Are Other Vitamin CE Ferulic Serums As Effective as Skinceuticals?: Cosmetics Solutions, Timeless, Skinmedica Compared

Ever since Dr. Sheldon Pinnell discovered vitamin C as L-ascorbic acid could stimulate the production of collagen in the skin in 1992, vitamin C skin care has been popular.  Dr. Pinnell was instrumental in the development of Cellex-C and later founded Skinceuticals.

The ingredients within its best-selling product, Skinceuticals CE Ferulic ($118.99, amazon.com), were found to boost sun protection when applied under sunscreen by four-fold, as published in the American Journal of Dermatology in 2005.

Despite the fact Skinceuticals CE Ferulic is patented (US patent number: 20050154054), several alternative products now exist. This is because the patent explicitly only includes vitamin C as L-ascorbic acid between a pH of 2.5 and 3.0, whereas the alternatives include tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate or magnesium ascorbyl palmitate and/or a slightly higher pH.

Pinnell’s arguments: Time-tested?

One reason Dr. Pinnell argues it is still best to buy Skinceuticals CE Ferulic is because a pH of 3.5 or lower is required for optimal activity (Dermatologic Surgery, 2008), and his patent requires no CE Ferulic serum to have a pH between 2.5 and 3.0 (patent 20050154054). However, a quick pH test demonstrates most of the competitive serums have a pH between 3.0 and 3.5 – low enough to be effective, but not so low so as to violate the patent. This includes the popular Cosmetics Solutions CE Ferulic Combination Treatment ($39.95, amazon.com), which contains the same exact assortment of ingredients as Skinceuticals CE Ferulic, but in concentrations that result in a slightly higher (and non-patent-violating) pH.

Dr. Pinnell has also stated that he believes only L-ascorbic acid is effective because other forms of vitamin C cannot be converted into L-ascorbic acid in any meaningful amount (Dermatologic Surgery, 2008). However, even without conversion to L-ascorbic acid, several popular derivatives of vitamin C, including tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate and magnesium ascorbyl palmitate, have been shown to have a few distinct effects of their own:

How Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (AKA Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate) and Magnesium Ascorbyl Palmitate Compare to L-ascorbic Acid

In one study from Skin Research and Technology in 2008, all three forms of vitamin C were found to enhance moisture content in the stratum corneum (the uppermost layer of skin) after a 4-week period of daily applications.

However, L-ascorbic acid (the original form of vitamin C found in Skinceuticals CE Ferulic) was the only form that prevented water loss (TEWL) from the skin.

Magnesium ascorbyl palmitate (found in Timeless Vitamin C+E Serum, shown above, $24.95) penetrated the skin most deeply in the same study, as it was found to cause alterations in skin’s viscoelastic-to-elastic ratio.

In favor of tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate (found in SkinMedica Skin Complex, $64.97) is the fact tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate has been shown to be more efficient in entering skin cells than L-ascorbic acid (Clinics in Dermatology, 2008) and, like magnesium ascorbyl palmitate, penetrates the skin more deeply than L-ascorbic acid (Dermatologic Surgery, 2002).

Why Timeless Vitamin C+E Serum or Skinceuticals CE Ferulic are the Best

I personally prefer the alcohol-based delivery system of Timeless Vitamin C+E Serum or Skinceuticals CE Ferulic over the silicone-based SkinMedica Skin Complex, because the alcohol helps the ingredients penetrate the skin more deeply.  The fact that alcohol can be drying and inflammatory to the skin is combatted by the highly hydrating and antioxidant power of vitamin C in either form.

Now when it comes down to Timeless Vitamin C+E Serum ($24.95) with 20% combined L-ascorbic acid and magnesium ascorbyl palmitate or Skinceuticals CE Ferulic ($118.95) with 15% L-ascorbic acid, I would say the major consideration is, clearly, price.  Although magnesium ascorbyl palmitate in the Timeless has been found to penetrate the skin more deeply than L-ascorbic acid in the Skinceuticals (Skin Research and Technology, 2008), L-ascorbic acid still has been proven to stimulate collagen production (Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 2001), even if it doesn’t penetrate the skin as deeply as magnesium ascorbyl palmitate.  What’s more, L-ascorbic acid has been found to prevent water loss from the skin better than magnesium ascorbyl palmitate (Skin Research and Technology, 2008).  So, if money is not a concern, play it safe with the Skinceuticals CE Ferulic.  However, if you’d like to save a quick $90, Timeless Vitamin C+E Serum is definitely worth the extra bit of drying to the skin.

