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Why does Skinceuticals CE Ferulic cost $100 more than CSS?

July 29, 2013 Reviewed by Marta 55 Comments

Thanks to Marsha, I have discovered a new set of product twins – identical ingredients in differently branded and, often, very differently priced products. If you look at the ingredients of Skinceuticals CE Ferulic and Cosmetic Skin Solutions C + E Ferulic Serum, you’ll be seeing double. They are the exact same formulas.  The only thing that isn’t the same is the price. Skinceuticals costs $142 and Cosmetic Skin Solutions costs $39.95.

How Skinceuticals CE Ferulic (which we reviewed last year) justifies the $100 difference is unclear. Perhaps it is by listing the concentrations of the three actives: vitamin C at 15%, vitamin E at 1% and ferulic acid at 0.5%.  Well no actually, Cosmetic Skin Solutions makes exactly the same claims on its bottle.

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Ferulic acid, by the way, is a great ingredient. It has been found to act synergistically with other antioxidants and, specifically, renders vitamins C and E more powerful. A Duke University study found it particularly good for preventing sun damage, and studies elsewhere have demonstrated that exposure to ultraviolet light actually increases the antioxidant power of ferulic acid.

Good at any price perhaps, but I know which one I’d buy.  And, since I know you are dying to ask, Marsha is very pleased with the results of Cosmetic Skin Solutions.

Ingredients in Skinceuticals CE Ferulic:
Water, Ethoxydiglycol, 15% L-Ascorbic Acid, Propylene Glycol, Glycerin, Laureth-23, 1% Alpha Tocopherol, Phenoxyethanol, Triethanolamine, 0.5% Ferulic Acid, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate

Ingredients in Cosmetic Skin Solutions C + E Ferulic Serum:
Water, Ethoxydiglycol, L-Asorbic Acid, Propylene Glycol, Glycerin, Laureth-23, Alpha Tocopherol, Phenoxyethanol, Triethanolamine, Ferulic Acid, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate.

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  • February 14, 2019

    by El

    I'm wondering the same thing. I'm trying to restock my Cosmetic Skin Solutions Vitamin C + E Serum and it's not up on their website...
    This. Is. Not Good.

  • February 9, 2019

    by Lisa

    Does anyone know why CSS vitamin C products have disappeared from the market? Suddenly they aren’t available.

  • January 27, 2018

    by Michele

    Skinceuticals has a patent on the ph. It's between 2.0 and 3.5 and they use the lower ph. The cheaper brand cannot go as low as skinceuticals and therefore, product does not have the same delivery.

  • December 1, 2017

    by Divya

    I'm a scientist and I think I understand what the reason might be.
    There is a very key component that differentiates brands and that is formulation. Not ingredients but the way they are formulated so that they penetrate the skin and deliver the active molecules. Vitamin C is highly unstable and furthermore has to be kept at a certain pH to have any efficacy. The Skinceuticals CE Ferulic serum has been shown to work in clinical studies, which means they've got the formulation correct. In the book 'Cosmeceuticals and Active Cosmetics, Third Edition', the authors write about the very careful balancing act required when putting together an antioxidant formulation and show the beneficial results of the Skinceutical's product. There is no affiliation with the company- it's a medical textbook.
    Personally I would stick to the one that has shown efficacy. Anyone can throw chemicals together but not everyone can get the conditions and delivery mechanism perfect.

  • February 23, 2017

    by Alex

    We just released a new alternative to the Skinceuticals CE Ferulic serum under the QRxLabs brand. Our new Vitamin C+E / Ferulic Acid Serum is very similar to the CE Ferulic product, but it comes in a new innovative packaging featuring a squeezable bottle with a sealed controlled dropper that minimizes air circulation and therefore oxidation. This results in extended life for the product with maximum effectiveness. Check out our website for more details.

  • May 19, 2016

    by Joanne Colodny

    why don't you show the %'so for all the ingredients. that's what matters in this products

  • March 18, 2016

    by Tammy

    Can either CSS & SCCE products be used during pregnancy?

