Are you looking for a serum that can add plenty of moisture your skin? Do you want something that can help minimize signs of aging, like sagging skin and wrinkles? Do you want your skin to regulate sebum production better? Vitamin C serums are popular in Japan for their skin firming, beautifying, and moisturizing effects. Additionally, they can help minimize dark spots and prevent excess melanin production. In Japan, where having bright, moisturized, and plump skin is most sought after, there isn't a shortage of vitamin C serums available on the market.
When it comes to ingredients, ascorbic acid is known as the purest form of vitamin C as a serum. However, other kinds stabilize this pure form to make them water-soluble, oil-soluble, or long-acting to make them a safe skincare item to use daily. Still, even if you know what kind of vitamin C you're looking for, there is an abundance of brands like Fujifilm, Dr. Ci:Labo, and Rohto, to name a few, all with different concentrations and formulas that address different skin concerns, making it difficult to know where to begin looking.
To help you find the best vitamin C serum for you, we gathered the 52 best-selling products on e-commerce sites popular in Japan, like Amazon, Rakuten Ichiba, Yahoo! Shopping, @cosme SHOPPING, and tested them all.
Then, based on our tests, we chose and ranked the 10 best Japanese vitamin C serums available online. Alongside information regarding the effectiveness of each serum, we also included information about each product's acne and spot care abilities and compatibilities with skin sensitivity and sun exposure. To learn about all of this, read our handy buying guide.
Kaori is the representative director of Japan's Scientific Beauty Institute. She also runs the Beauty Science Blog, which sends out beauty science information in a way that's easy to understand. She operates with the mission of "wanting people to enjoy the process of finding skincare that works for them by offering a scientific perspective". Kaori broadcasts her expert knowledge from working with skincare and cosmetics societies and academic journals on her blog, social media, and more. She also works with PR, product development, and corporate support teams for cosmetics.
Mai joined mybest after working as a beauty and fashion editor and writer for seven years. After joining mybest, Mai has been engaged in creating articles based on beauty and healthcare-related products. Her motto is to consistently provide honest information that's easy to understand.
The expert oversees the Buying Guide only, and does not determine the products and services featured.
The products and services listed are ranked independently by the editorial team based on the relevant research (as of 11-04-2022).
Table of Contents
Vitamin C serums are said to have several benefits. Its moisturizing properties can make your pores look smaller, help alleviate dullness, and support a natural balance of oils on the skin.
Among the medicated beauty products that contain vitamin C as an active ingredient, some also help suppress the production of melanin to prevent spots and freckles and have anti-acne effects. Additionally, many online users report that blemishes were less noticeable after using Japanese vitamin C serums, and their skin felt incredibly hydrated afterward.
However, these effects are only preventative. Since it doesn't help existing problems, it's important to carefully consider the timing of use and help protect your skin before you start having these concerns.
Here are four points to check for when choosing a vitamin C serum for you.
Vitamin C is said to be more effective as the concentration gets higher. However, this high concentration can irritate people with sensitive skin. Thus, a concentration of around 5% is recommended for those with sensitive skin.
On the other hand, a higher concentration of around 25% is recommended for those using a vitamin C serum to prevent aging effects to obtain the best results. Pay careful attention to the ingredients list for vitamin C serums that do not list the concentrations.
If vitamin C follows moisturizing ingredients like glycerine or butylene glycol, you can expect the vitamin C concentration to be relatively high. In addition, if the product is medicinal, check to see if vitamin C is listed as an active ingredient.
Serums with high concentrations of vitamin C can irritate sensitive skin and make it difficult to use regularly. Thus, it isn't necessarily so that products with higher vitamin C concentrations are better.
Especially for those with sensitive skin, these higher concentration products can be irritating, and thus, it may be a good idea to start with a lower concentration and work your way up, keeping a close eye on how your skin reacts.
Products with pure vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, show results immediately after application. However, it does not penetrate the skin easily, is unstable, and can be an irritant to sensitive skin.
