Luminous Niacinamide + Vitamin C Super Serum, $26.06 at Amazon Australia

Olay’s recently-released Luminous Niacinamide + Vitamin C Super Serum is another strong contender for the best vitamin C serum in Australia. A powerful combination of niacinamide (to prevent pigmentation), vitamin C (to fade dark spots), pro-vitamin B5 (to soothe and moisturise) and vitamin E (to protect against free radical damage) work in synergy to brighten skin. Perfect for all skin types from dry to oily, this non-greasy formula sinks in easily and delves deep into the skin’s top 10 layers to create real, long lasting results.

Sometimes what a brand leaves out is just as important as what it puts in; this serum is formulated without sulphates, parabens, phthalates, petrolatum and mineral oils.

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Skinceuticals C E Ferulic

Skinceuticals C E Ferulic, $236 at MYER and Adore Beauty

A true cult product, Skinceuticals C E Ferulic is beloved by beauty editors for its highly efficacious formulation – 15% ascorbic acid – combined with vitamin E and Ferulic acid to brighten and protect against free radical damage. Suitable for normal to dry skin types.

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KORA Organics Noni Bright Vitamin C Serum

KORA Organics Noni Bright Vitamin C Serum, $86 at MYER and Adore Beauty

The product Miranda Kerr credits with handling her pregnancy-induced pigmentation, this lightweight serum features a mix of 12% vitamin C derived from antioxidant-rich fruit, hyaluronic acid and olive leaf to brighten and restore your skin to its glowiest state.

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Ole Henriksen Truth Serum

Ole Henriksen Truth Serum, $68 at Sephora

Another cult favourite, this is a classic vitamin C serum that reviewers rave about. Enriched with orange and green tea extracts, its fast absorbing formula boasts an energising citrus scent and a silky texture that glides deliciously on the skin.

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Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum, $116, at Mecca

As far as we’re concerned, this is the Holy Grail of vitamin C skincare. Containing an impressive 15 per cent ascorbic acid, plus fruit enzymes, hyaluronic acid and pumpkin ferment acid, this vitamin C serum brightens, evens out skin tone and hydrates simultaneously. It’s also free of synthetics like parabens, pthalates and fragrance. Read our detailed review here.

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La Roche-Posay Redermic C10 Anti-Ageing Serum

La Roche-Posay Redermic C10 Anti-Ageing Serum, $69.95 at Adore Beauty

Claiming to reduce wrinkles after just one week of use, this anti-ageing powerhouse by French pharmacy favourite La Roche-Posay is perfect for hydrating and brightening sensitive and mature skin types. A powerful yet gentle form of vitamin C skincare, this multi-tasking wonder contains 10% ascorbic acid.

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Andalou Naturals Turmeric+ C Enlighten Serum

Andalou Naturals Turmeric+ C Enlighten Serum, $34.99 at Nourished Life

Seeking out chemical-free vitamin C skincare? Newly available in Australia, the Andalou range uses only natural (and many organic) ingredients. This vitamin C serum contains turmeric, aloe vera, hyaluronic acid and rosehip oil to hydrate and restore glow.

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Sunday Riley C.E.O 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum

Sunday Riley C.E.O 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum, $183 at MECCA

While vitamin C is undeniably has the starring role here, it’s supporting co-stars are what set this brightening elixir apart from the rest. Along with the collagen-boosting antioxidant, it includes glycolic acid to gently lift away dead skin cells and boost cellular turnover, and hyaluronic acid, which plumps the skin by holding 1000x its own weight in water.

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Alpha-H Vitamin C With Grape Seed

Alpha-H Vitamin C With Grape Seed, $84.95 at Alpha-H

Made in Australia, vegan and cruelty-free, this beautifully bottled serum combines a potent blend of vitamin C, grape seed and hyaluronic acid to  target pigmentation, improve overall complexion and enhance collagen production.

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Kakadu Plum And Vitamin C Face Serum, $55 at Hardtofind 

This hydrating, skin-firming, oil-free serum is formulated with Kakadu Plum, known for having the highest source of vitamin C, and works to assists in the production of collagen as well as smooth and plump skin. 

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