Whether you’re a longtime devotee to your vitamin C serum, or you’ve yet to incorporate the multi-tasking ingredient into your routine, a vitamin C cleanser might be exactly what you need for a glowier complexion. “Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and free radical fighter for the skin, and a cleanser is a convenient way to implement it into your skin care routine,” dermatologist Jeannette Graf explains to Elite Daily. According to Dr. Graf, the best vitamin C cleansers are made with vitamin C derivatives like magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbyl glucoside, and tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate. While Dr. Graf notes that l-ascorbic acid is the only form of vitamin C recognized by the body, she says that it’s also unstable, which is why these more stable alternatives are preferred. Additionally, you’ll want to look for a cleanser that contains moisturizing ingredients like glycerin and ceramides, or other antioxidants (such as vitamin E or vitamin A), which can help enhance the benefits of vitamin C.
Dr. Jeannette Graf, M.D., is a board-certified clinical and research dermatologist with a private practice in Great Neck, New York. A regular contributor to television, radio, and print and digital publications, Dr. Graf serves as an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and has her own skin care line.
Ingredients To Avoid
“I recommend steering clear of using vitamin C in conjunction with harsh chemical exfoliants if your skin is more sensitive,” Dr. Graf says of what you don’t want in your vitamin C cleanser. Most commonly, these exfoliants will be found in the form of alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid, lactic acid, and malic acid, but beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid can also be too harsh if you have sensitive skin. (However, Dr. Graf points out that salicylic acid is great for oily and acne-prone skin types.) If your skin is especially sensitive, you may also want to choose a vitamin C cleanser that’s free from synthetic fragrances, as well as other common irritants like parabens, phthalates, and synthetic dyes.
How To Use A Vitamin C Cleanser Properly
Dr. Graf says that most skin types can benefit from using a vitamin C cleanser daily. “Using vitamin C is ideal in the morning, and then you can use your other actives as part of your nighttime skin care routine,” she recommends. “You’ll get the most benefits from your cleanser if you let it sit on your face for a minute or two before rinsing, especially if you’re using a cleanser with active ingredients,” she says of giving the vitamin C a chance to work its magic. And if a vitamin C serum is already part of your morning routine, you don’t have to worry about giving it up. “Using a vitamin C cleanser in combination with a vitamin C serum can be efficacious by boosting C levels in the skin,” Dr. Graf says. “I recommend following up your cleanser with a vitamin C serum — along with any other serums of your choice — and [then] using a broad spectrum SPF 50 sunscreen.”
Shop The Best Vitamin C Cleansers
In a hurry? Here are the best vitamin C cleansers:
- Derm’s Pick: Best Drugstore Cleanser: Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit Facial Cleanser
- Derm’s Pick: Best Prestige Cleanser: IMAGE Skincare Vital C Hydrating Facial Cleanser
- Best Foaming Vitamin C Cleanser: Kopari Lychee Clean Vitamin C Foaming Face Cleanser
- Best Vitamin C Powder Cleanser: Hanskin Vitamin C Glow Powder Cleanser
- Best Splurge: Murad Essential-C Cleanser
1. Derm’s Pick: Best Drugstore Cleanser
This drugstore vitamin C cleanser has more than 7,000 five-star ratings from Amazon reviewers, but even more notably, it comes recommended by Dr. Graf. “This is a great affordable option for a vitamin C cleanser,” Dr. Graf says of the Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash. “It includes salicylic acid, which is ideal for those with oily skin or [dealing with] breakouts,” she explains. The 2% concentration of salicylic acid helps to exfoliate away dead skin cells and clear out clogged pores, while vitamin C (in the form of ascorbyl palmitate and from grapefruit extract) promotes a clearer, more even complexion. While the lower concentration of salicylic acid was chosen to effectively treat acne without being overly drying, the cleanser also contains aloe leaf extract and chamomile extract to soothe skin.
Key Ingredients: Vitamin C, Salicylic Acid, Aloe Leaf Extract, Grapefruit Extract Size: 9.1 oz. Synthetic Fragrance-Free: No Cruelty-Free: No
Relevant Review: “Product is very effective at cleaning my face and minimizes acne breakouts. Grapefruit scent is more pleasant than the original scent. Highly recommended as a daily-use face wash.”
2. Derm’s Pick: Best Prestige Cleanser
Another cleanser recommended by Dr. Graf, IMAGE Skincare’s Vital C Hydrating Facial Cleanser combines vitamin C with vitamins E and A (you’ll find the latter listed as retinyl palmitate in the INCI list) to boost your skin’s radiance. While it has an energizing citrus scent, the cleanser is free from synthetic fragrances and instead gets its scent from orange peel oil. The creamy formula also gives skin a hit of hydration thanks to ingredients like glycerin and grape seed extract.
