I never thought I’d be dealing with cystic acne and emerging wrinkles in equal measure at age 30, but alas, here we are. The new lines taking up near-permanent residence on my forehead are just as frustrating as the all-too-familiar breakouts and acne scars along my jawline.
A quick Google search for a solve for these conditions points to one product in particular: vitamin C serum. Packed with powerful L-ascorbic acid and a range of antioxidants, these often pricey elixirs claim to fade dark spots and correct environmental damage while brightening and firming the skin.
Though I’m a bit of a "clean skincare" skeptic, I was intrigued to try Drunk Elephant’s C-Firma Day Serum. My sensitive skin demands that I play it safe when it comes to new products, but the fan-favorite formula boasts glowing reviews and promises to treat the exact concerns at the top of my list: dark spots, dullness, and fine lines.
Though I expected irritation, I threw caution to the wind and slathered two pumps of the amber-colored liquid across my skin. Ahead, find my unfiltered three-day review of this hero product, including how it affected my sensitive skin, the results, and whether I think it’s worth the $80 price tag.
Star rating: 4.7/5
Best for: All skin types, particularly those who are trying to treat dark spots and photoaging.
Uses: Brightens and firms skin while fighting signs of environmental damage and aging for a smooth, even complexion.
Active ingredients: The brand’s Potent Antioxidant Complex, which consists of 15% L-Ascorbic Acid and Ferulic Acid, plus 1% Vitamin E.
About the brand: Drunk Elephant is known for its effective, splurge-worthy products formulated without essential oils, drying alcohols, silicones, chemical sunscreens, fragrances, dyes, or sulfates.
About My Skin: Dry, sensitive, and prone to acne and eczema
Contrary to what my medicine cabinet would suggest, I consider myself a skincare minimalist. As mentioned above, this is more of a requirement than a choice—I have dry, sensitive skin that’s prone to hormonal acne around my period and eczema flare-ups once the temperatures drop. Plus, I just went off the pill after 14 years and have been experiencing truly teenage-level hormonal breakouts and scarring.
Suffice it to say, I haven’t been feeling particularly adventurous when it comes to skincare. My typical routine consists of a gentle cleanser, a daily SPF moisturizer, and the occasional anti-aging serum or hydrating mask when I’m feeling particularly lackluster. While I’d love to be the kind of person who can slather on serum after serum each day, my skin all but demands a cautious routine. Adding a vitamin C serum into the mix may sound innocuous, but for me, it’s somewhat of a leap of faith.
The Feel: Slightly sticky but surprisingly lightweight
Despite the somewhat confrontational copper smell and sticky texture, C-Firma felt surprisingly lightweight on my skin. It spread evenly across my cheeks, jawline, and forehead, and absorbed quickly, leaving a slight residue behind. To my surprise, it didn’t irritate the healing zits on my jaw or the small eczema spots around my eyes—it felt slightly tingly for a moment, but quickly subsided.
By midday, I could still feel a slight film on my skin, plus a subtle tightening sensation across my forehead and cheeks. Although it felt smooth and dry to the touch, it didn’t feel like I was completely bare-faced. I didn’t apply makeup over it and probably wouldn’t in the future just because I’m hesitant to layer too many products and risk a breakout. Overall, it feels like it’s doing something, but fulfills its promise of being lightweight and easy to apply.
The Results: A noticeably brightened complexion and smoothed fine lines
I had just gotten home from a long (socially distanced) weekend away involving countless cocktails and minimal sleep when I used this serum again. My skin was essentially sapped of all moisture and vitality, and a few pumps offered the pick-me-up I desperately needed. This time, the formula melted into my skin and the sticky texture quickly disappeared. Within the hour, my skin felt slightly firmer and had greater clarity, particularly across my forehead and cheeks.
While it certainly takes more than three days to reap the complexion-boosting benefits, my zits and acne scars along my jawline felt sufficiently soothed by the third application. The redness had been tempered, and I felt like the recovery process had been escalated. This was a total win for me, considering strong products tend to irritate these sensitive areas and provoke even more breakouts. I often avoid potent masks, serums, or acids altogether for fear of having even more acne scars to heal.
So far, C-Firma is not irritating or pore-clogging in the slightest and feels lightweight enough to complement my sensitive skin. After day three, my forehead lines were noticeably smoothed and my skin felt baby-soft to the touch after washing it off. I’m definitely going to continue using C-Firma a few times a week and closely monitor my acne scars.
The Ingredients & Value: You’re getting vitamin C and then some
Of course, a vitamin C serum is only as good as its ingredient list. Drunk Elephant’s is formulated with a potent 15% L-ascorbic acid and ferulic acid, plus 1 percent vitamin E—roughly the same effective formulation that put SkinCeuticals' C E Ferulic on the map. What's more, C-Firma also contains fruit enzymes like pumpkin ferment and pomegranate extract to dissolve dead skin cells and minimize the appearance of pores. Finally, sodium hyaluronate crosspolymer delivers a dose of hydration to plump the skin and diminish the appearance of fine lines even further.
While a vitamin C serum is essentially defined by L-ascorbic acid or THD ascorbate (a fat-soluable form of vitamin C) or a mixture either of those and ferulic acid (to help stabilize the formula), many don’t include the additional fruit enzymes. These ingredients help diminish the appearance of photo-damage and aging, in addition to clarifying the skin and enriching your overall complexion. While $80 may seem steep for a single product, you’re actually getting more skin-soothing ingredients than the standard vitamin C serum. Plus, at 30ml per bottle, you get the same amount of product as C E Ferulic for $86 less.
Interactions & Oxidation: Use it up within 6 months
As with any Vitamin C serum, you should not use C-Firma with retinoids, copper peptides, and alpha-hydroxy acids, as these ingredients can destabilize the formula and render it ineffective. Additionally, pure L-ascorbic acid is most effective when fresh, so use it up within six months and store it in the refrigerator to preserve its magic. Fortunately, the clever packaging helps to preserve every last drop—it’s housed in a completely opaque bottle with a secure twist-up lid to keep air out. Finally, C-Firma has a pH of 3.3, which means it may change colors slightly during the course of its shelf life. However, anything from pale yellow to amber orange is normal.
Similar Products: From $166 to $8
- SkinCeuticals’ C E Ferulic ($166): This is definitely C-Firma’s top competitor. This popular product has been around since 2005 and is a tried-and-true beauty editor favorite. I’ve also used C E Ferulic, and feel that C-Firma is less oily, more absorbent, and generally easier to apply. The smell of C-Firma, while similar, isn’t as intense. C E Ferulic would sometimes irritate my skin if used for too many days in a row, and I have not experienced the same inflammation with Drunk Elephant thus far.
- The Ordinary Resveratrol 3% + Ferulic Acid 3% Serum ($8): This serum is significantly cheaper and still boasts impressive reviews across the internet. While it doesn’t contain L-ascorbic acid, resveratrol and ferulic acid are powerful antioxidants in their own right and can fade dark spots and protect against environmental stressors. This is a great budget-friendly choice if you’re testing the waters with an antioxidant serum.
Our Verdict: It lives up to the hype
All in all, C-Firma actually delivers on its promise of firmer, clearer skin, and in my experience, is less irritating than similar vitamin C serums on the market. It’s a great choice for sensitive skin types and is actually somewhat affordable, comparatively speaking.