Skinceuticals CE Ferulic is known as the gold standard of Vitamin C serums with copy-cat products following its footsteps, attempting to mimic the serums mystical powers. Timeless Vitamin C+E Ferulic Acid is among the most common, and one I receive questions about most often. There are certain products where budget options exist. A quality, well formulated Vitamin C serum is one of those products where in my opinion, a budget option doesn’t exist. And by budget, I mean cheap…. because budget is relative.
Skinceuticals holds the patent on stabilized ascorbic acid compositions, the ideal formulation with maximum bioavailability with the least likelihood of irritation at a low pH. Bioavailability is the degree and rate a substance is absorbed into the skin and able to have an active effect. The patent covers ascorbic acid between a pH of 2.5 and 3.0. Although the optimum level of bioavailability with the least irritation occurs between this pH range product can still penetrate at a pH of 2.0 to 3.5. Competitors are able to create ascorbic acid serums at a pH of 2.0-2.4 or 3.1-3.5, but once a serums pH surpasses 3.5 bioavailability decreases in the skin.
The formulas look similar enough, but we’re going to break them down side by side.
Timeless Vitamin C+E Ferulic Acid Ingredients: Water, Ethoxydiglycol, L-Ascorbic Acid, Propylene Glycol, Alpha Tocopherol, Polysorbate 80, Panthenol, Ferulic Acid, Sodium Hyaluronate, Benzylalcohol, Dehydroacetic Acid.
Skinceuticals CE Ferulic Ingredients: Water, Ethoxydiglycol, Ascorbic Acid, Glycerin, Propylene Glycol, Laureth-23, Phenoxyethanol, Tocopherol, Triethanolamine, Ferulic Acid, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate
In bold are ingredients not shared by both formulations:
Timeless Vitamin C+E Ferulic Acid
Skinceuticals CE Ferulic
|Water – solvent||Water – solvent|
|Ethoxydiglycol – alcohol compound used as a solvent||Ethoxydiglycol – alcohol compound used as a solvent|
|L-Ascorbic Acid – vitamin C (20%)||Ascorbic Acid – vitamin C (15%)|
|Propylene Glycol – alcohol that acts as a humectant; solvent for preservatives; helps ingredients penetrate skin||Glycerin – solvent, humectant, and emollient; helps products spread better|
|Alpha Tocopherol – vitamin E (1%)||Propylene Glycol – alcohol that acts as a humectant; solvent for preservatives; helps ingredients penetrate skin|
|Polysorbate 80 – emulsifier||Laureth-23 – surfactant, emulsifier; stabilizes and acts as a delivery system|
|Panthenol – vitamin B complex||Phenoxyethanol – stabilizer, preservative|
|Ferulic Acid – antioxidant, stabilizer (1%)||Tocopherol – vitamin E (1%)|
|Sodium Hyaluronate – hydrator; gives a gel consistency||Triethanolamine – pH balancer|
|Benzyl Alcohol – preservative||Ferulic Acid – antioxidant, stabilizer (0.5%)|
|Dehydroacetic Acid – preservative||Panthenol – vitamin B complex|
|Sodium Hyaluronate – hydrator; gives a gel consistency|
Timeless has a few preservatives added and an emulsifier.
Skinceuticals has an extra ingredient to aid in delivery, stabilizers and a pH balancer.
Triethanolamine is important.
Over time you will see Skinceuticals CE Ferulic change in color as it oxidizes, but this isn’t associated with the efficacy of the serum because it is highly stable and pH balanced. Skinceuticals stability testing shows their serum is at least 88% as potent even after a full year of storage.
From a Timeless customer service rep:
“The serum is not alcohol based. When freshly manufactured, the serum pH is approximately 2.4. As the serum ages, so can the pH, as the vitamin c begins to oxidize. The 20% Vitamin C+E Ferulic Acid, when freshly manufactured the serum is cloudy and thick in appearance with slight yellowing due to the Ferulic Acid. As the serum begins to age it starts clear up, then begins with hints yellowing. The serum can change back to a cloudy state when refrigerated or temperatures are cold, this is normal. As the serum ages, it will continue to change in color. Expiration is approximately 3 months without refrigeration and 5 months with refrigeration. We advise customers that refrigeration is recommended, as mentioned on the box, to extend the shelf life of the serum and slow down the process of oxidation. When oxidized the serum turns red/brown in color and is good to use until then.”
If Timeless is not properly stabilized you could assume the serum has gone bad once it’s oxidized. But we don’t know how well the formula is stabilized. By looking at the ingredients we know the pH isn’t balanced in the longterm as the serum oxidizes. In their email, Timeless mentions that as the serum ages, so can the pH. When acidic formulas destabilize their pH increases as it attracts more water. Over time the formula will no longer penetrate skin properly, even if it is stable. On the stratum corneum, your skins surface, you will likely notice an improvement with a brighter, more even tone and lightening of pigmentation.
If Timeless isn’t pH balanced it will only pass through the stratum corneum for a short period of time. Once it has oxidized and the pH has increased it’s only sitting on top of your skin, again assuming the formula is well stabilized. Which means it’s not working where it truly matters in the deeper layers of the skin. This is where you want your actives to penetrate, otherwise, it’s a waste.
As stated earlier, Skinceuticals patent covers the least irritating pH of 2.5-3.0. With Timeless sitting at a low pH of 2.4 many will find their formula to be irritating, drying, or skin sensitizing. Creating a consistent environment of this nature can disrupt the skin’s barrier over time, creating inflammation and lead to symptoms we experience over exfoliating. Irritated skin also experiences an increase of transepidermal water loss aka TEWL, meaning our skin cannot retain water properly. Depending on what you’re using in your routine issues could become exacerbated. Just because your skin doesn’t show or react to a potential irritant doesn’t mean damage isn’t taking place, like stress causing low-level inflammation in our body.
I mentioned the following statement in my post about getting the most out of your Vitamin C serum and it applies here. Ascorbic acid serums are designed for daytime use because of their ability to neutralize free radicals. A quality serum wouldn’t be necessary to use in the evening because it creates a reservoir in your skin that remains when used daily. Timeless suggests using Vitamin C+E Ferulic Acid both AM and PM. My thoughts are either it’s a marketing suggestion to get customers to finish a bottle quickly, or worse the formulation isn’t effective enough to be used in the morning only. If that’s the case who knows how many bottles you would need to reach efficacy?
Unfortunately, there are many poorly formulated, unstable products with ascorbic acid on the market advertised as a budget buy, fooling many consumers. As a licensed professional it’s frustrating because these brands are causing consumer mistrust, giving a misleading perception that big brands are only out to make a profit. The reality: all brands are out to make a profit, they’re businesses after all. Talk to a cosmetic chemist and they’ll tell you smaller brands can get away with deceit more easily than the big boys since regulatory agencies don’t pay them much attention. Not to say Timeless is actively doing this, but it’s something to be aware of when shopping.
With evidence of Timeless being an inferior formula I wouldn’t suggest it as an alternative to Skinceuticals CE Ferulic. If it’s out of your price range you could start with Skinceuticals Serum AOX 10, even at 10% Vitamin C it’s a better option than Timeless Vitamin C+E Ferulic Acid. Then as your budget allows work your way up to Serum AOX 15, Serum AOX 20, or CE Ferulic.
Do I think Skinceuticals premium Vitamin C serums are expensive? Yes. But I’m personally willing to pay that premium to know I’m getting a formula that does what’s being sold.