Vitamin C serums are like the Beyoncé of skin care—they’re basically flawless. Vitamin C is an antioxidant. It helps reduce and prevent fine lines and wrinkles. It repairs sun damage. (And who knows, maybe it’s working on a follow-up to Lemonade.)
Like Beyoncé, vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) has its own loyal following. “I am a vitamin C junkie,” says Mona Gohara, M.D., associate clinical professor at Yale School of Medicine. “I think it’s like a LBD—it makes everyone look good.”
She’s not alone in this opinion, either: “Vitamin C has a wonderful duality: it both brightens and firms skin,” says Dennis Gross, M.D., board-certified dermatologist at Dr. Dennis Gross Dermatology. “Because it is so versatile, it is one of my favorite ingredients.”
Vitamin C benefits are legit, too: Not only will vitamin C serums help lighten pigmentation you might already have, but they can also prevents dark spots or sun spots from forming in the future, says Gross. Vitamin C also produces collagen, giving skin radiance and vitality, and protects skin by neutralizing free radicals. “Think of free radicals as tiny spears that poke holes in your collagen fibers and weaken them,” says Gross. “Antioxidants [like vitamin C] cut off the pointy tips of the spear and render them harmless.”
However, not all vitamin C serums are created equal. When shopping around, pay attention to the type of vitamin C included in the product.
“Look for products that have 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid,” says Gross. “It is the most effective stabilized form of vitamin C and penetrates deep into the skin.” While sodium ascorbyl phosphate gets lots of buzz, Gross says “there is limited testing that shows that it actually penetrates skin.”
Don’t just slather that vitamin C serum all over your face, though. “Vitamin C should be used sparingly because of its potency—you’ll only need a few drops for each application,” says New York dermatologist David E. Bank, founder of The Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery.
Still, people with sensitive skin don’t necessarily have to steer clear of vitamin C serums. Just look for products that have lower concentrations or are formulated with other soothing ingredients to reduce irritation.
Vitamin C is also great for the eye area where the skin is already thinner, making it more vulnerable to fine lines and wrinkles. “However, the eye area requires its own dedicated vitamin C serum formulated with special delivery systems attentive to the unique needs of the eye area,” Gross says. (You can score a few eye creams with vitamin C here.)
To reap the most rewards, apply your vitamin C serum the right way: “You should ensure that skin is properly cleansed and exfoliated for maximum penetration of the vitamin C serum,” Gross says. “You can incorporate the vitamin C serum into your morning or evening routine, however I prefer to use the serum in the morning so I can walk out the door knowing that my skin is protected from damaging free radicals all day long.”
Apply it right after cleansing and follow with moisturizer. Or combine it with your favorite sunscreen to boost the power of your SPF, says Deanne Mraz Robinson, M.D., of Connecticut Dermatology Group.
These are the best vitamin C serums for any budget, according to dermatologists.
This content was originally published here.