What You Should Know Before Using Vitamin C Serum

Starting a new skincare regimen can be daunting. Not only are the products expensive, but the sheer variety of options available can be overwhelming. The standard routine includes a cleanser, toner, serum, and moisturizer, but what ingredients should you be looking for to boost your results? The type of serum you choose should depend on your skincare needs, such as anti-aging, calming, or brightening benefits. However, there's one ingredient that skincare experts and dermatologists agree is universally beneficial in any serum, and that is vitamin C.

The science-backed evidence behind vitamin C is extensive — there's no denying that it's a must-have ingredient in your skincare routine. Harvard Health found several studies showing the benefits of this particular vitamin on your skin's health, starting with the reduction of dark spots. Vitamin C blocks the production of pigment in our skin with little to no irritation. It has also been found to smooth wrinkles and protect skin from the harmful effects of UV rays, which can cause long-term damage such as skin cancer and premature aging.

However, vitamin C can be tricky, as it needs to be used and stored in a specific way. You'll also need to pay attention to the concentration and ingredients found in the formula to avoid unwanted side effects. So, to get the most out of your vitamin C serum, here's what you should know before you add this product to your skincare regimen.

How you use and store vitamin C is crucial

Vitamin C can have a powerful impact on your skin, but in order to reap the benefits, you'll need to follow a few specific guidelines. According to Dr. Sara Hogan, a dermatologist at the UCLA Medical Center, it's best to apply vitamin C in the morning before your skin is exposed to UV radiation throughout the day (via SELF). If using a serum, you'll want to apply it to freshly cleansed skin, allow it to dry, then follow with your moisturizer and an SPF.

There are also two ingredients you'll need to avoid using at the same time as your vitamin C serum. The first is benzoyl peroxide, which Dr. Hogan says "can oxidize the vitamin C and, therefore, make it less potent." You could use vitamin C in the morning and benzoyl peroxide in the evening to remedy this. The second ingredient you'll want to avoid is retinol, because using it at the same time as vitamin C can make both less effective and also cause irritation (per Comfort Zone). If you're prone to irritation, there are vitamin C serums for sensitive skin that can address this issue.

Lastly, how you store your vitamin C product is vital to maintaining its potency. According to SELF, topical vitamin C is sensitive to both light and oxygen, and, when exposed to these elements, can become unstable and ineffective. Therefore, you'll want to choose a formula that's packaged in an opaque container and has an air-sealed pump rather than a dropper.

Which vitamin C you use matters

When it comes to shopping for this miraculous ingredient, one must choose wisely. The positive effects you'll see depend on the formulation and strength of the vitamin C you select. Over-the-counter variations may have added ingredients — some good and some bad. Always check your labels to see what you'll be putting on your skin. Consider purchasing your serum from your dermatologist's office to be absolutely sure you're getting a clean, effective product. The clinical studies we mentioned earlier from Harvard Health all "contain an active form of vitamin C (for instance, L-ascorbic acid), have a strength of 10% to 20%, and a pH lower than 3.5." To see the same amazing results as these trials, you'll want to look for a product with this formula.

The mode of delivery matters, too. Your best bet, in this case, are serums, which are designed to hold the highest concentrations in a stable environment, according to dermatologist Joshua Zeichner (via Vogue). After all, we are talking about getting the most out of your vitamin C!

Just like there are ingredients that block the efficacy of vitamin C in serums, there are also some that enhance its benefits. Look for formulas that contain vitamin E, ferulic acid, vitamin B, and hyaluronic acid, which Zeichner adds "boosts vitamin C in fighting free radical damage and collagen production."