Review - Skinceuticals Silymarin CF
Updated: Feb 21
This serum is intense.
And that applies to the way it smells and the way it delivers results.
I received this trial pack from Influenster, and while I know some reviewers could not get past its scent or consistency, I stuck with it and I was genuinely surprised.
Silymarin CF is made by Skinceuticals, the same manufacturer of the highly regarded CE Ferulic. Each of them is priced at a whopping A$228 per 30mL bottle. Silymarin CF is a new release in September 2021, specifically designed for oily skin. As an experienced vitamin C user, I think this serum is pretty unique.
Ascorbic acid - the most potent form of vitamin C
Related: See Drunk Elephant C-Firma review here
Topical vitamin C is known to have many skin benefits, including improving skin radiance, firmness and smoothness. It is also often used to reduce hyperpigmentation.
There are many forms of vitamin C used in skincare products. Ascorbic acid (also known as L-ascorbic acid, or LAA) is the most powerful one. It is in a form that is "ready to work" - it has a high affinity for "taking up" free radicals that can damage skin. However, this also means that it is unstable and readily degrades (i.e. oxidised). Light, heat and air (oxygen) exposure can speed up the oxidation process. Because of this, the packaging and storage of a vitamin C product is vital to its effectiveness.
On top of that, LAA has a narrow optimal pH - it works best at a pH below 3.5. At the same time, a pH that is too low can irritate skin.
It has always been challenging to find a good ascorbic acid that has a good shelf life, is relatively stable after opening and pleasant to use.
Silymarin CF is a rather simple serum. The main active ingredients are:
Ascorbic acid at 15%, as explained above
Silymarin at 0.5%, an antioxidant from botanical origin (silybum marianum fruit extract)
Ferulic acid at 0.5%, a powerful antioxidant
Salicylic acid at 0.5% (BHA), a chemical exfoliant that is widely used to de-congest pores and prevent breakout.
Notably, alcohol denat (denatured alcohol, or ethanol) is found as a second ingredient ahead of ascorbic acid, meaning that the concentration is more than 15% (see below).
Alcohol denat (Ethanol)
Fact: Ethanol makes water evaporate quicker.
I found that this is what ethanol in skincare has been doing to my skin - it makes my skin more dehydrated and less comfortable. The dehydrating effect is becoming more noticeable as I age. Not every product containing ethanol gives me this problem to the same extent but I am generally wary of using ethanol in skincare products, however noting that Silymarin CF is designed for oily and acne-prone skin rather than normal to dry skin. Ethanol is less likely to be an issue for oilier skin types.
Initially, I use Silymarin CF on cleaned, dried skin as instructed. I found that the serum made my skin more dehydrated, giving me an uncomfortable feeling. Because of this, after the initial few days I started using a clear essence (a leave-in toner with some viscosity) prior to applying Silymarin CF. This essence replenishes my skin's water content after cleansing, and I feel that there's some extra water for the ethanol to "evaporate". I note that this is not ideal, as the Silymarin CF would have been formulated at an optimal pH for the ascorbic acid to work effectively. The addition of the essence prior would have changed the pH slightly. Ascorbic acid would still work at a slightly altered pH, but not optimally. On balance, I decided to continue with the added essence because if my skin feels dehydrated I would write off the product completely.
I received 3x 4mL sample dropper bottles, totaling to 12mL (40% of a full size). The full size product comes in a bigger tinted glass dropper bottle. Given the reactive nature of ascorbic acid, I would have preferred this product to be packaged in an opaque airless pump bottle just to remove doubt as to possible oxidation.
(in my humble opinion, Drunk Elephant's C-Firma has a superior packaging: see here).
Life after opening
The "life after opening" is 6 months.
Scent and texture
I need to specifically mention this. All ascorbic acids I have used have a bacon/hotdog smell to it but Silymarin CF is by far the worst - it's so bad that it smells more like smoked and overcooked meat. The scent would linger for the rest of the day. I also had to avoid other fragranced products in the same routine, because when they mixed with the smokiness of this product, it would not end well. Wearing a face mask was a torture - because I would be made to smell this all day. The smell eventually turns into a rust smell - which I'd say is even worst than the double-smoked bacon smell.
