I could no more name my favourite skincare product than I could name my favourite food or song. Even if you break my “favourite” cosmetics down into categories; cleanser, mask, mist… you get the gist… it’s too difficult a choice for me to make. I’ve tried, but just like with my attempts at picking my favourite little ditty or grub, I invariably end up with a “short list” twice as long as any awards ceremony long list.
You’d think a ‘top ten’ would be quite easy then, that I’d be grateful for the extra 9 talent spots on the show. However that would be to disregard my love of serum over most products, the strength of my desire to find something better and outsmart my temperamental skin, to disregard the delirious triumph I feel at defeating my dry, finicky skin and the impressive talents of so many of the contenders on the market.
I do enjoy browsing lists of people’s favourites though, as it gives you some choice in terms of price point, ingredients and effects, so after much deliberation, so not to be left out, I’ve produced my own…
Invariably I find people consider the circumnavigating of skincare problematic and introducing a serums seems almost akin to tiptoeing across a skincare minefield. Knowing how to care for your skin effectively is a skill that we are expected to inherently understand without ever it ever being explicitly explained. I totally understand the trepidation. If you don’t have the time, interest or inclination to spend huge chunks of your precious time researching skincare, then how could you possibly know the ins and outs of those needlessly confusing industry? I like this stuff and I like researching it, but most people just don’t have time for it and find it quite confusing and boring and so they do what they’ve been told to do – spend on a good moisturiser. (Or worse cleanse tone and moisturise – but that’s for another day).
Most people wrongly spend the biggest chunk of their cosmetics budget on anti-ageing moisturiser, thinking that it’s the best anti ager and believing the old adage of ” you get what you pay for”. Its really not true of many moisturisers but it’s no wonder people believe it. The marketing is relentless! No judgement from me for not understanding this isn’t factual, because I used to believe the same.
Anti-ageing is the cosmetics industry’s biggest money spinner and is made mind-boggling on purpose. But if you want to change the quality of your skin, your want to ignore the luxury moisturiser and spend the biggest chunk of your skincare budget on a serum.
What is Serum?
Serum addresses specific skin concerns – dehydration, irritation, discolouration, wrinkles, sun spots, spot scars, dryness, fine lines, exaggerated pores and more.
Multi-purpose serums often do two or more things under the popular banner of ‘anti-ageing’ and although I am eternally suspicious of any multi-tasking products (because they seem to fail to deliver on either brief, more often than not) serums are my happy and rare little concession to multi-tasking.
The reason serums can actually deliver on some of their claims is because of the way the skin works. I’ll crudely attempt to communicate the basics here…
Surface layer… is called the epidermis. This is what we see and show the world. This layer is the community gossip of the skin and can’t help but betray the confidence of the layer below, grassing it up for all its past sins by bearing telltale hallmarks of sun exposure, cigarettes, lack of sleep, too much salt. It basically uses a foghorn to alerts all to the conditions and damage of the layer below…
Second layer… is the dermis. This is super important because it is directly responsible for the condition of the epidermis on the upper story and that’s the one we see, feel, show, and paint for work, parties, dates, going to the post office – all of life’s important milestones, eh! This layer features critically important combo of sebaceous glands to keep skin nicely moisturised and elastin and Collagen to keep it plump. Sadly, these proteins diminish as we age, smoke, or sit in the sun or basically have any fun.
Deepest layer… is the hypodermis and this is the basement of the skin tower. This stores the mechanics which make the whole skin thing operational and like with most basements, is out of sight, out of mind and hardly ever seen the light of gorgeous ingredients. Just too much effort to go down there!
So you can understand why anti-ageing moisturiser is becoming more controversial. We are preocupied with upper layer/epidermis, which is great because aesthetically it is important. The fundamental problem is that the skin doesn’t want to let in potential foes to the dermis because it’s trying to protect it from potential harm. It’s doing a good job with the cells like a pack of guard dogs.
But the guard dogs won’t let in the clinically proven anti aging ingredients either so this great, expensive moisturiser stuff is smeared benignly onto your epidermis instead, offering nothing more that comfort and a little short term glow.
It definitely won’t alter much beneath the very top layer – simply because it can’t outsmart the guards to get down any lower than that, to the story that promotes longer term change.
But serum can!
