This Is What You Need For A Crazy Glow — & It's Not Unicorn Highlighter

Along with retinol, vitamin C has long been heralded by derms as a gold standard of beauty ingredients. But you probably already knew that. Because oodles of research has consistently re-affirmed what we’ve known for years: that vitamin C can help diminish dark spots, brighten complexions, and help drum up collagen production when it travels to layers of the dermis. For the most part, we also know that “our skin does not produce vitamin C, therefore it is very important to supplement it in topical skin care,” notes Jeannette Graf, MD, a New York-based dermatologist.
But all that knowledge doesn't do us much good if we aren't sure of the best way to harness vitamin C's powers. Historically, the ingredient has been notoriously tricky to stabilize in topical products. Like vampires, vitamin C loses stability and potency when in contact with air, light, and water (the basis of most skin-care products) — which makes it extremely tricky to work into a serum or mask. “Because vitamin C is so unstable in the presence of light, extremes in pH, and temperature, products that contain it are specially formulated,” confirms Joshua Zeichner, MD, New York-based dermatologist. In other words, not all C-based skin care is created equal. Adds Dr. Graf, “The most important part of topical vitamin C is what type of vitamin C it is, since it must be stable in order for it to be of value.”
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The good news? Scientists and cosmetic chemists have been working to overcome these obstacles for years. And the latest vitamin C-based skin care is some of the best to market yet. Among such solutions? Water-free formulations, a favorite of Dr. Graf’s. “A water-free system helps ensure the long-term stability of topical vitamin C," she says.
Also in the mix: cold-pressing techniques which eschew typical heat methods used to extract ingredients and result in better stabilization; powder and pearl encapsulation, also geared to help extend stability; time-released products; and concentrated formulas that shoot up into 30% potency, something that may help nicotine addicts. “My feeling is that 10-20% vitamin C used daily in the morning and in the evening is quite good,” Dr. Graf says, adding, "Cigarette smokers lose more vitamin C than non-smokers. So smoking is terrible for many reasons, but if someone is unable to stop smoking, they should use an even higher concentration of 20 to 25% vitamin C.”
Finally, though there are several types of vitamin C found in product ingredient lists (including magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, ascorbyl palmitate, ascorbyl glucosamine, and ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate), it’s actually L-ascorbic acid that trumps ‘em all, according to our pros. “L-ascorbic acid is the only form of vitamin C which is recognized by the skin,” Dr. Graf says. “Whichever form of stabilized vitamin C is used, they must bio-convert to L-ascorbic acid before the body can use it.” The good news? More and more formulations are using it as their C-source.
With so much innovation hitting shelves, the future of your skin is looking very bright. Ahead, find 12 good sources for getting your recommended daily vitamin.
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There's a reason this little brown bottle is loved by just about every dermatologist we've interviewed: It's lightweight, absorbs quickly, and contains a generous dose of L-ascorbic acid.

Skinceuticals C E Ferulic Serum, $162, available at Skinceuticals.
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Unlike a lot of liquid vitamin C serums, this one is refreshingly non-sticky. It’s also powerful, containing 20.5% ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and 72% black chokeberry, which is included to stabilize the C. Another secret to keeping it stabilized? Small batch production. But that also means that getting your hands on this lightening-rod of a dropper requires some serious online stocking: The first batch of this collab between Corsx and Soko Glam cofounder Charlotte Cho sold out in just a few hours.

Cosrx Triple C Lightning Liquid, $27, available at Soko Glam.
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It’s no mistake that these vitamin C pearls look like oversized Dippin’ Dots; they use the same flash freeze technology, with the goal of creating the most concentrated (79%) and stable form of the antioxidant. Here’s how it works: After placing a pearl (made of ascorbic acid and jojoba seed oil) into the palm of your hand, dispense drops of the included water and glycerin-based serum onto the sphere to create a liquid-gel before applying to skin.

Karuna Skin Vitamin C+ Pearls, $48, available at Karuna Skin.
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The entire package of this vitamin C booster is designed to be used in just one week. It’s also as fun to prep as a cocktail: Press the button on one end to release vitamin C powder into a serum, housed in another chamber, then shake for 15 seconds. Once ready, be prepared to apply a few drops of the mixture ASAP — after you release the cap, the emulsion is dispensed instantaneously.