Key Ingredients: Glycerin, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Grape Seed Extract Size: 6 oz. Synthetic Fragrance-Free: Yes Cruelty-Free: Yes
Relevant Review: “I'm almost 40 with combination skin and a very oily t-zone. This skin cleanser is creamy but not oily. It wipes away every bit of makeup including mascara. It has an energizing orange scent and [is] loaded with vitamin c. I have used so many products over the years recommended by dermatologists. Nothing compares to this. The redness on my nose/cheek area is minimized significantly. In summary, the ingredients in this cleanser are exceptional quality and you won't be disappointed.”
3. Best Foaming Vitamin C Cleanser
For a cleansing foam infused with vitamin C, Kopari’s Foaming Face Cleanser doubles up on the brightening benefits with a formula that includes ascorbyl glucoside and lychee extract (which is a natural source of vitamin C). Meanwhile, to reduce inflammation and keep skin moisturized, the cleanser is formulated with allantoin, glycerin, and panthenol.
Key Ingredients: Glycerin, Vitamin C, Lychee Fruit Extract, Coconut Fruit Extract, Panthenol, Allantoin Size: 5.1 oz. Synthetic Fragrance-Free: Yes Cruelty-Free: Yes
Relevant Review: “I love this cleanser. It is not too stripping and makes my skin feel very soft. I use it in the morning since it does have vitamin c. If you're looking for a vitamin c product that won't give you redness, this can be a good option because it's a wash off treatment, so it doesn't linger to potentially irritate your skin.”
4. Best Vitamin C Powder Cleanser
Whether you prefer a cleanser that lets you customize just how much exfoliation you get, or you’re looking for a travel-friendly option, a powder cleanser is worth considering. When activated with water, the enzyme powder of Hanskin’s Vitamin C Glow Powder Cleanser transforms into a foam that gives you a stronger scrub if you add less water, or into a gentler, creamier consistency when mixed with more water. No matter how you use this cleanser, it encourages a brighter, smoother complexion thanks to vitamin C and papaya enzymes (the latter helps to dissolve dead skin cells without causing irritation).
Key Ingredients: Vitamin C, Diglycerin, Papaya Enzyme Size: 2.46 oz. Synthetic Fragrance-Free: Yes Cruelty-Free: No
Relevant Review: “This is THE BEST facial cleanser I have ever used. My face is pretty sensitive, and there was no dryness or breakouts. The best part is the pores on my nose have shrunk!”
5. Best Splurge
To enhance the efficacy of vitamin C, Dr. Graf recommends looking for a cleanser that contains vitamins E and A, too. This Murad Essential-C Cleanser has all of your bases covered, packing the nutrients into tiny beads that are suspended in a rich gel formula. The citrus-scented cleanser also contains glycerin, panthenol, and allantoin to leave skin feeling soothed and soft.
Key Ingredients: Glycerin, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Panthenol, Allantoin Size: 6.75 oz. Synthetic Fragrance-Free: No Cruelty-Free: Yes
Relevant Review: “One of the few face washes I've used that don't irritate my sensitive skin, controls the oil very well even with my active lifestyle, and I've seen a noticable difference in my skin tone. Expensive but worth it. I pair it with a vitamin c serum and it's such a difference!!”
6. You May Also Like: The Vitamin C Body Wash
If you want to bring the same benefits of a vitamin C cleanser to the rest of your skin, try incorporating Naturium’s The Brightener Vitamin C Body Wash into your shower routine. The gel-cream formula was designed to cleanse skin as it moisturizes with ingredients like glycerin and hyaluronic acid. As you massage the body wash into your skin, niacinamide and vitamin C (in the form of ascorbyl glucoside) work to fade unwanted hyperpigmentation and promote clearer skin. As with a vitamin C face cleanser, you can let this body wash sit for a minute or two before rinsing your skin clean to maximize your results.
Key Ingredients: Glycerin, Hyaluronic Acid, Vitamin C, Niacinamide Size: 16.9 oz. Synthetic Fragrance-Free: Yes Cruelty-Free: Yes
Relevant Review: “I really love this body wash. It’s not overly drying, and the scent is really nice and citrusy. It feels like my skin looks hydrated and brighter from the vitamin C. Would definitely repurchase.”
Dr. Jeannette Graf, M.D., a board-certified clinical and research dermatologist