Thus, a stabilized version of ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin C derivatives, can be a better option. Look for this when checking the ingredient list of your product. Also, check to see if the product has good ingredients with high permeability and sustainability (on the skin). Take a look below for examples of such ingredients.
Products that contain both pure vitamin C and vitamin C derivatives can show effects with a delay. Be sure to also look for these names on the ingredient list to be aware of how your product will work.
Ingredients With High Permeability:
Ingredients With High Sustainability:
Among the vitamin C derivatives, 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid is the one that I recommend most.
Typically, vitamin C derivatives work by decomposing within the skin; however, this one works without doing so and is therefore gentle on the skin while having a long-lasting effect.
For people who are also looking for skin brightening effects or acne care, look for a medicated serum that contains ingredients to help you achieve these results.
Vitamin C itself may be included as an active ingredient in these serums. The image above, however, lists active ingredients that specifically help with acne care and skin whitening. Look for these in your products if this is something you desire!
Vitamin C serums come in a variety of different textures. For example, some are more liquid-like, while others are more gel-like or oily. Serums containing oil-soluble vitamin C derivatives tend to feel more oily.
In addition, products with high concentrations of vitamin C tend to be thicker and stickier. Since everyone has different preferences on what feels good to them, look for a product that is comfortable to use for you!
Click to purchase
Astalift White Essence Infilt
Serum With Superb Moisturizing Abilities and Skin Conditioning Effects
Acne VC Cream Gel I
Whitening and Conditioning Serum With High Quality and Quantity of Vitamin C
Tokiwa Pharmaceutical Co.. Ltd.
Nameraka Honpo Medicinal Whitening Essence
A Gentle Serum Suitable for Sensitive Skin With Great Moisture Retention
Ayura White Concentrate
Brightening Serum To Help Combat Rough Skin and Spots
VC100 Double Repair Serum
Serum With Ultra Light and Refreshing Texture but Low Moisture Retention Abilities
Minon Amino Moist Mild Whitening
Gentle Lotion-Like Serum Great for Sensitive Skin but Not Suitable for Severely Dry Skin
Takami Essence CE
Great Skin Conditioning Serum With Three Types of Vitamin C Ingredients
Melano CC Medicinal Stain Concentration Countermeasure Premium Beauty Liquid
Serum With Perfect Composition of Ingredients but Mixed Reviews on Feel
unlabel LAB V Essence
Excellent Ingredient Composition and Moisturizing Power but Uncommon Scent
Arouge Whitening Essence
Whitening Essence With Beautifying Effects for Normal Skin Types
Astalift White Essence Infilt by Fujifilm is a medicated whitening beauty essence that includes nano-sized moisturizing ingredients.
A key factor that made this product stand out during our evaluation was its moisturizing abilities. The skin moisture content increased by 95% after use, even two hours after application. The slightly thicker texture allowed the product to sink deeply into the crevices of the skin and made the skin moist and plump.
A decent amount of magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (a vitamin C ingredient) is included in this product as an active ingredient. Abundant amounts of conditioning ingredients like collagen tripeptide F and astaxanthin solution are also included, making it a good product for skin conditioning purposes, too.
Not only is this product a good vitamin C serum, but it's also a great skin conditioning product. If you're looking for a well-rounded product, this is the one for you!
Etvos' Acne VC Cream Gel I is a vitamin C serum that helps with dryness, skin whitening, and rough skin.
A high amount of the vitamin C ingredient ascorbyl tetra-2-hexyldecanoate is included in this product as an active ingredient. The product is gentle and showed good results with regard to skin whitening and skin conditioning.
Our testers noted that it had a "cream-like feel" and that it "stretched onto the skin nicely and gave the skin a tight feel." The moisture that came with using this product was highly evaluated. For those with normal skin, this product likely has the perfect amount of moisture.
This product is great for anyone who is looking for a vitamin C serum that also includes whitening and conditioning effects.
This serum is a whitening essence that also helps to prevent rough skin and acne.
Skin moisture content increased by 94% with this product, even two hours post-application. This product can also be expected to prevent rough skin due to dryness. One tester noted that the product lacked in providing a "plump" feel; however, looking at skin moisture content, it's evident that this product is great at providing and retaining moisture.
