Skinceuticals CE Ferulic Acid Review: Does this cult serum still deliver in 2023?

In this Article


Perhaps the product with the biggest cult following: is SKINCEUTICALS CE FERULIC ACID serum worth the hype?

These days, there are few skincare categories as tried and true as the quintessential Vitamin C serum. But that wasn’t always the case. Especially not back in 2005 when Skinceuticals launched their now iconic CE Ferulic Acid serum. Since then, this serum has transformed our perception of not just Vitamin C, but serums in general, introducing not only the concept of scientifically-backed vitamin complexes, but increasing our vocabulary of skincare actives in general. But almost 20 years on, has the industry caught up or is this icon still in a class by itself? Read on to find out our take.

What’s the big deal?

Skinceuticals CE Ferulic Acid serum is considered the vitamin C serum because it introduced a complex featuring the antioxidant, Ferulic Acid, and Vitamin E that enhanced the stability, and potency of Vitamin C where it is considered a revolutionary in its delivery of comprehensive antioxidant benefits particularly for photo-protective and free-radical scavenging benefits. It was so unlike anything that came before it, that in 2007, Skinceuticals was granted a patent for the composition of actives. In doing so, it also opened a window into formulation transparency where their 15% L-Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) served as the benchmark for determining the true power of a formula.

Claims and benefits

A patented daytime vitamin C serum that delivers advanced environmental protection and improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, loss of firmness, and brightens skin’s complexion. Now clinically proven to reduce combined oxidative damage from free radicals generated by UV, Ozone, and Diesel Exhaust by up to 41%. U.S. Patent No. 7,179,841.

C E Ferulic features a synergistic antioxidant combination of 15% pure vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid), 1% vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), and 0.5% ferulic acid to enhance protection against environmental damage caused by free radicals that can contribute to atmospheric aging. C E Ferulic is now proven to reduce combined oxidative damage generated by UVA/UVB rays, ozone pollution, and diesel engine exhaust by up to 41%. In addition to antioxidant protective benefits, C E Ferulic improves signs of aging and photodamage, the appearance of lines and wrinkles, and the loss of firmness, while brightening skin’s complexion.

  • Provides advanced environmental protection by neutralizing damaging free radicals
  • Visible anti-aging benefits, such as the improvement of the appearance of lines and wrinkles, loss of firmness, and brightens skin’s complexion
  • Neutralizes free radicals on the upper layer of the skin to help prevent the impact of ozone damage to skin
  • Once absorbed, this vitamin C serum remains effective for a minimum of 72 hours
  • Paraben-free and ideal for normal, dry, and sensitive skin types
  • Tested suitable for use post-laser, always consult with a physician for individual post-procedure care
  • 15% L-ascorbic acid
    Lauded for its superior antioxidant benefits, this highly potent form of pure vitamin C helps neutralize free radicals and protect against oxidative stress while providing visible anti-aging benefits.
  • 1% alpha tocopherol
    This pure form of vitamin E neutralizes free radicals and replenishes skin lipids. It has been proven to act synergistically with vitamin C.
  • 0.5% ferulic acid
    A plant-based antioxidant, ferulic acid neutralizes free radicals and enhances the antioxidant benefits and stability of vitamins C and E.

First Impressions

Undoubtedly, based on thousands of 5 star reviews across platforms, this is a special product. But in order to truly test it out, I stopped using any Vitamin C product, and just used Skinceuticals CE Ferulic Acid serum, with the intention of using it as my lone day-time serum in the morning followed by only a sunscreen. A couple of first impression observations:

  • The texture of this serum feels incredibly similar to my face oils. To the point that I’d say this can take the place of a face oil. It’s less nourishing, and absorbs far quicker. But in terms of skin feel, texture, and just general presence, one could easily think this water-soluble solution was actually an oil.
  • Some people have said that this smells like hot dog water, and I’d agree to a point. It’s not fragranced at all, and in my opinion just has a bit of a ‘weird’ smell. While certainly not ‘pleasing,’ I would not say it is anything major such that anyone’s purchasing decision should come down to the smell factor.
  • The dropper is really generous, as in, you really have to be easy on the dropper because it loves to dispense drops. You don’t really need a lot. I use about 4-5 drops for my entire face. Because it absorbs so quickly, you might be tempted to layer again. Don’t do that, stick to your once-over.
  • The first couple of times I applied this, my skin was a little redder throughout the day. Not at all in an alarming way. But, it struck me as strange because the benefits should include increased broad spectrum photo-protection when layered under sunscreen, and it looked like my skin was experiencing the opposite of that. However, after about a week, my skin was no longer reddened. My assumption is that this was probably my skin adjusting to the powerful actives. Vitamin C can sometimes be a bit aggressive for me, and this really was one of the first, so it wouldn’t be too surprising if it took a while for my skin to adjust, especially since I was applying more than I should at the beginning. I read that some people experience tingling, and these are all common reactions to Vitamin C.
  • It’s true that the formula browns over time. While some say this is the result of Vitamin C oxidizing and renders the formula ineffective, Skinceuticals has went on record to say this natural process does not affect the efficacy of the product. On their box, SkinCeuticals literally says, “L-ascorbic acid could oxidize and darken with time, but will remain effective.” There are other brands with Vitamin C products who say the same. I think each formula is different, and there may not be an absolute right or wrong here.

