Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum is a vitamin C serum that works to firm and brighten the skin. It is formulated with 15% L-ascorbic acid and can help with signs of photoaging.

Buy C-Firma here

This article is a long one, so sit back and relax with a cup of tea! C-Firma was one of the original products that Drunk Elephant launched back in 2013, it’s an OG. It’s one of the most exciting products to write about because there is a lot to cover. From reformulations to lawsuits, it’s not only the ingredients that pack a punch! C-Firma is available in the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia but was reformulated to meet certain requirements.

  • NOT vegan (contains seashell derived Acetyl Glucosamine)
  • NOT Gluten-free (contains Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein)

What does Drunk Elephant C-Firma do?

C-Firma is ‘biocompatible’, safe, and has powerful ingredients that can help your skin become healthy and radiant. It has many antioxidants, enzymes that are extracted from fruits, and many essential nutrients that will brighten your skin and improve the signs of photoaging.

As C-Firma is formulated as a serum, it’s an additional product for your skincare routine. It would come after cleansing but before moisturising (although Drunk Elephant heavily promotes the mixing of their products into ‘smoothies’.)

Official Product Description

On the official Drunk Elephant site they explain that the C-Firma is a:

“A 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.”

The following statements are made regarding the product. It:

  • provides intense hydration
  • diminishes the appearance of photo damage
  • helps neutralize pollution, environmental stressors and the damaging effects of free radicals
  • replenishes lipids and visibly reduces the appearance of dark spots and wrinkles
  • enzymatically dissolves dead surface skin cells

C-Firma will likely change color throughout its life on your shelf, but don’t be alarmed anything from a pale yellow to an amber-orange is entirely reasonable and not a sign the ascorbic acid is ineffective. But because it contains pure L-ascorbic acid Drunk Elephant suggests that C-Firma is best when fresh. They recommend not to stock up on the product and to use it immediately. In fact, they explain this in detail on their Facebook post from 18th of August 2017:

“This week’s #FAQFriday: Why is it important to use #CFirma immediately?

We always fill every bottle of #CFirma weekly so we can always deliver the freshest serum possible, and L-Ascorbic Acid is the highest quality Vitamin C you can use for your skin! They don’t call it #GoldStandardC for nothing, it’s the only Vitamin C that’s immediately recognized by our skin.

It has a 72-hour reservoir effect, and its benefits are backed by more research than any other kind. We’re not kidding when we say it’s one of our most precious products and should be used immediately! You don’t want to lose all the benefits by having it oxidize.

Always check your bottle at purchase, and make sure it’s a color is around a pale gold; if it is, you’ve got yourself a fresh bottle. Daily use should last you around 3-4 months, so don’t wait! Use it immediately, and regularly.”

Tiffany’s Reasons for Creating

Tiffany says that she chose to “use L-Ascorbic acid, the gold standard, at a 15% concentration because it’s long been referred to as the gold standard because it’s the most well-researched form of vitamin C and the only active form of vitamin C naturally found in the skin.”

In an 2013 blogpost she said that she liked “studying ingredients and what they do both individually and synergistically is completely fascinating…to me. First you have to look at similar products to see what makes a product work and the different components it has to have to be effective, stable and safe. It’s always surprising to find a product that contains absolutely incredible key ingredients, but then also contains toxins and fillers that are there to either save money or for some purpose that in no way benefits our skin.”

Because C-Firma was one of the original six products created, I can only imagine how exciting it was to research and create.

What’s in the name?

I like to analyse the names of DE products as they are more exciting than other brands. With all of their products, it usually contains a unique (trademarked) name + what the product is (so a cream or a serum). Sometimes DE spells the explanation of the name out on their site, and sometimes I must guess myself. I’d also love to hear your suggestions!

‘C-Firma’ is a trademarked name. In researching, I also found another trademark application called C-Firma Oranje Vitafacial. The ‘oranje’ in this name means orange in Dutch (or Afrikaans). This would be in line with the T.L.C Framboos Glycolic Night Serum. Framboos is raspberry in Dutch. I think it would have been nice to keep the names similar, but the Oranje Vitafacial could have been for an entirely different product (as it’s listed under beauty masks).

The ‘C’ in the name stands for Vitamin C or l-ascorbic acid. My guess is that ‘firma’ would stand for the product’s ability to firm the face.

How do you use Drunk Elephant C-Firma?

Steps to use C-firma:

  1. Cleanse and dry face
  2. Apply an even layer to the skin alone, or mix with another (DE) product

You can also store it within the refrigerator which will be extra refreshing when applying. Use it in the morning as l-ascorbic acid has been proven to boost UV protection. This is why according to a Drunk Elephant post on the 4th of August 2017:

“Today’s #FAQFriday Q: “Can I use #CFirma at night?” A: We recommend using #CFirma as part of a daytime routine because of the effects of UV rays on the skin. When you apply #CFirma, it binds to your skin cells. When UV rays hit the cells and create free radicals, the Vitamin C protects the DNA of your skin cells from damage by scavenging those radicals. It’s totally fine to use at night if that’s what best suits your schedule, although we advise you avoid using other AHA products at that time.”

