What To Look For In Vitamin C Serums


What’s a product that everyone, female or male, can benefit from? Besides sunscreen of course.

… a Vitamin C serum or treatment!

Vitamin C is so essential and beneficial to skin, you can’t go wrong with a Vitamin C serum. At the minimum, it will quench free radicals for you and make your skin a little smoother. And if the formula is good, it will also boost collagen production, improve the tone and radiance of skin, and reduce some discoloration.

There are many different kinds of Vitamin C serums. In my opinion, there are 2 main factors to consider when you’re choosing one:

  • TEXTURE – What you ultimately choose should depend on what you like to put on your skin. This is a product that is best used everyday, so you need to like putting it on. Do you prefer a gel, thin liquid, lotion, cream, or even powder? Luckily, there are so many options, you can find a good treatment with your preferred texture.
  • SKIN TYPE  – How sensitive or reactive is your skin? Some people can use the most aggressive form of Vitamin C, while you may need to go with a gentle form if you have sensitive or thin skin, or are fairly young (your skin hasn’t become rough, thick, and damaged).

The first part of this post is my thoughts on factors you should consider when choosing a Vitamin C product.

The second part is examples of different types of Vitamin C treatments. These are products that I currently use or have used in the past. I didn’t like some of them but included them anyway to point out information you might find useful.

What To Look For In A Vitamin C Treatment


This is the most important factor. Vitamin C comes in different forms, and they are not created equal. (The different forms of Vitamin C are explained here.)

At a minimum, Vitamin C is an antioxidant that quenches free radicals. But a treatment with the best forms will perform better and do more than just offer antioxidant protection. It can increase collagen synthesis and brighten skin. (Certain forms of Vitamin C are better at collagen synthesis and brightening.)

Throughout this post, I’ll reference the following forms (there are more, but these are the ones I’ll talk about):

AA – Ascorbic Acid

THDA – Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate

MAP – Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphote

SAP – Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate

I personally look for treatments with AA and THDA because these are the most effective formsMAP is good too, though if a product has THDA, I will choose that over the one with MAP (all other things being equal).

I don’t use treatments with SAP or other forms of Vitamin C anymore, but SAP is still a decent ingredient.

If you are just getting started with skincare, not focused on aging, or don’t want to spend time researching and comparing skincare, it is perfectly fine to use a serum with SAP or another form not listed here.

If you want maximum anti-aging benefits, then focus your attention on AA, THDA, and MAP.


When buying products with Ascorbic Acid, it is extremely important that you verify that it is stabilized. Ascorbic Acid is a highly unstable ingredient, and most manufacturers using this ingredient aren’t properly stabilizing it. You can learn more in the Vitamin C article.

It’s impossible to tell whether AA is stabilized from the ingredient list. The ingredient list will only list an ingredient; it won’t explicitly state if it’s stabilized. That information (if even provided at all) can only be found in the marketing copy – on the packaging, box, paper insert inside the box, or product description on the brand’s website or retailer’s website. If it isn’t provided, the only way to find out is to ask the company.

Sometimes, Vitamin C is sourced from botanical extracts. So instead of seeing the chemical names above, you will see the name of the plant instead. For example, Ole Henriksen’s Truth Serum Collagen Booster sources Vitamin C from orange, grapefruit, and rosehips along with two synthetically derived chemical forms of it (Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Calcium Ascorbate).

One thing to keep in mind – a synthetic form of Vitamin C is not worse than a botanical form of it. You can learn more about Synthetic vs Natural ingredients here.


How much Vitamin C is in there? More is better (up to a point).

When there is a large amount of it, the percentage will be stated. For example: 15% L-Ascorbic Acid.

Most of the time, the percentage isn’t stated, so you won’t have a way of knowing. But you can see where the Vitamin C is positioned on the ingredient list. If it’s among the first few ingredients listed, that’s a good sign. If it’s buried in the middle of the list or further below, there’s not enough for it to merit being called a Vitamin C serum.

Don’t forget that there are botanical sources of Vitamin C, and these may be listed before a synthetic Vitamin C form.


So you have a great form of Vitamin C, and there’s a decent amount of it, what next?

If there are other ingredient goodies in there, then you have an even better treatment. Goodies may include other antioxidants, retinol, stem cell extracts, growth factors, peptides, brightening and DNA repair ingredients, and so on.

Advanced Vitamin C formulations always have something else to offer besides Vitamin C.

To start, try looking for other antioxidants. Antioxidants often work in tandem. So Vitamin C with other antioxidants will give you longer lasting protection.


Texture is very important to me. I have different skin days. Some days I want something light, so I will opt for a fluid. On other days, I want something creamy, so I’ll reach for a lotion texture.

It doesn’t hurt to have more than one serum, if your budget will allow it. After all, skin changes all the time. So there may be days when you may want to switch your routine. Or, if you live in an area where there are changes of season, you might want a summer C serum and a winter C serum.

Some serums, such as the ones with thicker textures, are better as spot treatments rather than all-over-the-face serums, simply because of how they spread on skin.

If you’re looking for something for the whole face, a fluid, wet gel, or emulsion texture is the most efficient – faster to apply and easier to spread than a lotion or cream.


Pump, dropper, tube, jar – what’s your preference?

Mine is a bottle with a pump. Preferably in an airless container. Pumping something out is the fastest and neatest method for me. It’s also the most hygienic.

And most importantly, it’s the best way to keep antioxidants fresh.

Sunlight and air (oxygen) degrade antioxidants fast. So the best type of packaging is an opaque (not clear) or dark bottle that doesn’t allow light in. In this picture, Lira Clinical, Revision, and Sesha are good examples of opaque bottles.

Using a dropper is more time-consuming to me. But some serums (such as the ones with Ascorbic Acid) are packaged in glass bottles with droppers because glass is the most stable way to store them. Acids can react with plastic material.

Tubes are ok to me. They’re good for travel – lightweight and mess-free. But a tube usually means the texture will be some sort of solid. And when it comes to serums and age-fighting treatments, I prefer applying liquids. Both because it feels better to me and because it’s easier for me to layer other products with it.

As for jars, they’re not hygienic, and I avoid them unless it’s a cream that I really like.


Scent plays a small role but can make or break a product for me. It’s a dealbreaker when the scent is very strong or disagreeable to me.

Scent is so personal, just like texture. So my advice to you – try a variety of serums before you buy. Trust your own tastes. Let that guide you, not a beauty magazine or beauty blogger’s recommendation. You don’t have to force yourself to buy something just because someone else raves about it. There’s no one-size-fits-all in skincare.


And finally, price. You will find serums in all price ranges. Expensive isn’t necessarily better. Skincare is an imperfect market. Sometimes you will find amazing products at reasonable prices, and quite often you will find mediocre products at very high prices.

But high quality never comes cheap. With skincare treatments, the more advanced ingredients or sophisticated formulas usually cost more.

This may be because the ingredients are more expensive. Or the manufacturing process is more difficult, laborious, or time-consuming. Or perhaps because the research and development investment that went into developing the product was high.

My advice to you – always stay within your budget. Buy only what you can afford. We are fortunate to be living in an era where there is so much choice, and therefore competition. Every day, there are more new brands, more sales and promotions, and more gifts with purchase. Chances are, you can find something decent that fits your budget.

Also remember – good habits, such as wearing sunscreen (which is cheap) and staying out of the sun will go a long way to keeping your skin healthy and youthful.


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