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How to choose the right face serum for your skin?

By Dr. Shasa Hu, MD, FAAD

What is a face serum?

A Serum is a skincare product that is typically applied after cleansing and before other antiaging, treatment creams or moisturizers. Serums are usually packed with more concentrated active ingredients, in water or light oil formulation. Serums may also come in a light gel or cream vehicle, that is easily absorbed into the skin, and would be compatible with a moisturizer and other hydrators that are meant to be layered on after the serum.

Differences between serums and hydrators

While most hydrators are in a lotion or cream formulation, serums are typically lighter in texture, except those in an oil base vehicle. The main purpose of hydrators is to restore moisture and protect the skin barrier, while serums are usually more multi-functional. Most serums target several skin concerns such as pigmentation, skin texture, elasticity, luminosity. While some of the richer serums in an oil base will improve skin hydration, for more targeted concerns of dry skin, a hydrator is more appropriate in addition to a rich serum.

Woman applying serum on her face

Why is it called a serum?

The name serum is probably derived from the medical term “serum”, the part of our blood that can be separated from the red blood cells, and that contains many key growth factors, nourishing proteins, and peptides. The color of our blood serum is clear amber. Similarly, a lot of serums in skincare are clear amber. Therefore, a face serum is similar to our blood serum in color/ texture and the high amount of active ingredients that it contains.

Expected effects of serums?

Serums usually target multiple skin concerns, ranging from blemish control, pigment correction, sun damage, skin elasticity, and luminosity. Because of their higher concentration of ingredients, serums usually deliver visible results in 6-8 weeks.

Why it is important to add a serum in your daily routine?

For many of us who want to delay or extend the effects of office aesthetic treatments (such as Botox, dermal fillers or Lasers), adding an antiaging serum is an essential part of a daily skincare routine. Think of serums as extra battery packs for your existing routine. Whether your concern is fine lines or uneven skin tone, adding a serum that is compatible with the rest of your routine can give you faster results with minimal extra effort. Most of the serums are formulated to be absorbed quickly and are compatible with moisturizers or hydrators. Therefore, adding a serum to your daily skin care is really a minute of extra time morning or night, at the most. And for the benefits that you get from using the right serum for your skin, that extra minute is well worth spending.

How to apply the face serum?

In most instances, serums are meant to be applied right after you clean your face, morning or night. For serums that come in liquid formulation with droppers, usually, 2-3 drops are enough to treat your entire face. Apply the liquid serum using the pads of fingertips, and gently tap and blend onto your entire face. For light cream or lotion- based serums 1-2 pumps are plenty to cover the whole face. If you have any prescription strength face medications, please be sure to check with your derms about the order of the application to avoid potential interaction between the serum and your medicated creams. After the serum is applied and the face no longer feels damp, then continue with the rest of your skincare routine. Usually, topical retinols, eye creams, moisturizers or antiaging creams are applied after the serums. And most serums are meant to be applied morning and evening unless there are specific light-sensitive ingredients such as retinol. A consistent daily application over the course of 6-8 weeks is needed for most people to see visible improvements when they incorporate serum in their daily routine. Also as for the shelf life of the serums, most high-quality serums are packed in photoprotected bottles or with vacuum sealed pumps to minimize the effects of oxygenation on the active ingredients, therefore they should last at least 6 months once you break the seal.

Using a face serum adapted to your skin type

As mentioned earlier, serums can be either water based, oil based or lotion based. While everyone’s skin is unique and your skin needs are also impacted by where you live and your environmental exposures, in general, dry and sensitive skin may do better with oil or lotion based serums, while blemish-prone or oily skin may benefit from water-based serums. For people with concerns of pigmentation, the serums are typically water or lotion based, as most pigment correctors are fruit-based acids that require a more aqueous vehicle at higher concentrations. Interestingly, oil-based serums are not necessarily “bad” for people with blemish prone skin. In fact, most natural oils are not comedogenic. For people with blemish prone skin and concerns of uneven skin tone or complexion, vitamin C serums, which are typically oil based, are a great addition to combat hyperpigmentation, promote collagen production and improve skin firmness and elasticity.

Anti-aging serum

For anyone who is interested in getting a jump start in anti-aging, wrinkle -reduction, the 2% Retinol Complex Serum is among the highest retinol containing serums over the counter. Retinol is the gold standard active ingredient in skin care, as it is proven to promote healthier skin cell turnover, regeneration, boost collagen synthesis, improve skin texture and elasticity and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. When retinol is applied over time, there is also more defense against sun damage, which is really the leading cause of environmental aging. This 2% retinol is unique in the sense that any potential irritation from retinol is balanced and minimized with a blend of olive fruit extracts and nourishing good “fats” such as amino acids and phospholipids from grapefruit oil and jojoba oil. This serum is meant to be applied at night because the sun deactivates retinol. And it is suitable for all skin types.

2% Retinol complex face serum from DrBrandt

A lot of people with more mature skin are looking for tightening and firmness to combat the effects of gravity. The Transforming Pearl serum is a daytime serum that addresses just that. The Juvenessence+ complex that aids in skin firmness and elasticity is derived from algae from a protected ecosystem, enhanced with rich hydrating peptides. Paracress flower extract gives this serum extra boost in age-defying benefits as an antioxidant that promotes skin collagen.

Power vitamin C serum

Age defying Face serum containing Vitamin C

The power dose vitamin C serum gets its name from the high concentration (20%) of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) that it contains. Not many OTC contains 20% vitamin C that is stable enough to be used over months rather the weeks since vitamin C oxidizes and loses its efficacy rather quickly. Vitamin C is known to combat free radical damage to our skin from the sun and environmental stressors. Vitamin C is also an important antioxidant that boosts skin collagen production and corrects uneven skin pigmentation. With the addition of Kakadu plum and silicium, the power dose vitamin C serum is great for anyone looking for a short cut to brighter, more even complexion and firmer skin. Unlike retinol, vitamin C serum can be applied day and night.

Beauty sleep serum

For those of us who cannot tolerate retinol or prefer more nourishing serums, the Beauty Sleep Serum targets concerns of fine lines and an environmental stressor on skin quality with a rich combination of extracts from Tahitian black pearl and plankton. These marine extracts are gentle on the skin yet help to fight against oxidative damage to lead to visible signs of aging. Additionally, the vitamins and amino acids found in marine extracts improve skin hydration so that your skin wake up more rested and resilience, hence the name “Beauty Sleep”.

Fruit enzymes serum

Fruit enzymes face serum

Bright Biotic Serum is a fruit-based serum designed for those with sensitive skin and concerns of uneven tone, dark spots, and dull complexion. It is a light lotion packed with naturally derived fruit acids from papaya and pineapple that target the pigmentation pathway without harsh irritation. Additionally, the Biotic Balancing Complex helps to strengthen our skin natural defense against the “bad” bacteria or stressors by promoting “good” bacteria. More and more research suggests that a healthy microbiome is necessary for a healthy skin barrier and improved skin response to antioxidants. The honey extract and grape seed extract are also powerful antioxidants to promote firmer skin. All in all, this is a yummy serum great for people with sensitive skin looking for a brighter and more radiant complexion.

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