Drunk Elephant Vitamin C and Retinol

Can you use C-Firma (or any other vitamin c) and retinol? According to their website, yes you can mix retinol with vitamin c. In fact, they recommend their own retinol product (which is at a whopping 1%):

“Mix A-Passioni™ with C-Firma™ for day (it makes retinol work even better) followed by Umbra to further defend against environmental damage.”

However, others caution mixing retinol with C-Firma as it can lead to irritation or breakouts. As with any smoothie or skincare cocktail – listen to your skin.

Drunk Elephant Vitamin C and Acne

The vitamin C in C-Firma will be able to help with reducing acne scarring because of its brightening properties. If you combine this product with one containing salicylic acid – such as the T.L.C. Framboos) then you’ll probably get better results in reducing active flareups.

C-Firma vs Skinceuticals Lawsuit

Currently, Drunk Elephant is battling a lawsuit from L’Oreal for patent infringement. If you are super interested, read the original complaint. According to L’Oreal Drunk Elephant’s C-Firma ($80) mirrors the composition of their Skinceuticals’ C E Ferulic serum (at $180). This composition is patented as it provides stability to vitamin c (which is a great thing!).

Naturally, this case will be determined by the judge presiding over it and I do not want to speculate on anything. However, DE was aware of the C E Ferulic serum and went too far as to actually compare the two products:

C-Firma packaging problems

One of the things I like about Drunk Elephant is that from the beginning they listened to their customers and the feedback on products. For C-Firma the original packaging had problems. The packaging leaked which led to the exposure of vitamin c to the air (turning it brown). Drunk Elephant responded to customers, such as the one below.

Drunk Elephant - c-firma old packaging

Image from Drunk Elephant Facebook

Drunk Elephant - c-Firma packaging problems

 

 

C-Firma reformulation

C-Firma was reformulated in 2015. The entire ingredient list seems to have been shuffled around. See the old vs new ingredient list. I checked also how the ingredients were explained then vs now:

C-firma description 19th December 2013

Potent Antioxidant Complex (15% L-Ascorbic Acid, Ferulic Acid, Vitamin E (1%)): Promotes collagen synthesis and protects against damaging UV rays to better prevent visible signs of aging.

C-firma description 7th June 2020

Potent antioxidant complex (l-ascorbic acid plus ferulic acid and vitamin E): firms and brightens the look and feel of skin while minimizing the signs of photoaging from pollution and other environmental stressors.

The ingredient list has increased from 31 ingredients to 47. One of the main reasons it was reformulated was because it needed to be compliant with EU regulations. In comparing the ingredients Ethoxydiglycol is missing in the new formulation. Ethoxydiglycol is an efficiency booster for example for vitamin C. However, according to a EU report, the use of Ethoxydiglycol “as a solvent in cosmetic products in a concentration up to 5.5% in leave-on products does pose a risk to the health of the consumer.”

Seeing as in the original inci list of C-Firma Ethoxydiglycol was pretty high up (the second ingredient after water) I think it could definitely be seen as a solvent. Also because you know that L-ascorbic acid is at 15%, Ethoxydiglycol is at least that if not higher. In the new inci list Ethoxydiglycol has been replaced by Dimethyl Isosorbide which also has the ability to enhance the delivery of vitamin c. There are no warnings for this solvent from the EU.

In the new list, Ferulic Acid has moved down whereas Tocopherol (vitamin E) has moved up. In the original product description, vitamin E was at 1%, but this is not in the new one so it’s unclear how much it’s formulated with.

Drunk Elephant - reformulated c-firma

How long does drunk elephant C-Firma last?

According to the DE website, C-Firma should be used fresh. On their FAQ they say that the C-Firma has an expiration date of 1 year (4-6 months after opening). This means that you don’t necessarily want to be frugal with this product for it to last as long as possible because it wouldn’t be potent / as beneficial as a new bottle. But they also say that the product has a reservoir effect of 72 hours which would mean that you would only need to use it every 3 days. Confusing!

But how long will it actually last? Nathan Rivas, director of R&D said that C-Firma from The Littles kit contains 70 pumps per bottle. The Littles C-Firma is 8ml. I think you need at least two pumps for your face which would mean each use would be about 0.2ml. This would give you 150 uses.

  • Used daily a bottle of C-Firma will last 5 months
  • Used every three days a bottle of C-Firma will last you 15 months

In conclusion, based on the advice not to stock up, I would use C-Firma daily and not every 3 days.