Serum is the one of the few things that will help improve the texture of skin immeasurably over time as the small molecules can burrow down deeper into the skin than most cosmetics and the higher concentrations of key active treatment ingredients than moisturisers and other products mean serums can be transformational in a way other skincare products can’t be. In the case of a hydrating serum, a good one will give instant gratification and helpfully, with the hydrating options, you can test them in store and know that day – heck, that minute! – whether it hydrated you, saving you money and trial time in the long run.
Another thing that raises the efficacy of serums over moisturiser and means they should be your most expensive weapons of choice is that the portions of product are usually dispensed by brilliant product delivery systems in the form of air-tight containers and pumps, unlike the jars and pots most moisturiser comes, within which, air gets in, as does bacteria from the air and fingers, resulting in active ingredients and anti oxidants soon becoming destabilised and bacteria breeding. Don’t get me wrong, I am a sucker for a lovely jar and have plenty but whilst I stand admiring the beauty of the fancy pot, I do always have some niggling voice in the back of my head reminding me that it’s a scientifically unsound ways to store active ingredients.
Massage a couple of pumps of serum (putting some pressure into it but stopping short of taking inspiration from kneading dough!) onto your entire face and neck. If you have cash to spend, then you could do your décolletage and all exposed skin – as you get older the chest often gives away your age. Then just wait to be impressed: a couple of minutes if it’s hydrating or a couple of months if it’s for dark spots, sun damage or general brightening purposes.
Here’s my Top Ten, in no particular order.
This no-frills serum is manufactured by Indeed Labs, whose objective is to ‘eliminate all marketing hype and costs and deliver real results cost effectively’. They generally deliver and I’m quite a fan of their products, though their objectives have kind of been taken on by Deciem (The Ordinary range) to a greater degree, much cheaper price, and wilder success, leaving Indeed Labs flailing a bit behind now. Anyway, I digress…
This is good stuff.
Basically it’s just plain Hyaluronic Acid, which sounds scary but is a natural chemical found in the body in the form of a viscous substance. The magic in this chemical is that it can hold 1000 times it’s weight in moisture. When hyaluronic acid works well, it is magical… Imagine the skin as a layer of raisins (if that doesn’t repulse you!) soaked in water. The raisin layer gets fattened up with water and it looks lovely and juicy. Hyaluronic acid can store water on the surface of the skin. Sadly it decreases as we age, giving us dry, less plump, more lined, loose looking skin. Now, minus the natural hyaluronic acid, imagine the skin as a dried up layer of raisins…. If that doesn’t make you want an artificial hyaluronic acid boost I don’t know what will.
Fear not! Some of this watery gel applied topically improve skins appearance by keep you hydrated longer and acting like a magnet to the moisture in any product you put on top.
It can be used on any skin type at any age, under your normal moisturiser. It makes an instant difference.
You only need a pea sized blob because it goes a long way and too much will create a weird stickiness that you won’t enjoy. I use it all over the face but if you’re less dry than me, just use it on the places you feel dehydrated or dry or the points makeup usually fades the quickest, like cheeks.
I would recommend to anyone as it’s fragrance free and suitable for all skin types. It’s perfect for people on medications that can’t use many more complicated products on their skin, skin suffering a reaction to harsh or stripping product, skin being subjected to air conditioning, central hearings or trips on public transport – especially flights!
Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair, £45-72
Advanced Night Repair is a perennial favourite and one of the most famous and popular serums on the market. It launched in 1982 and was actually the worlds first consumer skincare serum. You can Ignore the “night” in the title because you can use this morning and night. Even Estée Lauder say you ought to do this. It has a lovely, slightly silicone, but fine texture and the small molecules packed full of active ingredients digs deep into the skin, making it look lovely in a way that’s hard to quantify.
It’s a revolutionary product and has 25 worldwide patents and patents pending and remains one of the worlds best selling serums. Impact on skincare globally has been incredible. The apothecary bottle and pipette that are synonymous with serums was their idea too!
My mum has really balanced skin so could go for something good but generic like ANR and I think if you similarly don’t have a particular problem with your skin, just want something, then this is the something I’d suggest you buy.
