There was a time when you heard the word serum, the first thing you thought of was “truth serums”, the magical potions villains in films would give to their prisoners to force them to spill the beans. Or if you were a medical professional, maybe you thought of blood serum. But in the last two decades the word “serum” has come to be more ubiquitously associated with skincare. Today, face serums have become the mainstay of skincare, but are they really so?
The search for elixirs for skin
When you see a bottle of skincare serum, it is hard to ignore the fact that irrespective of what the serum is, it is always packaged in beautiful glass vials with or without droppers. This is deliberate, mainly for marketing purposes rather than practical. The vials make them serums look more medical, exotic and potent, all attributes that can also mean expensive.
There are advantages to a skincare serum, like the fact that their light consistency makes it easier to dab the liquid on to your face or the fact that they are often made in more concentrated forms. The important thing to understand is that face serums complement the creams and lotions that you may be prescribed and are not a replacement for them.
Also, while all face serums may look the same, they are not created equal. All serums have a light consistency and are generally water suspended solutions of active ingredients, but the difference actually lies in the active ingredients used and their potency levels. This also means that skin serums need to be suited to your skin type and skin concerns.
How do I choose a serum suitable for me?
The easiest way for you to select a face serum is to ask your dermatologist. A basic understanding of face serums can go a long way in your discussion with your dermatologist.
Start with what you want to achieve. Most face serums are created to target a group of concerns and hence have a specific group of ingredients.
Also one should look into the ingredients that are promised by the face serums. Here is some basic understanding of the skin care ingredients that go into face serums.
Antioxidants: These reduce the oxidative stress on your skin and also increase collagen synthesis. These features help control the melanin formation in your skin and also help decrease formation of fine lines and wrinkles. The most common antioxidants for skin care are vitamin C derivatives. There are also other lesser known but equally effective anti-oxidants like glutathione and niacinamide.
Collagen Boosters: These are ingredients that encourage cellular turnover and stimulate collagen and elastin production in your skin. Collagen is a protein that helps keep your skin elastic and supple and hence staves off wrinkles. The most common collagen boosters are retinoids, which are nothing but derivatives of vitamin A.
Moisture penetrating agents: These are ingredients like hyaluronic acid or lecithin, which can hold large quantities of moisture and help it penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin and hence effectively making the skin more hydrated and supple.
Humectants: These are ingredients like glycerine and PCA, which help attract moisture to the upper layer of skin from the deeper layers and also the atmosphere.
Emollients and anti-inflammatories: These are ingredients like squalene, which help soothe the skin and reduce any inflammation.
Growth factors and peptides: These are lesser known than other skincare ingredients. Growth factors are proteins that can help in the repair of your skin cells, while peptides are amino acids that can help with improvement in collagen and elastin levels.
Having said this, it is important to understand that your skin type should also play a role in selecting a skin care serum suitable for you. For example, if you have dry skin, using serums which are rich in antioxidants can cause your skin to dry up further. Or if you suffer from acne breakouts a serum that moisturizes and improves the barrier function of your skin may actually cause more flare ups.
Know the difference
Face Serums versus targeted serums:
When you think of serums also consider using serums that are used in a more targeted manner such as under eye serums, which do have formulations suitable to solve specific problems and need not be applied all over the face.
Ingredients, not cost or trending brands:
Choose a serum that has the right ingredient, in most cases expensive does not mean better or a more trending brand does not mean better. It is better to choose serums from established pharmaceutical majors which are more likely to be better tested.
Natural v/s pharmacological
Unfortunately nature does not provide any skin care ingredient in the concentration levels that are needed to affect your skin topically. The presence or absence of a natural ingredient should not be the determining factor for choosing your skin care serum.
While there are no miracle elixirs for your skin, serums, if chosen carefully and used diligently, can have a huge impact on your skin health and appearance.
Sejal Saheta is a dermatologist, veneorologist, and founder of InUrSkn.