Vitamin CE Ferulic Serums! Skinceuticals vs Cosmetic Skin Solutions


skinceuticals vs cosmetic skin solutions CE Ferulic

Skinceuticals CE Ferulic is THE gold standard for vitamin C serums. Why? Glad you asked. Two reasons:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.


  • 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.

skinceuticals vs cosmetic skin solutions CE Ferulic


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!

skinceuticals vs cosmetic skin solutions CE Ferulic

5 bottles left.

Cosmetic Skin Solutions CE Ferulic comes in a larger, frosted bottle.

skinceuticals vs cosmetic skin solutions CE Ferulic
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.

skinceuticals cosmetic skin solutions ce ferulic

Cosmetic Skin Solutions CE Ferulic Serum on the left, Skinceuticals on the right. CSS is more yellow, but it is also older.


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.

skinceuticals cosmetic skin solutions

Cosmetic skin solutions on the left, Skinceuticals on the right. I apologize, this picture probably isn’t helpful at all.

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.

CSS Ingredients:

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.

Skinceuticals Ingredients:

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.

skinceuticals CE ferulic pH test

pH looks to be below 3 but above 2, probably slightly higher than 2.5.

Next, I tested CSSCEF, expecting the pH to fall between 3 and 3.5. That was NOT the result I got.

cosmetic skincare solutions CE ferulic pH testThe 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.

It's subtle, but the leftmost box for CSSCEF is slightly darker than the one for Skinceuticals.

It’s subtle, but the leftmost box for CSSCEF is a darker red than the one for Skinceuticals, indicating a lower pH.

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.
skinceuticals vs Cosmetic skin solutions *Review updated 1/23*

34 thoughts on “Vitamin CE Ferulic Serums! Skinceuticals vs Cosmetic Skin Solutions

  1. segleski says:

    Excellent review! Very detailed and insightful. Great job! I am very interested in trying the C, E, Ferulic trio and I am very glad that I stumbled across this. Based on ingredient order and your personal results, I am going to try the CSS first, as it appears to absorb better and I am concerned with shininess and oiliness, as my skin is combination – normal to oily. The added hydration in the SCEF seems to work great for your skin but I think the CCS formulation would work better with my skin type. I will keep you posted. Thanks again for all your research and helpful advice!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Eli says:

    As a chemist I have to comment that your pH results are, without a doubt, incorrect. The range of the test strips is too broad to accurately identify .5 increments of pH value AND analyzing results using color interpretation of the strips for any substance other than water would be considered inconclusive. You need a properly calibrated pH probe and meter to make the correct measurement. One more problem with your analysis is that liquids don’t usually degrade to become more acidic, unless your talking about wine turning into vinegar (your not). Most cosmetics that are acidic are hygroscopic, meaning they would attract water thereby moving the pH toward neutral NOT acidity. Incidentally you could also use a properly calibrated conductivity meter and compare millivolts to correctly assess the similarities between the 2 brands.

    Liked by 1 person

    • V. Rex says:

      Well noted and updated in review. While we’re on the subject, I’ve gotten some weird results testing creamy/milky (i.e. not fully aqueous) BHA products with the pH strips and have long suspected that they don’t handle oil-in-water type of solutions well. I was trying to use the strip to verify whether the pH was low enough for salicylic acid to be in free acid form – I guess my question is are the strips so inaccurate that I shouldn’t even bother?


  3. Blossom1322 says:

    I’m not sure how old this post is but can you reply back with the name of the eBay seller? I’m interested in purchasing the Skinceuticals samples. Thanks,

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Kat says:

    I was wondering if you’ve heard of the brand Timeless? They have a Vitamin C+E+Ferulic serum as well. I found them just as I was about to order CSS and decided to give them a try since Timeless is about half the prices of CSS. I just received it this Sunday, so I have no results to speak of yet, but wanted to know your thoughts on the product, if you had any.

    Liked by 1 person

    • V. Rex says:

      I haven’t tried the Timeless one, although I know that it is supposed to be a close dupe of Skinceuticals. I’d love to hear how it works for you though!


      • Allegra says:

        Great article. If you are still monitoring this a year later, have you looked at Mad Hippy? Like most people, I’m wishing for results at lowest possible price. My skin is mostly dry at 55yrs.

        Liked by 1 person

      • V. Rex says:

        Hi there! I’ve looked at Mad Hippie but haven’t tried it mostly because it uses SAP instead of LAA, and the research on SAP isn’t as comprehensive. That said, I’m all about affordable Vitamin C these days since it’s such a utilitarian product. Skin Deva makes a Skinceuticals dupe I like a lot better than the Cosmetic Skin Solutions one (it oxidizes MUCH slower and the effects seem better). Timeless is still on my list to try. I’ll get to it one of these days soon!


  5. Allegra says:

    V. Rex: thanks for this reply, which I missed earlier. I just read and commented on your Skin Deva review—which I loved; you write thorough reviews. Still, I want to know how you think the Skin Deva Compares to SkinCeuticals.

