This Skinceuticals Dupe Goes The Extra Anti-Aging Mile (And Is Way Cheaper, Too)

by Gio

drunk elephant c-firma day serum review

For years, I’ve gotten my vitamin C fix from Paula’s Choice C15 Booster.

It’s a dupe for Skinceuticals CE Ferulic serum, the original CEF serum (CEF stands for vitamin C, vitamin E and Ferulic acid). Same benefits for way less than half the price.

Sure, I tried different vitamin C serums over the years (hey, I’m a skincare blogger – I can’t not cheat on my HGs!), but I always came back to Paula’s Choice C15 Booster. I thought I always would.

Until Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum finally hit the UK a few months. After testing it for a month, I’m not sure I want to go back to my first love this time. Here’s why:

Key Ingredients In Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum

15% Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin E And Ferulic Acid

Wondering what’s the best antioxidant out there?


None. When it comes to antioxidants, the more, the merrier. The more antioxidants you feed your skin, the more free radicals you destroy. It’s as easy as that.

One of the most powerful combinations of antioxidants is 15% vitamin C (ascorbic acid), 1% vitamin E (tocopherol) and 0.5% Ferulic acid. It’s the one you’ll find in Skinceuticals CE Ferulic, Paula’s C15 Booster and plenty of other vitamin C serums.

Ascorbic acid is an antiaging superstar. Studies show it can:

Problem is, ascorbic acid is unstable AF. That means it loses its antiaging superpowers quickly. If it came in a see-through tube, you’ll see it turn brown (a sign it’s going bad) within a few short days.

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum has the packaging nailed right to help vitamin C last as long as possible. Vitamin E and ferulic acid help with that too.

These two antioxidants don’t just fight their own free radicals too. They also help stabilise vitamin C, making it last (and be effective) for longer. Plus, all 3 together help prevent sun damage.

P.S. Drunk Elephant gave ascorbic acid the best chance to last as long as possible. But this isn’t something you can buy now and use six months later or buy in bulk. It won’t go bad within a week but won’t last you for too many months either. Be quick!

P.P. S. This combination works best at a pH range between 2.5-3.5. Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum has a ph of 3.5. The higher pH makes it less irritating than Skinceuticals CE Ferulic (pH 2.5-3) and Paula’s Choice C15 Booster (pH 3).

Related: The Complete Guide To Vitamin C: What It Does & Why You Should Use It

drunk elephant c-firma day serum


CEF aren’t the only antioxidants in Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum. It’d take too long to list them all (and this review is already long enough), so here are the highlights:

See what I mean when I say that this vitamin C serum goes the extra mile? It’s half the price of Skinceuticals CE Ferulic yet it gives you way more antioxidants to prevent those pesky wrinkles.

Related: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Green Tea In Skincare

Lactobacillus/Pumpkin Ferment Extract

Pumpkins ain’t just a Halloween treat. When fermented with lactobacillus lactic, they create an enzyme with exfoliating properties.

It works by breaking down keratin, the protein that keeps those dull and rough outer layers of your skin stuck on your face. Once those are off your skin, your face looks smoother and brighter.

I prefer glycolic acid (a member of the Alpga Hydroxy Acids family)  to do the job. But if you find AHAs too harsh for your skin – or simply don’t like the idea of using acids – this is a good alternative for you.

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that if you want to use Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum but aren’t ready to give up on exfoliating acids just yet, cut back on exfoliation.

Exfoliation ain’t like antioxidants. The more you exfoliate, the higher the chance of irritating your skin. Be careful!

Related: The Complete Guide To Enzyme Exfoliants: Should You Use Them?

Marula Oil & Hyaluronic Acid

I’m pairing them together because they both moisturize skin – just in different ways.

Marula oil is what gave Drunk Elephant its name. Legend has it, elephants get drunk when they eat too much marula fruit.

True or false, you can’t deny its benefits for your skin. Marula oil is loaded with moisturising fatty acids that create a barrier on the skin that slows down water loss. Plus, it has its fair share of antioxidants, too.

Hyaluronic acid, on the other hand, is a moisture magnet: it attracts moisture into the skin and binds it there. It’s so powerful, it can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water!

Related: Why You Should Add Hyaluronic Acid To Your Skincare Routine

Let’s Put It To The Test: Personal Use & Opinion

The only thing I DON’T like about Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum? The texture’s a little sticky.

It still works well under sunscreen and makeup, but if you’ve got oily skin, this could be a dealbreaker for you. Try to get hold of a sample if you can.

Instead, don’t worry about the golden hue of the serum. Usually, that’s a sign vitamin C is already going bad, but that’s not what’s going on here. It’s the curcuminoids (a group of anti-irritants) that gives the serum its colour.

I use Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum every morning to enhance the effectiveness of my sunscreen (CEF boosts photoprotection, remember?). But you can totally use it at night too if the stickiness bothers you that much.

After a few days, I’ve already noticed my skin getting brighter. It gives it a luminous, healthy glow I really like. If you’ve got any dark spots on your skin, it brightens those up and fades them away, too.

I’m also confident the serum is helping me keep premature wrinkles away. Antioxidants prevent wrinkles so you won’t see results anytime soon (in this area anyway).

But there’s plenty of research that shows the antioxidants Drunk Elephant picked work. That’s good enough for me.

I’m hooked. Don’t try it if you don’t want to get addicted too!

