Drugstores are finally offering vitamin C serums that work just as well as their luxury counterparts. Many large drugstore skincare brands have introduced vitamin C serums that are very effective without the triple-digit price tag.
So today, let’s talk about the best drugstore vitamin C serums.
The popularity of vitamin C in skincare has grown exponentially in recent years thanks to the multitude of anti-aging benefits it offers the skin.
Vitamin C serums are formulated to deliver this potent ingredient to the skin in stable formulas and in a way that it is effectively absorbed.
It needs to be absorbed properly so that it can go to work on issues like wrinkles and fine lines, dullness, uneven skin tone, hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and loss of elasticity.
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The Best Drugstore Vitamin C Serums
The best vitamin C serum from the drugstore will provide all the benefits of vitamin C: antioxidant protection, a reduction in the visible signs of aging like wrinkles and fine lines, and brightening dull skin.
I tested a lot of vitamin C serums, and these are the best available at an affordable price.
The drugstore vitamin C serums listed below will be noted as either pure vitamin C (ascorbic acid) or vitamin C derivatives (that convert to pure vitamin C in your skin).
While pure vitamin C will be the most effective, if you have sensitive skin, you may consider a non-irritating vitamin C derivative serum to get the benefits of vitamin C without the irritation.
1. CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum
CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum contains 10% pure l-ascorbic acid (pure vitamin C), three essential ceramides, hyaluronic acid in the form of sodium hyaluronate, and vitamin B5.
Pure vitamin C provides antioxidant benefits like protection from UV exposure (sun damage) and environmental stressors. It also helps to brighten the skin and support an even skin tone.
Ceramide NP, Ceramide AP, and Ceramide EOP replenish the skin’s natural moisture barrier. Vitamin B5 helps to soothe the skin.
The serum also contains CeraVe’s proprietary MVE Technology that delivers key ingredients over time for better hydration and nourishment for up to 24 hours.
This CeraVe vitamin C serum is non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog pores.
It is also fragrance-free and paraben-free. I love that it’s lightweight, absorbs quickly, and works well under makeup.
Related Post: The Best CeraVe Drugstore Skincare Products
2. The Ordinary Ascorbic Acid 8% + Alpha Arbutin 2%
The Ordinary Ascorbic Acid 8% + Alpha Arbutin 2% is a water-free stable solution of pure vitamin C plus 2% alpha arbutin.
This serum is all about brightening. Pure vitamin C offers antioxidant, brightening, and anti-aging benefits, while alpha arbutin interrupts melanin formation to reduce hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and uneven skin tone.
This is one of 8 vitamin C products offered by The Ordinary. I included this serum as one of the best drugstore vitamin C serums for a few reasons.
First of all, it contains pure vitamin C, not a derivative.
No matter how effective a vitamin C derivative is, it won’t be more effective than pure vitamin C.
This serum contains 8% ascorbic acid, which is not too strong and not too weak. It’s ideal for most skin types, as it is much less irritating than vitamin C products at 20% or higher concentrations and is still very effective.
Alpha Arbutin is a bonus, as it helps to brighten dark spots and can be used with other skincare products without any contraindications.
This lightweight formula has a bit of an oily feel to it upon application, but it goes away after the serum is absorbed.
If you’d prefer an effective but more stable vitamin C alternative, The Ordinary Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12% (shown above) comes in a water-based serum with a more comfortable texture than waterless vitamin C formulas.
For more on this vitamin C derivative, please see my complete review.
The Ordinary offers other strong, pure vitamin C and vitamin C derivatives, so for more details on all eight vitamin C products from The Ordinary, be sure to check out this guide to The Ordinary vitamin C products.
Related Post: The Ordinary Anti-Aging Skincare Review
3. The Inkey List 15% Vitamin C + EGF Serum
The Inkey List 15% Vitamin C + EGF Serum is formulated with 15% ascorbyl glucoside, a vitamin C derivative, and 1% Epitensive, a plant-derived Epidermal Growth Factor system to protect and brighten the skin and target the visible signs of aging like elasticity and firmness.
Ascorbyl glucoside is a stable and penetrating vitamin C derivative that exhibits many of the same benefits as pure ascorbic acid.
It improves collagen production, offers antioxidant protection, helps brighten the skin, and reduces the look of hyperpigmentation and dark spots.