This serum is runny but very sticky. It is the most sticky serum that I have allowed myself to put on my face. That said, once the serum was fully absorbed (~20 minutes) the stickiness was less of a problem. I could still do subsequent layers of skincare afterwards.
Overall I would say that this is a highly unpleasant serum to use, but I did get used to it to some extent toward the end of the trial.
For this trial, I incorporated this serum in my morning regime because:
I use retinol in the evening so I prefer not to use both actives together
Usually, after applying vitamin C (especially an expensive one!) I would like to allow sufficient wait time before applying further layers. Working from home allows me more time to do this in the morning.
Once a day, I used one full small dropper (equivalent to approximately 6-8 drops from the full size dropper bottle) each time. This was a huge amount (more than recommended) because I found the texture so sticky that I could not spread it well. The only way I could get a full face coverage was to press a larger-than-usual amount onto skin.
I can fairly say that at the beginning of the trial I did not have a good feeling about it. I was expecting that my skin would react badly or break out or become sensitive (or all of the above) but because it was made by the one and only Skinceuticals (I had always wanted to try the CE Ferulic, see below) so I persisted.
To my surprise (and it was a huge one) by around day 10 I noticed a significant luminosity to my skin and smoothing out of skin texture. My enlarged pores on my nose also seemed to look smaller. Skin condition has continued to improve over the next few weeks. My 12 mL of serum lasted for approximately 5 weeks. At the end of the 5 weeks, my skin was basically a mirror bouncing off lights to and from all directions.
On a very close inspection, I did not feel that there was a significant difference in terms of the intensity of hyperpigmentation, but because of the new-found radiance in my skin, everything appeared to be more even.
No wonder we continue to willingly hand over so much money to Skinceuticals. Silymarin CF has delivered results beyond my wildest expectations, despite being so unpleasant to use.
Here are my ratings against the known benefits of vitamin C:
Radiance / Brightness
Huge difference from day 10 onwards. The effect was not temporary due to the product appearance (i.e. skin was still as radiant after a thorough cleanse).
No visible difference, however the overall radiance diffused how the hyperpigmentation looked.
My skin felt more bouncy and it seemed to have more density or volume. It was either because of the serum, or because I have put on Covid-weight.
Significantly more refined. Salicylic acid has always worked well for me, so I am not surprised there is such a big difference to my skin. The addition of salicylic acid in this serum seemed to have smoothed out any residual congestion and bumpiness in my skin.
Intense improvement on skin radiance
Significant improvement on skin texture
No irritation / sensitivity
Sticky texture; not very spreadable - a larger amount is needed.
Expensive! (RRP $228 for 30mL)
Contains ethanol - dry or dehydrated skin may find it too drying (see workaround above)
Same as all other LAA products, it is fiddly to use. Wait time is needed before layering other products
Short "life after opening" (6 months) - however it will run out well under 6 months if used daily
Silymarin CF is legit. It delivers real results - and very quickly too. It is easily one of the top 3 most effective serums that I've ever put on my skin, but also one of the most unpleasant serum that has ever invented :/
Will I purchase this?
This is a hugely expensive serum. Since completing the trial, I have been asking myself whether I would drop $228 on this serum again in the future? Does the extraordinary effectiveness outweigh the pain and suffering of smelling weird all day? I am afraid that it does.
Comparison against CE Ferulic
Immediately after the Silymarin CF trial, I moved onto CE Ferulic, Skinceutical's iconic and best-selling vitamin C serum. See a short comparison review here.
Full ingredients list
AQUA/WATER, ALCOHOL DENAT., ASCORBIC ACID, PROPYLENE GLYCOL, DIPROPYLENE GLYCOL, LAURETH-23, SILYBUM MARIANUM FRUIT EXTRACT, SODIUM CITRATE, SALICYLIC ACID, FERULIC ACID, D251111/1
I received this trial pack from Influenster in exchange for an honest review on Influenster and one instagram post. There is no obligation to publish any further review or write up this blog post. My opinion is honest.
Makeup artist and hair stylist based in Sydney. Founder of the well-known award-winning bridal specialist team Faces Makeup and Hair. Beauty junkie with an obsession for skincare.