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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Ellie Davis

Best affordable and effective vitamin C serums in 2024

It was Albert Szent-Györgyi back in the 1930s who discovered the world of benefits associated with ascorbic acid aka vitamin C.

The Hungarian biochemist, who won a Nobel Prize in medicine for his findings, is credited with understanding one of the foundations of basic nutrition but also its application in dermatology.

When you next encounter someone who thinks the use of serums containing Vit C as a novel development, you can repeat this fun(ish) fact – or at least hope it comes up at the next pub quiz.

Vitamin C is banded about the beauty community, but what does it actually do in skincare?

“Vitamin C stimulates collagen synthesis and also works as an antioxidant to offer protection against UV-induced photodamage”, says Dr Eirini Merika Consultant Dermatologist at Belgravia clinic Montrose London. “Its derivatives also decrease melanin synthesis which can help treat hyperpigmentation. There are also reported benefits on wrinkle formation, skin sagging, scar treatment and wound healing”.

How to choose a vitamin C product

Vitamin C often comes in lightweight serum form. The best glide onto the skin without leaving behind a greasy slick. Selecting the one to suit your skin type and budget is not an easy task. Quality is of the utmost importance, but doesn't mean it has to come with a high price tag?

Dr Merika explains, “There is a wide variety of factors that can affect different price points between brands. The quality and concentration of vitamin C mostly affect the price. A higher concentration does not necessarily translate into better effects. Vitamin C concentrations between 10-20 per cent are usually sufficient”.

She continues, “Vitamin C in its pure form, called ascorbic acid, has a very short shelf life and therefore most products contain vitamin C derivatives. These derivatives are more stable and expire less quickly than pure vitamin C, but are more expensive. Pricing will also depend on other ingredients mixed in with vitamin C, such as vitamin E, ferulic acid and hyaluronic acid, which also help stabilise it. Marketing and packaging costs also play a role in pricing”.

Are the cheaper ones still worth it?

They say don’t judge a book by its cover but the same doesn’t apply to vitamin C. The packaging is extremely important when it comes to ensuring that it is worth your hard-earned bucks.

“Look for airtight containers that are opaque”, reveals the dermatologist. “Avoid preparations that are not clear in colour; vitamin C is a clear liquid in its pure state and any alteration in colour may be a sign it has become oxidised and is less effective”.

Pay attention to the concentration and formulation. She advises to “Choose a preparation with 10-20 per cent concentration and ideally a medical-grade product and avoid other active ingredients in the same preparation such as AHA/BHA and retinol”.

Shop the best affordable vitamin C serums below

Nip + Fab Vitamin C Fix Concentrate Extreme 15%

There are three forms of stabilised vitamin C contained within this serum from Nip + Fab. The potent blend is designed to shield the skin from external aggressors that can cause ageing like UV rays and pollution - but also has a brightening effect on the complexion. In fact, the formula has been clinically proven to make a dramatic difference in the skin’s radiance in just four weeks of use. Alongside the 15 per cent vitamin C complex is ferulic acid to enhance its effects and allantoin and niacinamide to rejuvenate and repair.

Buy now, Nip + Fab

Naturium Vitamin C Complex Serum

Naturium’s popularity comes down to a simple fact: the brand offers affordable yet premium products that do what they say on the tin. The label has followed suit from the likes of The INKEY List and The Ordinary in spotlighting specific ingredients, cutting out the filler and fuss to create targeted products.

The Vitamin C Complex keeps it simple in terms of formulation, setting a stable form of l-ascorbic acid (vitamin C) alongside hydrating hyaluronic acid and nourishing vitamin E. It has been dermatologist-tested to improve radiance and shield against environmental aggressors.

Buy now £22.00, Space NK

Bubble Day Dream Vitamin C + Niacinamide Serum

New York-born label Bubble has launched in the UK and has brought with it an army of high-quality and clinically approved products with a purse-friendly price tag. The brand is hugely popular with our friends across the Atlantic and takes a community-led approach to its launches. The entire range is under £20, including the Day Dream.

This serum combines two buzzed-about ingredients in one vibrant yellow package to brighten and smooth the complexion. Niacinamide gets to work improving tone, calming, hydrating and soothing, whilst vitamin C brings the luminosity.

Buy now £18.00, Boots

The Inkey List 15% Vitamin C + EGF Serum

This lightweight, golden serum teams together powerful epidermal growth factors with a hefty dose of vitamin C to boost skin tone and texture, while improving firmness and smoothness. One pump, applied day and night, is ample to help give skin extra bounce as it tackles fine lines, while the vit C offers fantastic antioxidant protection against complexion-damaging, dulling environmental pollution and gives an instant hit of luminosity. It’s a brilliant makeup base too. Ideal for layering under moisturiser or using alone, the texture and the price make this the perfect entry product for trying out EGFs for the first time, no matter what your age or skin type.

Buy now £15.99, Cult Beauty

The Ordinary Ethylated Ascorbic Acid 15% Solution

Apply this serum morning and night to maximise its potent ascorbic acid formulation. The product is almost oil-like in its consistency, gliding onto the skin for a radiance boost. The Ordinary puts this component through a process of ethylation that reduces the molecular size and makes the vit C more stable to encourage more effective and speedier results. While evening out skin tone, it also packs your complexion with antioxidant goodness to shield against external aggressors.

Buy now £18.00, The Ordinary

Simple Booster Serum 10% Vitamin C+E+F

Simple is likely to have dominated your routine since your first foray into skincare but it's been quietly evolving more advanced product categories like serums – while maintaining their affordability.

As part of its Booster Serums collection, this formula combines actives vitamin C with E and F to illuminate the complexion, while also nourishing with the latter two components. Simple calls on 95 per cent naturally derived ingredients and no nasties to ensure it can be used by those with more sensitive skin.

Buy now £5.33, Boots

Garnier SkinActive Vitamin C 2in1 Brightening Serum Cream SPF 25

This vitamin C serum from Garnier works double duty. Not only are you protecting your skin from the ageing effects of UV rays with the ingredient’s antioxidant power, but it has SPF 25 too. At the same time, it’s a glow-giving formula that brings radiance to dull, tired and dehydrated complexions. It absorbs easily into the skin without feeling greasy or oily.

Buy now £10.99, Boots

Skin + Me Brighten + Boost Firming Vitamin C Serum

Supercharge your skincare regime with a personalised approach. Skin + Me was founded to offer customised treatment plans that were created for you as part of a subscription model, but you also simply shop the products on its website.

The Brighten + Boost Firming Vitamin C Serum was designed to be used in the morning with a potent 15 per cent of its l-ascorbic acid-based complex. It sets the brightening ingredient with the anti-ageing powerhouse peptides Matrixyl3000 & Argireline, which work in tandem to encourage collagen production.

Buy now, Skin + Me

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