  • October 9, 2015

    by Anne

    I have used Skincueticals products for probably 20 years and decided to try the CSS twin products - specifically C+E serum, Hydra B5 & Phyto Botanical. I see no difference in the quality or effectiveness of the two brands. I compared all of the ingredients and found them to be the same but I am no chemist so I can't speak for those comparisons. At 62 years young, I have been told for years from friends, dermatologists and aestheticians that I have beautiful skin and I see no difference since I have switched to CSS. I love SC and I was leery like everyone else as to how CSS could be so much cheaper and give the same results- but thought I would give it a try. Who doesn't want to save money?? I have been so pleased with the results and money I have saved!! For all the naysayers- you should give it a try!

  • September 23, 2015

    by Brb

    Then where is it, Jtruth? Why won't you spill the beans either? If it's such a legitimate facility, why can't people say where it is? Why won't anyone representing CSS provide a real, complete address for the company headquarters and facility where the product is made? Again, I made multiple phone calls, sent emails and left messages with people who could supposedly answer my questions. Never a response. Anyone who tries contacting CSS will encounter the same lack of transparency. It's fishy and unfortunately the reason I won't buy from them again. If you have a real address that can be verified, please post it.

  • September 11, 2015

    by Jtruth

    I know where the production facility is and it's very ptofessional. They spend extraordinary time, effort & resources making this stuff. I don't know everything about it, but they have scientists in suits I've seen them. The results on amazon and other review sites prove without a doubt it's a solid product.

  • August 19, 2015

    by Brb

    If you probe into where exactly the CSS facilities are, you'll come up empty handed. They mention Reno, NV, but if you call and ask where the alleged FDA approved facilities are located, NO ONE will tell you. The "local" number goes to off-site operators who will not tell you exactly where they are located either. The shipping address listed on the package is merely a FedEx store. I called several times and sent an email about this matter, but no one will answer my questions. The lack of transparency really makes me question the legitimacy of the company. Fly-by-night operation? Why won't they answer where their products are made? Not feeling confident about putting their stuff on my face now.

  • March 9, 2015

    by Natasha

    Both are very effective, the Skinceuticals is only SLIGHTLY more effective.

    When it comes to actives like Vitamin C, there is more to it than just ingredients. Same ingredients =/= same effectiveness. Skinceuticals has a patent on the formula in the pH range of 2.5 - 3 only, which is the optimal pH range for L-Ascorbic Acid (LAA). I believe Cosmetic Skin Solutions CE Ferulic is between 3 - 3.5.

    That being said, the pH of CSS is still within the effective range, it's just not the optimal range for LAA. There are also many other options for vitamin C, such as ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate or magnesium ascorbyl phosphate that are cheaper because they're not patented by one particular company.

  • January 5, 2015

    by Randy

    They say you get what you pay for. I cheaped out and ordered the Cosmetic Skin Solutions Vit C+E Serum and did not receive the item. I waited 5 weeks and finally gave up. Their customer support is useless. Gave me the run-around and offered nothing but a sympathetic ear. No successful resolution. I can't speak for the quality of the product itself, but the customer experience speaks volumes about how they run their company (and probably how they make their product too).

  • November 27, 2014

    by Nancy

    I also have used both. The ingredients are the same, but the % of the ingredients isn't listed in CSS. I took mine to my dermatologist and she said it is the amount of the ingrediate which makes it expensive. The CSS has very little in it... Hence, the price difference. Maybe using both on off days would be good, that way you still get the stronger product...

  • May 27, 2014

    by rocky

    Tracy, orange color and thicker consistency does not equate to better quality. As a matter of fact when Vitamin C turns orange it has oxidized, that means it is old and exposed to light. I used both and didn't notice any difference in quality but I chose CSS because they don't test on animals.

  • May 19, 2014

    by Mary

    What is the exact formulation of the current CSS CE Serum? What are the percentages of vitamins C, E and ferulic acid?


