Drunk Elephant C-Firma vitamin c serum has a good reputation among c serums, but there have been some questions in skin care circles about how much of that reputation comes from good marketing and how much is warranted on the merits. In my experimental ranking of 68 of the most popular c serums C-Firma came out on top, but my own experiences with both the serum and the company have only confirmed those doubts.
C Firma came out as one of the top serums out of 68 different ones that I compared and ranked on factors like a clinically proven formulation and brand reputability.
It’s one of only a few serums that has the clinically proven formula of L-ascorbic acid, vitamin E and ferulic acid. L-ascorbic acid is the most potent and effective form of vitamin C. When combined with vitamin E and ferulic acid, it penetrates into the skin 8 times more effectively.
On top of an effective formula, C-Firma is also cruelty free, alcohol free, silicone free, and free of fragrance. What probably pushes it above some of the other contenders that offer the same features (like Cosmetic Skin Solutions C + E and Paula’s Choice C15 Superbooster) is that is has some great marketing behind it.
The company isn’t a nameless faceless cosmetics manufacturer (hello SkinCeuticals), it’s a family run business with a founder and a story. This kind of brand story is really good at winning almost instant trust with customers, but when I took a closer look a few holes appeared in the narrative.
The first indication that something wasn’t right was this comment.
“A few days ago, they announced on Facebook their new cleansing gel. I commented. Told them the pH is too high for a brand who’s an advocate for skin-friendly products, science orientated. I was genuinely disappointed, but this wasn’t my first disappointment with them, we’ll get there. They deleted my comment and blocked me.” r/skincareaddiction user I_need_more_creams
Granted, this is one thread, but I found it surprising how many users chimed in.
Since C-Firma came out on top in my rankings because of its combination of formula and brand, I ordered a bottle as soon as I finished my Timeless C serum.
First, the good.
The first time I used it I was impressed. A lot of people complain about the smell of certain vitamin C serums, often described as “hot dog water” – which I’ve never really understood. There is a specific smell to certain serums but as far as I can tell its only in serums that work really well so I take it as a good sign. To each their own.
Like any good ascorbic acid serum C Firma stings a bit going on, which tells me the formulation is in the right pH range for the acid to be effective.
Unlike other actives that take a few weeks to give results, in my experience good vitamin C serums have a pretty quick lead time. I notice a difference with a good serum within 24 hours, and sometimes after one use. Usually it’s just a healthy glow and increased smoothness, but if I happen to be dealing with a breakout I notice it definitely heals and fades way faster than with nothing or other actives like glycolic acid. Other benefits like improving tone and hyperpigmentation take a bit longer but I still see noticeable improvement at the two week mark.
C Firma is definitely a good serum in those regards. I got the glow after the first application, and I noticed constant improvement during the six weeks or so that it lasted (shared between me and my husband both AM and PM.)
Now, the bad.
When I first used the C Firma it was slightly yellow colored. A lot of forums and the site Beautypedia say that this is normal since the formulation contains other ingredients that tint it yellow. I emailed the company just in case and got the following reply.
To be honest, I didn’t really buy it. I was expecting the rep to tell me that the color variation was due to the other ingredients, not due to the fact that ascorbic acid naturally turns yellow over time. That contradicted virtually everything I had read on forums, websites and peer review studies. Still, I decided to take her word for it because I’m not a cosmetic chemist so maybe I only had partial facts.
As time went on the serum continued to turn more and more orange. One morning as we were getting ready I happened to mention my frustration with what was obviously oxidation to my husband (a manufacturing engineer) who aptly noted that the twist design of the packaging makes it so that you can never really get a perfect seal. The result is that oxidation happens much faster than with the conventional dropper bottle design that most other serums come in.
At this point I felt like I had been lied to by the company and furthermore that they prioritized the non-essential elements of their products (like brand and packaging) over the essential elements like a stable formulation.
I don’t want to unfairly target this company. I’m only one person and this is just my experience. When I looked for others with similar experience I found that they were often treated very fairly by Drunk Elephant’s customer service. Maybe I just got unlucky. That being said, I definitely won’t be buying this again.
It unequivocally works just as well as my favourite serum (Cosmetic Skin Solutions C + E serum) but my experience with the product and company left a lot to be desired. It’s also double the price of CSS, which I would be fine with if I knew that it was merited. At this point, I can’t say that I do. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.