Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

What’s A Serum? July 17, 2013

Filed under: Skincare products — askanesthetician @ 7:30 am
Tags: , , , ,

The number of facial skincare products available can be mind-boggling and downright confusing.  I think that one of the most perplexing skincare products for people to understand its use is a serum.

On her Daily Glow blog Dr. Jessica Wu explains:

Serums are thinner and lighter than lotions and creams, and they tend to have a higher concentration of active ingredients. They’re often meant to target a specific problem, like fine lines, dark spots, or undereye puffiness, so you can use them to spot-treat a particular area. Since they’re often water-based, some water-soluble ingredients like alpha-hydroxy (glycolic) acids are easier to formulate into a serum than a cream. However, serums are not necessarily more effective than creams; what’s important are the actual ingredients and their concentrations.

As explained above serums can be a great way to treat stubborn skincare issues like hyperpigmentation or acne, giving your skincare routine that extra push that it needs in order to be more effective.  Serums can contain ingredients such as:

ANTIOXIDANTS
Because of their efficient delivery system, serums can infuse the skin with antioxidants. Coenzyme Q10 is one that works very well in serums, for example.

VITAMINS
Vitamins A, C and E show up in many serums, mainly for their antioxidant properties. Look for them in formulas targeting aging.

SKIN BRIGHTENERS
You can expect to find natural skin brighteners like willow bark and rose extracts in serums that address dull-looking skin.

HYALURONIC ACID
In addition to hydrating, hyaluronic acid allows serums to penetrate deeper and stimulate new cell growth.

PEPTIDES AND GROWTH FACTORS
Since both are water-soluble and revered for their ability to ward off signs of aging, they can be delivered more potently and effectively in liquid form.

EXFOLIATORS
AHAs like lactic and glycolic acid remove dead skin. (Keep in mind, however, that even in serums, acids can irritate the skin.)

(What to Expect From SerumsNew Beauty)

Since the consistency of a serum is lighter and thinner than that of a cream you use it directly on your skin after cleansing.  Wait between 5 to 15 minutes in order to allow for penetration before you put on your moisturizer or sunscreen.  Generally a little bit of a serum goes a long way since the products are formulated to be concentrated and effective.

But before you run out to buy a serum (which can be very expensive) I want to quote Dr. Ellen Marmur’s take on serums.  This is from her excellent book (see my review here) Simple Skin Beauty – pages 297-298 (hardcover):

Skin Lie:  Serums penetrate the skin better than creams or lotions do.

Skin Truth:  Marketing departments are always devising sensible reasons for us to buy something new and unnecessary.  According to magazine articles and cosmetic advertisements, a serum should be layered underneath a moisturizer since it has a more concentrated composition of ingredients.  Okay.  But the fact is that a serum is not necessarily stronger than a lotion or cream delivery system.  And since the label doesn’t tell us the concentration of ingredients, we can’t be sure if it is more potent.  Some serums are oil-based, some are water-based, some might allow the ingredients to remain more stable, and some may be more compatible with the skin.  Serums (like every other product on the shelves) are not created equal, but it’s difficult to gauge any of this because cosmeceutical labels don’t provide enough information.  Perhaps an unstable ingredient (such as Vitamin C) may remain stable in a serum formulation containing fewer inactive ingredients.  If so, layering it underneath a sunscreen might make sense.  In general, I think a serum is just another layer, another product to purchase, and more time you have to spend on your face.

Personally I love to use a Vitamin C in the morning underneath my moisturizer and sunscreen.  I definitely believe that the best way to get Vitamin C into the skin is through a serum.  I also believe that exfoliating serums are a great alternative to harsh scrubs and an easy way to renew the skin since once you put the serum on there is no need to wash it off.  Exfoliation made easy.

Do you use a serum?  Have a favorite?  Please share below.

My Related Posts:

Further Reading:

Image from hellomagazine.com

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3 Responses to “What’s A Serum?”

  1. ROKderm Says:

    Wrote a post about serums previously! Have a look through my archive 🙂

  2. […] Serums are wonderful.  Once you find the right one you can treat a myriad of skincare issues with it.  Do you need to slather yourself with serums which are usually quite expensive?  Personally I think not.  (For more information about serums please see my post What’s A Serum?) […]


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