skinceuticals silymarin cf review

My fave Vitamin C serum for oily skin – and the one I recommend to all my oily-skinned clients, is Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum. It contains Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate, the only form of Vitamin C that actively tackles acne. The catch? It’s not as good at fighting premature aging as L-Ascorbic Acid (LAA), the pure form of Vitamin C.

If you ask me, the trade-off is more than worth it. Until now. Skinceuticals, the makers of the BEST Vitamin C serum on the market (CE Ferulic) has recently launched Silymarin CF, a Vitamin C with L-Ascorbic Acid that tackles both wrinkles and acne.

My first thought was, “Do we really need this when CE Ferulic does such an outstanding job?” But then, I have a small handful of clients that swears CE Ferulic aggravates their acne. So a Vitamin C serum that tackles both acne and wrinkles isn’t a bad idea.

But, how does it do both? Is this stuff really better (and less comedogenic) than CE Ferulic? And more importantly, does it work? So many questions! I’ve put it to the test to find out all the answers!

About The Brand: Skinceuticals

Founded in 1997 on the back of the antioxidant research performed by Dr Sheldon Pinnell, Skinceuticals was one of the first brands to sell to dermatologists and other doctors. Their formulations are crafted based on the latest breakthroughs in the skincare world – the brand itself is one of its pioneers. They were the first to formulate a serum with 15% L-Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) + Vitamin E + Ferulic Acid.

Groundbreaking for its day, it has now become the gold standard for Vitamin C serums and inspired a long string of dupes (and lawsuits). The only thing I don’t like is the high price of these little potions, but that’s the price to pay (literally!) for skincare research. That stuff’s expensive. But if it keeps bringing us products like CE Ferulic, I’m happy to support it (every now and then 😉 ).

Key Ingredients In Skinceuticals Silymarin CF: What Makes It Work?


The serum uses L-Ascorbic Acid, the pure form of vitamin C. It’s a powerful antioxidant that:

If you’re serious about antiaging, you need this baby in your skincare routine. But be careful! L-Ascorbic Acid has a couple of side effects you should be aware of:

  • Unstable: It goes bad quickly when exposed to light and air. Buy it only when you’re ready to use it daily. If the serum has turned brown, it’s too late. It’s useless. Throw it away!
  • Irritation: High concentrations (%15) of L-Ascorbic Acid – especially at the low pH (below 3) it needs to work its magic – can irritate skin, especially if it’s sensitive. Phloretin CF uses 10%, a concentration that’s sensitive skin-friendly.

P.S. Some women with oily skin report an increase in acne when using L-Ascorbic Acid. If this is you, stick to Mad Hippie and Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate. It’s the only form of Vitamin C that FIGHT acne and is gentle enough even for the most sensitive of skin types.

Related: Everything You Need To Know About Vitamin C In Skincare


Ferulic acid is an antioxidant on steroids. While most antioxidants destroy only one or two types of free radicals (that’s why you need to use a dozen in your skincare routine), ferulic acid neutralises THREE: superoxide, hydroxyl radical, and nitric oxide.

Ferulic acid kicks ass on its own. But, it’s even more powerful when used together with vitamins C and E. This trio boosts one another’s effectiveness and the protection of your sunscreen.

A study conducted by Duke University has found that “its [ferulic acid] incorporation into a topical solution of 15%l-ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and 1%alpha-tocopherol (Vitamin E) improved chemical stability of the vitamins (C+E) and doubled photoprotection. This combination provides meaningful synergistic protection against oxidative stress in skin and should be useful for protection against photoaging and skin cancer.”

Skinceuticals Silymarin CF has no vitamin E. But it’s such a common ingredients in moisturisers and sunscreens, your skin probably gets its regular fix of it, too.

Just one thing: if you’re allergic to grains such as wheat, corn or barley, consult a doctor before adding ferulic acid to your skincare routine. Just in case.

Related: Why You Should Add Ferulic Acid To Your Skincare Routine

skinceuticals silymarin cf


Skinceuticals Silymarin CF has replaced Vitamin E with Silymarin. Scientific name: Silybum marianum L. Nickname: Milk thistle. What’s special about Silymarin?

