There are scores of antioxidant skincare products on the market, and while these free-radical fighters are important for fending off skin damage, some are certainly better than others. Some of the most popular antioxidant ingredients include green tea, vitamin E, resveratrol and coffeeberry, but perhaps the most widely studied is vitamin C.
Topical vitamin C has been proven to have far-reaching benefits for the skin. From stimulating collagen production to improving discoloration (and effectively neutralizing the free radicals that can cause premature aging and skin cancer), I recommend topical vitamin C for all of my patients. But, it’s important to know that when it comes to this specific antioxidant, you get what you pay for.
In order to be effective, topical vitamin C must be formulated at a pH of 2 to 2.5. (This acidic pH is why those with sensitive skin may experience stinging upon application.) There are also different forms of vitamin C, and some are more effective (and more expensive) than others. Lastly, the product must have a certain concentration of vitamin C, and this, too, adds to the cost of a product. When you take these three parameters into consideration, you see that properly formulating topical vitamin C is expensive—and this is why you should be wary of cheap vitamin C (especially when shopping online).
I’ve tested countless topical vitamin C products, and here are the ones I recommend at different price points:
$: La Roche-Posay Active C ($53)
$$: Jan Marini C-Esta ($99)
$$$: iS Clinical Super Serum Advance+ ($140) and SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic ($162)
When it comes to oral vitamin C supplements, fortunately the above rules do not apply, and a generic drugstore version is just fine. However, oral vitamin C doesn’t have the same effects on the skin as a topical version, since not enough of the nutrient gets to the skin when taken in pill form.
Topical vitamin C is an important part of any skincare regimen, both for anti-aging and skin health benefits. These products are best used in the morning after cleansing and before moisturizer and sunscreen. Because the skin isn’t exposed to as many free radicals at night, there’s no need to include vitamin C in your evening skincare regimen—and since these products are expensive this also helps your supply last longer!
Dr. Leslie Baumann is a board-certified dermatologist, New York Times best-selling author and CEO of Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in Miami.