Are Serums as good as they say they are?
Everyone talks about serums and how important they are to achieving glowing healthy skin.
But are they really as good as they are touted to be? Do we really need them? Or is this another marketing ploy to get us to spend more money?
The answer is yes and no.
Yes – if you have them prescribed by a beauty therapist who is passionate about skin health, and who asks you all of the questions you need to be asked to ensure that you get a perfect skin prescription.
Unfortunately, many beauty therapists are more about selling you products and treatments which give you instant results – but will cause long term problems – which then mean that you must spend more money fixing these issues at a later date when they flare up due to the instant results achieved by the first instant fixes.
Then as you age – you will have more problems – which you then need to go back and have fixed again and again and again!
Basically, it’s a great business model – like 90% of weight loss solutions – you need to stay hooked on the system to stay looking great!
( I recommend speaking to a beauty therapist who has a holistic approach to beauty from inside and out – slow and steady but with long term results)
This is an even greater problem with over the beauty counter products or products purchased in supermarkets, cosmetic stores, or chemists.
I am not saying that the products are not good – it is just that self-prescribing skincare is as effective as self-prescribing herbal health solutions – and can be as damaging as self-prescribing medication. And most beauty counter/ chemist staff/ beauty store staff, do not have the correct qualifications to help you fix your skin problem – most of them are as addicted to buying skincare as you are!
So, to help you self-prescribe safely, and/or approach beauty therapists armed with knowledge – I am going to run through what each serum does and which one is suitable for your skin type.
If I don’t cover your needs – contact me direct and I will advise – and I can update this blog post so others can read the information as well!
This is one of my true loves – any form of vitamin C is great for the skin – from ascorbic acid through to Kakadu plum and or Rosehip oil.
I have tried most forms out on myself and others throughout the years and must admit I have found that for everyday use – serums containing natural sources of vitamin C such as Rosehip oil or Kakadu Plum are much more effective as a long-term treatment than ascorbic acid alone. Ascorbic acid works at its best when mixed in with hydrating and regenerative ingredients or plant origin vitamin C to counteract it causing the skin to become dry when used alone or in a popular form – with hyaluronic acid.
Other forms of vitamin C are sea buckthorn (found in the Everything Skin Cream), Ascobyl-6-palmiate,sodium ascorbyl phosphate– vitamin C is extremely unstable, and often becomes inactive when it comes in contact with air – so many skincare products with forms of vitamin C will have it mixed with other vitamin C boosting ingredients.
Ascorbic acid peels are a fantastic way to treat pigmentation, thickened skin, sun-damage and acne scars – use one of these peels weekly – not more often as it will dry out the skin (yes – even oily skins!) and backfire on you – a hydrated dewy complexion is what we are after – not a dried-out prune like looking one.
Vitamin C serum is suitable for all skin types.
That brings me to my least favourite product.
Etcetera, etcetera – this stuff being touted as the ultimate anti -ageing product is damaging more skins out there than I dare to think about.
Yes – it does exfoliate the skin.
Yes – it can decrease pigmentation.
But it also:
Causes dehydration, thins the skin (we want plump glowing skin), causes skin irritation, rosacea, skin sensitivity and inflammation.
Who wants all of those things?
I know you are told to then apply hyaluronic acid over the top and multiple other ingredients to counter act this (there is one woman who adds lactic acid over the top of her treatments – I am wondering how long it will take before her face falls off!)
Isn’t it easier to not use this product? Or if you can use it if you want to waste copious amounts of money and end up with thin prematurely ageing skin?
You don’t and shouldn’t use anti-ageing products until you need those products.
That means, if you are in your 20s and early 30s using anti-ageing skincare is going to stop your skin from being able to function as healthy skin when you reach your early 40s – and by the time you reach your late 50s, ageing gracefully and beautifully will be out.
So, stop overusing skincare, learn to meditate, get some sleep, drink water, eat a nutritionally dense diet, take spirulina to build collagen naturally, stop your stressing, and exercise. Use clean, natural, non- toxic skincare that heals your skin.
Same skincare should be used if you have been using retinols or retinoids.
Another popular product on the market is retinol’s alternative.
This extremely expensive ingredient can be found in multitudes of natural anti-ageing products in very small amounts because of its expense.
It is touted as retinols gentler, yet more effective alternative as it smooths out fine lines, wrinkles and evens out pigmentation.
