The Best Vitamin C Supplement
How We Found the Best Vitamin C Supplement
162 contending products
3 experts consulted
4 top picks
The Best Vitamin C Supplement
When it comes to the best vitamin C supplement, there's no one-size-fits-all. The nutrient can be derived from a variety of sources. So we set out to find the best pick for each source: synthetic ascorbic acid, natural ascorbic acid, and mineral ascorbates. After talking to multiple doctors and nutritionists, analyzing the results of multiple third-party lab tests, and reading hundreds of ingredients labels, we found our winners.
How we chose the best vitamin C supplement
We began by ditching supplements that used artificial colors (ruling out several chewable tablets) or proprietary blends. Proprietary blends were a particular sticking point: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t require manufacturers to list how much of each ingredient they use in their proprietary blends, and that means you don’t know exactly what you’re swallowing.
These supplements are required, however, to list the source of their vitamin C. So we cut any vitamin C supplements that break labeling laws.
Next, we eliminated products that contained any of the ingredients below. These occupy a gray area — they’re probably OK to consume, but there are plenty of less-questionable alternatives:
Titanium Dioxide: This is an FDA-approved ingredient used as a colorant in tablets. However, the International Agency for Research on Cancer considers it “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” so we cut supplements that contained it.
Maltodextrin: Maltodextrin is used as a filler, and while it has no serious health risks, it does have a glycemic index higher than table sugar. There's no reason you need it in a vitamin C supplement — and there are plenty of products without it.
Talc: Talc is used to dust molds during the manufacturing process and is completely harmless. However, there is some concern that talc can easily become contaminated with asbestos as it’s mined, so to be on the safe side, we cut any products that used it.
Since the FDA doesn’t regulate dietary supplements, it is up to manufacturers to maintain the integrity of their products. One way they can do this is by allowing third-party labs to conduct tests.
“[Third-party verifications are] independent ways manufacturers can demonstrate that they have gone the extra step to verify the purity of their product and to certify that what’s in the bottle is actually in the bottle.”
So we looked for supplements that were verified by organizations like Consumer Lab, The United States Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), Labdoor, and The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), giving higher scores to products with verifications from more than one group.
We looked for confirmation of two things:
Label Accuracy: Labdoor found that one out of every three vitamin C supplements it tested varied from label claims by at least 30 percent. Some products had 60 percent less vitamin C than advertised, and some had 116 percent more. So we made sure our top picks matched their label claims within a decent margin (about 10 percent).
Purity: Vitamin C supplements sometimes contain traces of heavy metals, like lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic. So we made sure that none of our top picks contained toxic levels of contaminants.
Once we began opening bottles and jars, several contenders got immediate low marks for an off-putting taste or smell. Nature Made Vitamin C left a chalky residue in our mouths that one tester said reminded her of prescription medication. We also weren’t wild about our two liquid options, Dynamic Health Liquid Vitamin C and Nature’s Answer Liquid C, which required refrigeration after opening. And while we had high hopes for Natural Factors Vitamin C Fruit Chews, they ultimately didn’t make the cut either: they contained added sugar and tasted chalky, not exactly a winning combination.
The 4 best vitamin C supplements
Why we chose it
Pure ascorbic acid
“Bulk Supplements” is such a vague name that it might sound like something you’d buy out of an unmarked van, but we promise this supplement is more than trustworthy. Because it’s a powder, it has none of the filler ingredients found in tablets: It contains nothing but ascorbic acid. It’s also the highest-ranking vitamin C supplement at Labdoor, scoring 100 percent in label accuracy, nutritional value, and ingredient safety. And it’s produced according to Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standards — an indication of consistent quality.
Since this supplement is a powder, you can choose your dose. The package recommends 1,000 mg daily, but the measurement guidelines on the label made it easy for us to adjust how much we took. It doesn’t taste terrible, either — compared to Nature’s Way Alive Vitamin C (our top natural ascorbic acid pick), Bulk Supplements was by far the more palatable option. Our testers found it reminiscent of lemon water, with a bit of a sour punch at the end.