  • November 21, 2013

    by Holly

    On the CSS website, the ingredients list has changed and is different that was is published at the bottom of the article... an effect since their lawsuit with L'Oreal? No idea.

    Here is the current full ingredient list for CSS CE Serum:
    Water/Aqua/Eau, L-Ascorbic Acid (Topical Vitamin C), Propylene Glycol, Ethoxydiglycol, Butylene Glycol, Laureth-23, Zinc Sulfate, Glycerol, Alpha Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Triethanolamine, Ferulic Acid, Phenoxyethanol, D-Panthenol, Hyaluronic Acid.

    I would love to see a comparison article for SC Phloretin & CSS Phloretin serums. Thanks!

  • October 18, 2013

    by Tracy

    I am currently using both products and also find as reviewer Ham has that Skinceuticals is better than CSS....It comes out of the bottle looking different. CSS is much more of a "watery" consistency, and Skinceuticals is darker orange in color and more on the "thicker" side. I too believe Skinceuticals gives a better result. For the price point I really wish it was the other way around.

  • April 23, 2013

    by Ham

    Unfortunately and fortunately Skinceuticals is way better than CSS. I applied both products on my face and compare the results. I say unfortunately because Skinceuticals CE is way expensive and at the same time fortunately because the product really works.

  • October 16, 2012

    by Cosmetic Skin Solutions

    The Cosmetic Skin Solutions version of Vitamin C+E with Ferulic acid is shipped world wide including South Africa. It is found on our e-commerce website. Their diverse antioxidant formulation is very comparable, effective, much less expensive, which makes it a more favorable selection among many! Please view here:

  • October 14, 2012

    by Ingrid

    Is this product available in South Africa?

  • September 10, 2012

    by bb

    If both products are the same why CSS did not list the ingredients percentage?

  • September 9, 2012

    by Tania

    I have search information about that big price diference beetwin the 2 brans and same produc, and in this page, its cleared.
    Is basically a diference of PH, but in the end, its almost the same efects.

  • June 15, 2012

    by Lauren Jacobs

    Hey ladies!! Thanks for the info about how wonderful CSS ce ferulic is compared to SC's version of it. Economically, and in today's recession, people are becoming more smarter by saving $$ and not purchasing overpriced skin products because SC's prices are just flat out ridiculous at least for my budget.

    For myself, I was lead to believe SC's ce was the only one on the market, but it was too late and I picked up a sample set at an online store last year. The samples were a brownish color, is it suppose to be like this, and isn't brown a sign of oxidized vitamin C?

    I looked at CSS vitamin c product line and read they produce only fresh vitamin C's....which makes me to believe the SC samples I tried was expired. If so, I'm disappointed in SC, Shame on you for selling expired products.....btw expired products can damage our skin not help it........Off to CSS in a hurry.................

  • January 30, 2012

    by Lori

    I recently started using Cosmetic Skin Solutions C + E Ferulic Serum on my 55 yr old combination and very sensitive skin. I have tried several very expensive serums that my skin did NOT like! I have tried several expensive products that had no effect on my skin. I LOVE this CSS serum! After using it for a very brief time it has made a very noticeable improvement in my skin. It is well worth much more but I sure do appreciate this money saving wonder for my face :)

  • January 30, 2012

    by Harrold Ball

    Unfortunately for Cosmetic Skin Solutions the Skinceuticals formulation is patented and L'Oreal, who owns Skinceuticals is taking them to court for patent infringement. Guaranteed this product will be gone soon, unless CCS can show that the patent is not valid.

    Regardless of this. If anyone has ever taken the time to actually read the patent. The Ferulic Acid is not there as an active ingredient, that part is just MARKETING. The Ferulic is there to stabilise the L-Ascorbic acid in the formulation. Any stabilized Vitamin C will do the same thing.

