How to Use Vitamin C Serum The Right Way

You probably know that you should be using a vitamin C serum in your skincare routine every day. But do you know why? And are you even using it properly? Here’s a little refresher.

How to Use Vitamin C Serum

Because vitamin C helps protect your skin from pollution, ultraviolet light, and free radicals, you’re going to want to use it in the morning rather than in the evening. If you’ve never used vitamin C or if you have sensitive skin, start by applying the serum every other day for the first two weeks to combat any side effects.

Also it’s important to keep in mind that as a rule of thumb, skincare products should typically be applied from “thinnest” to “thickest” in terms of consistency.

Regardless of your skin type, there are numerous benefits of vitamin C. Here’s how to use it to get the most out of this skincare step:

Step 1: Wash your face.
Step 2: If you’re a toner person, use a toner. (I personally only use toner at night.)
Step 3: Apply vitamin C serum. Pat any excess product onto the top of your hands, neck, and décolletage.
Step 4: Apply a moisturizer (Yes, your moisturizer should come after your vitamin C serum — remember the “thinnest to thickest” rule.)
Step 5: Apply your favorite eye cream. (This list of the best anti-aging eye creams is a great resource.)
Step 6: Apply a sunscreen. Let it dry/set.
Step 7: Begin your makeup. (Check out my everyday makeup routine and products here.)

What’s nice about Vitamin C serums is that they can be applied as a base layer underneath whatever products you use in the morning, because the good ones never feel sticky. (This list of the best vitamin C serums includes all the “good ones”!)

vitamin c serum product

When to Use Vitamin C Serum?

For optimal results, you should use vitamin C serum every single day. This is the one I’m currently using—I’ve been really impressed with it!

It’s worth noting that vitamin C serum (and all serums in general!) are most effective when your skin is properly exfoliated. The build-up of dead skin cells due to lack of exfoliation can make it difficult for products to penetrate.

One of the best exfoliants on the market is Biologique Recherche P50 lotion, which has a cult following for a reason! I also recommend at-home dermaplanning. It will literally change your life.

However, keep in mind that exfoliating can cause some sensitivity—particularly if you’re using a chemical exfoliant that contains acids like AHA and BHA—so be sure to use your Vitamin C serum and acids at different times of day.

I personally apply my vitamin C serum every morning, and then use my AHAs and BHAs at night a few times a week.

How to Use Vitamin C Serum and Hyaluronic Acid

If you’re wondering how to use a hyaluronic acid serum and a vitamin C serum together, the answer is—you guessed it!—go from thinnest to thickest. The HA serum I use has a slightly thicker, gel-like consistency, so I apply it after my vitamin C serum and before my moisturizer.

It’s completely fine to layer your serums, but make sure to give each one time to try before applying the next. You’re also going to want to make sure your products have settled into your skin before beginning your makeup routine.

How to Use Vitamin C Serum and Retinol

While both vitamin C serum and retinol can be incredibly effective skincare ingredients, you’ll want to be careful about using them at the same time, as it can cause irritation to the skin. Retinol is already very strong and can cause sensitivity to a lot of people (which is why easing into using one is key!)

Ideally, you should separate the application of vitamin C and retinol, and use them at different times of day. (Ex: Use your vitamin C serum in the morning, and your retinol at night.)

Of course, some people can use the two in conjunction without experiencing sensitivity—although it’s not traditionally advisable.

If you’re going to use them together, just be sure to wait 30 minutes in between application, so that the vitamin C serum has time to properly be absorbed. (It should always be applied first.)

When used together, vitamin C serums and retinol can effectively reduce the appearance of dark spots and can help improve your overall skin texture. You obviously know your skin best, so take this knowledge as you please and proceed in a slow and gentle way if you do decide to use vitamin C serum and retinol together.

