In my practice as a Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon, I often get asked whether it is better to use a facial cream or a facial serum. The truth is that they perform different functions for your skin, both of which are necessary. If however, I had to choose one over another, it would be a serum.
The biggest difference between a serum and cream is not necessarily in the active ingredients but rather in the delivery system of those ingredients. In general, moisturizing creams have occlusive, or airtight, moisturizing ingredients such as petrolatum or mineral oils that help keep the moisture of the skin from evaporating. We all know that skin hydration is vital for good skin care and this, is elucidated by most skin care specialists and the media. Although this is true, these hydrating ingredients in creams also make it more difficult for the active ingredient to penetrate into the skin.
Serums on the other hand, leave out these moisturizing ingredients and have fewer lubricating and thickening agents. The result is a high concentration of active ingredients in a light, fast-absorbing liquid. This means that the active ingredients are rapidly absorbed into the skin. For this function, serums are far more effective than creams. In addition, serums can be layered/applied one on top of another (not more than 3 at a time), without any adverse effects or decreasing the effects of the ingredients. Being predominantly water based, serums are not comedogenic which means they do not predispose to blocked pores and acne, which may occur with some of the thicker and oilier creams.
They are well suited to people with oily skin and those who prefer a smooth, weightless feel to their skin after applying skin care products. People who have dry skin will also benefit from the efficiency of a serum but they may need to re-enforce their skin hydration with a moisturizing cream (to be applied over the serum). Similarly, the efficient absorption of the active ingredients in a serum must be taken into account when applied onto chronic skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea or a dry flaky skin. These skin conditions can weaken the skin barrier and the serum may penetrate too quickly causing irritation. In these cases, the serum should be applied in smaller amounts under a moisturizing cream.
Serums may initially appear to be expensive for only a small bottle. However, they are the most powerful (but safe) non-prescription skin products available packed with a high concentration of anti-aging ingredients, brighteners and antioxidants. A small amount goes a long way so if used correctly, they may last 2-3 months.
In truth, a serum is only as good as the active ingredients it transports into the skin. Many of the facial serums on the market attempt to include as many active ingredients in a single serum applying a “one size fits all” principle. This not only makes those serum formulations overcomplicated, but may in fact result in the delivery of active ingredients which are not necessary for that particular skin type, and additionally ingredients conflict with each other and reduce overall efficacy. It therefore makes more sense to have a range of different serums which are individually more cost effective and have different active ingredients targeting specific skin problems. With this type of concept, you and your skin care specialist can tailor your skin care according to your individual skin type and skin requirements. In this type of skin care model, it is likely that you will need more than one serum but this is still affordable because they are more cost effective than the “one size fits all” type of serum. In truth, a serum is only as good as the active ingredients that they transport into the skin. However, there are many different skin types, which require different active ingredients for good results.
It is important to apply facial serums correctly to maximize their benefit. After washing your face, apply a pea sized amount of serum onto the face and gently massage into your face with your finger. This should be a gentle massage without putting unnecessary tension on the skin. Massage outward from the center of the face. If your skin is very sensitive, wait for the skin to dry completely after washing and then apply the serum. This slows down the penetration rate of the active ingredients decreasing the risk of unwanted skin reactions.
There is great benefit to serums such as smoothing out fine wrinkles and reducing age spots that cannot be reproduced in any other formulation. No skin care regime is complete without a Serum.