    As a separate matter, I’m in my 50s and wonder if any of your followers/readers with more mature skin have comments on their results with C +E products?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Marj says:

    Finally found a review for the one skincare item that I totally consider a Holy Grail. I was roughly a month in using Korean beauty products. I was seeing some results and I was happy with it. Then I added Skinceutical CE ferulic and omg, within a few days I saw an immediate difference with my skin. It looked healthier and more hydrated. My skin texture just looked a lot better. My skin tone looked more even. I was totally amazed. And it just got better and better the more I used it. It’s easier for me to see the difference since I was just a month in with a consistent skin care regimen. And at that time, I was just doing a double cleanse, serum and moisturizer. I use the samples too. Lol. Thanks for the review.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jerry says:

    I noticed one difference in the ingredients . Cosmetic Skin Solutions lists Hyaluronic Acid versus SkinCeautical having Sodium Hyaluronic. I researched the difference and after a cursory look, found that the acid had larger molecules than the derived salt “sodium Hyaluronic “. The larger molecules might tend to be much less likely to be absorbed into the skin. This salt, I believe, is the source of the “hot dog” or “bacon” smell. My “cursory” research indicated that, indeed, this salt might be found in pork fat i.e.” lard” which is an effective skin enhancer. The salt being absorbed into the skin might plumb up the texture.

    My wife ordered the Vitamin C=E Serum from SkinMedic and received only 1/2 of the paid for order and we are having difficulty dealing with the company.


    • V. Rex says:

      Per the Beauty Brains (who are cosmetic chemists) the two terms are used interchangeably and neither are the INCI standard (which is sodium Hyaluronic acid) so I wouldn’t read too much into one list having one form vs the other list having another. The scent is also likely due to Ferulic acid, which is known to have a burnt/metallic scent. Sodium is in literally everything (i.e. Table salt) and most of those things don’t smell like lard 😉


      • YG says:

        V. REX thank you so much for such an informative article. I enjoyed reading and learning so much from it. I had used Skinceuticals before for the sunblocks, and my daughter used the S C E Ferulic serum but we didn’t know about oxidation etc until now. I am 42 dry, rough, dull skin now and I would like to include the Skinceutical C E Ferulic serum. I clicked on the last eBay seller you mentioned but he has no Skinceutical items anymore, do you recommend any other trusted eBay seller? And do you also still recommend the sammybeauty one? I noticed his prices are higher than most eBay sellers though :/ ty so much for the time to answer and the wonderful article!


  8. Marion says:

    Let me start by saying that I have very sensitive skin. I ordered a brand new bottle of SCE vitamin E serum and carefully checked the color out and it was clear. I used the SCE vitamin E serum in the morning along with Hyaluronic Serum. Every 3rd Evening I used Trentinol 0.05%. After a few days my face and neck started to burn like the worst sunburn ever. . After 8 hours of burning it calmed down by half. But, my face turned bright red to purple around my eyes and my right eye was almost closed. I finally went to the ER room and the doctor diagnosed it as being caused by the vitamin C serum. She gave me steroids and hydrocortisone prescription strength cream and an Epi pen (just in case the swelling got worse overnight). The next morning my swelling calmed down and was back to normal in about 10 days to one week. I do not blame the Vitamin C Serum for any of this because as I started off, “I have sensitive skin”. My only point to people is that this stuff is not inoculate and should be undertaken very slowly and carefully. And maybe show your products to your dermatologist before you start experimenting. Good luck


    • V. Rex says:

      It sounds like you might have had an allergic reaction to the serum. It’s always a good idea to patch test for allergies and irritation before fully using a product. Thanks for the reminder


  9. MzNewbie says:

    So glad I read this b/c I bought Cosmetic Skin Solutions C+E and didn’t realize I was supposed to refrigerate it. It’s pretty yellow now–do you think it is no longer good? I have sensitive skin and just started using it (but have had the bottle on my bathroom counter for several months) and it stings a bit–does that mean it is still active?

    BUT THE HOT DOG SMELL! Yesterday I went jogging with my husband and all I could smell were hot dogs. I even asked my husband to smell my face! HA HA HA! But seriously–GROSS! I was googling it today b/c I thought maybe that was an indication it went bad and when I read yours about it smelling I was like, “Yaaaas! It so does!”

    Based on your review, you state the Skinceuticals is even worse? Gah! I want to use it but…me no likey hot dogs on my face! Have you found anything better?

    And do you think my very yellow, very hot-doggy CSS C+E is probably bad or okay to continue use?

    Liked by 1 person

    • V. Rex says:

      If the color is still yellow, I’d say it’s fine to use. Once it starts crossing over into orange territory, I would stop. The smell is pretty intense isn’t it? Skinceuticals is pretty bad, but Drunk Elephant’s C Firma serum takes the cake! Ive heard timeless is scentless so that’s on my list to try next!


      • MzNewbie says:

        Thanks. I actually contacted the Cosmetic Skin Solutions company because I couldn’t find an answer on their website. To say they provided excellent customer service is a serious understatement. First, I bought it off Amazon so I wasn’t asking for a refund–just if it was still good. Well, they proactively researched where I bought it and in the very first paragraph said they were sending me a new bottle b/c Amazon doesn’t keep their serums in climate-controlled warehouses. Then, the guy (Jonathan) went on and on about care, advice on a daily routine, products, etc. He was insanely friendly, informative and thorough. I asked a couple additional questions and mentioned the stinky smell and again, he responded right away with a plethora of information, including recommending the DCG Peptide Moisturizer b/c it has the best scent. I hadn’t really heard of their company before but would highly recommend based on the superior customer service I received. They sent me a brand new bottle of C&E serum and I didn’t even purchase the original from them! TWO THUMBS UP! 🙂


  10. Katelin wirth says:

    Just wondering if you can give some tips on trying buy best samples on eBay etc like how to tell if it’s old or what the consistency should be like etc …. it be my first time buying so I don’t have a comparison of real product thanks


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