How to Use Vitamin C Serum and Niacinamide

Both vitamin C and niacinamide can work wonders on your skin, and luckily, they pair together beautifully. Niacinamide is a water-soluble and active form of vitamin B3 that offers up a variety of complexion-boosting benefits like increased collagen production and extra hydration. It can also combat hyperpigmentation and calm and soothe inflammation. Sounds like a must-have in your skincare lineup, right?

When used with vitamin C, the pair can target signs of aging and distress on the skin in a powerful way. Some products already contain both of niacinamide and vitamin C, which makes it easy to incorporate into your skincare routine. However, most dermatologists recommend keeping the two ingredients separate. To use the duo, layer one on top of the other from thinnest to thickest.

after using vitamin c serum

How to Use Vitamin C Serum and Sunscreen

I touched on this a bit above but it’s worth mentioning again: Sunscreen should always be incorporated into your skincare routine. It’s a non-negotiable if you want to keep your complexion healthy and clear. So if you’re wondering if you can use vitamin C serum and sunscreen together, the answer is a big yes. Apply your favorite sunscreen as the last step before your makeup.

Vitamin C Serum Benefits

So perhaps you’re wondering… what does vitamin C do for your skin anyway? Here’s a list of some of the benefits.

  • According to dermatologists, vitamin C is one of greatest anti-aging ingredients found in nature
  • Short Term Benefits: Immediately after using a product with vitamin C (like a serum) you’ll notice increased radiance and sheen
  • Long Term Benefits: With consistent use over time, it helps build collagen and increases firmness
  • After just 4-6 weeks, dermatologists say you can expect to see a difference in skin tone and improvement with hyperpigmentation
  • Here’s how one dermatologist (Dr. Mona Gohara) explained it to me: Vitamin C sucks up the free radicals that can lead to aging and skin cancer caused by ultraviolet light. Think of it as ‘Pac-Man’ eating those little pellets
  • Products containing vitamin C also help protect the skin from the effects of pollution

Does Vitamin C Serum Expire?

Like most beauty and skincare products, vitamin C expires after a certain amount of time. Without opening it, most vitamin C serums have a shelf life anywhere between one year and 18 months.

However, if you’ve already opened up your serum, you’ll want to use it within a three to six month period, depending on the specific product.

Using an expired product can be much less effective (aka a bit pointless), so it’s always good to be timely with the items in your skincare lineup. If you’ve held on to something for too long, it’s probably wise to toss it and start with a fresh product.

How Long Does Vitamin C Serum Last?

Once opened, vitamin C serums typically last between three and six months. If you don’t plan to use it that quickly, opt for serums that are available in small bottle sizes.

Unopened vitamin C serums can last anywhere between one year to 18 months.

I hope this post helped you learn how to use vitamin C serum. If you need some good vitamin C products to test out yourself, this post will come in handy.

Pin this post for later:

How to Use Vitamin C Serum The Right Way


  • Neev Zaiet
    February 24, 2019 at 3:39 pm

    Thoughts on the murad serum? That’s what I use…

    • Lindsay Silberman
      February 24, 2019 at 8:03 pm

      I haven’t tried that one yet! Let me know what you think!

      • aria
        August 21, 2021 at 12:58 pm

        hi lindsay, for my morning routine i use cleanser, vitamin c serum then moisturiser but around midday i wash my face with just water because i have to do a washing for prayer, after just washing my face with water (like after a few hours of doing my morning routine) do i need to reapply my vitamin c serum and moisturiser??

  • Gina Troup
    February 24, 2019 at 3:56 pm

    Great article! Thanks for researching and sharing.

    • Lindsay Silberman
      February 24, 2019 at 8:03 pm

      Thanks for reading 🙂

      • Valerie Towell
        August 9, 2020 at 10:22 am

        What is the best moisturizer to use after retinol in nighttime and vitamin c daytime please

  • Stacy Benedict
    February 24, 2019 at 4:13 pm

    I love Drunk Elephant’s and Timeless, which is usually under $20 on Amazon. I’m almost 45, and they’ve both done a great job at keeping sun spots faded.