According to a 2019 study, Silymarin has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that fight free radicals and boost protection from UVB rays. Scientists concluded it “may be useful agents for skin protection against the harmful effects of full-spectrum solar radiation including slowing down skin (photo)aging.”

We don’t know yet if Vitamin C + Ferulic Acid + Silymarin is more effective than the old, tried and tested combo of Vitamin C, Ferulic Acid, and Vitamin E. But it’s interesting enough to be worth a try.


All the ingredients mentioned so far tackle anti-aging. But what makes Skinceuticals Silymarin CF a great choice for oily skin is the addition of salicylic acid, an exfoliant on steroids. It helps treat acne in three ways:

  1. Surface exfoliation: Salicylic acid dissolves the glue that holds skin cells together so they can slough off. Once they’re off your skin, they won’t accidentally fall into your pores and clog them up.
  2. Pore exfoliation: Salicylic acid is oil-soluble, so it easily penetrates the skin’s lipid barrier and gets inside the pores, removing all the gunk that’s clogging them up and giving you blackheads and pimples.
  3. Soothing: Salicylic Acid has anti-inflammatory properties that reduce the redness that always comes along with pimples.

The catch? Skinceuticals Silymarin CF has only 0.5% salicylic acid. It’ll do something, but I’d still use a separate salicylic acid exfoliant on acne-prone areas.

Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is Key To Spot-Free Skin

Struggling to put together a skincare routine that minimises wrinkles, prevents premature aging, and gives your complexion a youthful glow? Download your FREE “Best Anti-Aging Skincare Routine” to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):

The Rest Of The Formula & Ingredients

NOTE: The colours indicate the effectiveness of an ingredient. It is ILLEGAL to put toxic and harmful ingredients in skincare products.

  • Green: It’s effective, proven to work, and helps the product do the best possible job for your skin.
  • Yellow: There’s not much proof it works (at least, yet).
  • Red: What is this doing here?!
  • Aqua/Water: The best of this (and most) skincare products.
  • Alcohol Denat: This is one of the most controversial ingredients in skincare. Brands love to use it because it’s a cheap solvent that also enhances the penetration of active ingredients. But some people report dryness and irritation when using it. To counteract these side effects, moisturise well afterwards.
  • Propylene Glycol: Like alcohol, this ingredient also enhances the penetration of active ingredients into your skin. Unlike alcohol, it also has hydrating properties. It works by attracting moisture from the air into your skin to keep it softer and suppler for longer.
  • Dipropylene Glycol: This multitasker hydrates skin and helps it retain moisture for a plumper, smoother complexion; it helps suspends ingredients in the formula, resulting in more even distribution during application; and it makes thin formulas easier to spread.
  • Laureth-23: An emulsifier used in oil-in-water emulations. It basically keeps the formula from separating.
  • Sodium Citrate: It’s used to adjust the pH of a product, so that the active ingredients can work better.


I’m on the fence with the texture. I like it’s lightweight and fast-absorbing. But it also feels a little sticky – more than the other Skinceuticals Vitamin C Serums. Normally, I wouldn’t mind too much. But this is formulated specifically for oily, acne-prone skin – the skin type that’s LEAST likely to put up with a sticky feel. Just saying…


Again, I’m on the fence. I like the serum is fragrance-free. Fragrances can easily irritate sensitive skin – and Vitamin C already does that (for this skin type). The difference is that you need Vitamin C for anti-aging, while fragrance is there just for kicks. It doesn’t do anything for skin.

But, that means you’ll be smelling the raw smell of the ingredients (yes, each skincare ingredient has its own smell). This serum is high in alcohol, so that’s all you can smell when you first apply it. Thankfully, it slowly fades away, too. Kinda like a perfume.

How Do You Use Skinceuticals Silymarin CF?

I always recommend to use your Vitamin C in the morning. It’s a myth that Vitamin C increases your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. What Vitamin C does (as shared above) is boost the protection of your sunscreen – something you should be wearing it every day.

