If, like Kanye West, we were to fulfill a lifetime dream of being on Family Feud, our fantasy prompt would look something like this: "We asked 100 dermatologists for the gold-standard skin-care products no one should go without." Right away, we'd nail the top three answers on the board: sunscreen, a retinol product, vitamin C serum (and take all the money).
The holy trinity of skin care is comprised of ingredients that have been scientifically proven again and again to protect and heal the skin, with C boasting countless clinical studies that poise it as a chief antioxidant. That's not the kind of knowledge you just leave at the office, which is why dermatologists often cite it as a must-have for their own routines.
"I use a vitamin C serum every morning for several reasons," says Melanie Palm, M.D., a San Diego-area cosmetic surgeon and dermatologist. "First, vitamin C is a clinically-proven brightening agent. Secondly, it is a co-factor for collagen synthesis and we can all use abundant sources of that. Lastly, it is a potent antioxidant that wards off free-radical production from UV exposure, helps protect against the damaging effects of infrared light and visible light, and neutralizes some of the stressors from environmental exposure during the day."
Using the stuff may sound like a no-brainer, but there's a caveat: Vitamin C products are notoriously difficult to concoct, as the ingredient loses stability and potency when in contact with air, light, and water — a little something that makes choosing a formulation seem impossible. So we conducted a little survey of our own, asking top derms and estheticians to share exactly which C serum they use in their own skin-care routines. Survey says: Our pollution-fighting and skin-brightening game is about to level up big time, thanks to their answers, ahead.