I love Bakuchiol as it is derived from the seeds of Psoralea Corylifolia – otherwise known as the Babchi plant. It has been used in Ayurveda and Eastern Medicine for centuries like Camellia oil.
I like that it is a thicker feeling ingredient as it is made from the seeds, and it is a black oil – anything closer to nature will heal and repair the skin better than that which is man-made!
Bakuchiol has also shown to have fabulous results repairing acne scaring and healing acne without causing striping,
Bakuchiol stimulates skin cell turnover, smooths fine lines and wrinkles and improves skin tone and texture. It is also an antioxidant therefore protecting the skin from free-radical damage.
Most skincare products only contain 1% – this is really not going to achieve anything, look for one with a higher percentage.
Bakuchiol is suitable for all skin types over 30 (unless you have severe acne scaring).
When you are post-menopausal woman or man this ingredient is a must add:
Matrixyl is created from a series of anti-wrinkle actives that contain Matrikine, a peptide that helps different parts of the skin’s structure to work more effectively.
It is a relatively new ingredient as it was only launched in 2000. There are now 3 different types of Matrixyl:
- The original Matrixyl that is Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-4 (formerly Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-3)
- Matrixyl 3000 which is made from a combination of Palmitoyl Tripeptide-7 and Palmitoyl-Oligopeptide
- Matrixyl Synthe’6 (Palmitoyl Tripeptide-38) is the most recent development in this family of powerhouse peptides.
All three forms of Matrixyl are derived from Lysine and Methionine Sulfone. These peptides are also Lipopeptides, which occurs when Amino Acids are mixed with Fatty Acids.
When it comes to identifying these ingredients in skincare products you won’t always find them labelled as Matrixyl but often with the name of the Peptides. The reason is simply that the formula might not be using Sederma’s trademarked versions.
I am yet to learn if that makes any difference to the effectiveness.
Matrixyl is found in a variety of anti-ageing serums, and I personally love it for post-menopausal women and men in their late 50s plus as this is the time when hormones decrease and cellular help is needed most – it also seems to have miraculous results on this age group of skins.
Matrixyl is suitable for post-menopausal women – or men and women over 50 who have prematurely aged.
As we learnt before – Matrixyl is made up of a variety of peptides.
Some serums tout a massive variety of peptides in their formulations – but the truth is – that there is only so much space in a product – and when there are too many different peptides in a bottle it causes them to fight for space – and the product becomes completely inactive.
A good peptide blend (containing only a few specific peptides) will work wonders on ageing skin – again – start too young and your skincare and facial treatment bill will take up all of your income otherwise as you get older!
And using products to stimulate your collagen renewal when your body is doing this perfectly well – will cause it to become dependent on your skincare (this is also the case against consuming collagen supplements or powders too young – your body will not be able to produce it’s own collagen anymore causing premature ageing).
Peptides are amino acids that make up certain proteins needed by the skin – it is basically made up of three polypeptide chains, so adding peptides it can stimulate your skin to make collagen.
Peptides work on improving your skin in the areas that you apply it – but work better when the skin is exfoliated regularly through using a scrub 3 x per week or an enzyme peel or Lactic Acid peel. If you don’t exfoliate regularly – nothing will work well.
This is especially so as you get older – the skin renews itself extremely slowly and needs all of the help it can get!
Although not as efficient at exfoliating as an enzyme peel or lactic peel – a great well-designed scrub has the added benefits of stimulating collagen through the rubbing and scrubbing action. A good scrub will not only remove dead skin cells but also stimulate blood flow to the skin – which has been found to be the best way to achieve glowing skin!
Peptides are suitable for all skin types over 35.
Niacinamide is also known as B3 which is one of the B group vitamins.
It has become extremely popular for topical application – but I personally am not 100% sold on it as a surface regenerator – I have tried it on clients and myself – to not see any results unless they suffer from acne as it regulates oil flow – but can also dry things out a tad too much if the user is using it with other serums.
In so saying – I have seen amazing results from clients who have taken it internally!
- helps build keratin – the type of protein which keeps your skin firm and healthy.
- Helps your skin grow a ceramide (lipid) barrier which can potentially help retain moisture.
- It reduces inflammation and redness – which is why it is popular with acne skins as well as
- It regulates oil flow.
