I’m fighting the visible aging process tooth and nail to make up for decades of bad decisions, as you’ll notice if you make it through even a couple of posts here or on my Instagram. So I’m often asked about my recommendations for the best anti-aging skincare products. My first answer will always be sunscreen, but coming in at a close second for people of all ages is an effectively formulated vitamin C serum. I’ve seen a lot of people in skincare enthusiast circles recommend Timeless 20% Vitamin C+E+Ferulic Acid Serum, so for the past couple of months, I’ve been putting it to the test.
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First things first, though. What makes vitamin C (specifically the L-ascorbic acid form used in the Timeless and many other vitamin C serums) so important for anti-aging? And what makes a vitamin C serum effective or ineffective?
Vitamin C Serum: The Basics
Vitamin C is one of the elite few skincare ingredients with a sizable and more or less credible body of research supporting its claimed effects on skin. There are a number of different vitamin C derivatives used in cosmetics; for the rest of this post, I’m going to be talking specifically about L-ascorbic acid (L-AA), which is one of the most widely studied and used forms. In many cases, when a cosmetic label lists “ascorbic acid,” what’s meant is L-AA.
In some ways, L-AA is awesome. Very few other ingredients are scientifically demonstrated to deliver such heavy-duty benefits. A potent antioxidant, it has been shown to defend skin from free radical damage caused by UV exposure. While it’s no substitute for sunscreen, it can boost sunscreen’s ability to protect your skin from sun damage. L-ascorbic acid’s antioxidant powers can also prevent the oxidation of melanin already present in skin, resulting in clearer and more even skin tone.
Speaking of pigmentation, L-AA inhibits the production of melanin and so is used to reduce and prevent hyperpigmentation. Current research also shows that a properly formulated L-AA product can increase collagen synthesis, which is vitamin C’s key selling point in anti-aging products.
For brightening, photoprotective, and anti-aging benefits, however, you can’t just take vitamin C supplements or eat lots of delicious oranges. (Though you should do that anyway, for overall health.) Very little orally consumed vitamin C makes it to the skin.
You can’t just break open a vitamin C supplement and smear it on your face, either. Topical vitamin C needs to be formulated to certain specifications to penetrate skin and be effective. A concentration of 20% is optimal, and in an aqueous solution (like most serums), the pH needs to be lower than 4 for stability and lower than 3.5 for the L-AA to penetrate skin and work its slow magic.
(By the way, to answer a very frequently asked question, these requirements instantly disqualify the Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop serum, which has 5% L-AA and a pH of 6).
But the right concentration and pH aren’t all that matter. Much like me, L-AA needs the support of a few friends to really come into its own. I need my fellow Snailcast members, and L-AA needs vitamin E and ferulic acid. Vitamin E boosts the serum’s overall antioxidant defense, while ferulic acid stabilizes the solution and significantly increases its photoprotective properties.
So to recap, for optimal anti-aging, skin-brightening, and photoprotective effects, a water-based vitamin C serum that uses L-ascorbic acid should:
- Contain 20% L-AA
- Be at a pH lower than 3.5
- Also contain vitamin E and ferulic acid
Review: Timeless 20% Vitamin C+E+Ferulic Acid Serum
Timeless is a California-based “natural” skincare company that claims to make simple, effective skincare products with a focus on actives at maximum concentration, with minimal filler. They use “more actives, less chemicals,”sigh and their products are dye-, paraben-, and cruelty-free.
Purpose: Timeless CEF Serum is an anti-aging skincare product that claims to even skin tone and increase collagen in skin. It also “allows skin to feel nourished and loved.” Cheesy writing aside, this product may reduce fine lines and wrinkles with long-term use.
Best suited for: Dry or normal skin types with preventative or reparative aging concerns and/or uneven or excessive pigmentation.
Do not use if: You are sensitive to vitamin E or anything else in the ingredients list. Proceed with caution if you have sensitive skin or a compromised lipid barrier, as the very low pH of this product can cause stinging. May not be ideal for oily skin due to the vitamin E content. The website says:
Farther down, however, the website then says:
Having used the product, I’m inclined to agree that oily skin could find the consistency of the product problematic, but not necessarily or terribly so. It’s up to you.
When and how to use: Use immediately after cleansing. Dispense a few drops into palm and spread in a thin layer over skin. Allow to dry and absorb for at least 10 minutes before moving on to the next step of your skincare routine. I use this once daily, in the evening; vitamin C’s half-life in skin is four days, quite a long time, and there’s a limit to how much vitamin C skin can retain, so I don’t see the need to apply twice a day, as much of the product will be wasted. Either morning or evening use are fine.
