PSA: Vitamin C Serums Shouldn’t Break the Bank—These Are Our Favorite Affordable Options

Get the glow for less.

By Langa Chinyoka
Skincare products on bathroom counter.

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There’s so much wisdom to be garnered in a single sunset, and a couple of days ago, I caught one that was particularly awe-inspiring. The blend of purples, pinks, and oranges reminded me that, as the days begin to shorten, we’re quickly saying goodbye to summer. And while there are so many things to love about fall—cozy candles, cooler weather, and the ubiquitous PSL—it always comes too soon. With that are the dimmer days and duller skin. Oh, what I would do for another rooftop pool day or weekend trip to the beach! Book a vacation? Expensive. Finding the best affordable vitamin C serum for my skin? More likely.

With the summer equinox behind us, the days are growing shorter and the nights are coming sooner. Already, I’m regretting the many days I’ve opted to stay indoors versus spending a few hours outside. With ample sunscreen, of course, I bask in the glowy and sun-kissed beauty look the summer often brings. But if you want to keep the look going long past June and July, I have a solution: the best affordable vitamin C serum.

Featured image by Teal Thomsen.

Black woman with long braids applying skincare in bathroom.
Image by Michelle Nash

Finding the Best Affordable Vitamin C Serum

The key to a natural glow is easier—and less expensive—than it seems. Vitamin C is a staple ingredient in any skincare routine. Suitable for all skin types, this gentle active is a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants reduce oxidative stress caused by free radicals, environmental stressors, and pollution. TL;DR: they prevent aging, dark spots, and skin damage.

Because it’s such a powerful ingredient, a good vitamin C serum can set you back hundreds of dollars. But know this: an effective product doesn’t have to. You can get just as much bang for your buck with the best affordable vitamin C serum for your skin. This star ingredient blends seamlessly with other nourishing actives to give you summer-like skin on a budget.

Black woman applying skincare in mirror.
Image by Belathée Photography

Benefits of Using a Vitamin C Serum

Vitamin C is an antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals. This means that it both repairs existing damage to your skin while helping build up your skin barrier to prevent future damage. Vitamin C is unique because of its ability to rebuild your skin at the cellular level by boosting collagen production. This helps increase cell turnover to reveal brighter, clearer, smoother skin.

What should you look for in the best affordable vitamin C serums?

Start by looking at the concentration of vitamin C in a serum (the higher the better). Highly concentrated forms of actives are usually known to work faster for more visible results. Anything over 10% concentration will give you supercharged results, but the benefits cap out at around 20%. You’re more likely to experience irritation without seeing any extra results.

Vitamin C also comes in many forms, the most potent being ascorbic acid, also known as L-ascorbic acid. Look for serums that contain this form of vitamin C for the most effective results. However, sensitive skin types might experience irritation, so if you’re new to vitamin C or have acne-prone skin, other forms might be better suited to your needs.

Anything over 10% concentration will give you supercharged results, but the benefits cap out at around 20%.

Megan Roup applying sunscreen in mirror.
Image by Michelle Nash

How often should you use a vitamin C serum?

Vitamin C can be used every day, and it’s most effective when incorporated into your morning routine. Use it after your toner every morning for the best results. If you’re new to active ingredients or experience sensitive skin, start using it every other day and build up to daily use.

Ingredients to Pair With Your Vitamin C Serum

The ingredients that pair best with vitamin C include:

  • Niacinamide to fight dark spots.
  • Hyaluronic acid to pack in extra hydration.
  • Vitamin E for extra antioxidant protection against free radicals.
  • SPF for supercharged sun protection.
  • Retinol for faster cell turnover.

These product combinations can help you hone in on your specific skin needs. In the best affordable vitamin C serums, you might find a synergistic blend of these ingredients already included. Or you can mix and match your favorite products with your vitamin C serum. Whatever you choose, you’re one step closer to glowy skin year-round.

Beauty products on bathroom counter.
Image by Teal Thomsen

The 10 Best Affordable Vitamin C Serums for a Sun-Kissed Skincare Routine

Best Overall: The Inkey List 15% Vitamin C and EGF Brightening Serum

Why We Love It: Cult-favorite brand, The Inkey List sits perfectly at the intersection of affordable and effective. A social media beauty darling, influencers, editors, and casual beauty lovers alike all sing its praises. And trust: it’s more than a dupe for more expensive options—this product holds its own. The serum’s 15% vitamin C concentration protects skin from environmental damage and combines with naturally-derived Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF) to stimulate regenerated skin cells (re: a near-instant glow). The result is brighter, more radiant summer skin, all throughout the year.