  • January 25, 2012

    by ferdinand

    i just got my bottle of CSS CE +ferulic three days ago and hurriedly cleansed my face (w/purity - Philosophy) and applied the new serum.

    fast forward 3 days and in a short time i noticed my skin 'brighten and liven ' up....i love this..thank you v much to TIA and all its supporters in the feedback

    i've always been a silent yet voracious reader of this site..i hope to try more products...i believe that living and looking well is part of the path to happiness.

    question: CSS directions states to apply the serum in the morning- can you use it as a nighttime serum as well?

  • December 5, 2011

    by ruby


    I make handmade serums and want you all to know a better way of handling the highly unstable L-ascorbic acid. Besides degarding from sunlight and oxygen exposure, it is even more unstable and prone to degrading when mixed in a serum.

    I have found the very best way to apply L-ascorbic acid, is to make a fresh batch in the palm of my hand daily, mixing a pea size amount with whatever serum I choose.

    There is an online recipe for the dupe of the CE serum. Just leave out the vitamin C and add it fresh every day.

    I buy my L-ascorbic acid at It's ultra finely ground, very fresh, and 100% pure.

  • November 23, 2011

    by Nula

    Hi all! I'm still on the fence about trying Cosmetic Skin Solutions products. I have combination skin which is sensitive and I also have mild rosacea. Would the CE Ferulic acid or Hydra B5 be too rich for my skin type? I don't want to use their Phloretin CF because of the high % of denatured alcohol which would surely dry out my skin. Also has anyone who has ordered from Australia had any problems with Aus customs confiscating their CSS products/ parcel? And lastly, are their products packaged in a bottle with a box or just a bottle? Thanks!

  • September 24, 2011

    by Irine

    Update on the comparison as a product reviewer. Since I left my last review back in May on the comparison, I am completely satisfied and convinced that Cosmetic Skin Solutions CE Ferulic has much better advantages than SC's version. My skin has remained even toned, sun spot free, and still looks radiant.

    Meanwhile SC's sera is dark amber, I had to expose of it.

  • August 19, 2011

    by NoeyD77

    I know this is an old column but I have to convey how thankful I am....a few months back I was feeling rather low do I decided to go surf the net and shop. I'd finally decided to try Skinceuticals CE Ferulic although formerly I refused due to the cost. I was searching sites for the best price when I first came across this website, specifically this column. A lil over 2 weeks I purchased a few CSS products and have been using the 20% AOX product everyday since, sometimes twice/day. This product is unbelievable! Although I once again revamped my skincare routine, the brightness is dramatic, my pores utterly disappeared and it really brightened my under eye area! All these results in about 2 weeks for this little price! I must give accolades to Marta and this website for this column for saving me soooooo much mula! I might now have a fighting chance of surviving on my budget when I move to my new apt in the city!

  • July 14, 2011

    by Marta

    Hi Sonali, I am sorry but I don't know what the pH level of this formula is.

  • July 14, 2011

    by Sonali

    Hi Marta,

    Can you verify if the PH level of this serum is safe to use on skin. I read reviews and one lady said that she checked the ph level at home( using PH testing strips) and it was 0! I'm sure that that's not a safe level and can harm your skin. Please help.

  • May 11, 2011

    by Noel

    The is no way to justify the price for the Skinceuticals product. The actual manufacturing cost is below $10. Additionally, if anyone has kept the product for a while, it eventually oxidizes.

    It is more beneficial for the skin to receive less of an active ingredient over a longer period of time than more of an ingredient over a less amount of time. MAP and SAP are superior forms of vitamin c because they will be stable for a longer period. Although L-Ascorbic Acid/Ascorbic Acid are scientifically more potent forms of vit c, they will oxidize VERY quickly. It is a bio-chemical fact that once vitamin c oxidizes (in vitamin c serums the product turns brown), the biological benefits of vitamin c are completely gone. Regardless what anyone things, its a scientific fact and can not be argued.

