I compared vitamin C serums that cost $20 and $165 - and it turns out the expensive one is worth the cost
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- Vitamin C serums get down to the cellular level to protect skin from free radicals, which can damage skin in the forms of discoloration, fine lines, and wrinkles.
- SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic ($166) has been heralded the "gold standard" in vitamin C serums by dermatologists for it's scientifically-backed formula.
- I had heard that TruSkin Naturals makes a vitamin C serum that yields similar results for a fraction of the price ($19.99), so I decided to try both for a month.
- Ultimately, while both products gave my skin a nice sheen, the SkinCeuticals serum was more effective at lightening sun spots, discoloration, and dark circles over time.
Vitamin C serums are staples in the routines of skin-care fanatics, but they're not just a trend - scientific evidence tells us that topical vitamin C promotes collagen production, lightens hyperpigmentation, and protects skin from free radicals. These qualities work together to leave skin plumper, brighter, and with a nice dewy glow.How could I not be using one of these wonder potions in my routine already? My search for a great vitamin C serum kept leading me back to one product: the SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic serum. Since it's release in 2005, this serum has been a favorite among self-labeled skin-care experts and dermatologists alike for its scientifically-based formula. That sounded well and good to me, but there's a catch - a one ounce bottle costs $166.
I'm all for a skincare splurge every now and then, but $166 is a hard pill to swallow. I wondered, then: Would a cheaper vitamin C serum do the trick? A friend of mine had mentioned that the TruSkin Naturals Vitamin C serum was comparable to the SkinCeuticals option -she had seen glowing results, quite literally, and it was a fraction of the price at just $19.99. So, I figured, why not compare these two serums and see if the cheaper one stacked up?
Why vitamin C so important for the skin
I was excited to begin this skin experiment, but in order to help me - and hopefully you - understand what makes vitamin C the elixir of choice for getting that dewy glow, I reached out to a dermatologist for an expert opinion. Dr. Dendy Engelman is a board-certified dermatologic surgeon and celebrity dermatologist. Currently, she works as an MD at Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery as well as a clinical assistant professor and director of dermatologic surgery at the Metropolitan Hospital Center. Here's why Dr. Engelman says adding a vitamin C serum is so beneficial, in scientific terms:
"Free radicals are highly destructive molecules that can wreak havoc on your skin. Free radicals are unstable compounds in search of a missing electron. When they 'steal' electrons from other molecules, it leaves those molecules unstable and in search of a missing electron. Because this produces a domino effect, this further weakens the skin barrier, leaving it vulnerable to premature aging (i.e. fine lines and wrinkles, uneven skin texture). Antioxidants, like vitamin C, pair with free radical scavengers in search of a missing electron, so it neutralizes the damage a free radical can do if it were to pair instead with an electron from a skin protein".
After that little science lesson, I had a better understanding of why a vitamin C serum is so important and felt ready to take on this experiment and test these serums out.
My testing method
To make a fair comparison, I decided to use the serums at the same. The left side of my face would be dedicated to SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic and the right side would get TruSkin Naturals. Skin can be fickle and since I can't control external variables that may cause unwanted flare-ups, doing a half-half method seemed like the best way to judge each products effectiveness. Everything else in my skincare routine would be left as is - I'd fit the serums in after using a gentle cleanser, but before layering on a lightweight lotion, eye cream, and sunscreen. I planned to use the serums for at least four weeks, keeping track of changes that I noticed on either side.
My impressions, week by week
Week one: The SkinCeuticals serum is clear, has a thin consistency, and a metallic scent that kind of smells like hot dog water. The TruSkin Naturals serum is a milky color, has a thicker feel, and is odor-free. I put three drops of each serum on their respective sides and rub them in. Both serums feel lightweight and absorb nicely into my skin. I let each side dry, then follow up with my regular lotion and sunscreen. After a few days, all I notice is a pimple smack dab in the middle of my forehead - an area where I rarely break out. I wonder if that could be attributed to the new products, or was just a fluke. Either way, I continue the routine.Week two: It hasn't been long, but I haven't noticed much of a difference on either side. At dinner with family though, I get asked if I'm the youngest child. I have a fifteen year old brother - so maybe these serums really are working some anti-aging magic. Did two weeks of Vitamin C serum reverse the clock seven years? I have to say, that felt pretty good.
Week three: Since starting this little experiment, I've been adamant about following the same routine every morning. While I know I should use sunscreen everyday, I often leave it out of my morning routine. Since using these serums, I've been really good about putting on sunscreen each morning. Even though it's winter, I feel that I'm doing a great service to my skin - and while it's not really a result of these serums, it's been a nice unexpected bonus of the process. My cheeks have been getting a little drier than usual, and I wonder if this could be attributed to the Vitamin C. To counter, I lather on a little more of my trusty Benefit Total Moisture Facial Cream at night - it's my go-to for hydrating dry skin, especially during winter.
