I Traded My $400 Serum for a $30 Drugstore Vitamin C Alternative, and I Was More Impressed by the Latter

Photo: Getty Images / Polina Lebed
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As a commerce writer, I get the opportunity to test and review dozens of products every week, be it ready-to-hit-the-pavement running shoes or eczema-friendly skin-care products. Recently, one of my favorite things to test has been serums. That's because as a skin-parched gal, my barrier is always in a constant state of thirst—and this winter has felt especially dry and harsh. Over the last few months, I've leaned on Clé de Peau The Serum ($405), but after running low on product, my wallet couldn't bear to cough up that many bills for a restock. So, I went Sherlock Holmes-mode in search of a similar (but just-as-effective product). That's when I found Olay Vitamin C + Peptide 24 Serum ($30).


One big differentiator that makes Clé de Peau stand out from its competitors is its five-ingredient blend of silk extract, Japanese pearl shell extract, theanine, perilla extract, and Angelica acutiloba extract. According to Charlotte Cho, a K-beauty expert and Soko Glam founder, pearl extract is rich in amino acids and minerals that moisturize, sooth, and brighten skin. The silk extract gives your skin the natural defense to fight against environmental stressors, and the formula overall is purported to soften and hydrate dry skin.

Experts In This Article

Although Olay's serum isn't formulated with the same extracts, it does have a similar agent: vitamin C. A naturally-occuring antioxidant, vitamin C helps to fight against free radicals and produces the appearance of smooth-looking skin. In addition to age-fighting effects, Olay's serum is infused with niacinamide, aka vitamin B3.

“Niacinamide is [also] a potent anti-inflammatory, and has been used to help with pigmentation and even acne,” says Dr. Bhanusal. "It can help calm the skin or even help withe  the tolerability of other ingredients,” board-certified dermatologist Dhaval G. Bhanusali, MD FAAD, previously told Well+Good. With that in mind, both Olay's Vitamin C + Peptide serum and Clé de Peau's serum combat signs of aging while strengthening the skin's barrier.

What makes this $30 serum just as good as Clé de Peau is all in the formulation. Just like Clé de Peau's serum, Olay's is formulated with water, glycerin, and a blend of acids, which are designed to fight environmental stressors and brighten skin. A humectant, glycerin draws water to the skin's barrier and replenishes moisture levels. Compared to Clé de Peau, which is formulated with hyaluronic acid, Olay Vitamin C serum has peptides that aid the skin in looking smoother and firmer.

Putting the serums to the test

Both formulas feel silky smooth and are easy to apply (Olay's serum comes with a dropper style applicator, whereas Clé de Peau's serum has a pump—both effective). With Clé de Peau and Olay, both serums held up over an eight-hour work day, plus two hour gym sessions, making them reliable and long-lasting serums.

In just a week of using Olay's serum, I did notice that I broke out less compared to the three-month period when I was wearing Clé de Peau (in fact, I rarely broke out while wearing Olay Vitamin C Serum). To note: Both serums are extremely hydrating and left my skin feeling more glow-y and smoother after each application.

One thing I was worried about for Olay's serum is that it contained fragrance. For context, I have eczema and sensitive skin, and feared that it would cause my eczema to flare up or break me out. That wasn't the case, and I find the citrusy smell refreshing and not overbearing.

Olay's serum is hydrating just like Clé de Peau's—but with Olay, I've seen additional benefits like little to no breakouts and visible improvements in my skin's texture, giving—dare I say—even better results compared to its nearly-$200 counterpart, for a fraction of the price. Bonus: My skin feels suppler and less bumpy with Olay.

Olay's Vitamin C + Peptide Serum has lived up to the hype while not breaking my wallet. Yes, Clé de Peau's serum will always have a place in my beauty cabinet (and the bottle is so pretty!!), but Olay's serum has climbed the ranks as my new favorite. Plus, I get to put more $$$ back into my wallet.

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Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

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