WHY I BOUGHT IT
Skinceuticals CE Ferulic is THE gold standard for vitamin C serums. Why? Glad you asked. Two reasons:
- The science behind it is as robust as you can get. I’ve touched on this product previously in my Sunscreen 101 series, but to summarize a bunch of scientists did an in vivo study that demonstrated ferulic acid incorporated with 15% l-ascorbic acid and 1% α-tocopherol doubled photoprotection to solar-simulated irradiation of skin from 4-fold to approximately 8-fold. One of the scientists who authored this study later founded Skinceuticals, created this CE Ferulic serum based on its findings. Sure, L’oreal and other big companies have done studies proving this or that works, but in the case of Skinceuticals, the science gave birth to the company.
- It addresses the issue of l-ascorbic acid’s instability. L-ascorbic acid is the pure form of vitamin C (whereas other forms of vitamin C, such as magnesium ascorbyl palmitate is a complex that includes l-ascorbic acid) but highly prone to oxidation (you know this happens when the serum turns yellow, then orange, then brown). Combining ascorbic acid with vitamin E and ferulic acid is supposed to make the vitamin C more stable
Skinceuticals holds a patent on all l-ascorbic acid serums with a pH of 2.5 to 3, which poses a challenge to would-be competitors because l-ascorbic acid works best at a pH under 3.5. Regardless, there are many dupes on the market, including the one from Cosmetic Skin Solutions. The ingredients are (nearly) identical to the ingredients in Skinceuticals (although in a slightly different order), which made me very curious about how similar / different the two serums are.
WHERE I BOUGHT IT
- I purchased the Cosmetic Skin Solutions CE ferulic serum off amazon for under $40
- Skinceuticals CE Ferulic retails for $162, but I buy 6-packs of sample bottles, which adds up to the amount of product in a full-size bottle, off ebay for a little over
$20 $30$38. Yes, it does say “SAMPLES ONLY – NOT FOR RESELL” on the box and yes, ebay can be sketchy, so obviously, not for everyone. Personally, I was comfortable buying from the seller because he came recommended off /r/skincareaddiction, has tons of positive reviews, and has a huge selection of non-sample products that seem legit. I also do things like bike around LA without a helmet and occasionally jump fences to gain access to private tennis courts, so not exactly role-model material for impressionable children.
PACKAGING AND APPEARANCE
I received a blue box that contained 6 tiny little amber sample bottles of Skinceuticals CE Ferulic. I keep one in my bathroom and the rest in my fridge to prolong their shelf-lives. Added benefit of ordering the sample pack!
Cosmetic Skin Solutions CE Ferulic comes in a larger, frosted bottle.
Both types of bottles come with dropper caps. In the picture below, you can see that both serums have a yellow tinge. I’ve had the Cosmetic Skin Solutions CE Ferulic Serum (CSSCEF) since March 29th and the Skinceuticals CE Ferulic Serum (SCEF) since June 30th. I store both serums in my fridge because they do oxidize. The yellowness of the CSSCEF is the result of being stored in my bathroom for two weeks. After being moved to the fridge, the color has stayed the same with no further oxidation. The CE Ferulic shown here has been in my bathroom for about 1 week. It is less yellow than the current state of CSSCEF but it is definitely not entirely clear. Lesson to be learned here? Keep these puppies in the fridge. Even though ferulic acid makes l-ascorbic acid more stable, it’s still not a stable ingredient at all.
So, a disclaimer first. I’m going to focus mostly on the short-term experience of using these two serums. The reason is a lot of the benefits of vitamin C are preventative – for example, I mainly use vitamin C under my sunscreen because it beefs up UVA and UVB protection. I trust that I am getting that protection, but there’s not really a way for me to test it, short of applying to half my face and going out in the sun to see which side gets burnt first, and I am not willing to do that, even for science.
Other effects of vitamin C include increasing collagen production, improving hydration, brightening / lightening hyper pigmentation, and increasing skin density while decreasing skin furrows. However, these results require long-term use and are tricky for me to comment on because I use a lot of other products that target some of these same benefits. This is particularly true for brightening or hyperpigmentation reducing effects. I may be getting marginal brightening benefits from these Vitamin CE serums, but I’m not seeing it as immediately as I do from niacinamide products and definitely not as drastically as I get when I use AHAs.