  • Size: 30 ml
  • Concentration: 15%

The Inkey List 15% Vitamin C and EGF Brightening Serum

This 15% Vitamin C + EGF Serum is lightweight delivers a powerful dose of actives to help support natural skin elasticity. Rejuvenating and energizing dull skin, 15% Vitamin C + EGF Serum works hard to noticeably brighten dull skin.


Best Extra-Strength Naturium Vitamin C Complex Serum

Why We Love It: This is a holy grail product. It’s the perfect layer before your moisturizer and SPF, keeping your skin protected from the elements and premature aging. While some vitamin C serums can irritate the skin, Naturium’s affordable option is gentle but effective enough to use both morning and night. The serum goes on silky and smooth, without ever drying the skin. Even with its high concentration of vitamin C, this is a great option for both sensitive and mature skin, helping improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles in just a matter of weekswhile also yielding visibly brighter results.

  • Size: 30 ml
  • Concentration: 22%

Naturium Vitamin C Complex Serum

This potent vitamin C serum is formulated with a vitamin C complex with gold and highly stabilized l-ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbyl phosphate, and a bioactive fruit blend that helps defend skin from environmental stressors, promoting healthier-looking skin.


Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Rosen Skincare Bright Citrus Serum

Why We Love It: Dealing with dark spots? This is our go-to solution. Its potent concentration of vitamin C blends with mulberry extract to keep dark spots at bay, clear acne-prone skin, and speed up scar healing. Skin is noticeably smoother and protected from future dark spots. Like the Naturium option, Rosen’s serum features an airless pump, extending the vitamin C’s shelf life. Note: Many brands use incorrect packaging, causing vitamin C to rapidly oxidize when exposed to light and air. That’s right, packaging matters more than you think!

  • Size: 30 ml
  • Concentration: 20%

Rosen Skincare Bright Citrus Serum

Vitamin C and mulberry extract prevent dark spots and fight acne causing bacteria for those with minor breakouts and moderate scarring.


Best Brightening: ACURE Brightening Vitamin C & Ferulic Acid Oil Free Serum

Why We Love It: You had us at oil-free. This lightweight serum doubles down on dull skin with a hard-hitting dose of antioxidants. Because while the vitamin C concentration is relatively low, it pairs with antioxidant-rich ferulic acid. It works well on all skin types, boosting glow and energizing even the most tired skin (thanks to a healthy dose of both matcha and pineapple fruit extract). It’s the perfect second step in an effective, minimalist skincare routine. We apply the serum post-cleanse and before our moisturizer for noticeably brighter, hydrated skin.

  • Size: 30 ml
  • Concentration: 2%

ACURE Brightening Vitamin C & Ferulic Acid Oil Free Serum

This serum helps you shine bright with antioxidant-rich ferulic acid and vitamin C while matcha, papaya, and pineapple energize tired-looking skin.


Best for Mature Skin: Buttah Skin Vitamin C Serum

Why We Love It: While we’ve seen vitamin C (duh) and ferulic acid in other formulations, Buttah’s serum features grapeseed extract as well. Rich in vitamins E, C, and D, the powerhouse ingredients supports further antioxidant protection while simultaneously nourishing skin. We love that the serum is bottled up in dark brown glass, helping to slow down the oxidation process and ensure many glow-boosting uses to come. For those focusing on reversing photo-damage (a type of premature aging caused by the sun), make this your pick.

  • Size: 30 ml
  • Concentration: Not available.

Buttah Skin Vitamin C Serum

Your daily dose of brightening and antioxidants. This serum delivers a more radiant and smoother complexion with each use. It features an antioxidant-rich formula combined with the right amount of vitamins to revitalize your skin and improve the appearance of dark spots.


Best Lightweight: First Aid Beauty 10% Vitamin C Brightening Serum

Why We Love It: Some serums go on sticky, leaving skin feeling weighed down and greasy. No thanks. First Aid Beauty knows the struggle, that’s why the brand developed this lightweight, non-comedogenic formulation—delivering all the brightening, anti-aging benefits of the most expensive vitamin C serums. It’s effective at firming skin without clogging pores, making it a great option for both sensitive and acne-prone skin.

