Many Serums Don’t Deserve to Be Called a Serum. Why?
Serums are a hot topic! And they should be as a serum is often that small yet powerful magic wand that empowers the cream and „vitalizes“ the skin. Drawing a parallel to the medical world, a serum works quickly and deeply as does a shot in case of pain, and a cream is used more frequently and has a more time consuming impact as has the pill in case of pain. Both are necessary and functional, just methods are completely different.
A serum is a product that has a watery or gently gel-like consistency, that is applied on skin BEFORE the facial cream. It absorbs quickly and doesn’t or shouldn’t leave a sticky layer on your skin. A serum shouldn’t leave any layer on the skin. It is the cream’s job to leave your skin feeling well maintained, soft and with a protective film. I mean, who wants to apply two layers of cream, one on top of the another? Or even three, considering the need for a facial cream with SPF protection. Whether or not an effective day cream should contain an SPF factor, I boldly state NO. The chemical components offering sun and skin protection „eat away“ the impact of expensive and effective ingredients in a facial cream. Also, the effect of SPF decreases in time. Let the facial care products do their job: moisturize, nourish, tighten, make the skin clear, etc. I recommend to choose a sunscreen from among a brand that has a long experience in the field or who only produces sunscreens. Some good and effective brands offering sunscreens are Lancaster, Piz Buin, Pupa, Eisenberg.
Serum and cream go hand in hand. One works with the other. It is because a serum gives the intensity and the cream the protection. You need both. I see that too many products named „serum“ have a cream-like consistency. So, when looking at the serums’ INCI lists (list of ingredients which is on the packaging of every product), the additives are in the beginning and the active ingredients follow. INCI list has been ordered according to concentration and the ingredients with higher concentrations are marked first.
What are these additives that I am talking about? These ingredients are necessary for the forming of the product’s foundation. I will continue by naming groups of different additives and in the brackets you can see endings or parts of words that help you navigate the INCI list.
- You need emulgators so that the products stay intact (e.g. stearate, sorbate, sulfate, lecithin, fatty alcohols, fatty acids). They interconnect water and oil phases.
- Second large group is the texture thickeners (e.g. acrylate, polymer, gum, dextrine, cellulose)
- Some ingredients are needed to soften the skin (e.g. glycerine, urea or squalane)
- Some ingredients dissolve, bind moisture or empower others (e.g. glycol, propanediol, betaine)
- In addition there are preservatives (sorbate, benzoate, phenoxyethanol, alcohol, paraben)
- Colorants and fragrance
The additives found in products are either synthetic or of natural origin.
Active ingredients are those that are essential for the creation of impact and result. The problem solvers. Acids, vitamins, peptides, growth factors, plant stem cell extracts, various plant extracts, pigment diffusers, etc. Active components can also be either natural or synthetic. The peculiarity of some active components is that only a small amount of them is put into products. Such active components that are always in the end of an INCI list but are very effective nevertheless, are peptides and hyaluronic acids. In case of serums the actives should be among the first ingredients.
Now that an overview of ingredient types and INCI lists has been provided, we can go into more detail. According to my experience, and I am not talking about scientific research, just my own observations over time, 8 serums out of 10 are actually liquid creams or ordinary emulsions. Taking into account the aforementioned, which of these serums below seem more significant than the other?
Example 1: INCI list begins – Aqua, Glycerin, Alcohol, Propanediol, Butylene Glycol, Isotridecyl Isononanoate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Squalane …
Example 2: INCI list begins – Aqua, Algae (Furcellaria Lumbricalis) Extract, Bacillus/Rice Bran Extract/Soybean Extract Ferment Filtrate, Oligo Sodium Hyaluronate, Rosa Centifolia Flower Extract…
These two examples illustrate well how the INCI list of one serum begins with additives and the other of active ingredients. Unfortunately, the majority of serums are more similar to the first example.
Some information also about glycerine (glycerine or glycerol, belongs to the group of alcohols) that can often be found on the second or third place when it comes to serums. Glycerine is a filler component and the generator of rich consistency. It is also called skin softener as it makes the skin feel smooth. That smooth feeling is connected to the glycerin’s molecular structure containing three OH groups (the alcohol used in disinfectants have one OH group). Alcohols dissolve fats or lipides that are important parts of skin’s metabolism and overall structure. I walk way past this “solvent”, already for years, and I advise you to do the same. The skin’s quality will improve significantly, not overnight but visibly. Propylene Glycol has a similar molecular structure to glycerine. That is also in top five of the serums’ INCI lists. My passionate opinion is that NEITHER OF THEM should be in there!
Glycerine is one of the most used and, if I may say that, also one of the oldest components in skin care. It is safe to use it as it does not irritate and is easy to produce. Moreover, glycerine is cheap and therefore I find it difficult to accept that luxury brands choose to use glycerine in everything they make. Massively. Also in serums where highly effective active components and moisturizers with a long-term effect should prevail.
Glycerine is inserted into the product independently but it is also an added component to many active ingredients. We don’t add glycerine in it’s pure form but if you see that component on the INCL list of a D`DIFFERENCE product, it is there to support an active ingredient to ensure its solubility.
I wish you luck while navigating the serum landscape! It is time to use a serum when you feel that a cream doesn’t do the trick or when you want to give an energy boost to your skin. You don’t have to consider the age factor, rather think what you want to achieve. You don’t need to use a serum 24/7, you can take a bottle at a time and evaluate the results. Evening or morning usage instructions are written on the product. Take it as a rule that if a serum doesn’t contain organic acids, vitamins A or C, then you can apply it underneath a cream in the morning.
And some more advice to those whose skin around the eyes starts to loose its tonacity and find „bags“ under their eyes in the morning – try this: in the evening apply serum on your lines and wrinkles instead of cream, and in the morning refresh them with an eye cream that has an anti-fatigue effect. I have seen it myself, the results are much better! There is a golden couple in the D´DIFFERENCE selection: 5D Rejuvenating Serum in the evening, and 5D Rejuvenating Serum and 5D Lifting Eye Cream in the morning.
Carmen Kibur, D’DIFFERENCE Brand Manager