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Best vitamin C serums to brighten skin and treat hyperpigmentation

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Vitamin C is hailed as one of the most effective skincare ingredients. Here’s how it works, plus a few of our handpicked favourite products containing it.

Having a hardworking skincare routine that actually makes a difference and has a long-term positive impact doesn’t have to be complicated.

The main products and ingredients to use are those that are backed up by wealth of clinical data, including SPF (every single day, even if it’s not sunny outside and even if you’re currently sitting indoors all day), vitamin A (also known as retinol) and vitamin C.

It seems we’ve all started to take notice of the latter’s brightening benefits as vitamin C was named the most googled skincare ingredient of 2020. According to online beauty retailer Cult Beauty, “vitamin C” racked up a huge 1,211,000 searches (and counting) and has grown in popularity over the last year.

Here, we run through everything you need to know about the brightening ingredient but before we do, alongside vitamin C, retinol and SPF, I would also recommended incorporating a decent cleanser that doesn’t leave your skin feeling dry or tight (my favourite is a £12.99 option from CeraVe), alongside a basic moisturiser to help hydrate skin as and when required.

What is vitamin C and what are the benefits?

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that, when applied each morning, protects against things like free radicals and environmental factors such as pollution. Over time, it works to brighten and even out skin tone.

However, it’s a difficult ingredient to formulate with. So while there seem to be a lot of similar products on the market, not all of them will be quite as effective as each other. “Vitamin C – otherwise known as L-ascorbic acid – is notoriously unstable, so creating a formula that stabilises the molecule as much as possible should be an absolute priority,” says Dan Isaacs, director of research at Medik8.

What is the most effective form of vitamin C?

L-ascorbic acid, sometimes just referred to as ascorbic acid, is the form that has the most amount of research behind it. However there are a few other types that also have the clinical data to back up their efficacy, including sodium ascorbyl phosphate, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, ascorbyl palmitate and ethylated ascorbic acid.

What’s the difference between different types of vitamin C?

As Isaacs explains, “Ascorbic acid is the gold standard for vitamin C but only stable at a pH less than 3.5. For this reason (the low pH) it can be harsh to skin and cause irritation. As a result, other versions of vitamin C have been developed.”

He goes on to say: “Sodium ascorbyl phosphate is a very stable, water-soluble derivative of ascorbic acid. It is able to penetrate better into the skin than ascorbic acid, and is known to not cause as much irritation. Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate is fat-soluble and therefore better at penetration.

“I believe this is the next best alternative to L-ascorbic acid which is why we use it in our vitamin C range. Finally, ethylated L-ascorbic acid is the ultimate derivative of vitamin C. Highly potent and incredibly stable, ethylated ascorbic acid produces very similar results to pure ascorbic acid, without any of the stability issues. Both water and fat soluble, it is able to protect all parts of the skin as an antioxidant,” he explains.

Best vitamin C serums

  • Medik8 Super C30 Intense

    Medik8 Super C30 Intense
    Best vitamin C serums: Medik8 Super C30 Intense

    One of the first vitamin C products I started using, this lightweight, high-strength formula is free of artificial fragrance and alcohol. It contains 30% ethylated L-ascorbic acid, which is a stable form of vitamin C, alongside ferulic acid, a plant-based antioxidant that works in tandem to help protect against free radical damage.

    Shop Medik8 Super C30 Intense at lookfantastic, £59

  • AlumierMD EverActive C&E

    AlumierMD EverActive CE to treat hyperpigmentation
    Best vitamin C serums: AlumierMD EverActive CE
    These vials are only available from a certified, AlumierMD stockist because it’s so potent. Each bottle contains 15% L-ascorbic acid that promises to stay fresh (and therefore more effective) the whole time you’re using it. Inside the white lid is the pure vitamin C powder, then when you’re ready you, you can release it into the serum, give it a shake and it’s ready to go.

    Shop AlumierMD EverActive C&E, £149, available via a certified stockist

  • Clinique Fresh Pressed Daily Booster

    Clinique Fresh Pressed Daily Booster to treat hyperpigmentation
    Best vitamin C serums: Clinique Fresh Pressed Daily Booster

    Like AlumierMD’s product above, Clinique’s 10% L-ascorbic acid serum comes in packaging that you can activate at home when you’re ready to use it. Each vial holds enough for a week’s worth of applications, meaning your serum will always stay fresh in order to give you maximum results.

    Shop Clinique Fresh Pressed 7-Day System with Pure Vitamin C at lookfantastic, £25

  • Philosophy Turbo Booster C Powder

    Philosophy Turbo Booster C Powder to treat hyperpigmentation
    Best vitamin C serums: Philosophy Turbo Booster C Powder

    This jar of powder is clever: instead of being pre-mixed like other serums, this is designed to be added into your own pre-existing water-based serum or moisturiser. That means it can be mixed every day for ultimate freshness, plus it comes with a scoop so you know exactly how much to add.

    Shop Philosophy Turbo Booster C Powder at Feelunique, £32

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Lucy Partington

Lucy Partington is Stylist’s beauty editor. She’s obsessed with all things skincare, collecting eyeshadow palettes that she’ll probably never use, and is constantly on the hunt for the ultimate glowy foundation.

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