Per the supplier, 1% Epitensive is a plant Epidermal Growth Factor that helps regenerate the skin and improve wrinkles and skin roughness.
This gentle serum is ideal for all skin types and can be used twice a day.
While you shouldn’t use pure vitamin C with certain potent actives, this vitamin C derivative can be used with other potent actives like niacinamide, AHAs/BHAs, and retinol.
4. TruSkin Vitamin C Facial Serum with Vitamin E and Hyaluronic Acid
TruSkin Vitamin C Facial Serum with Vitamin E and Hyaluronic Acid is extremely popular on Amazon, as it has almost 75,000 reviews. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen so many reviews for a skincare product.
This serum is a blend of organic Aloe Barbadensis Leaf (Aloe), sodium ascorbyl phosphate (a vitamin C derivative), hyaluronic acid, witch hazel, and vitamin E.
The type of vitamin C in this serum is a vitamin C derivative, sodium ascorbyl phosphate (SAP).
This stable derivative has been shown to improve wrinkles and skin elasticity in a similar manner to pure vitamin C. It may also help to fade hyperpigmentation and boost collagen production.
Another benefit of sodium ascorbyl phosphate is its antimicrobial properties that can help with acne without side effects.
The serum contains other actives like soothing Organic Aloe Barbadensis Leaf from the Aloe Vera plant, which is filled with vitamins and minerals like vitamins A, C, and E.
Hyaluronic acid, a humectant, attracts and helps skin retain moisture. Vitamin E, an antioxidant, helps protect the skin from environmental stressors.
5. L’Oreal Revitalift Derm Intensives Vitamin C Serum
L’Oreal Revitalift Derm Intensives Vitamin C Serum is a silicone-based formula that contains 10% ascorbic acid (pure vitamin C).
It also contains glycerin to moisturize the skin and adenosine, which has anti-inflammatory and skin barrier repair properties.
This serum has an ideal 10% pure vitamin C concentration to improve skin radiance and smooth wrinkles and fine lines.
It also contains hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid that has a low molecular weight to penetrate, hydrate and plump the skin.
The formula is made without water to improve potency and stability. It comes sealed in a metal tube to minimize the product’s exposure to oxygen which will degrade pure vitamin C.
Upon application, this serum may have a slightly warming feeling, which can happen with pure vitamin C products.
The inclusion of dimethicone (a silicone) makes this serum glide smoothly across the skin and work really well under makeup.
It’s paraben-free, mineral oil-free, synthetic dye-free, and suitable for sensitive skin.*
*With this and any new skincare product, be sure to patch test the product before using it on your face for the first time.
6. Acure Brightening Vitamin C & Ferulic Acid Oil Free Serum
Acure Brightening Vitamin C & Ferulic Acid Oil Free Serum contains a vitamin C derivative, ferulic acid, pineapple extract, papaya extract, and matcha (green) tea to brighten and smooth the skin.
The vitamin C derivative used in this serum is tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate. This stable derivative can penetrate and absorb into the skin.
In-vitro testing has shown that it gets converted into ascorbic acid in the skin. It also appears to offer similar benefits as pure vitamin C.
The benefits include brighter skin, photoprotection against UV exposure, and improved collagen production.
More studies need to be performed on this vitamin C derivative to prove its effectiveness, but it’s a promising alternative to pure vitamin C.
Ferulic acid is an antioxidant that helps to stabilize vitamin C and improve its photoprotective benefits.
Pineapple fruit extract mildly exfoliates and moisturizes the skin, while papaya fruit extract helps to sweep away dead skin cells.
Camellia Sinensis Leaf (green tea) Extract offers antioxidant protection and anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial benefits.
This serum is so lightweight and smooth that it almost feels like a lightweight lotion upon application. It sinks in quickly and works well under makeup.
This vitamin C serum is paraben-free, sulfate-free, mineral oil-free, petrolatum-free, formaldehyde-free and cruelty-free.
7. Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop Vitamin C Serum
Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop Vitamin C Serum is a non-irritating serum that targets dull skin tone and enlarged pores with a gentle 5% concentration of vitamin C (ascorbic acid).
This concentration is ideal for those with sensitive skin.
It is concentrated enough to brighten and even out skin tone, fade dark spots and reduce the look of enlarged pores without the irritation that may come along with higher concentrations.