The most dramatic benefit, which I started noticing about a month after I switched to Skinceuticals CE Ferulic, is an improvement in my skin texture. My skin feels healthier and looks more plump. For someone with chronically dry and dehydrated skin, this is a very welcome change! I don’t know know if my skin is retaining hydration any better, unfortunately, because I have not noticed any change to the amount of mid-day skin flakiness I get, but my skin certainly looks better hydrated. For this benefit alone, I recommend the Skinceuticals CE ferulic serum over the Cosmetic Skin Solutions one.
Now, let’s take a look at how these two CE Ferulic serums interact with the skin.
These two serums are very, VERY similar. Here are a few key differences:
- SCEF is a little more viscous
- SCEF has better slip and is slightly easier to spread around on the skin. I say slightly because neither are easy to spread. In fact, I highly recommend patting this stuff on your face and doing it quickly to prevent tugging at your skin
- CSSCEF smells metallic whereas SCEF smells like hotdog juice, which is also metallic. Both smell terrible. Which is worse to you will probably depend on how you feel about hotdogs
- CSSCEF dries a little faster than SCEF
- CSSCEF stays stickier a little bit longer, although the difference is very, very slight. I would have never noticed it without testing both serums on my arm side by side
These serums both contain alcohol (which aids with absorption) and I do find both to be quite drying, so it is definitely necessary for me to layer on some moisturizing products after this sinks in. Neither serum irritate my skin. In fact, my skin feels nothing. When I first started using vitamin C (OST C20), it would make my face tingle, feel warm, and/or occasionally sting. Neither of these CE ferulic serums produce any tangible sensation on my face. This probably just means my skin is used to l-ascorbic acid.
Here are the ingredients for both. As mentioned earlier, the ingredients are nearly identical. There are some differences in the order in which the ingredients are listed (which means differences in the concentrations of each ingredient) and also the presence of butylene glycol in CSSCEF and not in SCEF.
Water/Aqua/Eau, L-Ascorbic Acid (15%), Propylene Glycol, Ethoxydiglycol, Butylene Glycol, Laureth-23, Zinc Sulfate, Glycerol, Alpha Tocopherol (1%), Triethanolamine, Ferulic Acid (.5%), Phenoxyethanol, D-Panthenol, Hyaluronic Acid.
Water, Ethoxydiglycol, L Ascorbic Acid, Propylene Glycol, Glycerin, Laureth 23, Alpha Tocopherol, Phenoxyethanol, Triethanolamine, Ferulic Acid, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate
Lastly, I was interested in the pH of CSSCEF. As mentioned earlier, Skinceuticals holds a patent on CE ferulic serums with a pH between 2.5 and 3. In order for CSSCEF to be effective, it needs to have a pH below 3.5. First, I tested SCEF, which, as expected, landed between 2.5 and 3.
1/23/16 Update: A reader pointed out that strips are not reliable enough to make conclusive remarks about the comparative pHs of these two serums. Since I have no plans to invest in a pH probe meter, it suffices to say that results of my pH strips testing indicates both of these serums appears to be in the correct range to be effective.
Next, I tested CSSCEF, expecting the pH to fall between 3 and 3.5. That was NOT the result I got.
The pH of Cosmetic Skincare Solution’s serum came out LOWER than that of Skinceutical’s. Here is a side by side comparison, to show this better. It’s really difficult to be specific when using pH strips, but if I had to estimate, I would place the pH for CSSCEF between 2 and 2.5.
I’m not quite sure what to make of this. I worked on process control / industrial engineering projects in a previous job and know that product consistency can be challenging, especially with smaller companies, so it is very possible I received a batch that is unusually acidic. It’s also possible due to oxidation, exposure to air, or some other sort of chemical degradation, the product has gotten more acidic. Either way, my concerns that the pH for this serum would be too high have completely disappeared.
The biggest difference I’ve noticed between the two serums is that after switching to Skinceuticals, there has been a gradual but noticeable improvement to the texture of my skin. This is an effect I have not gotten from any of the other products I’ve used, and to me might make Skinceuticals worth the premium it costs (although let’s be real. I’m going to keep buying samples until someone cracks down on that market). However, I believe Cosmetic Skincare Solutions has made a good dupe. My biggest concern with Cosmetic Skincare Solution’s CE Ferulic Serum was that the pH would be too high for the vitamin C to penetrate the skin. Based off of my test, it has an even lower pH than Skinceutical’s CE ferulic serum.
*Review updated 1/23*