Sunday Riley Good Genes, £85
The term best kept secret is applied ridiculously indiscriminately in the beauty world and I don’t consider this a secret to anyone who is into beauty blogs or Youtubers who’ll attest to it’s being famous down those ends, but not enough people *out there* living their lives don’t seem to know about this and I make it my mission to change that. I’ve written about it before here My Favourite Exfoliating (Acid) Products for Every Skin Type and I’ve recruited a few new fans and only stopped when those fans became so dedicated that they were using too much of my stash.
This is so good and transformative that it’s invariably the reference point for any other serum I encounter.
This serum is primarily an AHA exfoliant that uses lactic acid for the job. Lactic acid also moisturises so is perfect for those who want to improve the texture of their dry or dehydrated skin. It also reduces scarring and pigmentation, prevents spots and just produces the most lovely, radiant, fresh, flawless looking skin.
At first I used it every evening but now I use it as a treatment about once a week. I like to add a moisturiser on top. The reason I wouldn’t use it during the day, is that it’s such an effective exfoliant that it will start to exfoliate, break up your makeup and ‘pill’ by midday, rendering it unusable for makeup wearing, despite its greatness. If you’re not wearing makeup, feel free to use whenever. It’s very potent so I don’t think it should be applied morning and night.
It also stings any open skin, which I find oddly pleasurable, so be aware if you’ve freshly exfoliated, waxed, plucked or have spots. My mum, used this post exfoliating mask and was running around like a headless chicken saying her face was “on fire” so if you’re similarly weak and/or dramatic… be careful with this!
When I first used this I seen results the next day and declared it was the best product ever. But I was an acid virgin back then and so the results were very dramatic. Now my skin has acclimatised it takes slightly longer for me to start admiring my skin in the mirror but it would still work within a week if I used it every evening.
Vichy Aqualia Thermal Serum, £25
This serum is Cosmetics Queen Sali Hughes favourite serum under £25 and she’s heavily associated with it. I wouldn’t have tried it had I not seen Sali mention it so many times.
I’m not as keen on it as Sali is (which makes a first, she’s brilliant!) but if I’m just dehydrated and not as dry as usual it seems to be brilliant. When I’m dry, it doesn’t help enough and I’d opt for something stronger, like the Clarins Hydraquench or the Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair.
This serum should not work at all though, given that it’s filled with silicones, glycols and fragrance that’s somewhat obtrusive and smells strongly like perfume, so I’m still impressed that I’ve got through a bottle of this already and started a new one.
If you’re relatively balanced or dehydrated, try this. Most people are dehydrated so there’s a good chance this will work for you. Also if you want to test the waters of hydrating serum before spending the big bucks, this is a great entry point.
Astalift Jelly Aquarysta, £85
Astalift jelly looks like something from the 70s because of the less-than-chic pot. It also has an interesting conception story, with it being the brands first foray into the cosmetics world from Fuji, the film people. So far, so weird, right?! There is method in there madness though, as they discovered that the collagen used in photo developing used tiny molecules, and could be adapted for skincare, thus allowing ingredients to be absorbed deeper into the skin. The result is the most novelty product in my stash, made of magic jelly, that works brilliantly! It’s a super fine textured jelly, that feels and looks unlike any other product I’ve ever seen or used. It is absorbed immediately and leaves you with a more even skin tone, brighter complexion, plumper makeup base. I tend to put this on before another serum and I feel like my skin suffers when I don’t.
Clarins Hydraquench Serum, £57
As far as hydrating serums for dehydrated skin go, this little blue frosted glass bottle of bi-phase product is the Gold Star in hydration.
Shake the bottle and the liquids inside mix and it turns milky. Then squirt. The consistency is watery so you have to work quite quickly or it will trickle off your hand!
I became aware of this when Susie Amy said it had saved her skin while she was recording the television show 71 Degrees North, filmed in the Arctic. That’s a pretty harsh training condition to give any product (or person for that matter!) and if you can survive that, let alone be hailed a ‘hero product’ in that environment then it’s worth trying.
My favourite serum for dehydration by a country (or Arctic circle) mile.
There’s one fly in the ointment I can find and its name is Plukenetia Volubilis Seed Oil, an alternative name for “Inca Peanut Oil”. Although this is quite a nice ingredient and good source of protein and omega fatty acids, it seems to be problematic to people with nut allergies so be extra careful if you share a home with someone who falls into that category.
If you don’t, then this is a really brilliant serum. I like to layer it under other thicker serums and creams and it does feel like a bit of a skin saviour.