Week four: After one month I feel that my skin looks good, but I haven't really had any "wow" moments. Maybe I expected that one side of my face would be bright and glowy, while the other would be irritated and red - but both sides of my face look strikingly similar. I had taken a picture of my skin before starting the routine, so I decide to take a new set of pictures and compare.
Looking at the pictures side by side, I finally have my "wow" moment. I have sun spots and some freckles, but I've never really thought of them as a skin concern - not cosmetically at least. I've come to terms with their existence and for the most part, forget they're even there. When I compare the pictures of the right side of my face, where I've been using the TruSkin Naturals serum, I don't notice any real fading of my spots.
When I look at the left side though, where I've been using SkinCeuticals, it looks like my spots have been lightened a good amount. I was even more impressed to notice that my veins look significantly lighter on the left side too. My very fair skin, I like to call it see-through, leaves plenty of veins on my face visible - like sun spots, it's something I've kind of just come to terms with, though I wouldn't mind if they were hidden. This is something I wasn't expecting, but am definitely happy to see. Although I didn't really notice anything when analyzing my skin in the mirror, I think both serums have given my skin a nice sheen. My poor-quality selfies may not do either justice, but I think both did a good job of making my skin look a little more even.
The ingredients behind it all
Given that my experience is completely subjective, I wanted some objectivity to answer the "which product is actually better" conundrum. I sent Dr. Engelman the ingredients in each product to hear her take. Here's what she said:Skinceuticals Ingredients: Aqua/Water/Eau, Ethoxydiglycol, Ascorbic Acid, Glycerin, Propylene Glycol, Laureth-23, Phenoxyethanol, Tocopherol, Triethanolamine, Ferulic Acid, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate.
I consider CE Ferulic one of (if not) the gold standard for topical antioxidants. It is backed by copious clinical studies and is greatly effective in fighting free radical damage. This contains ascorbic acid, as compared to TruSkin's sodium ascorbyl phosphate which is a derivative and less powerful. It also contains ferulic acid, a powerful acid that targets discoloration and fine lines. Skinceuticals undergoes extensive testing to ensure that the product is effective and maintains its stability over time. This is one of the reasons it is at an elevated price point.
TruSkin Ingredients: Organic Deionized Herbal Infusion, Organic Aloe Barbadensis Leaf (Aloe), Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (Vitamin C), MSM, Botanical Hyaluronic Acid (Cassia Angustifolia Seed Polysaccharide), Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel), Vitamin E (d-alpha Tocopheryl Acetate), Carbomer, (2s)-2-Amino-5-guanidinopentanoic Acid, Organic Gotu Kola, Wildcrafted Horsetail (Equisetum Arvense), Wildcrafted Dandelion, Wildcrafted Geranium, Organic Jojoba Oil (Organic Simmondsia Chinensis), Phenoxyethanol, Ethyl Hexyl Glycerin.
This serum is less powerful than Skinceuticals, however it does have some nourishing properties that I like. Witch hazel helps calm inflammation and jojoba is very hydrating. This serum will not work as well, but that is not to say it will not [work] at all.
The bottom line
Both of these products have a cult-following - SkinCeuticals is consistently ranked as one of the best vitamin C serums out there and TruSkin Naturals boasts over 4,700 glowing reviews on Amazon and a loyal following as well. As Dr. Engelman stated, both products can work, it really just depends what you are looking for in the product. If you are just looking to delve into the world of vitamin C serums as a means of getting even, glowy skin, I think TruSkin Naturals will do the trick. If you are specifically targeting fine lines and discoloration, SkinCeuticals will likely yield better results. The addition of ferulic acid and a more potent form of vitamin C explain why many people see significant results, and (unfortunately) why the price tag is so high.
At the end of the day, our bodies are totally unique, so what works for me may not work for you and vice versa. Maybe neither of these products will be right for you, but even if that's the case, I'd still recommend adding some type of topical vitamin C to your skincare routine. We're all surrounded by environmental stressors every day, and even if you don't realize, over time these can be very taxing on your skin - vitamin C works to combat those negative effects.
Dr. Engelman recommends a serum, saying "they will be most effective in delivering to the cellular level. Serums have the highest concentration of active ingredients and smaller molecules which allows actives to penetrate further". Too much vitamin C can be overkill though - Dr. Engelman cautioned against using more than one topical vitamin C product each day, as too much can be irritating and cause acne breakouts in certain skin types.
Ultimately, neither of these products changed my life - at least not yet. While at first that disappointed me a little, it's for the best. Plenty of skincare products reap immediate rewards, but a vitamin C serum is something that helps protect your skin for the long haul, which I know in a few years I'll be grateful for. Neither of these products are quick fixes, and while a one ounce bottle will last you a long time (you only use a few drops each day), keeping up with a $166 skincare habit is not necessarily sustainable. Luckily, there are plenty more topical Vitamin C products to choose from, that may work better for your skin type and budget.
For now, I am going to transition to SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic full time with the hopes that it will help lessen the discoloration and veins on the other side of my face, too. I'll definitely continue using TruSkin Naturals every few days though, so I can expand the longevity of this $166 bottle.Subscribe to our newsletter.
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