What about Cosmetics Solutions CE Ferulic Combination Treatment?

When it comes to Cosmetics Solutions CE Ferulic Combination Treatment ($39.95) or Skinceuticals CE Ferulic, I have a similar opinion: The ingredients list (and concentration of active ingredients) is exactly the same. Skinceuticals CE Ferulic has the better, more optimized pH, so if you can afford it, stick with the Skinceuticals CE Ferulic. Yet for the slight amount of difference, Cosmetics Solutions CE Ferulic Combination Treatment will still give you most of the benefits of Skinceuticals CE Ferulic, though may be slightly more drying and slightly less exfoliating (due to the higher pH).

As for the Timeless Vitamin C+E Serum with magnesium ascorbyl palmitate and L-ascorbic acid versus the Cosmetics Solutions CE Ferulic Combination Treatment with L-ascorbic acid, I like the Timeless Vitamin C+E Serum. For one, it’s $15 cheaper, which means after 8 bottles, you’ve saved enough for an entire bottle of Skinceuticals CE Ferulic. For another, I’ve tried both and just happen to like the Timeless Vitamin C+E Serum better, but I do reckon this is more of a personal opinion and less of a science-based one.

Bottom line

If you’re pinching pennies, Timeless Vitamin C+E Serum will get you 95% of the benefits of Skinceuticals CE Ferulic, and for a much lower cost.  (Same with the Cosmetics Solutions CE Ferulic). Skinceuticals CE Ferulic still has the best pH of any serum on the market, though, so it’s still worth it if you’re a wealthy perfectionist who only wants “the best.”

Ingredients in Skinceuticals CE FerulicWater, Ethoxydiglycol, L-ascorbic Acid, Propylene Glycol, Glycerin, Laureth-23, Alpha Tocopherol, Phenoxyethanol, Triethanolamine, Ferulic Acid, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate

Ingredients in SkinMedica Skin ComplexCyclopentasiloxane, Ascorbic Acid, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, Polysilicone 11, Phytantriol, Ethoxydiglycol, Bisabolol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Tocopherol

Ingredients in Timeless Vitamin C+E SerumWater, Ethoxydiglycol, L-Ascorbic Acid, Propylene Glycol, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Alpha Tocopherol, Polysorbate 80, Panthenol, Ferulic Acid, Sodium Hyaluronate, Benzylalcohol, Dehydroacetic Acid, Fragrance

Ingredients in Cosmetics Solutions CE Ferulic Combination TreatmentAqua(water), Ethoxydiglycol, L-Ascorbic Acid, Propylene Glycol, Glycerin, Laureth-23, Alpha Tocopherol, Phenoxyethanol, Triethanolamine, Ferulic Acid, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate.

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47 thoughts on “Are Other Vitamin CE Ferulic Serums As Effective as Skinceuticals?: Cosmetics Solutions, Timeless, Skinmedica Compared

  1. Eva says:

    How do you think these compare the the Topix Citrix 20% serum with Growth Factor? I learned about this on Dr. Bailey’s blog. Would love to hear your insight.

  2. Janette says:

    Thanks so much for your fascinating article! It’s exciting to read about the beneficial effects of these vitamin C serums.

    Do you think any of the concerns/controversy about the safety of the antioxidant VitA/retinyl palmite might apply to the Vit C? Are these two vitamins similar in their actions?

    (If so, is applying at night better or would we just lose the fourfold increase in sun protection?)

    Thank you!

  3. Peggy says:

    Thank you so much for this article. I have been waiting for you to write this. I love your blog, my absolute fav. on skincare. I have used the Cosmetic Skin Solutions C+Ferluic in the past and liked it. I’m currently using NuFountain. I’m wondering if you are familiar with them or what you think of their products if you are. I’m very excited to try the Timeless serum once I run out of what I’m using now. Thanks again for this great article and your site. Thanks to your recommendation I’m using the PTR Retinol Fusion at night with Vit. C during the day and am loving the results! Keep up the great work.

  4. Ria says:

    Great article! I’ve always learnt that an optimal pH is necessary – it’s nice to have it confirmed!

    Just wondering though, what about storage? Because ascorbic acid is notoriously unstable – I know it rapidly oxidises. Does the Skinceuticals CE+Ferulic have ingredients that prevent this oxidation? I know the vitamin E and ferulic is supposed to help with that, but to what extent? Also, Skinceuticals products may sit on shelves for months if not years, so how does the vitamin c hold up that then? Anyway, I’d love any tips on storage and prolonging the efficacy of my product!