For best results, every morning apply Vitamin C in right after cleansing and before sunscreen. If your skin is dry, you can use a moisturiser before sunscreen to counteract the drying effects of the alcohol.


L-Ascorbic Acid is very sensitive to light and air. Every time it gets in contact with them, it loses a bit of its effectiveness. I’m glad Skinceuticals packaged this in a dark bottle with a dropper applicator for ease of use. The packaging does keep Vitamin C protected from light and air, until you open it – which you must do to use it!

So yes, it’ll spoil a little overtime, but if you’re quick to close the cap, you’ll be able to get through the bottle before that happens. In any case, you”ll know when it starts to go bad: vitamin C turns brown. Buy this serum only when you’re ready to use it every day.

Related: My Vitamin C Serum Has Turned Brown: Can I Still Use It?

Performance & Personal Opinion

Despite the sticky texture, Skinceuticals Silymarin CF is a better choice for oily skin than Skinceuticals CE Ferulic or Skinceuticals Phloretin CF. Why?

It’s less hydrating. Oily skin (unless dehydrated) usually has more than enough moisture on its own. This serum won’t add more to it, so you won’t need to blot your face as often. That also means less chance of a breakout.

It also helps refine the texture of your skin, making it smoother and brighter. This alone makes you look a little younger too.

What about acne? I don’t suffer from it, so I can’t personally vouch for how well it works against pimples. If your skin regularly breaks out from L-Ascorbic Acid, this is a no-go. But if your skin is doing fine with that, the addition of salicylic acid can help somewhat. But I still recommend you use a separate exfoliant for maximum results.

How Does It Compare To Skinceuticals CE Ferulic?

TEXTURE A little sticky. Lightweight, not sticky.
HYDRATION Less hydrating, great for oily skin. More hydrating, great for dry skin.
ANTI-AGING 10% Vitamin C + Ferulic Acid + Silymarin, a less studied combination. You get less Vitamin C. 15% L-Ascorbic Acid + 1% Vitamin E + 0.5% Ferulic Acid, the gold standard antioxidant combination.
IRRITATION POTENTIAL 10% Vitamin C is gentler on the skin. 15% Vitamin C may irritate sensitive skin.
PERFORMANCE Exfoliates skin and is better for acne-prone skin. Anti-aging, better at treating dark spots and preventing wrinkles.

I’ve already mentioned this in passing throughout the review, but here’s a summary for you.

Skinceuticals CE Ferulic has a better texture. Unlike Silymarin CF, it doesn’t feel sticky at all. They both are very lightweight and absorb quickly into your skin though. The former is just a little pleasanter to user.

Silymarin CF is less hydrating, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This is aimed at oily and acne-prone skin and this skin type doesn’t need too much extra hydration. What matters to you is that it fights acne (and doesn’t aggravate it).

On that note, Skinceuticals CE Ferulic is better at fighting premature aging. It’s the best Vitamin C serum I’ve found for that – but it can aggravate acne in some people. Silymarin CF could do that too – it has the same active ingredient, after all. But the inclusion of Salicylic acid makes it less likely.

In short, if your main concern is preventing wrinkles and brightening dark spots, go with Skinceuticals CE Ferulic. If, on the other hand, your main concern is fighting acne and you want something that helps you prevent wrinkles while you’re at it, Skinceuticals Silymarin CF is the better option for you.

How Does Skinceuticals Silymarin CF Compare To The Other Skinceuticals Vitamin C Serums?

If you ask me, Skinceuticals CE Ferulic is the best Vitamin C serum on the market, so I don’t see why the brand would create more. But then, different skin types and concerns have different needs, so it’s good to have options. How does Skinceuticals Silymarin CF compare to the other Skinceuticals Vitamin C serums? Let’s find out:

  • Skinceuticals C + AHA ($138.00): This serum combines 15% L-Ascorbic Acid with 10% exfoliating Alpha Hydroxy Acids to brighten skin and fade away dark spots. It’s a good option for dry, sun damaged skin – especially if you want to reduce steps in your skincare routine. Just be aware you should only use this 3 nights a week. Over-exfoliation always backfires! Available at Blue Mercury and Skinceuticals.
  • Skinceuticals Phloretin CF With Ferulic Acid ($169.00): This is my LEAST fave Skinceuticals serum, Why? Vitamin C + Phloretin + Ferulic acid is less studied than Vitamin C + Vitamin E + Ferulic acid, so I wouldn’t pick it for anti-aging. Phloretin is said to be good at treating dark spots, but again the science is at its infancy here. If you’re curious to try and your wallet can take the hit, go ahead. I’ll stick to CE Ferulic. Available at Look Fantastic and Skin Store.
  • Skinceuticals Phloretin CF Gel ($169.00): You’re getting the Phloretin CF formula, but in a gel texture that’s better for oilier skin types. I’m still not a big fan of this, though. Available at Look Fantastic and Skinceuticals.
  • Skinceuticals Serum 10 AOX+ ($72.00): This serum contains only 10% L-Ascorbic Acid and 0.2% Ferulic acid. This makes it gentler and better tolerated by sensitive skin, the skin type this is aimed at. For you, the trade-off between effectiveness and gentleness is worth it. Available at Dermstore and Skinceuticals.
  • Skinceuticals Serum 20 AOX+ ($128.00): This serum contains a whooping 20% concentration of L-Ascorbic Acid. But more isn’t necessarily better. The higher the dose, the better it works AND the higher the irritating potential. I recommend this only to very resistant skin with hyperpigmentation. For everyone else, 15% L-Ascorbic Acid is more than enough. Available at Skinceuticals.

What I Like About Skinceuticals Silymarin CF

  • Effective concentration of Vitamin C for anti-aging.
  • Helps prevent acne.
  • Brightens skin.
  • Lightweight, fast-absorbing texture.
  • Fragrance-free.
  • Packaging protects Vitamin C from spoiling.

What I DON’T Like About Skinceuticals Silymarin CF

  • Texture feels a little sticky.
  • It smells like alcohol.
  • L-Ascorbic Acid + Silymarin + Ferulic acid isn’t as well-researched as L-Ascorbic Acid + Vitamin E + Ferulic acid. The jury’s still out there on how well this combo works.

Who Should Use This?

This serum is best suitable for oily and combination skin. Instead, I DON’T recommend it for:

  • Acne-prone skin: But only f L-Ascorbic Acid breaks you out. Otherwise, you can use it.
  • Dry skin: It’s not hydrating enough for you.
  • Normal skin: You’re spoiled for choice, so go with the best one – Skinceuticals CE Ferulic.
  • Anyone on a budget: A cheaper Vitamin C serum paired with a salicylic acid exfoliant may be more cost-effective for you.

Does Skinceuticals Silymarin CF Live Up To Its Claims?

An oil-free vitamin C serum formulated specifically for oily and blemish-prone skin types that delivers advanced environmental protection and reduces oiliness, refines skin texture, and visibly improves skin clarity and fine lines. True.
Provides advanced antioxidant protection from environmental aggressors. True.
Minimizes pore appearance and refines skin texture. True.
Improves skin clarity, radiance, and uneven skin tone. True.
Improves the appearance of fine lines. True. But keep in mind that it can only reduce their appearance, not their size/depth.
Helps prevent oil oxidation that can lead to breakouts. Salicylic acid can do this, but there’s not too much of it here.
Reduces oiliness. Barely.

Is Skinceuticals Silymarin CF Cruelty-Free?

Skinceuticals is not cruelty-free. Although the brand itself doesn’t test on animals, they’re owned by L’Oreal, which does. For some people, this isn’t an issue. For purists, it’s a huge one. It depends on you and what you’re comfortable with.

Price & Availability

£145.00 at Dermstore and Look Fantastic

The Verdict: Should You Buy It?

It depends. If you have oily skin and a fat wallet, this is a good option to consider. Otherwise, a cheaper Vitamin C serum paired with a separate salicylic acid exfoliant will do the job just fine.

Dupes & Alternatives

I don’t know of any exact dupes for this serum.