Clinique Fresh Pressed Daily Booster with Pure Vitamin C 10%, $19.50, available at Sephora.
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Frequent flyers (or those who regularly shack up away from home) who are looking for an instant brightening boost will find a new go-to in this three-step system, packaged in one easy-to-pack card. First, apply the single-dose polishing mask for 10 minutes. Next, tap on the 25% vitamin C concentrate, then finish with warming cleanser and watch your skin beam, even after a transatlantic flight (or night three at your Bumble date's place).

Ole Henriksen PowerBright, $55, available at Ole Henriksen.
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This mask’s texture, like that of homemade jam, can be puzzling at first — until you realize that it’s made of 50% citrus (including oranges, tangerines, and lemons). Add in a supplemental blend of vitamin C, plus vitamins B5 and E and AHAs, and you’ve got yourself a heck of a skin brightener.

Fresh Vitamin Nectar Vibrancy Boosting Mask, $62, available at Fresh.
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Break the amber glass on these single-serving ampules for a stabilized hit of vitamin C, thanks to the inclusion of ginkgo. “Stabilization of the vitamin C with ginkgo is a new technology that has proven stability and efficacy,” Dr. Zeichner says.

ISDIN Isdinceutics Flavo-C Ultraglican Ampules, $102, available at ISDIN.
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Anyone who loved watching "lava" flow from homemade volcanoes in science class is going to freak for the effects of this gentle, C-powered peel. After rubbing it on your face in circular motions, watch dead skin cells ball up before your very eyes — and then feel the smoothest skin you've had in awhile.

The Body Shop Vitamin C Glow-Revealing Liquid Peel, $23, available at The Body Shop.
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We’re suckers for any nighttime activity that can be bent for daytime use. For example, day-drinking... and this mask. Developed to be worn all day, it’s made to protect against the very stuff our skin encounters most before the sun goes down — oxidative damage, pollution, and more. Ascorbic acid and other antioxidants join a bevy of peptides and anti-inflammatory agents to get the job done.

Allies of Skin 1A All-Day Mask, $109, available at Allies of Skin.
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The Swiss skin-care line’s newest serum doesn’t look much like a serum at all (and is priced more like an iPhone, too). Instead, the bottle contains wall-to-wall iridescent white pearl beads, which contain an oil soluble form of vitamin C (and very fancy-sounding gold caviar extract). But about that C: Thanks to pearl encapsulation and a proprietary delivery system, it’s made to freshly release with every application and better resolve dark spots on the skin, instead of oxidize in the bottle over time.

La Prairie White Caviar Illuminating Pearl Infusion, $520, available at Neiman Marcus.
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One of the first in the industry to use cold pressing in skincare — rather than combining ingredients under high heat, which can degrade efficacy — Kat Burki also uses the method for this lightweight face cream, which contains 15% vitamin C (and has a cult following).

Kat Burki Vitamin C Intensive Face Cream, $100, available at Kat Burki.
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This water-free formula (created by a dermatologist) boasts 10% ascorbic acid that’s designed to self-activate upon contact with the skin’s natural water content for speedier absorption. Also included are vitamin C esters, designed to penetrate deeper into the dermis and stoke collagen production. Magical science aside, we love this serum’s non-greasy texture and the matte finish that it delivers — a rarity for its class.

ZO Skin Health by Zein Obagi MD Ossential C-Bright Serum, $93, available at ZO Skin Health.
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No heat processing or petrochemicals are used when formulating this 99% natural, cruelty- and- gluten-free serum. Neither are phthalates, sulfates, GMOs, parabens, or added fragrances. What is inside, along with 20% vitamin C, is hydrating hyaluronic acid, soothing vitamin E, rose hips (which can help stabilize vitamin C) and the anti-inflammatory green tea.

OZ Naturals Vitamin C Facial Serum, $18, available at OZ Naturals.
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This serum contains 15% THD ascorbate, a very stable form of vitamin C, and glycolic acid to team up on dark spots, discoloration, and light acne scars. That's our favorite thing about it. Our second is the fact that it smells like a mimosa.

Sunday Riley C.E.O. Rapid Flash Brightening Serum, $85, available at Sephora.
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The 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid in this gel serum is a stable vitamin C-derived agent, which basically means its job is to ensure your skin slowly, but surely, brightens with consistent use. This serum is a bit different from the rest because of its fast-absorbing consistency and bouncy texture, making it easier to layer on moisturizer almost immediately.

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare C+ Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum, $78, available at Sephora.
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