Available at: £67/$80.00 at Cult Beauty, Sephora and SpaceNK

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Have you ever tried Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Ingredients: Water/Aqua/Eau, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Ascorbic Acid, Laureth-23, Glycerin, Lactobacillus/Pumpkin Ferment Extract, Sclerocarya Birrea Seed Oil, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Juice Extract, Phyllanthus Emblica Fruit Extract, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Tocopherol, Lactobacillus/Punica Granatum Fruit Ferment Extract, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Hydrolyzed Quinoa, Phytosterols, Glutamylamidoethyl Imidazole, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Ferulic Acid, Acetyl Glucosamine, Sodium Hyaluronate, Tetrahydrobisdemethoxydiferuloylmethane, Tetrahydrodemethoxydiferuloylmethane, Tetrahydrodiferuloylmethane, Glycine, Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, Sucrose, Maltodextrin, Chondrus Crispus Extract, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Isohexadecane, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Caprylyl Glycol, Sorbitan Isostearate, Propanediol, Pentylene Glycol, XanthaN Gum, Butylene Glycol, Sodium Hydroxide, Chlorphenesin, Polysorbate 60, Sodium Dehydroacetate, Potassium Sorbate, Sorbic Acid, Ethylhexylglycerin

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SherryG December 13, 2018 - 2:48 pm

Have you heard about L’Oréal’s lawsuit against Drunk Elephant? I wonder how that will affect all the companies who make it.

Gio December 13, 2018 - 5:53 pm

SherryG, I wonder why it took them that long to do this. It would be a shame if L’Oreal won. Not everyone can afford $166 every couple of months for a serum. I guess in that case, more brands will start patenting different combinations of antioxidants looking for one that’s more effective than vitamin C, vitamin E and ferulic acid.

Claudia December 14, 2018 - 7:41 am

Have you reviewed Mad Hippie Vitamin C serum with Ferulic acid, vitamin E, hyaluronic acid & konjac root? This product is even more reasonably priced. I wonder how it stacks up.

Gio January 13, 2019 - 6:31 pm

Claudia, I haven’t personally tried it yet but judging from the ingredients, it contains a derivative of vitamin C that’s less effective for anti-aging than Ascorbic Acid, the form of vitamin C used in Drunk Elephant. However, the vitamin C in Mad Hippie can help treat acne, so if you’re dealing with that, it’s a great option to consider.

Rebecca Connelly December 14, 2018 - 3:10 pm

How does this compare to the Dr. Dennis Gross product you reviewed recently? I’ve been using it and I can’t say I see a dramatic difference in my skin, but it is not irritating my skin, which is a big plus for me with Vitamin C.

Kristina January 7, 2019 - 6:12 pm

Yes, I’m curious too! How do you think the Drunk Elephant serum compares to the Dr. Dennis Gross C + Collagen serum?

Rebecca, I too use the Dr. Dennis Gross C + Collagen serum. I didn’t see much of a difference on its own, but when I started following it with The Ordinary hyaluronic serum, within weeks a saw a significant increase in radiance/brightness and disappearance of fine lines. I’ve even gotten a few comments from others that my skin is looking radient and healthy. I’ve been out of the C serum for about 2 weeks now (more is on the way!) so the only treatment serum I’m using is the hyaluronic serum– and I would say that I’m just starting to observe a slight decrease in radiance/brightness. Good luck finding a C that works for you!

Rebecca Connelly January 8, 2019 - 9:08 pm

Kristina, it’s odd–I never feel like I notice any big difference in my skin when I try a new product, but compared to last year, when I went through a bout of very dry skin because I was overdoing Retin A, my skin this winter is pretty good. I credit that to hyaluronic acid (I use a Korean essence from Hanskin), the addition of lipids (I use Every Lipid Serum from SkinActives), and sparing and careful use of Retin A (just twice a week–always waiting a good while after I wash my face). Everyone tells me I look much younger than my age, so something is working! But yes–I am curious about the best Vitamin C, as I need the brightness. And I tried Drunk Elephant Protini Peptide Cream and I loved it (had ordered The Ordinary’s Copper Peptide serum and am trying it now, but think I like the DE better even though it lacks the copper), so I might really like the DE C-Firma, too. I just wish it were less expensive–obviously, I’ve never sprung for SkinCeuticals!

Gio January 13, 2019 - 6:02 pm

Rebecca, it really depends on your skin type. Drunk Elephant is a little sticky and more moisturising, so if you have dry skin you’ll love it. For oily skin, Dr Dennis Gross is better.

If you’re asking which one will give you the most glow, both contain high concentrations of ascorbic acid so they perform pretty much the same. Dr Dennis Gross also has Niacinamide, another brightening agent so that’ll help a little too.

Rebecca Connelly January 16, 2019 - 9:19 pm

Thank you, Gio. I am more on the dry side these days, so I will try the Drunk Elephant.

Gio January 19, 2019 - 6:22 pm

Rebecca, you’re welcome.

Theresa May 12, 2019 - 2:11 pm

Hello! How would you pair this serum with hydraulic acid?? Before or after the serum? Also, I’m looking into hadalobo hydraulic acid. Have you heard of it? Thanks.

Gio June 4, 2019 - 6:09 pm

Theresa, yes, that’s a good hyaluronic acid serum. You can use it after Vitamin C.

Elita July 22, 2019 - 5:18 pm

Hi Gio. My dermatologist swears by Skinceuticals but as you’ve noted here it is super pricy to buy the CE Feurulic every 2-3 months. My routine right now is vitamin c, sunscreen in the morning. Tazorac and the retexturizing activator by Skinceuticals at night. I have really acne prone skin so this keeps me clear but I would love a cheaper alternative for these two products. Any recommendations? I was thinking of trying the Paula’s choice glycolic and now seeing this, the drunk elephant c. I have an oily t-zone but normal skin elsewhere. Thanks!

Gio August 8, 2019 - 6:36 pm

Elta, I recommend the opposite. Drunk Elephant Glycolic Night Serum because it has both glycolic and salicylic acid (your skin definitely needs the latter) and Paula’s Choice C15 Booster (Drunk Elephant Vitamin C will feel sticky on your oily areas).


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