This Korean vitamin C serum also contains a variety of plant extracts, such as Centella Asiatica Extract, which has reparative and anti-inflammatory properties.
Per the manufacturer, Scutellaria Baicalensis Root Extract offers antioxidant and brightening properties.
Sodium hyaluronate hydrates, and proline, a non-essential amino acid and a building block of collagen, helps regenerate the skin. Please note that there is added fragrance in this serum.
8. RoC Multi Correxion Revive and Glow Vitamin C Serum
RoC Multi Correxion Revive and Glow Vitamin C Serum creates firmer, more luminous skin with a reduced look of wrinkles and fine lines.
The serum contains a 10% active Vitamin C Blend, peptides, antioxidants, and hydrators to improve the formula’s effectiveness.
The vitamin C derivative in the formula is 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid, or ethyl ascorbic acid. This stable form of vitamin C is easily absorbed into the skin.
The manufacturer claims it is converted into pure ascorbic acid in the skin. Its best quality is its ability to brighten the skin. It may also help stimulate collagen and offer pure vitamin C’s antioxidant benefits.
Polygonum aviculare extract, derived from knotgrass, can offer photoprotective benefits and protection from UV rays. It is also supposed to help improve firmness and elasticity.
Terminalia Ferdinandiana Fruit (Kakadu Plum) Extract offers antioxidant protection against damaging free radicals from UV exposure.
Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice (Aloe) soothes with its anti-inflammatory properties and moisturizes the skin.
This lightweight water-based serum helps create a more even-looking skin tone and a brighter complexion over time when used consistently. Please note that there is added fragrance in this serum.
Related Post: RoC Vitamin C Skincare Review
9. ArtNaturals Vitamin C Serum
ArtNaturals Vitamin C Serum combines a vitamin C derivative, hyaluronic acid, aloe, and jojoba oil to improve skin hydration and radiance. The formula doesn’t cause irritation, making it ideal for those with sensitive skin.
The vitamin C derivative in this formula is sodium ascorbyl phosphate (SAP), which is stable and offers antioxidant benefits for the skin, similar to pure vitamin C.
It also may provide collagen boosting and brightening benefits.
Another advantage of sodium ascorbyl phosphate is that it is antibacterial and can even help with acne.
Hyaluronic acid, in the form of sodium hyaluronate, plumps, and hydrates the skin. Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice (Aloe) soothes, moisturizes, and repairs the skin.
Simmondsia Chinensis Seed (Jojoba) oil is a stable oil similar to human sebum. It may even help balance oil production, making it a good choice for oily skin.
The serum targets wrinkles, age spots, and sunspots for a brighter, smoother, more youthful-looking complexion.
This serum is lightweight but moisturizing, thanks to jojoba oil’s barrier protection and softening properties.
10. Vichy Liftactiv Vitamin C Serum
Vichy Liftactiv Vitamin C Serum is formulated with 15% pure vitamin C and natural origin hyaluronic acid to yield brighter and firmer skin in just 10 days.
It is filled with actives to improve uneven skin tone and reduce the visible signs of aging.
The serum contains pure vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in a 15% potent concentration. Ascorbic acid targets wrinkles and fine lines, boosts collagen production, and helps to fade hyperpigmentation and dark spots.
It provides photoprotection and improves UV protection if used under sunscreen. So this serum is an excellent choice for use during the day.
Please note that this serum contains alcohol. Although alcohol (alcohol denat. per the ingredient list) has astringent and antimicrobial properties, it can be drying, especially for those with dry skin.
11. Derma E Vitamin C Concentrated Serum
Derma E Vitamin C Concentrated Serum is formulated to brighten the skin while improving skin texture. It supports collagen formation and reduces the look of wrinkles, fine lines, and uneven skin tone.
The serum contains a vitamin C derivative called Stay C-50. Per the manufacturer, this derivative helps to reduce the look of blemishes and acne.
It also has a lower likelihood of degradation before being absorbed into the skin.
The vitamin C derivative in the formula is sodium ascorbyl phosphate (SAP), a water-soluble monophosphate ester of ascorbic acid.
SAP also provides photoprotection, improves skin firmness, decreases the look of age spots, stimulates collagen production, and evens out skin tone.
The serum also contains Camellia sinensis leaf (green tea) extract, an effective antioxidant that protects against environmental aggressors.
