All About Serums -- Whether You Need One, And How To Choose One

All About Serums

   It took me a while to figure out serums -- what they are, and whether I need one. A serum is a concentrate of detoxing and nourishing substances. Serums have much more active ingredients than regular creams and moisturisers, and they are lighter and often less moisturising. Serums are meant to be used under your moisturiser, to give a boost to the skin, deal with skin problems, and fight aging.

Do you need a serum?

    Every skin type benefits from a serum. If you want to fight ageing or deal with skin issues, a specialised serum will usually work better than moisturisers and creams. If you want to invest on a product, a serum (and good sunscreen) should be it. Use simple, non-irritating cleansers; then a good serum that is specialised to your skin's needs; over that a simple moisturiser, and top it up with good sunscreen.
    Serums are not just something for mature skin. It is true that they are often marketed to 40+ women, because this age bracket spends much more on skin care and serums are often expensive. However most of the ingredients in serums work for younger skin as well, and do a good job of preventing ageing in younger skin as well.

How to recognise a serum

   Sometimes serums are labeled as serums or concentrates, often they are not. Don't be fooled by names -- many products that are actually serums have very fancy names like elixir, potion, "youth activator" "revitaliser" and so on. Everything that comes in an ampule is a serum -- these have the advantage of not needing preservatives, since the contents are used up immediately. Oils can also work as a serum, for example the one from Dr Hauschka.

How to choose a serum

   There isn't a perfect serum out there that will work on everyone; it all depends on what your skin needs and likes. Here are some tips to help you choose:
   If you have a skin with special need, look for a serum that fits it (for spider veins, oily skin, discolourations, anti-aging etc). If you don't need anything specific,  I wouldn't really recommend going for a hydrating serum -- your moisturiser should be doing this job. Instead, think of preventing skin damage and go for something anti-aging.

     It is very important to look at the ingredient list, since the product descriptions almost read like poetry. Also, don't think that more expensive stuff must be better -- the ingredients will reveal the true value of the product.
    The anti-aging and brightening ingredients vitamin C, retinol, BHA (salicylic acid) or AHAs (glycolic acid, lactic acid) make your skin sensitive to the sun, so use at night and don't forget sunscreen during the day. Also, these ingredients may irritate sensitive skin -- if you have never used them before, choose a product where they appear in a lower concentration (For example 20% vitamin C or 1% retinol are very strong and may burn unprepared skin). Don't let me scare you off though -- if you let your skin get used to them gradually, they can do wonders by brightening the skin, removing discolourations and fine lines. Avoid these ingredients if you are already using chemical peels. An exception here is mandelic acid -- this AHA is quite gentle and won't irritate or cause sensitivity.
      If the serum contains collagen, know that it is a great albeit expensive moisturiser but nothing more. Other moisturising ingredients that often appear in serums are glycerin, hyaluronan, Don't focus on these, like I said the serum should focus on doing stuff that a moisturiser can't.
    Most serums contain plant oils and extracts. Green tea and pomengranate are antioxidant; chamomile and comfrey soothe and reduce redness, and so on. Again, what you choose depends on what your skin needs.
Don't bother buying anything with:
* Silicones -- this is a special-effect ingredient which doesn't actually do a thing for your skin, and might clog it up in the long run.
* Alcohol or alcohol denat -- drying and irritating
      Do check the reviews on Makeupalley -- here serums are listed under "treatments".

    On the top is the photo of the serum I am using at the moment: Anti-Age from Alterra, for a "mature and demanding skin" -- but I see nothing in the ingredients that my "immature" (lol) skin wouldn't like.

How to use a serum

   A serum should be applied on cleansed skin under the moisturiser or cream, so that the ingredients can penetrate the skin better. Use it on your face, under the eyes (unless you have very sensitive skin), your neck and decolette. You don't have to apply a moisturiser or cream on top -- most serums are moderately moisturising (even if they feel very light and absorb very fast), your skin might be satisfied with that, especially if it is normal or oily. Dry skin might need a cream over the serum, while combination skin might need cream on the dry parts. Everyone should be moisturising their neck and decolette -- the skin here tends to be dry and delicate. Go for a simple and inexpensive moisturising product, since you only need moisture and the serum will be taking care of the rest.

DIY serums

    Serums are fun and easy to make, because consistency doesn't matter.
Here is my vitamin C and E serum and here is an antioxidant serum from essential oils. Many DIY cosmetic stores sell serum sets which are great because you get control over what goes in there.

   To sum it up -- serums should be a part of of well-rounded beauty routine, whether you are 18 or 80.

    Now over to you: do you use a serum? Do you have any favourite serums that you'd like to tell us about?

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