Timeless 20% Vitamin C+E+Ferulic Acid Serum ingredients: Water, ethoxydiglycol, l-ascorbic acid (20%), propylene glycol, vitamin E, polysorbate 80, panthenol, ferulic acid, sodium hyaluronate, benzyl alcohol, dehydroacetic acid
pH: Between 2 and 3, according to my pH strips*.
Notable ingredients: Earlier we covered the basic requirements for an optimally formulated water-based vitamin C serum. Timeless CEF Serum hits all the main points. Its pH is low enough and then some. The concentration is the maximum effective according to current research. And the L-AA here is accompanied by its good friends vitamin E and ferulic acid. Well done, Timeless. I don’t see anything to complain about in the ingredients, either, as long as you personally aren’t reactive to any of them.
Timeless 20% C+E+Ferulic Acid Serum is a thin liquid that should be colorless when you first open it, denoting the freshness of the product. As L-AA oxidizes, serums turn progressively darker, from clear to yellow into brown or red. I normally discontinue use anytime the product becomes darker than the cheap champagne that has given me many a New Year’s Day hangover. Oxidized vitamin C is ineffective at best and possibly damaging at worst.
The stabilizing ingredients in the Timeless CEF Serum appear to do their job just as expected, however. The company guarantees the serum’s freshness for three months. Two months after opening the product, mine is still almost colorless.
I keep my CEF Serum in the refrigerator, where it’s cold and dark almost all the time. That also helps to slow oxidation. I’ve always kept my C20 and C21.5 serums in the fridge as well, though, and both of those have changed color much faster than the Timeless serum did. I’m impressed by the relative longevity of the CEF Serum.
That longevity is even more impressive considering the suboptimal packaging. Dropper bottles just aren’t great, especially for antioxidant-heavy products, since the regular exposure to air accelerates the product’s degradation. The Timeless bottle is dark, at least. And again, the product appears to be lasting just fine–at this rate, I’ll be able to finish the entire bottle without moving into the yellow.
Do I want to finish the entire bottle, though?
The Timeless CEF Serum doesn’t feel great going on. Thanks to the vitamin E, the serum has an unpleasantly oily feel, but it’s draggy at the same time, not the easiest to spread on bare skin. It also smells faintly of hot dog water due to the ferulic acid. Kind of a Catch-22: both those ingredients make the product work better but smell and feel worse.
When I first started using the product, I worried that its greasy finish would interfere with the rest of my skincare routine. Luckily, that turned out to not be a problem after all. Given 10 minutes or so, the serum does fully sink in to my skin, leaving it looking and feeling bare again. The smell also fades after a little while. So although the CEF Serum is initially a little unpleasant to apply, its consistency and smell are not deal-breakers after all.
As for results, those can be hard to judge with a product like this. The collagen-building effects of vitamin C can take up to a year to become visible, and the spot-brightening results need time to appear, too. Over the couple of months that I used this product, I wasn’t looking so much for dramatic new results as I was looking to confirm a continuation of the results I’ve been getting from long-term use of the popular (but not ideal) OST C20 vitamin C serum.
Essentially, I wanted to see if I would start to lose any of the progress I’d made with C20. If dark spots or other signs of sun damage showed up, or if my skin began to lose the firmness or even tone I’ve clawed back from the grip of Time, I would know that discontinuing C20 use had resulted in me losing something that the Timeless CEF was failing to replace.
Turns out, I lost nothing. The Timeless is at least as effective as C20 at preventing new signs of sun damage and visible collagen loss. Based on its objectively better formulation, I expect it to be a better investment over the long term as well. The fact that it seems to stay good for much longer than the C20 makes it a better pick financially, too.
My main caution to people wanting to try this product is to patch test it (as you should be doing anyway!). The very low pH of the Timeless CEF may cause it to sting or irritate your skin, especially the first few times you use it. If that’s the case, waiting after cleansing until skin is fully dry and less absorptive–as tretinoin users are recommended to do with their prescriptions–can help.
Conclusion: I didn’t see any rapid, dramatic improvements with this product, but then again, I didn’t expect to. This isn’t my first time with a vitamin C product, so my days of amazement at the powers of vitamin C are long behind me. What I hoped to see was equivalent or better effectiveness compared to the other vitamin C serums I’ve used. Timeless 20% Vitamin C+E+Ferulic Acid Serum met my expectations there and exceeded my expectations for pH and overall formulation. I’m satisfied with the product and won’t have a problem finishing the bottle before moving on to the next candidate.
1 – This should be taken off the market, or this failed at its one primary job.
2 – Caused me some problems or doesn’t work very well; would not buy again.
3 – Meh. Neither great nor bad.
4 – Pretty good. Worth rebuying.
5 – I’ll never be in the market for a replacement unless this one is discontinued.
Where can I buy Timeless 20% Vitamin C+E+Ferulic Acid Serum?
Want to learn more about whether your routine could use actives like vitamin C? Check out this post!