As skin conditioning ingredients, the vitamin C ingredients L-ascorbic acid dl-α-tocopherol phosphoric acid diester potassium salt and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate are included. They aren't included in high amounts, but they can still be expected to penetrate the outermost layer of the skin to produce effects. There are almost no ingredients included that can be considered irritants to sensitive skin, ranking this product high in gentleness, too.
This serum is perfect for those who want an easy-to-use product that is suitable for sensitive skin or for those who are looking for a product with high moisturizing abilities.
Ayura White Concentrate is a great product not only for those who are exposed to ultraviolet rays often but also for those who simply want their skin to appear brighter.
3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid is included as a skin conditioning agent and is a vitamin C derivative with high skin permeability. This product also includes active ingredients to help combat rough skin as well as whitening agents that aren't too harsh on the skin. In addition, the many moisturizing ingredients in this product can be expected to help smooth the skin.
The texture of the loose, gel-like liquid is light and refreshing and has a comforting floral scent. The feel on the skin is moist, though this can come off as slightly sticky to some. Check out this serum if you want a relaxing, comforting skin care experience while also combatting rough skin.
Dr.Ci:Labo's VC100 Double Repair Serum is a double-layer essence that is said to penetrate every corner and crevice of the skin.
The texture is light and smooth, almost like water. Our testers evaluated this product highly, noting that it was, "so light as if it weren't an oil serum," or that they "don't usually like oils but this one was easy to use." On the other hand, the moisturizing abilities of this product were not so great, making it less ideal for dry skin.
Two kinds of penetrating vitamin C and pure vitamin C are included in this product working to condition the skin from both the surface and the stratum corneum layer. In addition, oils, amino acids, and human ceramides are included in the product in a well-balanced way. A downside to this product, however, is in its moisture retention abilities; two hours after application of this product, skin moisture content was only up 49%.
The Minon Amino Moist Mild Whitening is a vitamin C serum meant for dry and sensitive skin.
The texture of this product was milky and lotion-like and didn't leave the skin feeling sticky. The moisturizing abilities were moderate, with skin moisture content increasing by 79% two hours after application. For those with normal skin, this level of moisture retention is sufficient, but for those with extremely dry skin, this product may not be moisturizing enough.
With the addition of the active ingredient L-ascorbic acid 2-glucoside, the skin permeation of this product is decent. Moisturizing ingredients like pseudo-ceramides and a variety of amino acids make the skin feel smooth. The combination of active ingredients with ingredients to prevent rough skin make this product gentle on the skin and easy to use, even for those with sensitive skin.
Takami Essence CE is a serum that is said to create moisturized and bright skin.
We felt that this product spread easily and naturally, absorbing into the skin quickly. However, the moisturizing abilities were relatively low; two hours after application, skin moisture content was only up by 28%. If you're looking for something moisturizing, use this product in tandem with a moisturizer or lotion.
This product includes three types of vitamin C ingredients, blended into a perfect composition. Not only are the vitamin C ingredients great, but the amino acids and ceramides included in this product can also be expected to beautify the skin. This is the perfect product for someone who wants to keep their skin feeling healthy!
This is a serum that contains four types of vitamin C ingredients.
The texture of the product was oily and felt a bit heavy, but it blended and absorbed into the skin decently. While one of our testers found the serum to make the skin feel squeaky, another found it to feel slimy. The scent was also a dividing factor, given that the strong citrus scent was pleasurable to some but not to others.
However, the composition of ingredients in this product is perfect. The high concentration of vitamin C can be irritating to those with sensitive skin, but for those with normal skin, this product can be expected to produce beautifying effects. This product also scored high in moisturizing abilities, making it great as a moisturizing product to use on areas on the skin that tend to dry out.
This serum claims to target dullness and texture concerns caused by dryness of the skin.
