They come as pumps or vials of potent but lightweight active ingredients like Vitamin C, alpha hydroxy acids and peptides – all designed to increase cell turnover and boost skin tone.
But beyond the hype in the beauty mags – do facial serums actually work?
Looking at clinical trial data and customer feedback, results are very positive – provided you pick the best skin serum from good brands. Customer testimonials report great improvements in skin tone, brightness and smoothness. Many users notice an overall reduction in fine lines and wrinkles.
What is an anti aging serum?
Designed to be used under your day or night cream – an anti aging serum is much lighter in feel and will sink into freshly cleansed and toned skin quickly. How you use the serum matters – take a look at our guide to applying face serum here. For a review of the best products – see the list at the bottom of this page.
As you would expect there are a bewildering number to look at and you need to choose carefully to get the most effective serum for your particular skin type and age.
Most people will still need to use a hydrating cream or moisturizer as well as a serum because the formulation of the serum is not designed to deliver long lasting moisture to the skin.
The best serums should contain highly active anti aging ingredients (peptides, GABA, vitamins C and E, natural oils) – but that isn’t enough. It is important that the key ingredients are delivered to your skin still in an active form – it shouldn’t have degraded or ‘gone off’.
Microencapsulated delivery systems
The best serums use good delivery systems – meaning they get their expensive ingredients to your face rather than letting them escape into thin air or degrade in the bottle.
A good example of an active ingredient which is prone to go off is vitamin C. Many face serums contain quite high levels of vitamin C to stimulate collagen production and restore radiance and skin tone. If you do go for a vitamin C serum then you need to make sure that the active vitamin C is in a stabilized form, microencapsulated or otherwise protected in the fluid.
Microencapsulation is an emerging technology in skin care and ensures that highly active and unstable ingredients can be carried safely in a cream or gel formulation. A serum is likely to be less stable than many creams because of the relatively high concentration of active ingredients.
Without microencapsulation many actives like vitamin C will lose their effectiveness very quickly. Some vitamin C serums are packed in brown glass to protect the antioxidant from light but this may not be enough on its own to stop the product degrading when opened.
Serum ingredients can cause sensitivity
As an anti aging serum tends to include active ingredients at high levels – watch out for skin sensitivity. In particular, vitamin C can cause some people to get adverse skin reactions. But other active ingredients – as well as perfumes and preservatives can cause problems in even the best face serum.
Remember that inflammation – red, itchy, peeling or rough areas of skin – in response to a new product is highly damaging to skin and can happen with even the best facial serum.
Inflammation is a major cause of premature aging so if your skin reacts badly you need to stop using the product and try something different. Don’t persist because you think your skin will get used to it. Change it for something else. The best serum will be the one that suits your skin and does a great job.
The way to start if you go for a vitamin C serum is to find a brand that offers several strengths and start with the lowest level formulation. You can work up from there to a stronger version if your skin responds well.
Top serums for 2012
Whatever active ingredient you go for there are a lot of products to consider – to help you choose from the best face serums here are some of my top picks.
1. Obagi Professional-C Serum 20% - Obagi is a best selling physician grade skin care range. This excellent serum delivers the highest possible level of Vitamin C to stimulate collagen production and brighten skin tone. The professional C-serum is offered in three strengths of which this is the highest. Great feel on the skin without tackiness. Highly rated in vitamin C serum reviews on many skin care sites.
2. Murad Perfecting Serum - unlike most face serums this one is designed to be applied over moisturizer and before you apply your makeup. It gives a wonderful silky finish to your skin allowing your normal makeup to glide on easily and stay flawless all day. Anything produced by skin care icon Dr Murad tends to be worth trying and this product has great reviews. It is designed to lock in moisture, boost skin suppleness and deliver long lasting hydration. Prime ingredients include natural oils (Avocado and Evening Primrose) and ceramides.
3. Murad Sleep Reform Serum - from the same great manufacturer this anti aging serum is applied to freshly cleansed skin and is designed to boost collagen production by up to 62% with a dramatic reduction in the signs of aging. The technology uses the skin’s ability to repair and heal through sleep with peptides to plump and smooth, topical melatonin (naturally produced by the body during the sleep cycle) and GABA to soften wrinkles. The skin is refreshed and repaired and expression lines relaxed. Excellent reviews from users. In my opinion the best wrinkle serum around.
4. Cellex-C High Potency SerumCellex-C High Potency Serum – Another personal favorite, this is arguably the best vitamin C serum. From a great dermatologist based brand Cellex-C was the first Vitamin C skin care range on the market. Patented delivery system means the Vitamin C gets into the skin easily and quickly to stimulate collagen production plumping, firming and lifting skin. Noticeable anti aging effects. Extremely good feedback from users.
5. Kinerase C8 Peptide Intensive Treatment - Intensive anti aging serum from this best-selling physician strength skin care range. Vitamin C at high levels is microencapsulated to ensure freshness. Serum also contains green tea extract and peptides which Kinerase claim deliver results superior to Strivectin. Apply drops to face and neck once a day. Excellent feedback with users seeing tighter, firmer skin with noticeably reduced sun damage.
You are going to get great results from any of these products. They all contain active ingredients at high concentrations and they use effective delivery systems to ensure the ingredients retain their strength.
As an alternative to an anti aging serum you could also consider retinol skin care. If you plan on using both a vitamin C serum and a retinol cream then check that they can be combined before you start using them in case of skin sensitivity.
Whichever you go for – just remember to take care when applying serum to avoid problems with make up and other moisturizers.
Get it right and your skin will look glowing and radiant in no time!