Applying a serum has become a regular protocol in most people’s beauty routines and while stats show that many of us are eschewing multi-step routines, serums are sticking. “A need for simplicity has pushed UK women towards minimalist skincare products with more intense active ingredients, such as serums,” explains Alex Fisher, Global Skincare Analyst at Mintel. “Serums are also a well-liked format, perceived as brightening and nourishing and often include ingredients like vitamins and antioxidants that are said to illuminate skin.”
The figures back the beliefs and while exfoliators, masks and overnight treatments are experiencing a wobble, serums have held on to a 24% share of the UK’s skincare market with the anti-ageing serum market size currently ringing in at £33m according to data from the NPD Group.
It’s no surprise then that we’re experiencing a rise in the super serum. Whether it’s products that hero one ingredient to tick off a specific complexion calamity (dehydration/dullness/spots) or a formula overflowing with actives that promise to do everything from re-energising your skin to doing your dirty laundry the options are endless…but also confusing.
Even the word serum can be something of a free-for-all. “Serum is the word we use for formulas designed to penetrate swiftly and deliver deeper into the skin,” explains A-list facialist, Sarah Chapman. That means concentrates, drops, elixirs, complexes and treatments can all fall under the serum umbrella. As a general rule, it’s the product in a range that contains the most targeted ingredients as the consistency and molecular weighting of a serum is the most effective way to deliver them into the skin. “They have an ability to hold high concentrations of actives stable while remaining easily absorbed by the skin,” continues Chapman.
Single or double?
Over the past couple of years single ingredient formulas have risen in popularity thanks to brands like Garden of Wisdom releasing products based on one prolific active. Retinol, Hyaluronic acid, Vitamin C, Niacinamide, Bakuchiol, AHAs, PHAs – you name it, the active du jour will have an entire solution dedicated to it. Which is great if you have a certain skin niggle you’re trying to target. “If your skin is exceptionally dry, a concentrated hyaluronic acid serum will deliver an intense moisture boost to plump and hydrate,” continues Chapman.
More than one skincare concern? Layering these serums is an option but in reality there are only so many layers you can apply before the actives will no longer be absorbed into the skin. It’s also not always the most cost-effective way to cocktail your skincare. “These products don’t tend to be expensive so people buy five or six and then layer them all on top of each other – they might as well use one that has all five ingredients in one place,” says Colette Haydon, doctor, formulator and founder of Lixirskin.
Facialist and owner of Mortar & Milk clinic, Pamela Marshall also opts for serums with multiple effects. “Something with a clinical formulation of PHAs, a low level retinyl palmitate and a vitamin C ester will create a highly effective serum that forces cell turnover, builds collagen, reduces inflammation and hydrates deeply,” she explains.
In the same instance, it’s also important not to overload on actives. “The skin needs fuel and energy to do what you’re telling it to so sometimes these serums are asking too much of the skin cells,” says Haydon. “If I gave you ten jobs to do you’re going to run around like a headless chicken trying to do them all but not achieving what I wanted you to do. Really, you want to ask your skin to do one or two things at a time and do it well.”
The application process
We’ve lived alongside serums for years now but with all the different names and formulations it’s not always easy to remember when to apply them. The key is post cleanse, right after you’ve dried your face, reach for your serum as that’s when your skin is ripe and ready to receive the active ingredients. A moisturiser or oil can then be applied on top to seal the skin and act as a layer of lasting hydration and protection against environmental aggressors. That said, if your serum contains a high concentration of antioxidants and moisturising ingredients, you might not even need a moisturiser. For example Garden of Wisdom’s Neurophroline Serum protects from inflammation caused by skin stressors (be it internal or external) but also has enough hyaluronic acid in to keep skin plump and hydrated.
Do you need a different serum for morning and night? Ideally, yes. In the morning you need to be looking at ingredients that defend and protect your skin so things like antioxidants, vitamin C, Niacinimide and vitamin E followed by an SPF. Then in the evening is when you want to add in your active serum so hunt out vitamin A, retinol and resurfacing acids such as AHAs and PHAs.
Don’t be afraid to mix up your serums either. “Your skin can start to plateau so it’s not about asking people to reduce their wardrobe of serums but to switch it up every four weeks. So use PHAs and AHAs to kick start renewal then give your skin a break and use a retinol and then start again,” advises Colette which is exactly how she designed her Night Switch products to be used.
Technology and ingredients are evolving and with serums so popular amongst the public, brands and formulators are heads down trying to evolve their offerings. As well as individual ingredients, Sarah Chapman believes there will be a movement towards serums targeting different parts of the face. Case in point iS Clincal’s Youth Lip Elixir and QRxLab’s Eye Reboot Serum. “Delicate areas of the skin, such as the eyes and the lips, require actives to be suspended within a formula of even small molecular size but we are always discovering new ways to encapsulate active ingredients and serums are becoming more sophisticated and specific.” The perfect vehicle to deliver those skin transforming miracle workers, if you’re looking for results and want a luxury formula to boot then a serum could be the answer.