  • May 10, 2011

    by Irine

    So I am skin care junkie and product reviewer, and now to the question I frequently get the e-mail. It's about the comparability of products from Skinceuticals. The lists of the ingredients can all compare themselves and form their opinions on this.

    I have both sera from Skinceuticals and by Cosmetic Skin Solutions tried and couldn't find a difference in my skin in the effect. The consistency of the products is very similar for me and are barely distinguishable.

    With use of Cosmetic Skin Solutions sera, I had after two weeks of sun, not a single wrinkle wrinkles, on the contrary, the skin looks fresh and radiant from (I confess it has also something to do with being on holiday...). And also remarkable is that the
    skin tone looks very smooth, no visible hyperpigmentation.

  • April 7, 2011

    by Holly

    Thank you Marsha for the comparison of both products and vital information on the antioxidant benefits of Vitamin C, E, and ferulic. I tried Skin Solutions C+E serum. I liked the texture of how it glides on smoothly and absorbs quickly. I am impressed on the improvement and complexion of my skin. It looks luminous!

    As to the type of Vitamin C, it states L-ascorbic acid on the product.

  • February 9, 2011

    by Lemony

    I dont want to break your dreams about CSS but currently Skinceuticals is the only brand who have patented vial L-absorbic acid stabilization

    Stabilized ascorbic acid compositions and methods - Issue date: Feb 20, 2007. Patent number: 7179841

    So is the CSS have the same ingredients they maybe not effective as Skinceuticals. And if the CSS reproduce their method they expose herself a legal poursuit.

    Best regard,

  • January 26, 2011

    by Gloria

    Thanks Marsha & Marta for the information. I just purchased the Obagi 10% vitamin C serum and at first I was very pleased until 2 days later when my face started peeling and burning. I thought it was the SkinMedica Tri-Retinol Complex I just purchased.I stopped using that for a few days and it seemed to be getting worse until I called the spa and she told me it could be the C, and said to use every other day on both products until my skin adjusted.I stopped using it everyday and it did clear up quickly and now it seems to be better. I was thinking I might return the C and try this one. The price is certainly great and the spa is more than happy to accommodate me if I was not happy with the product. Is this product okay for sensitive skin? Has anyone ever used Obaji before?

  • November 7, 2010

    by Mehserle

    The only missing link is the percentage of Ferulic Acid. Skinseuticals comes clean and states 0.5%; ISS is silent. Whether this is meaningful or not, I have no idea! But being alerted to "price fakeouts" on what turn out to be fairly generic products is a valuable service. (Thank you, Marta and Marsha!)

    As a greaseball (my skin,I mean), I'm not planning to buy either, although they have gotten good reviews for other skin types.

  • September 8, 2010

    by marta

    Marsha, please see my response to Suz. CSS uses L-ascorbic acid.

  • September 8, 2010

    by marta

    Hi Suz, I contacted CSS about this and they confirmed that they use L-ascorbic. Customer service replied as follows:

    “As indicated on the website descriptions per each antioxidant serums and onthe label under "Ingredients", L-Ascorbic acid is used as our form of Vitamin C.”

    He added that the confusion may have come about because “one reader may have asked about MAP, and our explanation was the difference between it and L-Ascorbic acid as Vitamin C crystals.”

  • September 8, 2010

    by Marsha

    I have a bottle of Cosmetic Skin Solutions C+E Ferulic Serum. It says on the front of the bottle that it contains 15% L-Ascorbic Acid. So I wonder why their chemist would say that the vitamin C is magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, unless they have changed their formula??

  • September 8, 2010

    by SUZ

    Hi all,

    Referring to the Post from Elyse regarding the form of C that is in the newer "Twin". Well, I also emailed and got a response, but now I'm a bit perplexed (nothing new here)...

    Jonathan stated this "We use the acidic form of L-ascorbic acid that is readily soluble which has a high absorption rate into the skin"

    I reponded with "So, is it NOT the MAP form of Vitamin C, correct?" I got no response as of August 18th.. Anyone have a clue here?