- Rebuilds healthy skin cells, so is great as an acne treatment as it decreases scaring.
Suitable for acne skins and extremely oily skins
Squalane is naturally found in the skin and is also present in animals and plants. It is essential for humans as it is part of the composition of sebum.
Sebum is a hydrolipidic film secreted by the sebaceous glands. Squalane decreases with age – and it’s deficiency contributes to skin ageing.
- Is important to the restoration of the hydrolipidic film, because it preserves the skin from loss of hydration and protects it from external aggressions (pollution, bacteria etc)
- It is extremely hydrating and emollient and preserves the suppleness and elasticity of the skin while playing a key role to smoothing and softening the skin promoting a luminous complexion.
- It is loaded with antioxidants helping fight against free radicals which damage skin cells and can break down collagen.
- It penetrates deeply into the skin reducing fine lines and wrinkles – it can be found in most of the high-end anti-ageing products.
Suitable for all skins – but most effective when used on dry or dehydrated or prematurely aged skin.
You will find it in the Everything Skin Cream.
A complimentary molecule to squalene and more well-known but doesn’t do as much for the skin is:
This is the most popular serum because it is the most well known ingredient in cosmetics.
It gives the skin an instant plumping effect– but can also cause irritation over time if the molecules are too small (which they need to be to penetrate below the surface level of the skin).
This means that more than often the larger molecule is used in skincare products as it makes the skin look plump – but it doesn’t actually improve the skin’s long term hydration as squalane does.
Hyaluronic acid is a glycosaminoglycan. This large carbohydrate (sugar) molecule is naturally present in the skin. The epidermis and dermis can contain up to 70% hyaluronic acid. It is naturally produced by the body but decreases by 6% each 10 years of our lives.
It is extremely popular in cosmetics because it can absorb a large amount of water – this causes it to fill the spaces between the skin cells and contributes to better hydration.
It attracts moisture to itself which makes it a great product to use in a humid climate – if you are constantly in airconditioned or heated environments – hyaluronic acid is not able to perform efficiently as it can’t draw moisture out of the air.
- It enables the skin to regain its suppleness and elasticity as it replaces the skin’s loss of hyaluronic acid due to age.
- It stimulates the regeneration of the skin and helps it reinforce its natural protection – it helps restore radiance to dull and tired looking skins – and boosts the healing of damaged skins when used with other active ingredients.
Suitable for all skin types – more effective on skins over 30, and when used in conjunction with squalene.
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)
Alpha hydroxy acids have been extremely popular for a few decades now – they effectively exfoliate dead skin cells allowing for better penetration of all products.
There are a few different types of AHAs and there are also BHAs – which have been thrown into the same category as they work along the same lines.
This is the most well-known AHA as it is the most popular.
It exfoliates deep into the epidermis and is fantastic at breaking down pigmentation and dead skin cells – extremely effective when used on prematurely aged, sun-damaged and thickened skins.
The downside of this product is that it is extremely drying – and if the correct serums and creams are not applied straight away after it has been used to the skin – it can cause dehydration, skin sensitivity, and dryness – equalling premature or increased ageing.
It is extremely irritating to the skin so is often mixed with:
This AHA is not as well known – but is by far more effective over the long term than glycolic alone. It is often mixed with glycolic because its molecular structure is much larger and it cannot penetrate as deeply into the skin by itself.
Lactic acid is extremely hydrating and healing to the skin – and it helps restore the skin’s acid mantle. Because it is so hydrating – when used with glycolic, it counteracts the drying effects of glycolic.
Unfortunately, many skincare companies like to use glycolic for its drying effects on oily skin – but this just causes the skin to become red and inflamed over time – and because glycolic also strips the acid mantle (the skin’s protective layer) more bacteria is then able to attack the skin – causing more acne outbreaks – great business plan – create more need for a product which doesn’t work!
All skins build up a resistance to AHAs over time – so if you are using a lactic acid, or glycolic serum– the skin will stop responding to it within a month or two after use – which is why companies such as the Ordinary have Lactic Acid in 2 strengths – you use the weaker one first and when that stops working you go onto the stronger one which you too will build up a resistance to.
I do like Lactic Acid serums as they help hydrate dry ageing skins – and help peptides and vitamin, squalene or hyaluronic serums and lightening skin serums penetrate deeper into the skin.