Green tea also contains anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
Hyaluronic acid delivers hydration and antioxidants into the skin. Aloe Barbadensis Leaf (Aloe) Juice soothes and detoxifies.
Vitamin E (Tocopheryl Acetate) is another antioxidant that helps improve skin texture.
This serum is moisturizing as it hydrates, soothes, and targets dull skin and uneven skin tone. It is 100% vegan, GMO-free, cruelty-free and soy-free.
Please note that there is natural fragrance oil in this serum.
12. Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum
Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum is an award-winning vitamin C serum filled with antioxidants that helps to reduce the look of wrinkles and discoloration.
This serum contains the vitamin C derivative sodium ascorbyl phosphate (SAP). SAP is more stable than pure vitamin C.
It doesn’t risk the oxidation and irritation that may occur with pure vitamin C. SAP also helps reduce the look of acne and acne scars.
In addition, the serum contains vitamin E, an antioxidant that works with vitamin C to protect the skin against damaging UVB rays.
Ferulic acid, which comes from the cell walls of plants, is another antioxidant that helps to improve product efficacy when combined with vitamins C & E.
Hyaluronic acid plumps and hydrates. Chamomile extract and konjac root soothe, soften, and calm the skin.
Clary sage offers astringent and toning properties. Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Extract acts as a natural exfoliant and gives the serum a citrusy fragrance.
The serum has a natural yellow tint and is vegan, GMO-free, and cruelty-free.
13. Olay Vitamin C + Peptide 24 Serum
Olay Vitamin C + Peptide 24 Serum is a brightening vitamin C serum formulated with a stable vitamin C derivative and peptides for a smoother, hydrated, and more radiant complexion and glowing skin.
3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid, or ethyl ascorbic acid, is a vitamin C derivative that is more stable and less irritating than pure ascorbic acid.
3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid provides similar benefits as pure vitamin C (although less potent), including antioxidant protection, the stimulation of collagen synthesis, and most notably, brightening benefits.
The serum also contains niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3, to brighten skin and reduce the look of hyperpigmentation and dark spots while smoothing the look of wrinkles and fine lines.
Lactic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), gently exfoliates the skin and improves cell turnover to even out skin texture and skin tone and improve skin radiance.
Olay’s proprietary Animo Peptide, Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-4, is a peptide that targets wrinkles, fine lines, and skin texture. Glycerin, panthenol, and trehalose are humectants that moisturize the skin.
This brightening serum has a lightweight gel-cream texture that glides on smoothly and has a non-greasy silky texture. It has a subtle citrus scent that dissipates quickly.
This is another great drugstore vitamin C face serum that is gentle on the skin and uses multiple actives to target the visible signs of aging and brighten dull skin.
Related Post: Olay Vitamin C + Peptide 24 Review
14. Naturium Vitamin C Complex Serum
Naturium Vitamin C Complex Serum contains pure vitamin C (ascorbic acid), a vitamin C derivative (sodium ascorbyl phosphate), and a moisturizing fruit extract blend.
These ingredients brighten your complexion, reduce the visible signs of aging like wrinkles and fine lines, and protect your skin from environmental stress.
Naturium’s proprietary vitamin C complex is formulated to improve the effectiveness of the pure and derivative forms of vitamin C in the serum at a pH that does not irritate the skin.
The serum also contains vitamin E to boost the photoprotection benefits of vitamin C and for added antioxidant benefits.
Hyaluronic acid in the form of sodium hyaluronate helps keep skin hydrated and plump.
The serum is gentle enough to use both morning and night. It has a lightweight gel texture that sinks in quickly without any stickiness.
Those sensitive to higher concentrations of pure vitamin C will appreciate the non-irritating formula.
15. Timeless 20% Vitamin C + E Ferulic Acid Serum
If your skin is not sensitive and you prefer higher vitamin C concentrations, you have several stand-out options at drugstore prices. One of the best is Timeless 20% Vitamin C + E Ferulic Acid Serum.
Timeless vitamin C serum is often considered an affordable alternative for Skinceuticals C E Ferulic Serum, which is the gold standard in pure vitamin C serums.
Timeless contains a 20% concentration of ascorbic acid, plus vitamin E, and ferulic acid.
