Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum Review

written by: Tom Qiao
last update: December 31, 2022

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum Review

Walk into any Sephora today and you'll find a whole section dedicated to Drunk Elephant, the clean beauty skincare brand that has exploded in popularity in recent years.

(I mean, just look at Sephora's bestsellers list).

But for all the hype and buzz, is Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum really that good?

The short story is: I don't think so - and you'll understand why by the end of my review.

While C-Firma has an excellent ingredient list (it's a C E Ferulic dupe) and product design, many customers found it difficult to apply and wear (oily consistency & awful smell).

In addition, in my experience, the final results did not meet my initial expectations and made no noticeable difference on my acne scars, uneven skin tone, or dark spots.

At $80 per oz, C-Firma is very expensive. At this price level, I would recommend looking at SkinCeuticals Serum 10 AOX+ ($70 per oz) which is a budget version of C E Ferulic with a lower concentration of active ingredients (10% L-Ascorbic Acid, 0.2% Ferulic Acid).

If you'd like to know exactly how I calculated the score, keep reading for my full review of Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum, how it compares vs. SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, and some alternative vitamin C serums in case you're still shopping around.

Ingredients: 5.0/5.0

First of all, a good Vitamin C Serum serves 3 main functions:

  1. Reduces Melanin: by reducing melanin production, Vitamin C brightens dark spots, fades hyperpigmentation like melasma, and corrects uneven skin tone
  2. Promotes Collagen: by promoting collagen production, Vitamin C can help your skin appear smoother and tighter, with fewer wrinkles and fine lines
  3. Prevents Damage: as an antioxidant powerhouse, Vitamin C mops up free radicals to prevent oxidative damage from UV radiation, pollution, stress, and aging

(source: The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health, 2017)

Second of all, there are 2 general types of Vitamin C:

  1. Pure Vitamin C: also called L-Ascorbic Acid (LAA), this is the form of Vitamin C that your body can use directly which allows it to provide the most skin benefits
  2. Vitamin C Derivatives: these are modified versions of LAA, designed to address its shortcomings (low stability, short short life, requires low pH for skin penetration), but must be converted into LAA before providing any skin benefits

(source: Stability, Transdermal Penetration, and Cutaneous Effects of Ascorbic Acid and its Derivatives, 2012)

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Drunk Elephant copied was inspired by the patented formula of SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, namely:

  • 15% Vitamin C (as L-Ascorbic Acid)
  • 1% Vitamin E
  • 0.5% Ferulic Acid, and at a
  • pH of 2.5-3.0 (pH < 3.5 is required for vitamin C to penetrate the skin barrier)

This antioxidant complex, known as C E Ferulic, is based on research by Dr. Sheldon Pinnell (the founding scientist of SkinCeuticals), who discovered that vitamin C serums formulated under these parameters were more stable and more readily absorbed by the skin.

(sources: Topical L-Ascorbic Acid: Percutaneous Absorption Studies, 2001 and UV Photoprotection by Combination Topical Antioxidants Vitamin C and Vitamin E, 2003).

In other words, C E Ferulic is more stable than L-Ascorbic Acid alone (longer shelf life), and penetrates the skin barrier better than Vitamin C Derivatives to deliver the benefits of Vitamin C, including melanin inhibition, collagen synthesis, and antioxidant protection.

While SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic is a powerful vitamin C serum (with loyal followers and thousands of reviews), it also comes with a hefty price tag.

That's where Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum comes in with a cheaper alternative (although it's half the price of C E Ferulic, $80 per oz still seems expensive to me).

Here are the key features of Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum:

  • 15% L-Ascorbic Acid (same as C E Ferulic)
  • 1% Vitamin E (same as C E Ferulic)
  • Ferulic Acid (undisclosed % vs. 0.5% in C E Ferulic)
  • pH of 3.3 (low enough to be effective, but outside the patented level of 2.5-3.0)

As you can see, C-Firma is a very close dupe of C E Ferulic (so close that SkinCeuticals filed a lawsuit against Drunk Elephant in 2018 over alleged patent infringement).

(sources: The Fashion Law and Google Patents)

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But Drunk Elephant didn't stop there. They also included boosters like:

  • Fruit Extracts: Licorice Root, Grape Juice, and Emblica Fruit Extracts provide antioxidant and skin brightening benefits to clear up dark spots and uneven tone (source: here)
  • Pumpkin & Pomegranate Enzymes: derived by fermentation with Lactobacillus, these enzymes help dissolve dead skin cells and reduce pore size (source: DE)
  • Chronocyclin: a chronopeptide that mimics the antioxidant effects of Vitamin D for firmer and younger-looking skin (source: DE)
  • Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer: a smaller molecular cousin of Hyaluronic Acid that provides deep hydration and firmness (source: DE)
  • Virgin Marula Seed Oil: Drunk Elephant's signature ingredient is rich in antioxidants and omega-6 and 9 fatty acids; it's responsible for C-Firma's oily consistency

Overall, I really like the ingredient list as it combines the tried-and-true C E Ferulic formula with more boosters for added antioxidant, skin brightening, and hydration goodness.

Even though Drunk Elephant cannot formulate its product at the ideal pH of 2.5-3.0, it uses a low enough pH of 3.3 for reasonable levels of vitamin C penetration.

On the other hand, some would say Drunk Elephant went overboard with 47 ingredients compared to only 12 ingredients in SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic. This may explain why some users complained about breakouts or skin reactions while using C-Firma Day Serum.

Overall, I give the ingredients a score of 5.0. (best-in-class ingredients and formulation)

Product Design: 5.0/5.0

When it comes to product design, I’m mainly focused on overall functionality and usability, although I do occasionally give bonus points for exceptional aesthetics.

For vitamin C serums, it’s important to protect the contents from light, air, and heat since vitamin C (especially LAA) will naturally oxidize over time and lose its potency.

That's why Drunk Elephant uses an opaque container to block out UV light and a unique twist-out pump dispenser to prevent constant air contamination.

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This is a huge improvement over traditional dropper bottles (clear or UV-tinted) which are exposed to the elements of your bathroom each time you open the bottle.

This accelerates the degradation of precious antioxidants like Vitamin C and Vitamin E.

Even the smaller format of C-Firma (0.27 oz) in the Time to Wake Up Bundle adheres to best practices with opaque packaging and a mini-pump dispenser.

On the other hand, C-Firma does feel a bit plasticky and cheap, compared to more aesthetic designs like Ole Henriksen Truth Serum's beautiful and luxurious glass bottle.


Overall, I give the product design a score of 5.0. (the gold standard in functionality)

Texture & Smell: 3.0/5.0

Up until this point, Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum has been perfect (on paper).

However, the first category where it loses points is in the texture & smell department.

C-Firma has an oily consistency that feels more like a face oil than a vitamin C serum. This is due to the high levels of Virgin Marula Seed Oil, the brand's signature ingredient.

Unfortunately, I have to agree with many reviewers that C-Firma is not easy to apply as it feels a bit too thick and leaves behind a sticky layer throughout the day.

For this reason, I do not recommend C-Firma to those with oily or acne-prone skin.

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In addition, many reviewers complained of an awful smell that has been described as metallic, copper, and smoky (just read the negative reviews on Sephora).

Personally, I didn't notice any weird smells when I tried the 0.27 oz size of C-Firma from the Time to Wake Up Duo. It's entirely possible that declining product quality or recent changes in the formulation are responsible for this unpleasant odor.

Frankly, I was very disappointed with C-Firma's poor performance in this category. It's clear that many customers wanted to like this product, given its popularity, but had to return it because of the oily & sticky consistency and awful smell.

Overall, I give the texture & smell a score of 3.0. (feels like a face oil, unpleasant smell)

Results: 2.5/5.0

Of course, the most important question is, does Drunk Elephant C-Firma actually work?

Personally, I’ve only tried the 0.27 oz mini size so my test period was around 3-4 weeks.

In any case, here are my thoughts:

  • Immediate Results: after application, I felt a tingling sensation on my skin and noticed C-Firma left behind a significant sheen (due to its oily consistency). I did not experience any immediate or next day results for brightness, tightness, or dark spots.
  • Short-Term Results (3-4 weeks): after a few weeks, I had a hard time finding any noticeable improvements: my skin was perhaps a bit softer and smoother, but I didn't see any results for my acne scars, uneven skin tone, or post-acne marks. Fortunately, I did not have any breakouts or adverse reactions from this product.
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Overall, I'd say the final results did not meet my initial expectations. Like many of you, I was very excited to buy C-Firma due to its massive coverage and positive reviews.

I even diligently kept my bottle in the fridge to preserve ingredient freshness!

In the future, perhaps I'll run a longer study (3+ months) with before/after photos, since it's a little unfair to judge C-Firma based on such a short time window.

However, I'd say it's still pretty fair as most consumers decide if they like a skincare product within the first few weeks, even though that's not always enough time for it to work.

Overall, I give the results a score of 2.5. (I didn't notice any significant results and expected much more from this popular product given the hype and positive reviews)

Price: 2.5/5.0

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum ranks in the upper range of affordability.

On the other hand, you can also look at it as a 50% discount to SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, with the same ingredients (plus a few more) and formulation (at a slightly higher pH).

If you're on the fence about C-Firma, you can get a trial size from the Time to Wake Up Duo which includes a 0.27 oz of C-Firma and 0.27 oz of B-Hydra.

It's the lowest risk way of figuring out if it's for you or not, especially since Drunk Elephant only provides a 30-day refund policy (which is shorter than most competitors).

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As you can see, prices for vitamin C serums range widely from as low as $20 per oz to a massive $166 per oz for the one and only SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic!

If budget is a key concern, Timeless, La Roche-Posay, Kiehl's and Vichy are good options (Vichy comes in a 0.34 oz bottle).

Around the same price as Drunk Elephant, we have Paula's Choice (another popular dupe), Clinique (more of a vitamin C booster), and SkinCeuticals Serum 10 AOX+.

If budget is not a problem, you can choose from prestige beauty brands like Lancôme to professional brands like SkinMedica, Obagi, iS Clinical, and of course, SkinCeuticals.

Overall, I give the price a score of 2.5. (upper end of affordability for most people)

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum Reviews

Finally, I’ve handpicked two customer reviews that I feel are fair and representative:

"I'm just about done with my first bottle of this and I will repurchase. I really like the results I've seen from this serum and it does not irritate my sensitive, rosacea prone skin. My skin is noticeably brighter and more even. It is a bit sticky and it does have a strange, sweetly metallic odor, but neither of these this are off-putting to me. The smell doesn't linger and, because I use this over a layer of B-Hydra and top it with my SPF, the texture isn't an issue for me."

"I love Drunk Elephant products, but was very bummed about this one. The smell is awful...I would compare it to hotdog water. Not only did my face smell all day, but the odor stayed on my hands the entire day as well despite washing them several times. I wanted to love this, but couldn’t even give it a second try after the first day. The smell literally made me nauseous. Hopefully they change the formula soon to correct this."

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Article written by Tom Qiao
Tom is the founder and editor of TheDermDetective.com where he applies his decades of personal experience with skincare problems like acne and acne scarring to provide readers with practical advice and product recommendations.

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