    • Lindsay Silberman
      February 24, 2019 at 8:04 pm

      Oh that’s great to know! I haven’t tried Timeless – I was using Drunk Elephant’s for a while but I didn’t love the smell!

    • Anne
      February 24, 2019 at 9:47 pm

      I like DE too. I’m usually pretty sensitive to smell and it doesn’t bother me but I have heard that comment before. I like that it’s not drying and I can mix it with a little extra marula oil and/or a niacinimide booster.

  • Lindsay
    February 24, 2019 at 4:31 pm

    I use zo skin health c bright serum and really like it. It’s also on the thicker side, which is nice.

  • Alice Camejo
    February 24, 2019 at 7:10 pm

    This sure did help! I think I’m going to try the Kiehl’s! It isn’t toooo expensive. Kind of middle of the pack. And looks like a product that have just what I’m looking for. Thanks for sharing!

    • Lindsay Silberman
      February 24, 2019 at 8:04 pm

      I’m a big fan of Kiehls! Let me know what you think of it!

  • Amber
    February 24, 2019 at 7:38 pm

    I like the Vital C serum from Image.

  • Lisa
    February 24, 2019 at 8:19 pm

    Don’t have vitamin C in my routine at the moment but definitely going to invest in one! It’s my birthday next month and the thought of moving into my late 20s instead of mid 20s is causing me concern…. Need those anti aging benefits!

  • Tricia
    February 24, 2019 at 8:40 pm

    Great article! I have used Ole Hendriksen’s Truth Serum for a while, and I love it!

  • Natalia
    February 25, 2019 at 4:36 am

    Do you wait before applying moisturizer after Vitamin C? I have read that you have to wait for the Vitamin C to sink in but everyone suggests different wait times! Also, great post ❤️

    • Lindsay Silberman
      February 26, 2019 at 5:58 pm

      In an ideal world I’d wait a minute or two but honestly my life is a constant state of rushing so i never seem to have the time lol

  • Minnie
    February 25, 2019 at 9:06 am

    I’m an avid fan of vitamin C serums and recently tried Peter Thomas Roth Potent C Power Serum. Couldn’t believe that upon first night of application, my small smile wrinkles were slowly disappearing. All I can say was Wow!

    • Lindsay Silberman
      February 26, 2019 at 5:57 pm

      That sounds incredible! Will have to test this one out!

  • Elizabeth
    February 25, 2019 at 3:49 pm

    I use Eva Naturals from Amazon. It’s only $15, has clean ingredients, and works great.

  • Joanne
    February 26, 2019 at 3:11 am

    Thanks for all the info on vitamin C serum. I’ve been using Biossance Vitamin C rose oil. Definitely like the feel and how my skin looks after adding it to my routine.

    • Lindsay Silberman
      February 26, 2019 at 5:57 pm

      ohh I actually think they just sent me some – will have to try that!!

  • Charlotte Pierce
    February 26, 2019 at 4:28 pm

    I watched a “must have” skincare and makeup session on the Today show last week and they talked about Vitamin C serums and other products that you often speak about. I understood everything the lady was talking about because I learned it from YOU first. So now I will go get some Vitamin C serum because you are legit my go-to influencer. I love my new Clinique moisturizer with the purple serum insert which you recommended. Thanks from cold East Coast of Canada

  • Jill
    March 3, 2019 at 1:07 pm

    Since this is better in the morning routine, what would you recommend for the night time?

  • Reddtravels
    April 8, 2019 at 3:48 am

    Oo interesting. I have a retinol + vitamin C + green tea serum from instanaturals and I’m totally new to anything anti aging. I always use it at night because of the retinol but I have no idea if I’m using it right 😩😂 Maybe I’ll switch my products since it makes sense to separate when those individual ingredients are applied…?

    • Lindsay Silberman
      April 10, 2019 at 1:46 pm

      Yes I’d do retinol and night and vit C in the morning?