  5. NeenaJ says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article. My skin has been going through a terrible dry spell which I suspect has a lot to do with central heating at my office and home (at least I can have a humidifier at home). Is the LAA worth the short term dryness for the long-term (4 weeks) payoff?

    Is there anything specific I can use in combination to quell the drying effects? Thanks for any advise!

  6. CC says:

    Great review! Just wondering if you have ever encountered the Avalon Organics Vitamin C serum before, and if so, what do you think of it? Thanks so much.

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  8. tanveer says:

    Thanks for the wonderful comparision! I was wondering if you have heard of Keihl’s Vit C Concentrate and how do you feel it fares? That’s the only vit c prdt we get in India, so I thght i’d ask.. Thanks! :D

  9. Nan says:

    Enjoyed the review and, after reading it, ordered the Cosmetics Solution product as an alternative to the Skinceuticals CE Ferulic. I like the feel of it on my skin. However, in less than a week the serum has gone from clear to brown. That is unacceptable. I did put it in the refrigerator when I first started using it as that was how I kept my previous Skinceuticals serum clear. Could it be that the refrigeration has the reverse effect on the Cosmetics Solution serum? Ah well, $39 down the tube is not as painful as $110.

  10. futurederm says:

    @Janette – Retinyl palmitate “controversy”…oh, don’t get me started on that… :-). But, to answer your question, retinyl palmitate is a derivative of vitamin A attached to a fatty acid. Vitamin C is L-ascorbic acid, so these are completely distinct. As far as day vs. night application, studies have shown vitamins C and E in conjunction can boost sun protection, so I love, love, LOVE these for daytime use under sunscreen! Hope this helps.

  11. futurederm says:

    @Neena J – What other products are you using? Typically L-ascorbic acid is altogether not that drying, although the alcohol in the serum (used as a delivery system) can make it so. You might want to try switching to a hydrating moisturizer with sunscreen and foundation, like Dr. Jart++ BB Cream SPF 45. I would also advise that you make sure none of your cleansers/makeup contain potentially drying ingredients, like salicyclic acid or alpha hydroxy acids, unless you have acne-prone skin. Let me know!

  12. Nan says:

    My apologies to Cosmetic Solutions, Nicky and all above. The product I’ve been grabbing from the fridge has been an old Skinceuticals Serum 15, not the new Cosmetic Solutions CE+, which is still nice and clear. Mea culpa.

    Since I’m on the subject, I’d like to report that the Serum 15 was brown when I purchased it and the spa where I purchased it insisted it was fine that way. btw, the package copy on the Serum 15 also says it’s okay if product is brown. Wow. What a way to avoid returns.

  13. futurederm says:

    @Dawn – I like to use vitamin C/E serums in the morning, because they are proven to boost sun protection when used under sunscreen. Also, vitamin C serums tend to be acidic, making them somewhat incompatible with more basic retinol creams (retinol undergoes esterification at pH 6.8). So I would keep vitamin C/E serums to the morning, though there’s no harm done if you use them twice daily. Hope this helps!

  14. Jessica says:

    I hear wonderful things about Skinceuticals, but haven’t made the plunge yet. I’m currently using brand MUAC (makeup artist’s choice) C&E formula, and wondering if you had any thoughts on that brand or how it compares?

    Here is the ingredient list: purified water, aminopropyl ascorbyl phosphate, ethoxydiglycol, hydroeyethylcellulose, sodium hyaluronic, polysorbate 20, tocopheryl acetate, propylene glycol, orange peel extract, benazyl alcohol, methylisothiazolinone

    Thanks!

  15. Becky says:

    How does the mad hippie skin care line compare to skinceuticals? It has a vitamin c + e + Ferulic acid but the vitamin c is called stay-c 50.

  16. Ginger O'Rama says:

    Very interesting review! I’d love to hear your thoughts on two other brands who make cheaper C serums: NuFountain have LAA ones (one with ferrulic) and a MAP one (it also has niacinamide), and Silk Naturals have several MAP ones (with white tea and tamarind extracts too). NuFountain use silicone and gel bases, the Silk Naturals serums are water-based. (I’m not affiliated to either!)

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  19. Nicki says:

    @Ginger – I tend to like the serums without the silicone or the gel base better, because they penetrate into the skin more readily. Hope this helps!

