A TRUE DUPE: VITAMIN C SERUM EDITION

photo of skincare products and gold jewelry on magazine

Over the years, I’ve picked up different skincare rules to follow. For example, I wear sunscreen every day, rain or shine, no matter what. Another rule is that I layer a vitamin C serum under my moisturizer every morning. The SPF seems pretty obvious, but I love a vitamin C serum because it’s a powerful antioxidant that boosts collagen production and repairs sun damage (uneven skin tone, dark spots, wrinkles, etc). Quite simply, it gives me brighter, firmer skin.

There are tons of vitamin C serums available right now ranging from under $10 (looking at you, The Ordinary) to well over $100. So how to do you choose? First, you’ll notice that not all products actually say “vitamin C” as they more often reference ascorbic acid, L-ascorbic acid, or sodium ascorbyl phosphate (a milder, more stable version of the L-ascorbic) in the ingredients. It’s okay, they’re all still vitamin C! 

The next thing to look at is concentration. I prefer something with at least 10-15%, but not all products list the percentages. In that case, a good hint is to review the full ingredient list. The higher up the list the vitamin C ingredient, the more is likely to be in the product. I wouldn’t buy a serum specifically for the vitamin C if the L-ascorbic was the last thing listed in the ingredients because there might barely be any potency to the product. 

I’ll admit, finding a product that works well for your skin can be genuinely difficult and frustrating. So many options at so many price points, it’s tough to differentiate between what’s great and what’s just okay. I’ve actually had really good luck with the Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum (read my original review here) and have re-purchased multiple times, but I kept reading fabulous reviews on the Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum. I wondered if this $30 Mad Hippie bargain that I found at Whole Foods could really stack up against the Sephora darling Drunk Elephant offering. 

So I set about to testing two of the hottest vitamin C serums on the market. Let’s see if the Mad Hippie version really is a dupe for the popular Drunk Elephant option!

photo of drunk elephant C-Firma Day Serum and Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum
With similar ingredients but a $50 difference in price, one of these is still the better buy.

Option 1: High-end/Department Store Option

The product: Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum – 30mL, $80

4.1/5 stars on Sephora out of 1K reviews
4.5/5 starts on DrunkElephant.com out of 549 reviews

The taglineA super-potent vitamin C day serum packed with a powerful antioxidant complex, essential nutrients, and fruit enzymes, all working together to firm and brighten the appearance of skin, while improving the signs of photoaging. –Sephora

What it’s supposed to do: This revolutionary serum, jam packed with a potent antioxidant complex … plus other formula-supportive enzymes and antioxidants helps neutralize pollution, environmental stressors and damaging free radicals while replenishing lipids and visibly reducing the appearance of dark spots and wrinkles. Uniquely formulated with pumpkin ferment and pomegranate extracts, C-Firma™ enzymatically dissolves dead surface skin cells for smoother texture. Sodium hyaluronate [similar to hyaluronic acid] crosspolymer quickly penetrates skin and provides intense hydration. The result is a noticeably diminished appearance of photo damage, replaced by incredible radiance and luminosity. –Sephora

Active ingredients: 
+ 15% L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C)
+ 0.5% Ferulic acid (an antioxidant that increases stability and efficacy of vitamin C and E)
+ 1% Vitamin E (an antioxidant that can even skin tone and reduce sun damage)

Pros:
+ High concentration of L-ascorbic (15%). I want results!
+ Good for all skin types. Even though I don’t have overly sensitive skin, I find that if you slowly build up the usage of a product like this, it is actually effective for all skin types.
+ The “reservoir effect”, meaning it’s supposed to stay active for up to 72 hours and can’t be washed or rubbed off, that’s kinda cool.
+ Clean Seal at Sephora, meaning it doesn’t have sulfates or other nasty stuff
+ Allure Best of Beauty award winner, 2018
+ InStyle Best Beauty Buys, 2017

Cons:
– Price. While it does last forever, $80 for one piece of a larger skincare regimen is still pretty expensive
– Texture. I pointed this out in my original review, but it feels a bit tacky at first. It does go on much easier if I mix in a few drops of the Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Gel.
– Natural smell. Even though it’s fragrance-free, vitamin C serums still have a particular odor. It fades, but if you’re really sensitive, I could understand how it’s unpleasant. 

photo of Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum and Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum
If your skin is sensitive to powerful ingredients like vitamin C, glycolic acid, and
retinol, mix in a little marula oil or moisturizer for added hydration.

Option 2: Drug/Grocery Store Option

The product: Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum – 30 mL, $28-34

4.5/5 stars on Ulta out of 159 reviews
4.3/5 stars on Amazon out of 394 reviews
5/5 stars on MadHippie.com out of 105 reviews

The tagline: Our award-winning serum is a harmonious blend of antioxidants that work wonders on improving the overall appearance of the skin! –Mad Hippie

What it’s supposed to do: Tighten, brighten & smooth your skin! Mad Hippie’s award-winning Vitamin C Serum is a harmonious blend of antioxidants that brightens, tightens & smooths the skin. 8 Actives with Konjac Root, Ferulic & Hyaluronic Acid. Konjac Root is an exotic Asian flower that softens & smooths the skin and is rich in vitamins & nutrients. Ferulic Acid is found in the cell walls of plants and has a compounding antioxidant effect when combined with vitamin C & E. – Ulta

Active Ingredients: 
+ 10% Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (vitamin C)
+ Vitamin E (unknown percent)
+ Ferulic Acid (unknown percent)
+ Hyaluronic Acid (unknown percent)

Pros:
+Price. I love that this is around $30 and I can pick it up at Whole Foods any time. 
+All natural, always a good thing! 
+Same active ingredients as the Drunk Elephant.
+Good for all skin types. Maybe it’s because of the additional hyaluronic acid or because the lower concentration of vitamin C, but I found the Mad Hippie to be far more gentle. 

Cons: 
– Lower concentration of vitamin C (10%) and I need results!
– Texture. It’s a bit thin and runny and I prefer serums to have a heavier gel-like texture.
– Results. It’s not that the Mad Hippie didn’t work, I just didn’t get that wow-effect.

Final Thought

If I had never tried the Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum, I would’ve been perfectly happy incorporating the Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum into my morning routine on a regular basis. The Mad Hippie is effective, reasonably priced, and has a potent active ingredient list. However, I just didn’t feel I got the same results as when I use the Drunk Elephant. With the C-Firma I feel like my skin really glows. That said, I’ll have no problem finishing my bottle of Mad Hippie before moving on to my next C-Firma purchase. 

Final final conclusion –  If you have $80 in your skincare budget for a day serum, get the Drunk Elephant. If not, the Mad Hippie is a great option. 

signature line that reads: love, Mila