  • Size: 1.7 oz
  • Concentration: 10%

First Aid Beauty 10% Vitamin C Brightening Serum

This radiance-boosting serum helps defend against surface free radicals that can cause signs of early skin aging. With 10% Vitamin C, it’s effective and safe, even for sensitive skin.


Best for Hyperpigmentation: Hyper Skin Hyper Even Brightening Dark Spot Vitamin C Serum

Why We Love It: Vitamin C and vitamin E are a dream skincare duo. The actives support each other in brightening the skin and helping to smooth out fine lines and texture. For those familiar with hyperpigmentation, you’ll be happy to know that this serum works hard to reduce the appearance of dark spots thanks to its blend of fruit enzymes, bearberry, turmeric, and kojic acid. Plus, making this serum a regular part of your skincare routine will help protect against future outbreaks.

  • Size: 30 ml
  • Concentration: 15%

Hyper Even Brightening Dark Spot Vitamin C Serum

Hyper Skin’s best-selling vitamin C serum that started it all. This hardworking formula dramatically battles hyperpigmentation and signs of aging. Vitamin C with bearberry, licorice, and kojic acid help combat stubborn acne scars and sun damage. Anti-inflammatory ingredients like turmeric and salicylic acid work to heal and prevent future breakouts. 


Best for Skin of Color: EADEM Milk Marvel Dark Spot Serum

Why We Love It: Even before we got the inside scoop on how EADEM began from co-founder Marie Kouadio Amouzame, we were immediately won over by the brand’s commitment to inclusive formulations and transparent pricing. But of course, as soon as our first orders were delivered (including this super-charged serum), we became dedicated EADEM converts. And we’re in good company. Everyone from Vogue to InStyle to Allure calls it one of their favorite new beauty brands—and the Milk Marvel serum is at the top of their must-buy list. With a potent blend of MVP ingredients (amber algae, niacinamide, and licorice root brighten skin and preserve natural skin tone while papaya and pineapple enzymes gently resurface skin), Milk Marvel is directly formulated to reduce the appearance of dark spots on skin of color.

So, if you’re tired of fussing with serums that leave you without the results you’re after, make Milk Marvel a medicine cabinet staple.

  • Size: 30 ml
  • Concentration: Not available

EADEM Milk Marvel Dark Spot Serum

This fragrance-free serum—uniquely formulated for skin of color—rapidly reduces visible dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and post-acne marks while bestowing a healthy-looking glow. And when it says milky, EADEM means it. This serum has the most unique, luxurious feel that leaves skin deeply hydrated and nourished.


Best De-PuffingYouth to the People 15% Vitamin C + Clean Caffeine Energy Serum

Why We Love It: It’s no secret: we’re obsessed with Youth to the People. The brand has seen a quick and steady rise to fame thanks to the viral-making machine that is TikTok. But we personally love it thanks to the brand’s focus on blending beauty with wellness. Each product promises the power of superfoods, and this serum is no different. It was my gateway product into caffeine-infused skincare, offering a smooth and light texture that doesn’t pill when I layer it with other serums. And because of the caffeine, it’s one of the only affordable serums I’ve found that not only brightens my skin, but leaves it noticeably less puffy and firmer upon application. Tired-skin morning, no more!

  • Size: 30 ml
  • Concentration: 15%

Youth to the People 15% Vitamin C + Clean Caffeine Energy Serum

This first-of-its-kind clinical-grade 15% vitamin C serum is boosted with plant-derived caffeine from yerba mate and guayusa to immediately brighten, visibly reduce morning puffiness, and hydrate.


Best Dermatologist-Formulated: Rose Ingleton MD Complexion Brightening Booster

Why We Love It: We’re here for (almost) any product formulated and backed by an MD. And at this price, while the steepest on this list, we’ll hop on the deal for a dermatologist-approved product. This serum is potent and powerful, effective at brightening skin, reducing the appearance of dark spots, and blending seamlessly into the skin. It’s supercharged with antioxidant-packed ingredients, including orange, lemon, and bilberry fruit extracts to boost cell turnover, leaving skin looking more radiant and youthful after just a few applications.

  • Size: 30 ml
  • Concentration: Not available.

Rose Ingleton MD Complexion Brightening Booster

The Complexion Brightening Booster is a powerful serum that fades dark spots and brightens your overall complexion, without clogging pores. It features Rose Ingleton’s signature Jamaican Superfruit Blend, a complex containing fruit extracts of orange, lemon, bilberry, sugarcane (glycolic acid) and sugar maple syrup (natural alpha hydroxy acid).