Is the hype justified?

After a month of religious use, I can say that Skinceuticals CE Ferulic Acid serum is indeed quite an impactful product. As someone in their early 30s, I’m not going to act like this gave me the equivalent of a mini-face lift. Instead I’ll tell you what I did notice. After the first week, my skin adjusted well to the Vitamin C, and it was smooth sailing. I started noticing in the mornings before I applied anything at all that my skin was regularly more even than I remembered, a bit more “lit” than before. I have this dark spot on my forehead that is in the development stages, which I diligently made sure to cover, and it’s really halted any progression. It may have even faded it a bit.

While 30 days is not enough time to really see a meaningful difference in fine lines and wrinkles, my skin did appear and feel firmer. This will be different for everyone, but for me, it is along my mouth that I can tell this. It’s just more taut and positioned slightly higher. The texture of my skin also felt smoother, in that way where lines, pores, and overall texture just get a butter effect. That’s absolutely lovely.

Based on these results, I’d say the formula does a really good job at fully capturing the potential of Vitamin C which, if made in a way that can be fully utilized by the skin, can tackle everything from complexion brightening to underlying collagen production (firmness and elasticity).

Verdict: The hype is justified, Skinceuticals CE Ferulic Acid serum does what it claims, is well researched, and at this point, has a proven track record in the skincare community.

Is it worth it?

At $180+ for a 1oz bottle, this is quite an investment. It’s not the most costly serum I’ve seen, and the clinical results, and proven studies make it a good investment if you don’t want to risk it on products without such strong evidence for their efficacy. I really consider Skinceuticals CE Ferulic Acid to do two key things incredibly well: it’s a powerful Vitamin C serum, and it’s a stellar, comprehensive Antioxidant Serum. Despite many products claiming antioxidant benefits, this was one of the first products to capture the power of antioxidants in a potent, clinical way, and few harness it as well.

Worth considering.

But, we do have to talk about the elephant in the room. At almost 20 years old, and with the industry creating dupe after dupe, is Skinceuticals CE Ferulic Acid serum still the best bet? That’s a more complicated question to answer. Skinceuticals CE Ferulic Acid Serum is 20 years old. While the formula is clinical and was a ground breaking creation in its time, is a bit long in tooth in other respects. Namely, it’s not vegan nor clean, two qualities that are almost non-negotiables for modern brands. So, if those factors are important to you, it’s best to look elsewhere. If the price is prohibitive, there are cheaper dupes. Here are some to consider that are either clean, vegan, more affordable or some combination of the three that you might love:

  • CLE Cosmetics Vitamin C Elixir: clean, and vegan. An innovative oil and water-based serum blend that contains Vitamin C, Ferulic Acid, and Vitamin E alongside other antioxidants, amino acids, and Vitamin B6.
  • Timeless 20% CE Ferulic Acid Serum: 20% Vitamin C, in the same L-Ascorbic Acid form, plus Vitamin E and Ferulic Acid for a fraction of the price at $20 for 0.5 oz. This near dupe also contains hyaluronic acid for a boosting of hydration while we’re at it.
  • Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum: At more than half the price, clean and vegan, C-Firma, which contains the CEFerulic Acid complex, is among one of Drunk Elephant’s top sellers. That’s saying a lot given this line is one of the most recent success stories in how they absolutely blew up in sales.
  • Paula’s Choice C15 Booster: Contains the same trinity of actives, in similar concentrations again, at a fraction of the price. With Paula’s Choice, we can always rely on dependable, scientifically-proven formulas, which makes this a reliable alternative.
  • YÜLI Liquid Courage: A 3-in-1 innovation of antioxidant serum, Vitamin C serum, and face oil. Delivered as a skin nourishing, vitamin-rich face oil, with a base of botanical seed-derived antioxidant concentrates that are the densest bioavailable sources of antioxidants, and a advanced liposomal Vitamin C that delivers deeper into the skin for 6x the potency. This also contains the trinity of clean, vegan, advanced forms of Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Ferulic acid for less than Skinceuticals.

Final Thoughts

The fact that Skinceuticals CE Ferulic Acid serum has made such a name for itself is a testament to its real, time-tested value. While there have been improvements made on the classic formula either offering innovation, affordability, or bit of both by other brands, we have to keep in mind that a a better hamster wheel is still referencing the original hamster wheel. Sometimes, the OG is the OG for a reason. Regardless, I think we can all benefit from adding a CE Ferulic Acid serum to our regimen.

If you want the tried and true, you can’t go wrong with Skinceuticals CE Ferulic Acid serum. However, if you’d like to venture out a bit, there are great options we’ve highlighted. Let’s just call it a win either way that these options are available to us, and give Skinceuticals the respect that they’re due for revolutionizing this category and bring up the overall level of performance we’ve come to enjoy.


New in our shop.

Check out the newest picks in our curated shop!

Pin to board
Share on facebook

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No more posts to show, explore other topics: