Do you need to spend a small fortune to get an effective Vitamin C Serum?
Ahem, looking at you, SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic! ($166 for a 1.0 bottle)
Fortunately, the answer is NO.
While there are many "copycats" of C E Ferulic out there (just do a search on Amazon), most don't live up to anywhere near the reputation or results of the real deal.
But some, like Paula's Choice C15 Super Booster, have created a very close duplicate while respecting the parameters of SkinCeuticals' existing patent. All at an affordable price.
In this review, I'll walk you through what you should look for in a Vitamin C Serum, how C15 compares to the original C E Ferulic, and how C15 performs on paper and in real life.
Let's get started! ⭐
First of all, a good Vitamin C Serum serves three main functions:
Second of all, there are 2 general types of Vitamin C:
Paula's Choice C15 Super Booster is a faithful duplicate of the popular and award-winning SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, with:
This Vitamin C formula, known as C E Ferulic, was discovered by Dr. Sheldon Pinnell (the founding scientist of SkinCeuticals) to be more stable and more readily absorbed at a pH below 3.5 (source: Topical L-Ascorbic Acid: Percutaneous Absorption Studies, 2001).
In addition, Vitamin E works synergistically with Vitamin C, where the latter can "recycle" the former's antioxidant power when it becomes depleted (source: UV Photoprotection by Combination Topical Antioxidants Vitamin C and Vitamin E, 2003).
Finally, Ferulic Acid rounds out the trio by improving the stability of Vitamin C and Vitamin E (which increases the shelf life) and doubling the level of photoprotection to help prevent sun damage, dark spots, and even skin cancer (source: Ferulic Acid Stabilizes a Solution of Vitamins C and E and Doubles its Photoprotection of Skin, 2005).
Compared to the original SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, Paula's Choice C15 Super Booster is a close dupe with all the right ingredients (but undisclosed % of Vitamin E and Ferulic Acid) plus a blend of hydrating ingredients like Hyaluronic Acid, Glycerin, and Panthenol.
In fact, when we compare the ingredient lists, they are almost identical! This chart below shows them side-by-side (yellow: active ingredients, green: shared ingredients).
We can also see that C E Ferulic has a much simpler formulation (only 12 ingredients) compared to C15 Super Booster (almost double with 21 ingredients).
Finally, C-15 Super Booster uses a pH of 3.0 which is low enough to penetrate your skin without infringing on SkinCeuticals' existing patent (exclusive use of pH level from 2.5-3.0).
Overall, I give the ingredients a score of 4.5. (a faithful duplicate of C E Ferulic)
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.
In this case, Paula's Choice earned top marks for using an opaque dropper bottle that shields the C E Ferulic antioxidant complex from UV light exposure.
On the other hand, the dropper design does have a fatal flaw, as the contents will be constantly exposed to air contamination (oxidation) each time you open the bottle.
Overall, I give the product design a score of 4.0. (effectively prevents oxidation)
Next, let's take a look at how easy it is to apply and wear C15 Super Booster during the day.
Personally, I have not tried C15 yet so I consulted the consensus opinion of 800+ reviews on Paula's Choice for this answer.
Since C15 is a lightweight and water-based serum, most people found it easy to apply and one person said it dries within 5 minutes. Some opt to add a few drops of C15 to their moisturizer for additional hydration while others use it directly on their face.
Regardless of how you use it, make sure to keep the bottle tightly sealed and stored away in a dark, cool place like your bathroom vanity or even the fridge for extra protection!
Among the most common complaints, breakouts and skin reactions ranked first, with some users complaining of burning, itching, and redness.
The second most common complaint was about the bad smell, although other reviewers claimed C15 was odorless and fragrance free. The natural smell of L-Ascorbic Acid has been commonly described like "hot dogs" or "hot dog water".
Even SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic has the same problem and most people are fine with it as the smell usually does not linger on your skin. However, if you really can't stand the smell, consider a Vitamin C serum with a mild fragrance, like Ole Henriksen Truth Serum.
Overall, I give the texture & smell a score of 4.0. (easy to apply, "hot dog" smell)
Of course, the most important question is, does C15 Super Booster actually work?
Based on the overall feedback, C15 has definitely helped some people improve their skin, including clearing up acne, reducing discoloration and uneven skin tone, brightening tone, and promoting a healthier-looking and glowing complexion.
Moreover, the rating distribution is pretty good with 489 five-star reviews out of 869 (56%).
Personally, I plan to test C15 Super Booster in the future and post before/after photos here, along with my own thoughts on this popular product. The ingredients, product design, and overall usability are all excellent, so I'm pretty excited to get my hands on one. ????
In terms of negative reviews, I found most of them complained about adverse reactions, such as irritation, breakouts, and even contact dermatitis for one person.
It's always hard to tell from the reviews whether someone is having a genuine reaction or if it's something else and they happen to be using this product at the same time.
The remaining negative reviews were generally about a lack of noticeable results.
On the bright side, I noticed that Paula's Choice had an excellent customer support team that responded to help those who had a subpar experience, like offering a refund or recommending alternative products. Now that's how you keep loyal customers!
Overall, I give the results a score of 3.5. (very positive reviews for the most part)
At $73 per oz, Paula's Choice C15 Super Booster ranks in the upper range of affordability.
However, you pay $49 for a 0.67 oz bottle which is reasonably accessible for most people.
You can also look at C15 Super Booster as a 56% discount to SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic!
For comparison’s sake, let’s look at similar products that use L-Ascorbic Acid:
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!
I went a little overboard with this list but I hope it helps you in your research. I also have a spreadsheet with the prices, price per oz, and key ingredients, for easy comparison.
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 for $28.50 which is why the price per oz is $84).
Around the same price per oz as Paula's Choice, we have Drunk Elephant (another dupe), Clinique (more of a vitamin C booster), and SkinCeuticals Serum 10 AOX+ (a budget version of C E Ferulic for $70 that uses 10% L-Ascorbic Acid and 0.2% Ferulic Acid, and is formulated under the same parameters as C E Ferulic, notably, at a pH of 2.5-3.0).
If budget is not a problem, there are many options from prestige brands like Lancôme to professional brands like SkinMedica, Obagi, iS Clinical, and of course, SkinCeuticals.
Overall, I give the price a score of 3.0. (a little expensive, but still reasonably affordable)
Finally, I’ve handpicked two customer reviews that I feel are fair and representative:
"I bought this in an anniversary package and like the Vitamin C a lot! I'm using Paula's Choice - pore reducing toner, 2% BHA, vitamin C serum, omega serum, and tinted SPF 30 sunscreen. Skin tone is brighter, smoother, less redness and looks healthy. I took several days to get used to this combo with some dryness, but that is now gone. I've tried several vitamin c serums, and this is the best for me... no smell, greasiness or irritation. Also I've noticed this combination sets really well on the skin - it is dry to touch after about 5 minutes and doesn't rub off on clothes, sunglasses or my mask! Love it."
"As a skincare junkie, vitamin C is a must in my skincare routine! The C15 Booster has the right concentration of vitamin C such that I see results, but it's not too strong to irritate my skin. No cream or serum is a miracle, this booster doesn't deliver dramatical result in the end. But it helps brighten my complexion, helps with sun or post-acne dark spots, while being a good weapon in my anti-aging arsenal. The booster is quite liquid, but still slick, easy to mix or apply on it's own. I have used it both morning or night (but never in the same day), works great both way; I still prefer to use it at night and keep my morning routine quick and simple. I love the complex formula, with added ferulic acid, vitamin E, peptides. But I hate the dropper packaging, especially for such a delicate booster as vitamin C."