But I recommend you use Lactic acid serums for a few days – then stop for a week – then use it again for a few days and then skip etc. This way your skin won’t build up a resistance to the product.
Suitable for all skin types
Are salicylic acid and citric acid.
They work the same way as AHAs – but they don’t stop working on the skin after a period of time – which is why citric acid is often added to Lactic Acid and Glycolic mixes.
Salicylic acid is the best exfoliating treatment for acne and oily skins – it doesn’t cause irritation and won’t stop working after a period of time. It unclogs blocked pores and reduces swelling and redness which makes it the perfect ingredient.
Ensure to use squalene straight after it so that the skin does not think it has to produce more oil (as salicylic acid will dry the skin) – this way the skin is also protected from bacterial attacks.
This is quite a new area in skincare- and I recommend you check to ensure that the product contains plant stem cells not human or animal as those are harvested from foetuses.
Human (adult) stem cells are now being used to regenerate injured parts of our bodies – those usually are our own stem cells – but they are not used the same way as skin stem cells.
When plant stem cells first came onto the market – a biologist friend of mine snorted at me – “unless you want to look like a carrot – I wouldn’t use those carrot stem cells” and at that time she was right!
Today they harvest the active ingredients from lab developed plant cells to stimulate our stem cells to renew themselves.
This is an expensive process – so the products which contain these stem cells come with a large price tag.
Quite a few companies tout that their products contain plant stem cells – but they are not actually active plant stem cells (so you may end up looking like a carrot!).
Eating a stem cell building diet containing large amounts of broccoli, broccolini, cauliflower, kale, bok choy, pak choy, cabbage, watercress and silver beet – all loaded with sulforaphane, boosts enzymes in the liver that counteract the harmful toxins we might digest and breathe in – but they also stimulate stem cell growth.
Suitable for mature skins.
Pigmentation treating serums.
There are quite a few pigmentation treating serums on the market – and I recommend you look for ones which contain an AHA (ideally lactic acid) or if not – apply a lactic acid peel as above to help the products penetrate deeper into the skin.
The serums should contain ingredients such as Tranexamic Acid , licorice root, Kojic acid, hydroquinone and Azelaic acid.
Most of these will work – but give it time and stay out of the sun – apply a sunscreen 20 minutes before going out in the sun and remember that sunscreen only lasts up 2 hours from application – shorter if you are extremely fair.
These treatments are best started early winter and then by summer you should wear a CC or sunscreen BB cream at all times throughout the day.
Trying to find the best serum for your skin can be a chore – but don’t start applying multiple serums at the same time unless you want severely irritated skin.
Also – not all serums are that different – check your ingredients before buying – you may find that the serum for puffy eyes contains exactly the same ingredients as your face serum, or neck serum does! Want hydrated lips? If you are already using peptides – just use same serum on your lips! If you can’t eat your serum, you should be using it on your skin as your skin absorbs 90% of what you apply to it.
There are many serums which have multiple ingredients that help you achieve glowing skin- look for ingredients such as sea buckthorn, Kakadu plum, green tea, ginseng, aloe vera, orange oil, pomegranate seed oil etc. I personally love natural ingredients which are more stable – and have multiple uses.
Avoid ingredients such as propylene glycol and other toxic ingredients because they will undo all of the good you are getting from to good ingredients.
If a serum doesn’t give your dry skin what it needs – apply an oil over it before applying your cream – don’t layer on another serum as you could be doubling up ingredients – which is a waste of money – or applying 2 or 3 ingredients which will react to one another.
The K 10 step beauty routine is the best joke the beauty industry played on us – it has turned us into big spending, money wasting fools – it has caused more skin issues in the last 13 years than I have seen in my whole career.
Need personal help getting this right?
Book a glowing skin consultation if you would like me to help you find your perfect serum!
Thank you for reading my blog!
I am Yvette van Schie, I am a holistic beauty therapist, skin nutritionist, skincare developer and makeup artist. I am passionate about sharing real beauty advice with a whack of reality.
For over 30 years I have worked with the best in the beauty and health industry as a trainer, educator and product formulator and I still do – so my knowledge is diverse – I am not blinkered when sharing my information with you because everyone I speak to shares what they know, and I turn it into easy to digest information because I want my readers to feel empowered to make their own decisions and to feel that they are fully in control of their beauty and well being.