Facial Serums: How Do They Work?
There are so may facial skin care products out there. So many steps to beautify and stay beautiful. You cleanse. You tone. You moisturize. You masque. You repeat. Maybe there's even a facial oil you use, or scrub, or peel, or . . or . . . or . . . or . . . You get the picture. It's mystifying sometimes, trying to decipher dermatologist and cosmetologist recommendations in the face of store shelves full of so many choices you don't know what to do with yourself. The idea of a serum sounds exotic, and foreign and something that old people apply to their eyes. But a facial serum can be one of the most powerful, beneficial tools you can use. Serums are some of the most effective skin care products on the market. Let's demystify!
What Is a Serum?
Or what is it not? A serum is moisturizing, but is not a moisturizer. It's not an oil, but it's oily. It's watery, but isn't an essence. Okaaaaaay. A serum is something that you apply to your face after cleansing but before moisturizing. It delivers a potent layer of ingredients directly into your skin. It's lightweight, nutrient-packed and is a key ally in battling for healthy, beautiful, glowing skin. Think of it as a supplement shot for your skin because they are packed full of vitamins and antioxidants to protect you from the ravages of free radicals, which contribute to the premature aging process. Because they have such a high concentration of antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and hydrators, serums are great for targeting specific concerns like wrinkles, dullness, acne, or hydration.
How Does It Work?
"The beauty of a serum is that most of the fluid is eliminated," says Ni'Kita Wilson, a cosmetic chemist and Vice President of Research and Innovation at Englewood Lab, "so what you're left with is a high concentration of active ingredients. They're very efficient, so just a few concentrated drops of the product will do. Serums are made up of very small molecules, so the skin absorbs them quickly and deeply. They have a lipid-soluble base, so it can dissolve/mix/interact with fat. This allows the active ingredients to penetrate into the skin instead of just lying on the surface. That means highly-concentrated doses of beneficial antioxidants and such can be delivered directly to the inner layers of skin. "By leaving out many of the heavier ingredients that are found in traditional moisturizers, [face serums] contain a much higher proportional concentration of active ingredients," says Dr. Carlos A. Charles, Founder and Medical Director of Derma di Colore in Chelsea. Your regular moisturizer isn't able to do that. "The thicker, heavier ingredients in creams form a barrier on your skin," Wilson says. "That's great for locking moisture in. But it can also lock active ingredients out. Without these hindrances, the active ingredients in a serum penetrate your skin faster and more effectively."
Are They For You?
Serums are the perfect delivery system for most people. "They're great for people with oily skin, or those who prefer a weightless feel to their skin care products," shares Jessica Wu, MD, a Santa Monica, California dermatologist and author of Feed Your Face: Younger, Smoother Skin and a Beautiful Body in 28 Delicious Days. "Serums have a non-greasy finish and they don't leave behind a sticky residue." They're not necessarily for everyone. Because of the lighter liquid or gel-like texture, a serum may be a poor match for those suffering from chronic skin conditions like rosacea or eczema. These problems weaken the skin barrier, so a serum may cause irritation by penetrating too quickly. Others may rely on the hydration that a thick day or night cream adds. "If you have mature or dry skin, you can't get away with using just a serum," says Wilson. Those people will use a serum as a supplement to their skin care regimen, layering it under their moisturizer. They don't necessarily want to skip out on a serum. "There's a lot of benefit to serums, from smoothing fine lines to reducing age spots, that you can't reproduce in any other formulation," she says.