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.
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.
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 Ferulic: Water, Ethoxydiglycol, L-ascorbic Acid, Propylene Glycol, Glycerin, Laureth-23, Alpha Tocopherol, Phenoxyethanol, Triethanolamine, Ferulic Acid, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate
Ingredients in SkinMedica Skin Complex: Cyclopentasiloxane, Ascorbic Acid, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, Polysilicone 11, Phytantriol, Ethoxydiglycol, Bisabolol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Tocopherol
Ingredients in Timeless Vitamin C+E Serum: Water, 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 Treatment: Aqua(water), Ethoxydiglycol, L-Ascorbic Acid, Propylene Glycol, Glycerin, Laureth-23, Alpha Tocopherol, Phenoxyethanol, Triethanolamine, Ferulic Acid, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate.
- About the author: John Su is an established skin care expert and aspiring dermatologist. He also runs a blog, The Triple Helix Liaison, dedicated to providing unbiased, meaningful, and insightful information about skin care. For his full bio, please visit our About page. I’ve been on such a kick talking about tretinoin recently, that…
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