Bulk Supplements is one of the cheapest vitamin C options on the market, at roughly $0.02 per dose. Assuming you follow the package’s recommended serving size of 1,000 mg, each bag contains roughly 1,000 servings.
Points to consider
This is a synthetic ascorbic acid supplement, which might be a turnoff for some people. In this case, “synthetic” just means that the ascorbic acid is derived from fermented sorbitol — a sugar alcohol that often comes from corn syrup or fruit. If you’re looking for a more natural product, we’d suggest Nature’s Way Alive Vitamin C or Source Naturals Vitamin C.
Why we chose it
If you don’t want to mess with powders every day and just want a tablet you can swallow with the rest of your vitamins, we really liked Doctor’s Best Vitamin C. And with just two ingredients, it's the purest tablet on our contender’s list. It contains only ascorbic acid, with modified cellulose to make the vegetarian capsule. Each tablet has 1,000 mg of vitamin C and, if taking one a day, works out at $0.12 per serving.
Points to consider
No dosage control
The only reason Doctor’s Best isn’t our top choice is because a tablet doesn’t allow the flexibility of choosing your own dose. Everyone’s body is different and the amount of vitamin C you need can vary. While overdosing on vitamin C is unlikely, we prefered supplement forms that allowed us to control our exact intake.
Why we chose it
If your vitamin C supplement doesn’t come from ascorbic acid, it’s probably derived from mineral ascorbates. These are the salts of ascorbic acid and can include sodium ascorbate, calcium ascorbate, and potassium ascorbate. Some people prefer these options because they’re less acidic and may be easier on the digestive tract. If this is important to you, we recommend Source Naturals Vitamin C.
Source Naturals Vitamin C is a crystallized powder that’s approved by Labdoor with an overall quality rating of 90.9 out of 100. The only reason this score isn’t higher is because the supplement contains 2,060 mg of vitamin C in each serving. That means one serving would put you over the Mayo Clinic's recommended 2,000 mg daily maximum. But since it’s in powdered form, you just need to be proactive about adjusting your dose. That near-perfect rating is still much higher than many products on the market.
Points to consider
When you take a mineral ascorbate, you are absorbing the ascorbic acid as well as the mineral that it came from. Since this product uses sodium ascorbate, anyone watching their sodium intake should note that there’s approximately 100 mg of sodium in every 1,000 mg of sodium ascorbate.
Why we chose it
If you’re looking for a naturally derived ascorbic acid supplement, Nature’s Way Alive Vitamin C is a good option. This powder gets its vitamin C from fruits such as acerola, kiwi, goji, and amla. It has a 90.8 rating from Labdoor and is USDA-certified organic. According to Nature’s Way, the product is also vegetarian and gluten-free. Labdoor did find this product exceeds allowable arsenic levels by 0.001 mcg per serving, but still rated it a 96/100 on Ingredient Safety (making it more than safe to consume).
Points to consider
The serving size is 500 mg, and each serving comes out to $0.60, making Nature’s Way one of the more expensive vitamin C supplements. If you’re looking for a cheap, great-tasting product, we recommend you look at our other top picks.
Guide to vitamin C
How to find and use your vitamin C supplement
Don't pay extra for rose hips, bioflavonoids, and timed-release capsules
If you’ve spent time wandering the vitamin aisle, you might have noticed vitamin C supplements marketed with “extras” like rose hips, bioflavonoids, or timed-release formulas. These options supposedly increase vitamin C’s bioavailability (the amount absorbed by your body). And while none of them are harmful, they’re probably not worth paying extra for.
Rose hips are used in many supplements because, when fresh, they’re a great natural source of vitamin C. But drying and processing rose hips causes them to lose much of that potency, and there’s even some evidence that quercetin, a flavonoid found in rose hips, can inhibit vitamin C absorption when taken in high enough doses.
