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The 7 Best Vitamin C Serums To Fade Dark Spots From Sun Exposure & Acne, According To A Derm

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While sunspots and post acne marks are formed two entirely different ways, both types of hyperpigmentation respond to gentle exfoliation, a generous dose of sunscreen, and the best vitamin C serums to fade dark spots from sun exposure and acne. Effective serums include a stable form of vitamin C, like ascorbic acid or sodium ascorbyl phosphate, in a concentration that makes sense for your skin. If you need a vitamin C serum for sensitive skin, look for a lower concentration of 15% or less, while a more potent dose should have a 20% concentration for maximum absorption. You might also want to keep an eye out for vitamin C ingredient combinations for brighter skin, as many serums contain other ingredients to enhance your results.

What does vitamin C serum do?

Many people probably don't realize that in addition to sunspots, the sun contributes to the formation of post-acne marks as well. These pesky red or brownish blotches pop up after a pimple heals, usually a big one, but exposing them to the sun darkens these marks and makes them stick around longer. This is where vitamin C comes in. “This potent antioxidant interferes with the production of pigment in the skin, fading dark spots,” Dr. Ellen Marmur, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of MMSkincare, explains to Bustle. By inhibiting your skin's melanin production, a vitamin C serum should keep new sunspots from forming, too.

And, that's not the only way vitamin C fades dark spots on the skin! It's also a chemical exfoliant, which — over time — sloughs off discolored skin. Because of its antioxidant properties, vitamin C aids your skin's natural regeneration process, which helps your body repair damaged skin cells and produce new ones.

How to use vitamin C serum

Vitamin C is also able to neutralize some of the damage the sun unleashes on your skin. While you definitely shouldn't be skipping your SPF, it's a great idea to apply your vitamin C serum in the daytime. “Always apply vitamin C in the morning,” Dr. Marmur says. “These treatments are intended for daytime use because of their ability to neutralize free radicals, using your serum at night will just create a reservoir that remains in the skin.”

How long does vitamin C take to fade dark spots?

With regular serum use, and as long as you’re diligent about using sun protection, “you may start seeing noticeable improvements in three to eight weeks” says Dr. Marmur. And for the record, C serums aren’t the only way to include vitamin C in your skincare routine — you can also find the antioxidant in moisturizers, masks, and even super stable face powders.

So if you're looking for a way to fade dark spots in no time at all, below, you'll find the best Vitamin C serums to do the work for you.

1

A Gentle Serum That’s Perfect For Sensitive Skin

Applying a higher percentage of vitamin C can fade dark spots faster, it also makes you more likely to experience irritation. This plant-based serum from TruSkin has a potent 20% concentration of vitamin C, but it comes in the form of gentle, stable sodium ascorbyl phosphate, plus the serum is full of other soothing, natural ingredients that make this formula good for those with sensitive skin. Aloe vera has a cooling, calming effect, while witch hazel is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to stop irritation. Hyaluronic acid hydrates and plumps the skin. The formula is also free of synthetic color additives, fragrance, and stabilizers.

Glowing review: "I have a sensitive skin and when I try Vitamin C serums it either breaks me out, make my skin burn or making it oilier. The serums from TruSkin made my dark spots lighter. [...] The result is not overnight, you need consistency but this brand works. It doesn't stop the development of new pimples. I still get break-outs during the ‘time of the month’. But with the help of this product the scars and spots doesn't stay for too long.”

2

A 15% Vitamin C Serum With Exfoliating Glycolic Acid

Sunday Riley's C.E.O. Rapid Flash Brightening Serum is a 15% vitamin C serum that will seriously brighten your skin. It uses a stable form of vitamin C called tetrahexyldecyl (THD) ascorbate, which helps to fight the wear and tear stressors take on your skin, giving you plumper glowier skin. C.E.O also contains glycolic acid, which helps refine and exfoliate your skin, allowing other ingredients to penetrate it better. That means the vitamin C should also absorb better, leading to a better glow overall.

Glowing review: "I am in love with this stuff! This is by far my favorite vitamin c serum. [...] This product goes on super smooth and has never left a sticky feeling! Also worth mentioning is the amazing smell! I've already noticed it making a difference on my melasma and discoloration!"