 

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C-Firma Ingredients

On their packaging Drunk Elephant says that the main ingredients are:

  • 15% L-ascorbic acid
  • Pumpkin Ferment Extract

It will firm and brighten.

Drunk Elephant - c-firma ingredient spotlight

On their website, Drunk Elephant highlights specific ingredients and what their benefits are. This is handy! However, they don’t always specify the INCI name when explaining ingredients. For example, they say ‘Indian gooseberry but this is Phyllanthus Emblica Fruit Extract as listed on their ingredient list.

The INCI is the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients. It makes sure each specific ingredient is labelled the same everywhere on ingredient lists.

An ingredient list is arranged in descending order. The ingredients listed first will have the highest concentration, and the last the lowest concentration. At the 1% mark ingredients can be listed randomly.

IngredientFunctionStudies
L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C)antioxidant, moisturiser, brighteningTopical L-Ascorbic Acid: Percutaneous Absorption Studies
Ferulic acidantioxidant, antibacterialFerulic Acid Stabilizes a Solution of Vitamins C and E and Doublesits Photoprotection of Skin
Tocopherol (vitamin E)antioxidantUV photoprotection by combination topical antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E
Glutamylamidoethyl Imidazole (chronocyclin)conditioningChronocyclin – Manufacturer Brochure
Lactobacillus Cucurbita pepo Ferment Extract (pumpkin)moisturiserFSS Pumpkin Enzyme – Manufacturer Description
Lactobacillus/Punica Granatum Fruit Ferment Extract (pomegranate)exfoliating, moisturiserFSS Pomegranate Enzyme – Manufacturer Description
Vitis Vinifera Juice Extract (grape)antioxidant, moisturiserReview of the Pharmacological Effects of Vitis vinifera (Grape) and its Bioactive Constituents- An Update
Phyllanthus Emblica Fruit Extract (Indian gooseberry)moisturiser, humectantEmblica Cascading Antioxidant A novel skin care ingredient
Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymermoisturiser, humectantComparative Study of the Topical Action of a Novel, Crosslinked Resilient Hyaluronic Acid on Skin Hydration and Barrier Function in a Dynamic, Three-Dimensional Human Explant Model
Sclerocarya Birrea Seed Oil (marula oil)emollient, humectantAre plants used for skin care in South Africa fully explored?
Glycyrrhiza Glabra Root Extract (liquorice)soothing, smoothing, brightening, emollientGlycyrrhiza glabra extract cream: effects on skin pigment melanin
Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract (green tea)antioxidant, humectant, moisturiser, soothingGreen tea in dermatology – myths and facts

L-ascorbic acid

There is so much to write on ascorbic acid that I have dedicated an entire section about vitamin C.

TL;DR Vitamin C aims to strengthen the skin, brighten it, and neutralize pollutants and environmental influences (free radicals). It can also combat acne, eczema, psoriasis, and other skin diseases. If you have acne scars or pigmentation it can help fade those because of its skin brightening properties.

Chronocyclin

According to the manufacturer, chronocyclin is:
An anti-aging chrono peptide that mimics the sun exposure activation of the circadian genes
An anti-aging active ingredient that optimizes the skin physiological activities of defense and cells regeneration

In short, it helps with anti-aging, anti-stress, and skin looking tired. According to the CosIng, it’s function is a hair conditioner and I am unable to find any more research regarding the benefits of this ingredient.

In this post, Drunk Elephant said that the product contained vitamin D. There is a form of vitamin D that is used in skincare products (Cholecalciferol, also known as vitamin D3). The Peter Thomas Roth Camu Camu Power C X 30 Vitamin C Brightening Serum contains Cholecalciferol as well as Tocopherol (vitamin E). But for C-Firma, that ingredient is not found in their ingredient list.

I also found this post on Facebook:

Drunk Elephant - claims about Chronocyclin

There was, however, a little bit of controversy regarding the claims made on the official website as well as by Tiffany herself in this video. In the video she says that she “discovered a unique chronopeptide that transforms into Vitamin D for amazing antioxidant benefits.”

Similar claims were made in another product (D-Bronzi). The claims were met with scepticism from skincare and cosmetic formulator Stephen Alain Ko who stated in his instagram post:

“For a new launch a brand founder claimed their serum could ‘”provide the benefits of vitamin D” without having to risk the dangers of sun exposure’. These benefits were linked to a “chronopeptide”. Because it’s a made-up word or tradename, it was easy to find it
Chronocyclin, also known as L-Glu-Hist was previously marketed as Immudilin, a possible immune regulator. The INCI name is Glutamylamidoethyl Imidazole.

The brand’s description of its Vitamin C serum states “Chronocyclin: a chronopeptide that transforms into vitamin D, optimizing skin for a more youthful-looking complexion.” This isn’t true. If we look at the manufacturer’s data we’ll see that in reconstructed human epidermis (a cell culture in a petri dish), it was shown to increase activity of Vitamin D enzymes.

