If there's one thing I, as a beauty editor, get asked more about than anything else, it's undoubtedly vitamin C. What it does, how to use it, which serums are the best — the buzz about this ingredient hasn't diminished at all in the past several years. And with good reason: Brands are constantly innovating with new-and-improved ways to apply vitamin C. For example, there's Drunk Elephant's C-Firma Fresh Day Serum, a new update on the beloved original that users mix themselves.
As far as the formula goes, C-Firma's upgrade is mostly the same. "C-Firma Fresh contains the exact same blend of actives as our original formula that the Drunk Elephant customer already knows and loves: 15 percent ascorbic acid, 1 percent vitamin E, and 0.5 percent ferulic acid, and they are still combined with other potent antioxidants and fruit enzymes," Drunk Elephant founder Tiffany Masterson explains to Allure.
For those not in the know, ascorbic acid is a specific type of vitamin C, which you probably already know "aids in your skin's natural regeneration process, which helps your body repair damaged skin cells," as board-certified dermatologist Patricia Wexler previously told Allure. Similarly, that vitamin E wards off free radicals and improves skin barrier function alongside fruit-derived antioxidant ferulic acid.
Additionally, the brand removed some of the original formula's thickeners to give it a lighter texture and made it vegan. The primary difference, though, is that this serum is designed to be mixed by its user. You might be picturing a complicated process involving various liquids in little glass vials, but I promise, it's not difficult or inconvenient in the slightest.
Each C-Firma Fresh serum comes with two components: a small plastic tube containing a liquid base and a rectangular pump bottle filled with powdered active ingredients. Grab the latter and pull of its bright-orange top to access the powder, which you can pour the liquid base into directly. Shake, shake, shake, and you've got yourself a freshly mixed brightening serum. You only need to do this once.
Why does it matter if the formula is mixed at home rather than in a manufacturing center somewhere? Good question. It all comes down to the active ingredients at play. I'll let Masterson explain the rest. "The drawback is that ascorbic acid has a shorter shelf life than other actives — from the first use, it has a shelf life of about six months before it begins to lose its potency," she says. "By separating the liquid serum phase from the vitamin C, the user is able to determine the time of 'activation' for their C-Firma Fresh, which is the moment they mix the two together."
In other words, you never have to question this serum's exact shelf-life; it's entirely in your control. "It appears that Drunk Elephant is delivering vitamin C in a way that helps keep it stable to allow the consumer to activate it when they are ready to use it," confirms cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson. "As soon as it's activated, the oxidation clock starts, and the consumer is cued to finish using their activated dose before it oxidizes."
Once you decide to "activate" your C-Firma, you'll know you have six months to use it all up. What's more, as Masterson adds, you can buy multiple bottles at once and keep them stocked, unmixed, for up to three years without fear of expiration.
As it goes for all other vitamin C serums, the frequency at which you use C-Firma Fresh Day Serum will ultimately depend on your skin's tolerance for the ingredient. As board-certified dermatologist Howard Sobel once warned Allure readers, "it's potent stuff, so you only need a few drops for each application," he recommends.
Having a rather high tolerance for acids myself, I use one pump of C-Firma Fresh two or three times per week, alternating between it and my current go-to chemical exfoliating toner (InnBeauty Project's Down to Tone) and always making sure to account for my heightened sun sensitivity with a daily SPF 30 or higher (like Supergoop's Unseen Sunscreen).
With all the products I get sent to test year-round, I have no shortage of other vitamin C serums on my bathroom shelf that I rotate — but this is the first in a while that's convinced me to commit long-term. Its thin, fluid texture spreads easily and sinks in quickly, leaving behind a brighter complexion and a slight dew after a few uses, just like the original. It does have a bitter smell, but it's so subtle that you won't even notice it unless you stick your nose directly into the stuff. Even better, the orange pop of its packaging makes my admittedly dull, windowless New York City bathroom just a little bit brighter.
The Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Day Serum retails for $78 and will be available beginning August 16 on drunkelephant.com.