Bioflavonoids are a powerful antioxidant found in foods rich in vitamin C, and they’re sometimes marketed as a way to help your body absorb more of the vitamin. However, the Linus Pauling Institute says there is no conclusive evidence that bioflavonoids increase absorption.
Timed-release capsules slowly release vitamin C over a period of time, again with the hope of maximizing absorption. But the Linus Pauling institute has likewise found no evidence that timed-release formulas are more effective than traditional supplements.
Take vitamin C before you catch a cold
The myth that vitamin C cures the common cold is unfortunately just that — a myth. Many of the sources we found agree that there is no benefit to taking extra vitamin C once you’ve already been hit with the sniffles. But taking vitamin C regularly when you’re healthy can help reduce the duration of your cold by a day or two when you do fall ill, which we think is worth the investment.
Consider your dosage
We only need about 100 mg a day — so why do vitamin C supplements come in such high doses? Turns out, there are health benefits associated with taking more, including the treatment or prevention of several diseases:
|Coronary heart disease|
|Age-related macular degeneration|
In a nutshell, 500 mg seems to be the golden number, but you’ll probably benefit from anything between 250 mg and 1,000 mg.
Although vitamin C in moderate doses helps prevent cataracts, Consumer Lab also cites a study that suggests taking 1,000 mg or more daily actually increases your risk of developing cataracts. And every source we scoured, from NIH, to Consumer Lab, to the Linus Pauling Institute and the Mayo Clinic recommended not exceeding 2,000 mg of vitamin C daily.
So what happens if you take a higher dose? Because vitamin C is water-soluble, anything the body doesn’t use is flushed out as waste. This means the consequences of overdosing aren’t severe, but the best advice is to pay attention to your vitamin C intake and consult with your doctor about the dosage that works best for you.
We’d also suggest keeping Levitan’s advice in mind: “A lot of people are already getting some vitamin C in their diet,” she says, “so when you look at not exceeding 2,000 mg, you should look at your total intake and not just what you’re getting in the supplement.”
Vitamin C FAQs
Can you be vitamin C deficient?
Yes. The disease “scurvy” is the result of a severe vitamin C deficiency, with symptoms that include swollen and bleeding gums, teeth that loosen or fall out, severe joint pain, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
While scurvy used to be common on long sea voyages because people had little access to fruits and vegetables, it’s rare in developed countries nowadays. However, minor deficiencies do happen, and the symptoms are similar, just much less severe. A vitamin C deficiency isn’t something a blood test can determine, so it’s important to pay attention to signals from your body.
Vitamin C helps make collagen, which in turn helps your body produce strong connective tissues and heal wounds. You might have a minor vitamin C deficiency if you have bleeding gums, feelings of lethargy, cracked nails, brittle hair, skin that's easily bruised, or experience muscle or joint pain.
Which is better: natural ascorbic acid, synthetic ascorbic acid, or mineral ascorbates?
Natural ascorbic acid (derived from plants) and synthetic ascorbic acid (produced in a lab) are chemically identical. But some vitamin C supplements rely on mineral ascorbates rather than ascorbic acid. These products are often marketed as being easier on the stomach, but it’s unclear how true this is.
Dr. Russell Jaffe, creator of the PERQUE™ Potent C Guard™ effervescent powder and tabsules, say they prefer supplements sourced from mineral ascorbates because they’re easier for the body to absorb and they work more effectively than ascorbic acid. Plus, mineral ascorbates make it harder to exceed that 2,000 mg upper limit — the whole foods that they’re derived from typically have a lower vitamin C content. That said, the Linus Pauling Institute has found little scientific evidence that mineral ascorbates are easier on the digestive tract. There’s simply not much research on the subject.
No one seems to suggest that mineral ascorbates are actively worse, however, so if you’re concerned about acidity, you might want to give this source of vitamin C a shot.