The product blends smoothly into the skin with its light, watery texture. Using this product made our skin feel moist and plump while not being sticky, making it the perfect product for all seasons and skin types. One downside to this product is the scent. One tester noted its unique, oil-like fragrance that may not be too pleasant for those who are sensitive to smells.
unlabel Labo's V Essence contains both water-soluble and oil-soluble vitamin C ingredients. Specifically, the 3-glyceryl ascorbate can be said to be included in the perfect amount. In our moisturizing ability evaluation, we found that two hours after application, skin moisture content increased by 106%, making it a great moisturizing product. It is the perfect product for both its beautifying effects and moisturizing care.
The Arouge Whitening Essence is a medicated serum that is great for those looking for a whitening essence that is gentle on the skin.
The texture of the product is milky and lotion-like. While it's light and easy to blend, it provides ample moisture to the skin. It's not recommended for those who like a refreshing feel but is the perfect product for those looking for something lightly moisturizing. Note that in our evaluation, skin moisture content only increased by 58%, though, meaning it's not the best for those with dry skin.
The ascorbic acid 2-glucoside that is included as an active ingredient can be expected to help the product penetrate into the skin and maintain skin conditioning effects. In addition, the skin conditioning ingredient ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate can be expected to have excellent skin beautifying effects. The amount of vitamin C in the product is also decent.
We gathered the 52 best-selling products on e-commerce sites popular in Japan, like Amazon, Rakuten, Yahoo! Shopping, @cosme SHOPPING, and tested them all.
We tested each product for the following:
We included both products with vitamin C as an active ingredient and products with high concentrations of vitamin C.
First, we looked into the vitamin C ingredients contained in the products. We asked our expert, scientific beautician Kaori, to help us evaluate these products.
What Kaori looked for:
What Kaori looked for:
What Kaori looked for:
Next, we looked into the moisturizing abilities of the vitamin C serums. We asked three Japanese testers to apply a specified amount of product to their arms and compare the moisture content in their skin before and after two hours from applying the product.
We checked to see if the skin could retain its moisture content even after ample time had passed post-application.
① Washed arm with face wash and left for 30 minutes
② Checked the skin moisture content of the inner arm area before applying the serum
② Applied the serum onto the inner arm area
③ Checked the skin moisture content two hours after application
The feel of a product is also important because it can be vital in motivating you to keep up your skincare routine. Why else would you want to continue using a product, even if it's supposedly good for your skin? For each product, we again had our three Japanese testers check for the following.
What our testers looked for:
Generally, it's recommended to use vitamin C serums every morning and night, although it's especially effective when used in the morning. It can help protect your skin from stressors like UV rays and air pollution.
You may have heard before that using vitamin C serums in the mornings can put you at risk for sunburn, but vitamin C itself does not cause sunburns. Regardless of vitamin C serum use, you will burn if exposed to ultraviolet rays, so be sure to continue to use sunscreen.
Pure vitamin C can be an irritant to dry or sensitive skin, but other forms of vitamin C like Ascorbic acid 2-glucoside, or 3-Laurylglyceryl ascorbate can be some gentler options.
In particular, 3-Laurylglyceryl ascorbate has properties that can protect your skin and add moisture, so it's recommended for people who struggle with skin sensitivity and dryness.
Regardless of whether it's listed as a cosmetic product or a medicinal product, products with higher amounts of vitamin C ingredients are said to be more effective.
To check for this, look at where in the ingredient list the vitamin C ingredients are listed. If listed immediately following the base moisturizing ingredients, a decent amount can be expected to be included. If you're looking for a product that's sure to have a high amount of vitamin C ingredients, look for a product that specifically displays the amount on the packaging.
In addition to vitamin C serums, there are a plethora of other serums to consider that can help address your skin concerns. Check out the links below for more information!
Translation: Nanako Kurosu, Mai T.,
No. 1：Fujifilm｜Astalift White Essence Infilt
No. 2：Etvos｜Acne VC Cream Gel I
No. 3：Tokiwa Pharmaceutical Co.. Ltd.｜Nameraka Honpo Medicinal Whitening Essence
No. 4：Ayura Laboratories｜Ayura White Concentrate
No. 5：Dr.Ci:Labo｜VC100 Double Repair Serum
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