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If you've not checked out my post all about ascorbic acid (AKA pure form Vitamin C) then definitely have a look here first because it will give you a solid basis to understand this post and why ascorbic acid is so beloved, along with some of its shortcomings. Today we're talking through the most popular cheaper alternatives to the gold standard formula by Skinceuticals, my experience with each and which I recommend checking out...

Let's start with an overview of the famous Skinceuticals C E Ferulic Antioxidant Serum* | £150. This is a very watery serum that a lot of people say smells of hot dog water! It's very simple with not much else besides the titular ingredients and a hyaluronic acid derivative for its moisture-attracting benefits. A spectrum of colours are within the 'acceptable' range with this product specifically, as it's been tested as effective for up to 36 months unopened and 6 months opened. As with all ascorbic acid products, I personally wouldn't order this until you're ready to put it in your everyday lineup, because you can't always know how long a retailer may have kept the stock for and fresher is always going to be better (but you do have some flex with Skinceuticals).

The Skinceuticals Vitamin C patent covers the most effective, stable and gentle combination of:

Formulating ascorbic acid with ferulic acid and Vitamin E (other antioxidants that boost and stabilise this form of Vitamin C)
 Using a pH range of 2.0-3.5
 A concentration of 10-15% ascorbic acid

The first potential dupe we'll look at is the IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Dullness Vitamin C Serum* | £21. This is an interesting one because IT Cosmetics, like Skinceuticals, is owned by L’Oreal. Whilst the patent obviously belongs to Skinceuticals, I do think there’s something to the fact these products will be formulated in the same labs. This comes in an opaque bottle with a pump; whilst this helps protect the formula from degradation, I personally find it’s not the best with this kind of super-fluid formula as you will have to be careful when dispensing it. It didn’t irritate my skin, which was a pro. In terms of colour - I opened this product as soon as it arrived and it was slightly tinged orange and this did darken by the time I was about halfway through it. Obviously this is more of a mass-produced product, given it’s a L’Oreal brand as opposed to some of the smaller beauty companies we’ll look at in this post - without the stability testing and without knowing it’s freshly made, I’m not sure I can be confident in recommending this broadly. £21 is not a bad price at all, so give it a go if you like the brand, but I personally think there are better options in this list.

Contains Vitamin E but not ferulic acid
pH unknown
15% concentration of ascorbic acid

Next, we have another formula by a L’Oreal Company brand: the Vichy LiftActiv Vitamin C Brightening Skin Corrector Serum* | £39. Like most of the products in this post, it has an almost water-like formula and Vichy have the product in a tinted glass bottle with this sort of drip packaging, so you unscrew the top and a controlled amount of product comes out. It definitely had an orange tint to it when I first opened this bottle but it didn’t change or visibly oxidise around the top as I made my way through it. My real negative is that one of the antioxidants used in this formula is known to have a reddish-orange colour, so could mask potential oxidation. That is actually an ingredient I really enjoy: pycnogenol, which I guess is standing in for the ferulic acid missing in this formula. This wasn’t irritating on my skin and it did help with discolouration, I’m just not sure how effective it is as an antioxidant when it’s difficult to tell how fresh the ascorbic acid is.

 Contains Vitamin E but not ferulic acid
 pH unknown
 15% concentration of ascorbic acid

The next product I have is made by an indie company in very small batches: the Geek & Gorgeous C-Glow 15% Vitamin C Serum | £11.75. As I do with any ascorbic acid-based product: I cracked this open as soon as it arrived and the watery formula was completely clear without any trace of orange, which was a really good sign. The brand actually recommends keeping this refrigerated to help extend its shelf-stability, but I have to admit: mine was kept in my bathroom cabinet, where I'd actually use it! Despite this, and the dropper packaging and the fact it's a tinted bottle (rather than opaque): this actually lasted incredibly well. It was only when I got down to the last 1/4 of the bottle that the slightest tinge of orange began to come through in the actual formula, which is really amazing. It didn't irritate my skin despite the pH being the likely variant between this formula and the Skinceuticals (a lower pH usually means more irritation and ascorbic acid needs that sort of environment). Overall, this product seriously impressed me and its affordable price-point was just the cherry on the cake. 

 Contains Vitamin E and ferulic acid 
 ‘Low’ pH 
 15% concentration of ascorbic acid 

The next product I have to discuss is from one of my favourite and most trusted brands for active skincare, so my hopes were high... let's talk about the Paula's Choice C15 15% Vitamin C with Vitamin E and Ferulic Acid* | £52. This is pretty comfortably the most expensive product in this post (at over £50) and I guess the fact it can be considered a 'more affordable alternative' goes to show how pricey the Skinceuticals product is! It's very watery and comes in an opaque bottle with a dropper that has a little stopper in it to reduce how much oxygen can reach the formula. It's also worth noting that there's 20 ml of formula in here vs. 30 ml in a standard serum, so the cost per ml is quite high. Though, on the flipside, I suppose you'll get through it a little quicker before it oxidises. Despite a pretty low pH, this wasn't irritating to my skin personally and when it arrived and I opened it: it was totally transparent, though I noticed a slight yellowing in its colour after around 4 weeks of use. Overall, I'm happy with the formula but I think the price-point is very high for the quantity of product in here.

 Contains Vitamin E and ferulic acid 
 pH of 3.0
 15% concentration of ascorbic acid 

Finally, we have a product that like Geek & Gorgeous has a very loyal online following: the Timeless 20% Vitamin C + E Ferulic Acid Serum | £26.99. This is actually no longer available in the UK / EU due to it containing a particular ingredient that fell foul of regulations - it's still sold in the US so I did my own research and made my own choice (I advise you look into this yourself). This meant I had to order it via a third party site which I think unfortunately added too many steps to the process for the formula to be as fresh as it could've been. It had now travelled from being stored at Timeless's warehouse, this third party's warehouse and then it was shipped internationally. So, although it's not the actual brand's fault: mine arrived a little yellow already. It has the watery texture you should now be associating with ascorbic acid formulas and comes with pump packaging, which can make it a little annoying to use, but I do appreciate the effort in making this opaque and airless. This is the only product in the entire post that I simply didn't like; I'm not sure if it's the 20% concentration, the low pH or a combination of the two factors, but this was just kind of irritating to my skin. I can see they now have a 10% version of this product which you can try if you live in the US, but I won't be trying it because there's no way to get this product to the UK at peak freshness. I can't personally recommend this product.

 Contains Vitamin E and ferulic acid 
 pH unknown
 20% concentration of ascorbic acid

Of course Skinceuticals will always be the gold standard, so if you can afford it: fill your boots! If you can't; I do think there are some decent alternatives out there. Whilst this time last year, the Paula's Choice would be my top pick, I think ultimately it's too expensive per ml to offer a truly affordable take on ascorbic acid. It's probably no surprise that my top recommendation is Geek & Gorgeous because not only did it have the most impressive stability out of the products I tried but it's the most affordable. On this occasion the cheapest was actually the best for me, so go forth and try that product!

Have you tried any of these formulas? How did you get on with them?

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Read more posts from this series here!


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