3

A Lightweight Serum That Soothes & Brightens With Cucumber & Ginseng

The Mario Badescu Vitamin C Serum is formulated with a gentle 7.5% ascorbic acid vitamin C and a pleasantly short list of other ingredients, which makes it a safe bet for most skin types, though you might want to spot test if you’re super sensitive. Standout ingredients in this serum's lineup include cucumber extract, which is soothing and cooling to the touch, and ginseng extract, which has brightening properties for an extra boost when it comes to evening out the skin.

Glowing review: "The price is worth the product and the results! I have acne scarring & hyper pigmentation and have yet to find something to get rid of them until I tried this product. I would really recommend getting this!"

4

A Hydrating Vitamin C Serum For Acne Prone Skin

Skin that's prone to breakouts usually can't handle serums with a high concentration of vitamin C without getting red and flaky, but the Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop Serum from KLAIRS contains a gentle 5% of vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid, plus centella asiatica extract to calm redness and inflammation. It’s no wonder the product is a cult favorite among Korean vitamin C serums.

If you have acne, be aware that applying vitamin C to active breakouts can cause irritation. Try this serum as a spot treatment by applying it directly to post-acne marks, allow the serum to soak in, and then apply your moisturizer.

Glowing review: "This is my first vitamin C serum and I love it! I have sensitive, acne-prone, combination skin that is on the dry side. I researched a lot of serums, but chose this one due to its lower percentage. I didn’t want to start off too strong and risk irritating my skin. After a week of use, my skin already feels smoother and I can tell my acne hyperpigmentation is lightening. [...] It has not irritated my skin at all, which is a miracle. I’m really happy to add this product into my skincare routine!"

5

A Potent Serum With 15% Vitamin C, Vitamin E, & Ferulic Acid

Use the powerful Paula’s Choice booster serum alone or add a few drops to your favorite moisturizer for The serum’s outstanding formula contains 15% of a stabilized l-ascorbic acid vitamin C, vitamin E, and ferulic acid. When combined with vitamins C and E, ferulic acid increases the antioxidant properties of the serum giving your skin an even bigger boost of free-radical fighting power. In addition to these three key ingredients, the serum includes a dose of hyaluronic acid to hep with hydration.

Glowing review: "It's expensive, but worth it! I've been using it to help fade the dark spots on my face from acne."

6

A Concentrated Serum With 20% Vitamin C

The Amara Organics Vitamin C Serum might not look like much at first glance, but this no-frills serum boasts over 5,000 five-star reviews on Amazon from people who have tried it and loved it enough to let the internet know. This serum is a whopping 20% vitamin C (in the form of gentle sodium ascorbyl phosphate), and includes other beneficial ingredients as well. This includes aloe and centella asiatica extracts to soothe the skin and reduce inflammation, plus hyaluronic acid to plump and hydrate.

Glowing review: "I LOVE this stuff! The combination of Vitamin C with hyaluronic acid really gives my skin a dewy glow and has definitely reduced some of my more prominent dark spots as well. It absorbs nicely and my makeup applies easily over it. [...] A little goes a long way and the bottle is lasting for a long time - I will be reordering again when it runs out."

7

A Vitamin C Serum That Also Helps Restore Your Skin Barrier

Your skin will love this vitamin C serum from CeraVe, which has ingredients to help moisturize your skin in addition to a reasonably gentle concentration of 10% l-ascorbic acid. Hyaluronic acid works its hydrating magic in this serum, with three different ceramides to ensure that your skin retains the moisture, plus vitamin B5 to soothe inflammation. Unlike other serums on this list, this one actually comes in packaging other than a glass bottle, so it’s easy to throw in a bag and take on the go.

Glowing review: "Affordable and good skin care! This has helped lighten my sun spots that have surfaced as I have aged. Also works well to ease fine lines. Gradual change if you are consistent! Stick to it.”

Expert:

Dr. Ellen Marmur, board-certified dermatologist and founder of MMSkincare

Studies referenced:

Hughes-Formella, B. J., Filbry, A., Gassmueller, J., & Rippke, F. (2002). Anti-inflammatory efficacy of topical preparations with 10% hamamelis distillate in a UV erythema test. Skin pharmacology and applied skin physiology, 15(2), 125–132. https://doi.org/10.1159/000049400

Hughes-Formella, B. J., Bohnsack, K., Rippke, F., Benner, G., Rudolph, M., Tausch, I., & Gassmueller, J. (1998). Anti-inflammatory effect of hamamelis lotion in a UVB erythema test. Dermatology (Basel, Switzerland), 196(3), 316–322. https://doi.org/10.1159/000017904