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No7 vs Murad vitamin C serum: Why the new budget buy comes out on top

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In a skincare market obsessed with transparency and getting behind marketing claims, vitamin C has joined retinol and hyaluronic acid on the list of universal wonder ingredients. It is naturally present in the skin’s upper layers, but as we age, these levels deplete, leaving skin dull, uneven and less firm; thankfully, it is also highly effective when applied topically.

The list of vitamin C’s benefits is long: it’s a powerful antioxidant, protecting the skin against environmental damage; it evens skin tone and blocks abnormal production of pigmentation, which can fade dark spots; it tightens and improves the appearance of fine lines, and it’s an overall brightener and glow-giver.

Vitamin C is an unstable ingredient, so it has to be carefully formulated and packaged to maintain its potency. This makes a serum the best form of vitamin C you can choose, to minimise exposure to light (such as you might get when opening a tub of moisturiser) and to ensure the product has been formulated with the sole aim of delivering vitamin C as best as possible.

It is water-soluble, and the majority of products containing it include water, though some are anhydrous (water free); these tend to be stronger and have a less pleasant application. Most vitamin C serums range between the ten and 20 per cent mark; if you’ve not used one before, you may want to start low and build tolerance.

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The difficulty of formulating and packaging vitamin C to prevent oxidation and maximise potency means that serums containing it are often very expensive. This is the reason No7’s new launch, the Radiance+ line, including three vitamin C products at high street prices, has garnered so much attention. We’ve put one of them – the 15 per cent vitamin C serum – priced at just £16 to the test, comparing it with a much-lauded luxury product, Murad’s Vita-C serum, to see whether the budget option can hold its own.

We considered price point, packaging, texture, application, ingredients and results to find out whether the firm favourite or industry-disrupting new launch came out top.

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No7 Radiance+ 15% vitamin C serum: £16, Boots

First of all, given the primary appeal of this product is the price point, it’s worth noting that the full RRP is £20, but it’s currently on offer at £16. Even so, this is still a very low price for a vitamin C product and certainly competitive compared to Murad’s £72 offering.

The packaging of No7’s serum is typical of other similar products, regardless of where they fall on the price: a weighty amber glass bottle with pipette applicator. Only the cap is plastic, so the rest can be widely recycled.

The serum itself is clear with a thick, fairly viscous texture but spreads thinly across skin with ease. It has a really nice slip, so you only need a few drops to cover your whole face, and the immediate sensation is one of hydration. It dries to a slightly tacky finish, but we don’t mind this in a serum as it’s always followed up by other products. We didn’t experience any tingling on the skin, but those less used to using vitamin C products may. Our only minor dislike is the strong, artificial citrus fragrance, which many vitamin C serums insist on having (along with the ubiquitous orange packaging), but this fades soon after application.

The vitamin C itself is 15 per cent, which is a medium strength and plenty to have visible effects; those with sensitive skin may find it a little strong, but most people will be fine with this percentage. It comes in the form 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid, which is one of the more stable forms and allows for quick absorption with minimal irritation. The rest of the formulation is less complex than you might find with a luxury serum, but it has the essentials. It contains humectants and emollients including hyaluronic acid, castor oil and allantoin to act as a buffer against any irritation caused by the vitamin C content, with their hydrating, cooling and soothing effects. The rest of the ingredients list is primarily those concerned with creating texture and, of course, the aforementioned fragrance.

The long-term effects of No7’s serum are just as good as we’d expect of any other with a higher price point. Within two weeks of daily application, we saw a marked improvement in skin clearness, brightness and elasticity, as well as a slight reduction in the fine lines around the sides of the mouth, and experienced zero irritation or drying.

Murad Vita-C glycolic brightening serum: £72, Murad

The packaging on Murad’s vitamin C serum is quite different. It’s made from recyclable plastic, and has a pump top, which is less fiddly than a pipette and there’s no chance of knocking it over and spilling product. The outer tube is clear, revealing two (orange, again) chambers inside: a small one in the centre, which contains the vitamin C solution, and a larger one that wraps around the outside containing the rest; it’s a nifty design and is supposed to minimise oxidation of the vitamin C.

The serum is pearlescent and similar in texture to the No7; neither will run off the back of your hand. It spreads thinly and easily across the skin with an almost oil-like texture and dries down within a couple of minutes, leaving no stickiness and a gorgeous matte glow. Skin feels immediately hydrated and plumper. There’s no artificial fragrance in this one; it has a barely noticeable creamy scent.

As is quite common among luxury brands, Murad doesn’t market its products with percentages (the same goes for its retinol products), so there’s no precise way of knowing how it compares to the No7 vitamin C content beyond its effects. Vitamin C does sit slightly lower in the list of ingredients than it does in the No7 formulation (the lower down the list it is, the less of an ingredient is included), but given that there are far more ingredients in the Murad formula, this isn’t surprising. The vitamin C here is ascorbic acid – sometimes called L-ascorbic acid – and is the form that has the most skincare-related research behind it. In a first for the skincare market, Murad has stabilised this with actual gold. While we can’t speak to how effective this actually is in preserving potency, we do enjoy seeing an ingredient list that simply includes “gold”.

The extras are where the Murad formula moves above the No7. It includes glycolic acid, an exfoliating alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that sloughs away dead skin cells, giving a more luminous complexion, smoothing out texture and allowing the vitamin C to penetrate more effectively. It also contains hydrating, buffering ingredients, making the serum more comfortable on the skin and minimising any irritation (we personally didn’t experience any). The old classics glycerin and hyaluronic acid do the job here. It also contains urea (yes it’s a component of urine, but don’t worry, a synthetic version is used in skincare), which binds water to the skin and can also improve the absorption of other ingredients. Finally, the formula includes a “phyto-luminescent extract”, which supposedly transforms UV into a light source, making skin more luminous.

The results are very similar to that of the No7 serum. Skin is noticeably brightened, areas of discolouration reduced and it feels plumper and more bouncy. Due to the inclusion of glycolic acid, it does far more for skin texture than the budget option, which improves the appearance as well as the feel of skin.

The verdict: Murad vs No7 vitamin C serum

Both of these products are brilliant, so which you choose will really depend on how big your budget. No7’s Radiance + 15 per cent serum contains a visibly effective dose of vitamin C and a very pleasant application experience. For £20, it’s an absolute bargain; we doubt we’d be able to separate it from other luxury serums we’ve used in a blind trial.

There’s no denying that with Murad’s Vita-C glycolic brightening serum, you get a more complex formulation, and the inclusion of glycolic acid means that the overall impact on skin is ultimately greater. However, whether this small difference is worth paying for a product three times the price is a matter of personal choice (though we are suckers for the packaging and the lack of fragrance, too).

But for a straightforward way to introduce vitamin C into your routine with visible skin improvement and without spending a small fortune, No7 takes the crown.

We tried Caroline Hirons’s skincare routine, here’s what happened

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