    @Lunaeva – I like the Lovely Skin product because it contains salicyclic acid, which is a superb idea. On the other hand, it is a cream, so the ingredients do not penetrate into the skin as well as they do in an alcohol-based formulation. I’m also wary of the claim that their 7% Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate is equivalent to 30% L-ascorbic acid. While Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate is certainly more photostable than L-ascorbic acid, I’d be interested to see their data proving the former’s effects are more substantial on the skin. That said, I think the Lovely Skin is a solid product, and I think you’d get great results from it.

  20. Jen says:

    Thank you for posting this! I have been debating about what Vitamin C serum to choose because the Skinceutical version is a bit out of my price range right now. It’s nice to know that I can still find a serum without compromising my budget!

  21. Jennifer says:

    I use the vitamin c powder from philosophy. I mix it with my moisturizer. Any information about this brand?

  22. Nicki says:

    @Hi Jennifer! So the philosophy booster powder is in fact an excellent product as well, if you don’t mind mixing it! I love it as well, the only caveat is the cream does not penetrate the skin as well as an alcohol- based serum, but if you are getting results from it, by all means, stick with it! Does this help?

  23. Kala says:

    Hi Nikki I love your site and I got the c+e feurilic from skinceutical and I used it for a week and my skin broke out really badly. Cystic acne – is this normal. My skin is pretty clear and I have never had this problem before. I am upset since I wanted to add vitamin c to my routine

  24. Grace says:

    Hi Nicki! I’ve just purchased a bottle of the Skinceuticals phloretin serum but it appears to be a very pale yellow colour. Is it alright to use it?

  25. Catarina says:

    Hi,
    I am not sure I understand the ingredients. Vitamin E is fat soluable isn’t it? So how does it dissolve in the water and alcohol based solution? And Vitamin C itself is stabilisized only by the two other antioxidants, do I understand that right?

    I do not like the triethanolamine I must say…

  26. Nicki Zevola says:

    @Catarina – Vitamin E is fat soluble, but it is soluble in a mixture of water and alcohol. Alcohol has both polar and non-polar ends, which enables it to be a solvent for a variety of materials. And yes, you’re right – vitamin C is stabilized by vitamin E and ferulic acid in this serum.

    Why do you not like TEA? Curious.

  27. Nicki Zevola says:

    @Grace – Sorry! I just saw this comment now!

    Once vitamin C is oxidized, it turns into dehydroascorbic acid. Some of this will be converted back to L-ascorbic acid within your skin, but most of it will remain inactive. However, there is little or no evidence to support the idea vitamin C in this form becomes prooxidant and could damage your skin.

    For more: http://www.futurederm.com/2011/09/19/daily-question-when-a-vitamin-c-moisturizer-turns-brown-is-it-bad-for-your-skin/

    Hope this helps,
    Nicki

  28. Catarina says:

    Thank you for your answer. I am still wondering if a water reduced base (e.g. Ethanol and water) would have more advantages regarding the stability of vitamin C and packed in an airless dispenser.

    TEA can cause skin irritation and allergies. But what bothers me more is that it may contain carcinogenic nitrosamines.

  29. JennB says:

    Timeless has changed it’s formula. It no longer contains Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate. Although it stated in the ingredients on the website, on the bottle I bought does not contain Sodium Hyaluronate either. I have just started using it and have no complaints so far.

    Thanks for the great article!

  30. Erin says:

    I am so happy I found this review/comparison! I was just at my dermatologist’s office and the aesthetician recommended the Skinceuticals C E Ferulic and A.G.E. eye cream (they carry it) for my skin care concerns/goals. The price is too high for my budget for the C E, but I bought the eye cream. Wish I had done my research though; I found the eye cream at a reputable Amazon vendor for $30 less. She gave me one sample size of the C E and I used it this morning and really like it, so I went online to research it. Based on your review, I decided to order the Timeless version. I hope I like it as well; you can’t beat the price!

  31. Brian says:

    I’ve looked into all of your recommendations, but these dupe serums say they are not appropriate for oily skin types due to the Vit E content. I guess they’re going on the idea that Vit E clogs pores? Are there any dupes that would be ok for oily/acne-prone skin types?

  32. liz says:

    I now use Generic CE Ferulic and it is as effective as before. My doctor recommended CE Ferulic and I found the Generic form. I buy it off of Amazon called ActivFerulox. works well and it appears fresh.

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