      • MJ
        July 21, 2020 at 4:55 am

        Hi! If you use retinol at night and vit c in the morning, where should you incorporate exfoliant (i am currently inlove with the wishtrend mandelic acid) , previously i used it at night but now since I started using retinol, i dont know where to put it.

        • Lindsay Silberman
          August 7, 2020 at 9:22 pm

          Great question! I will usually take 2 nights off of retinol and use an exfoliant on those nights!

  • Tyler Johnson
    April 10, 2019 at 3:34 pm

    That’s good to know that you should use the serum in the morning rather in the evening. That makes sense if it will help protect you from the sun. I would want to make sure that I get the maximum benefits from it, so I’ll have to try that.

  • Lauren M
    April 23, 2019 at 5:01 am

    I tried Drunk Elephant Vitamin C serum and the Vitamin B combo, but it made me break out. I read some reviews on sephora and noticed other people had that issue too. I just got the Tatcha Violet C and I love it. Haven’t had any breakouts(yet) and there is absolutely no smell (another turnoff from DE)!! I would recommend and love to see what you think. Great article!!! 😊

    • Lindsay Silberman
      May 6, 2019 at 5:09 pm

      That’s good intel! The DE ones didn’t make me break out but they honestly weren’t my fave. Def need to try Tatcha’s!

  • Richa
    August 22, 2019 at 6:07 pm

    Which vitamin c serum is best for sunburned skin

  • Sharon
    August 29, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    This is the first time I’ve read your comments. Will return!
    I bought a vitamin C Serum from Amazon and have been wondering just how to use it.
    I use it as you say but do I smooth it on… pat it on or massage it in? No instructions on the bottle.

    My dermatologist had recommended it for me but when I bought the one she sells I broke out in welts! I guess I was allergic to something in it and there were lots of ingredients.

    One person in the thread said she uses one from Amazon that is ‘clean’. I will try that one next.

  • Ellen
    September 2, 2019 at 2:33 pm

    is Avila vitamin c serum ok?

  • Fatima
    September 14, 2019 at 8:17 pm

    Can’t believe Obagi C serum didn’t make the list! That stuff is the best.

  • Erica
    December 11, 2019 at 3:26 am

    Loving Obagi 15% vitamin C serum
    Not sticky and sinks right in and not drying
    Use under my Gurlain serum and cream

  • Jeri Lynn
    January 10, 2020 at 5:26 am

    I’m new to the Serum stuff. Lol. I bought Dr. Brenner’s Vit C Serum, Tree of Life Beauty Hyaluronic Acid, and Kleem Organics Retinol moisturizer. For a couple days(while I was waiting for the vit c to be delivered) I used the HA then put on the moisturizer after and had no issues. I just got the vit c today. So I washed my face(pretty hard, maybe broke the skin here and there😯) then applied the vit c. It burned a bit. I also might have used too much Serum bc it was looking sort of white on my skin in certain places until rubbed all the way in. Remember, I’m new to this. Lol. Then I put on the HA about a minute later my skin was VERY STICKY. Even my eyelids were sticking. It still burnt too. Instead of applying the moisturizer like my plan was, I got scared from the burning sticky feeling and washed everything off and only applied my Retinol Moisturizer and the burning stopped and I’m back to normal. What did I do wrong? Plz help bc I REALLY wanna use Vit C. Should I skip the HA, so I don’t get sticky? Just wash my face with soap and my hands? I used a makeup wipe before(I had quite a bit of makeup on) and I think I just wiped too hard which is probably why it burned. Idk? All feedback is welcome🤗

  • Tamara
    April 19, 2020 at 5:05 pm

    Have you tried Dr. Dennis Gross Vitamin C serum? Thoughts?

  • Janice
    April 24, 2020 at 10:33 pm

    What do you think about The Ordinary 100% L-Ascorbic Acid Powder? One issue is it’s up to the individual as to how much to use and what product(s) to dilitue it with. Vitamin C is water soluble but Ferulic acid and Vitamin E (famed companions) are not soluble in water. How do these three mix?