The serum is formulated to:
- Brighten dull skin
- Stimulate collagen production for smoother, firmer skin
- Protect skin against environmental stress
- Support skin cell turnover
- Prevent uneven skin texture and tone
If you are wondering what’s so special about this combination of actives, clinical research has found that ferulic acid not only stabilizes vitamins C and E but also doubles photoprotection (sun protection) benefits.
The water-based serum also contains sodium hyaluronate, the sodium salt of hyaluronic acid, to hydrate, soothe, and plump your skin.
This vitamin C serum has a lightweight texture that absorbs quickly without leaving any sticky or greasy residue.
The only drawback to this serum is that sometimes the packaging leaks and runs down the side of the bottle.
I think that’s a small price to pay for an excellent vitamin C serum that delivers a high concentration of vitamin C with additional protective and hydrating ingredients.
And the price is certainly right.
16. Neutrogena Rapid Tone Repair 20% Vitamin C Serum Capsules
Neutrogena Rapid Tone Repair 20% Vitamin C Serum Capsules (the travel size is shown above) offer a 20% concentration of pure vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid.
This serum is excellent for those that are familiar with vitamin C treatments and want a higher concentration for a powerful antioxidant boost.
The packaging is what makes this vitamin C serum stand out. The serum comes in seaweed-based, biodegradable, single-dose capsules for brighter skin and a more even skin tone.
The fragrance-free serum also helps reduce dark spots and improve skin texture, lines, and wrinkles. The serum is non-comedogenic, too, so it won’t clog your pores and cause breakouts or worsen acne.
To apply, twist and pull the capsule and squeeze the serum onto your fingers. These are great for travel: just pack as many as you need.
The creamy texture leaves my skin feeling soft and smooth thanks to the silicones in the formula, although it does make my skin tingle upon application.
If you have sensitive skin, Neutrogena suggests starting out with 2-3x per week and increasing to 1x per day as your skin builds up tolerance.
The Benefits of Vitamin C in Skincare
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, or l-ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble compound that offers several benefits for the skin.
It has potent antioxidant properties that help protect the skin from free radicals due to UV exposure which can damage the skin.
Vitamin C also improves collagen synthesis. Vitamin C inhibits tyrosinase, an enzyme involved in melanin (pigment) production, so it can reduce the look of hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and uneven skin tone. Plus, it has anti-inflammatory and reparative properties.
When should you use a vitamin C serum? Applying a topical antioxidant like a vitamin C serum during the day under sunscreen can provide even more effective UV protection than just sunscreen alone.
The Drawbacks of Vitamin C in Skincare
There are some drawbacks when it comes to formulating ascorbic acid (pure vitamin C) in skincare.
Ascorbic acid is notoriously unstable in skin care products and will degrade when exposed to light, air, and heat. When vitamin C degrades, it darkens and turns a brownish color, which indicates that it is losing its potency.
Vitamin C is tricky to stabilize, and you should use most pure vitamin C formulas within three months of opening. This is where vitamin C derivatives come into play.
Many vitamin C derivatives are formulated to be not only stable but also provide many of the same benefits as pure ascorbic acid. Unfortunately, they are usually not as potent as ascorbic acid.
Depending on the concentration, pure vitamin C may also irritate the skin.
I personally experience more irritation at 20% or 25% concentrations.
Combining Vitamin C With Other Actives
Since pure vitamin C is a potent active, you should avoid using it in the same routine as other strong actives such as alpha hydroxy acids (i.e. glycolic acid and lactic acid), beta hydroxy acids (salicylic acid), and retinol.
Also, since ascorbic acid is formulated at a low pH to be effective, it may compromise the effectiveness of higher pH actives like peptides and niacinamide, so it’s best to use them at different times of the day or on different days.
Final Thoughts on the Best Drugstore Vitamin C Serums
If you are looking to incorporate more anti-agers into your skincare routine, using an affordably priced drugstore vitamin C serum like the ones from this post is the way to go.
The best affordable vitamin C serum will work with your skin type and skin concerns.
The drugstore serums in this post provide the benefits of vitamin C while also using other actives to offer additional benefits.
Some of the serums contain sodium hyaluronate (hyaluronic acid), which is excellent for dry skin, or niacinamide for brightening and balancing oil production, a favorite of those with acne prone skin.
Regardless of which vitamin C product you choose, adding a vitamin C serum to your skincare routine will help address the visible signs of aging while protecting your skin from environmental aggressors like UV exposure from the sun and pollution.
Thanks for reading!