“Enzymes” are the key here, they’re related to the increase or decrease of Vitamin D, but they are not Vitamin D. Based on this data it could increase Vitamin D enzymes that actually reduce the vitamin’s levels – but we don’t know, because they don’t disclose which enzyme specifically they measured.

In any case, this “chronopeptide” does not transform into vitamin D, nor was it shown to increase human vitamin D levels.

If they did, in order to make this claim the brand would need to go through a drug approval process because they claim it can “affect the structure or any function of the body of man”. The claim as it is written, is misleading. Either intentionally or because the person creating the copy did not understand the science.

Unfortunately, claims like this often go unnoticed by the US FDA. Chronically underfunded and understaffed, the US FDA’s cosmetic regulations arm is reactionary – they respond to consumer reports, but they don’t have the resources to actively monitor the market.
Brands leverage this to their benefit. This brand in particular also wrongly warns against PEGs or polyethylene glycols while formulating their products with ingredients like Laureth-23 and Ethoxydiglycol which contain…polyethylene glycol and ethylene oxide – the building block of PEGs.

This brand has a history of misleading claims, since removed after I notified their Director of R&D.”

Currently (as of June 2020) the website now states: “chronocyclin: a chronopeptide that mimics the antioxidant benefits of vitamin D for more youthful-looking skin.”

It’s a shame Drunk Elephant picked this ingredient to highlight as they have other great ingredients such as Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate and Glycyrrhiza Glabra Root Extract which are both from the liquorice plant.

Grape Juice Extract

There are different parts of the grape fruit such as the seeds and the stem. Each has different pharmacological effects. Drunk Elephant uses specifically the juice of the grape. In the juice of the grape Phenolic acids can be found. Phenolic acids are a group of phytonutrients such as Protocatechic acid, Gallic acid and Salicylic acid.

Grape juice extract (V. vinifera) is a ‘potent antioxidant that aids in improving skin tone.’ In improving skin tone, it reduces (hyper)pigmentation of the skin. In general grape extract seems to be an interesting active ingredient. Other skincare companies such as Caudalie have a patented grapevine sap extract (Viniferine) because it can boost radiance. They have an entire line dedicated to this extract called Vinoperfect. I personally use the essence and the serum and really like them.

Indian Gooseberry Extract (amla)

Phyllanthus emblica (Indian gooseberries) have been used ayurveda for thousands of years. The fruits of Phyllanthus emblica commonly known as amla, are rich in polyphenols including tannins, phenolic glycosides and flavonoids. Polyphenols are potent antioxidants.

Drunk Elephant says that Indian Gooseberry Extract is ‘an antioxidant-rich super-fruit that helps slow signs of oxidative stress while promoting firmness’.

Other than their use of the word ‘super-fruit’ (which is another name for Super-PR) I have no complaints with this description.

According to the manufacturer it has a high level of gallic acid, minerals and amino acids. It also has a high concentration of vitamin C, Beta Carotene and vitamin B. These nutrients help protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals.

It is possible that amla extract could have photoprotective properties (like an SPF) but not without being correctly formulated. According to one study in 2015 “polyphenols have limited penetration into skin therefore its topical use, as a photoprotectant, is ineffective.”

Ingredients: Water/Aqua/Eau, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Ascorbic Acid, Laureth-23, Glycerin, Lactobacillus/Pumpkin Ferment Extract, Sclerocarya Birrea Seed Oil, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Juice Extract, Phyllanthus Emblica Fruit Extract, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Tocopherol, Lactobacillus/Punica Granatum Fruit Ferment Extract, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Hydrolyzed Quinoa, Phytosterols, Glutamylamidoethyl Imidazole, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Ferulic Acid, Acetyl Glucosamine, Sodium Hyaluronate, Tetrahydrobisdemethoxydiferuloylmethane, Tetrahydrodemethoxydiferuloylmethane, Tetrahydrodiferuloylmethane, Glycine, Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, Sucrose, Maltodextrin, Chondrus Crispus Extract, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Isohexadecane, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Caprylyl Glycol, Sorbitan Isostearate, Propanediol, Pentylene Glycol, Xanthan Gum, Butylene Glycol, Sodium Hydroxide, Chlorphenesin, Polysorbate 60, Sodium Dehydroacetate, Potassium Sorbate, Sorbic Acid, Ethylhexylglycerin

Actives

  • L-ascorbic acid
  • Ferulic acid
  • Tocopherol
  • Vitis Vinifera Juice Extract
  • Glycyrrhiza Glabra Root Extract

Play the official Drunk Elephant introductory video below:

Below you will find a list of references used for information in this post.

Official name: Drunk Elephant C-Firma™ Day Serum

Sample packaging:

Drunk Elephant - c-firma sample packaging