    The Ordinary L-Ascorbic Acid Powder doesn’t “burn” like some Vitamin C products do … maybe that’s a good thing?

    Skinceuticals C E Ferulic has rave reviews but it’s ridiculously expensive. Does one really have to spend that much to get an effective, stable Vitamin C product?

  • Jaimi
    May 29, 2020 at 7:56 pm

    Thanks for the great information! I just started trying the Beauty Counter “All Bright C Serum”. It also has anti-oxidants of turmeric and camu camu. It goes on easily and absorbs quickly.

  • Amanda
    July 24, 2020 at 6:19 pm

    I use Drunk Elephant, while it has significantly improved my skin, I HATE the feel, it’s so sticky and shiny and never goes away. It’s so dang expensive so just waiting to finish it up before I try something new. This is helpful, thanks!

  • Katrina Burke
    September 5, 2020 at 1:57 pm

    I run every morning and I know vitamin c serum should be applied before sun exposure however after jogging and sweating I need to wash my face does the serum need to be reapplied again for the rest of the day?

    • Lindsay Silberman
      September 5, 2020 at 8:56 pm

      Hey Katrina! If I were you, I’d splash my face with water in the AM, apply SPF before your run, cleanse when you get back, then apply Vit C + SPF again!

  • Derma Essentia
    November 6, 2020 at 4:22 am

    Many people use Vitamin C Serum but not in a proper way, and then blame on that product. Your article will help many people to achieve beauty skin.

  • Wole
    December 27, 2020 at 9:10 am

    Nice post! What are your thoughts on Timeless vitamin C serum?

  • Jillian
    January 12, 2021 at 4:00 pm

    Loved the post. I’ve been using DERMA doctor Kakadu vitamin C serum with ferluic acid & vitamin E and I dig it! If you haven’t tried, give it a whirl. Would love to hear your feedback.

  • Rebecca
    January 22, 2021 at 5:47 pm

    I am starting to use Vitamin C serum, and you gave me more confidence about using it. Thank you 😊

  • Fara
    May 3, 2021 at 8:53 am

    I m using serum having HA and vitamin c both.having watery consistency.can a serum have both these at the same time?

  • Mary
    May 18, 2021 at 6:18 am

    I got amazing results with the Sunday Riley Vit C serum – used it once daily for about 2 weeks in the morning before it made me breakout. Do you need to build up tolerance to vitamin c (as you would with a retinol product)? or should i just refrain from using that particular serum? i remember trying the truth serum by ole henriken a few years back. and had a similar experience where i started off with amazing results but 2 – 3 weeks later, breakouts on my cheeks and chin 🙁

    • Lindsay Silberman
      July 23, 2021 at 6:24 pm

      I would stick with it but if you’re still experiencing breakouts after a month, I’d switch to something else! Possible that specific formulation just isnt agreeing with your skin!

  • Sasha
    May 22, 2021 at 12:42 pm

    Hi, thanks for the post,
    Would like to ask if you tried OZNaturals facial vitamin C serum? Thoughts?

  • Sharon
    June 22, 2021 at 11:29 pm

    Hi Lindsay,

    Your post is very informative. I have started using elizabeth arden products like in the morning vitaminC with HA and at night, retinol witj ceramide night cream. I wanted to take your opinion on EA products. What do you think? So far my experience is good but its only a week since i started using it. Thanks!

  • Ann Corley
    July 6, 2021 at 7:19 am

    Obagi has a vitamin C sunscreen. Would it be overkill or a waste of money to use the Obagi 20% serum & the vitamin C sunscreen on top of it? Logically, to me , it sounds like it could go either way.
    Your advice?
    Love your knowledge on this subject!

  • Diana
    July 28, 2021 at 1:16 am

    If I’m applying a toner with vitamin C in it already would it still be necessary to apply vitamin C serum

  • Areesha Khan
    April 12, 2022 at 12:19 pm

    Does this is work for remove to acne scars kindly reply???


Leave a Reply