8 Vitamin C Serums The Pros Actually Use

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.
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"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.
At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.
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Los Angeles-based esthetician Courtney Chiusano says that she uses this 20% vitamin C serum every morning — and calls it one of her all-time favorite products, too. "It has three forms of stable vitamin C and is a powerhouse at addressing several issues. It refines and tightens the texture of my skin, brightens pigmentation, works wonders on post-acne inflammation, and calms down redness," she says. "This particular serum also has a mild glycolic acid in it, which boosts its brightening capabilities and gives skin a nice daily glow. It works great on all skin types and all of my clients love it, but if you are extra sensitive, you can use the 12% version of the serum first."
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New York-based dermatologist Heidi Waldorf, M.D., recommends this set of ampoules to all of her patients — not only do they contain powerful ingredients, but they're packaged for optimum efficacy, which is just as important. "In addition to vitamin C, each dose includes hyaluronic acid and protein stimulators of hyaluronic-acid production, which helps the skin look plumper and maintain hydration," she says. Each ampoule contains enough product for one treatment of the face, neck, and chest, or for 2-3 treatments of the face and neck, and stays potent for 2-3 days after opening.
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"This non-greasy serum has a very stable kind of vitamin C, which means it’s well-formulated to penetrate the layers of the skin," says dermatologist Debra Jaliman, M.D. "It contains lactic acid to help stimulate collagen synthesis and improve skin texture and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It's also made with a form of hyaluronic acid, which is super hydrating and has anti-aging properties."
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Celebrity facialist Cynthia Franco, who counts Amber Heard among her clients, loves a good multitasker, which is why she opts for this serum. "It has a dual action (and very stable) vitamin C that brightens skin and builds collagen; a 3-O Ethyl Ascorbic Acid that works in both water and oil phases of skin for more efficient action; and a unique energy complex that helps maximize vitamin C for accelerated repair and protection and to help build collagen and brighten skin."
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"I use this serum for several reasons," says Beverly Hills-based dermatologist Ava Shamban, M.D. To start, she likes that the formula absorbs well and has clinical studies to back its skin-brightening benefits. "I believe the specific combination of antioxidants is more potent. It's a strong color corrector and the ferulic fights free radicals and reverses signs of aging," she says of the serum she calls "potent but usable for most skin types."

The product is also a must-have for New York-based dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, M.D. "When vitamin C is combined with vitamin E and ferulic acid, it becomes much more stable and effective at decreasing pigmentation and sun spots," she says. "Ideally it should be applied every morning — that way, it can best neutralize free-radical damage from pollution and radiation."
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In addition to the universally-beloved C E Ferulic, Dr. Palm also relies on this brightener. "Both are outstanding ascorbic acid serums, with stable forms of vitamin C at an effective dose," she says. "Both serums also contain additional brightening ingredients and tocopherol (vitamin E), which is a second potent antioxidant."
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Some vitamin C-heavy formulations can leave an undesirable orange-y tint on the skin; Miami-based derm S. Manjula Jegasothy, M.D. avoids the issue by reaching for this formulation. "It's good for darker skin types because it doesn't tint my skin," she says. What's more, she loves that it hydrates, but doesn't break her out or possess a funky scent that can plague other serums in the category.
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"This serum combines vitamins C and E along with other bioflavonoids to give synergistic antioxidant benefits," says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D., who names this serum as his favorite. That said, he has high hopes for a brand-new formula on the market: "I just got Allies of Skin Vitamin C 35% Collagen Rebuilding Serum and I'm excited about it," he says. "It contains the highest concentration of vitamin C in a serum that I know of, and comes in an anhydrous vehicle (meaning it does not contain water, enhancing the stability of the product)."
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