  • August 23, 2010

    by marta

    I should add TIA's two cents with our posts on propylene glycol: in our ingredients database and What is it: propylene glycol

  • August 18, 2010

    by jess

    Darrell, thank you for posting such a well-reasoned and informative comment. (I'm guessing you're THE Darrell of YBF, though I could be wrong.) I have a not-uncommon skin condition called Malassezia folliculitis, and, improbably, propylene glycol is by far the best treatment I've found for it. As a research scientist, I always avail myself of MSDS and other safety data before testing out new products and ingredients. I've found evidence neither in the data nor in two years of daily use of PG toxicity (systemic or local) at typical concentrations.

    As you point out, many PG alarmists are confusing it with other glycols. This really irritates me; how can you claim to be an authority on chemical safety if you can't even keep the names straight (and probably don't even know what a IUPAC name is)?

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge... I hope Pat read your comment.

  • August 7, 2010

    by Darrell

    Hi Pat,
    How do you determine propylene glycol to be poison?

    There is a tremendous amount of false information spread about propylene glycol. Often, companies that don't use the ingredient will market mis-information they find as a tactic to make their own products that don't use propylene glycol more appealing to consumers.

    My understanding is that propylene glycol is potentially toxic if consumed in large quantities (which is the case with most ingredients) but as it is typically used in cosmetics and food, is in-fact, safe. Statements about toxicity and irritation potential of propylene glycol, such as are found in the Cosmetics Database, are notably based on high exposure levels - far above that of any exposure we would typically encounter in consumer products.

    Propylene glycol is often confused with other, toxic glycols. Statements about the toxicity of ß-propylene glycol and ethylene glycol are often taken out of context and inaccurately used to describe propylene glycol, which becomes some of the greatest source of mis-information.

    Detailed information about the toxicity and safety of propylene glycol can be found here:

    Additional reference can be found here:


  • August 7, 2010

    by pat strusinski

    why would anyone buy any product with propylene glycol in it--------------------------poison!

  • August 5, 2010

    by Elyse

    Well, as much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, I must inform everyone: these two products are not product twins! Contrary to the ingredient lists in this post, they do NOT both contain L-ascorbic acid.

    I was curious about the "stabiized vitamin C" referred to in the ingredient list posted on the CSS website so I wrote to the company. Johnathan, their chemist, wrote back that it is actually a vitamin C derivative called magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP).

    Marta has discussed the differences between MAP and L-acorbic acid previously in other posts. However, just to refresh, MAP is more stable - and much cheaper - but not nearly as effective as L-ascorbic acid.

  • August 4, 2010

    by Hollis

    The only missing link is the percentage of Ferulic Acid. Skinseuticals comes clean and states 0.5%; ISS is silent. Whether this is meaningful or not, I have no idea! But being alerted to "price fakeouts" on what turn out to be fairly generic products is a valuable service. (Thank you, Marta and Marsha!)

    As a greaseball (my skin,I mean), I'm not planning to buy either, although they have gotten good reviews for other skin types.

  • August 2, 2010

    by Marsha

    I was so happy to find the CSS and glad to share!

  • July 29, 2010

    by Jaysie

    Thank you Marta and Marsha! Though I always find a motherlode of intelligent and useful info here, this is my Number One favorite type of article on TIA!

  • July 29, 2010

    by Jeni

    This is a great find! I like Skinceuticals CE Ferulic but it makes me breakout like crazy, so I'm sure the CSS would give me the same results:( Otherwise, this is great news for people without acne-prone skin.

  • July 29, 2010

    by Kerry

    Love it! can you find a twin for Eclogite Viper Milk???

  • July 29, 2010

    by marta

    Thanks to Marsha really. Jacqui, do come back and tell us how you like CSS.

  • July 29, 2010

    by Jacquie


    I was a few clicks from ordering the SkinCeutical product last night.

    Thank you, TIA (Marta)

    Heading to CSS right now.

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