Clinique Dark Spot Serum, £42
Clinique Dark Spot Corrector is an creamy textured anti-aging serum that is formulated using ingredients like glycolic and salicylic acid, which are both used in peels, exfoliating liquids and masks to slough and peel away dead skin cells that discolour the skin and betray our age, previous sun damage and current poor lifestyle choices.
This is very effective at fading scars and pigmentation on the face, hands, back, shoulders, back or anywhere that has been scarred by acne and similar skin pigmentation issues if you use it religiously over time. I think it’s about 6 weeks of twice daily liberal use (three pumps is enough) before you should make a judgement. That gives it enough time to pleasantly surprise you and I think it will.
It’s worth remembering that Clinique Dark Spot Corrector does not contain any SPF protection though and if you don’t want to defeat the purpose entirely, it must be worn with a daily sunscreen SPF to prevent the development of additional sunspots on skin in future.
This serum contains quite a few natural ingredients, which carry antioxidant properties and active ingredients which reduce excess oil, reduce inflammation and help the skin heal faster from daily micro damage from pollution and environmental attacks.
I think it’s brilliant for healing scars and pigmentation and I would totally recommend it for that purpose. It’s not moisturising or plumping so you will need to use quite a rich moisturiser on top of it if you have dry skin.
Avene Hydrance Optimale Hydrating Serum, £17
This is a very basic but good and reasonably priced hydrating serum that is able to sink in quickly without leaving a silicone residue or film, despite containing Simone and provides skin with a moisture boost and a smooth canvas for makeup or moisturiser.
Avene are generally pretty great at producing treats for sensitive skins and yet again, they can be relied upon here.
The formula is basic, including a massive 77% soothing thermal water and a helpful dash of Glycerin to attract moisture from the air and deeper layers of the skin and storing it on the skin surface, providing a nice, if subtle, hit of hydration.
Avene Hydrance Optimale Hydrating Serum also contains silicone and mineral oil but the texture is light and it doesn’t leave a terrible film, but it does leave a slight film. I overlook that because of the price bracket, but I wouldn’t accept it for luxury serum.
Again this is one for someone who doesn’t have any major skin issues needing to be addressed but it’s one of the very few drugstore serums I’d look twice at.
Ole Henriksen Pure Truth Collagen Booster, £48
I love this brand and this is the eponymous owners global number one best-seller from the range.
I’m adding to the sales toll because I can’t stop using it and encouraging others to use mine. I’m a cosmetics pusher, what can I say…
This is a high power Vitamin C complex with antioxidants and moisturisers and moisture binders that help keep skin plumped, beautified, nourished, and protected in the shorter and smooth, line and wrinkle reduced and pigmentation free in the long term.
It’s oil free so can be used by people who are very oily, it has calming properties so can be used by sensitive skin owners and it’s lightly moisturising so can be used by dry skins.
It feels so fresh, cooling and vitamin packed. Like a green juice for your face – only it smells so much better than a green juice. It smells like delicious orange juice! A weird common marketing ploy with Vitamin C products is that they smell citrusy to make us think that’s the Vitamin C we are smelling. It isn’t, but it is pleasing and awakening.
I like nothing better than this to wake me up and invigorate the skin of a morning.
It also seems popular with men and comes in suitably unisex packaging so you can gift it to the men in your life without causing them any bathroom cabinet shame. (There should be none, but some guys don’t want to display girly skincare bits).
I love this and begin to feel slightly uneasy when it’s running low because I rely on it so heavily. As you can see I’m at the bottom of the latest bottle so I’ll be stocking up again imminently and maybe pushing it on fewer people in future so I can savour the latest bottle for longer than a New York minute…
Ark Radiance Serum, £45
This is another one I discovered via gorgeous Susie Amy. ARK Skincare’s Radiance Serum is a relatively unknown product, worthy of much more hype than it receives.
This lightweight serum brightens dull skin whilst working against sun spots, pigmentation, scars and ageing. The main weapon in its ingredients arsenal is stabilised Vitamin C. Be wary of products that claim to include Vitamin C because if it isn’t stabilised, as is the case for too many products, then it won’t do anything. The Vitamin C works with the amino acids, red algae and velvet flower seed to brighten and even skin tone, promote luminosity, cell repair and regeneration.
I like to apply in a couple of different ways, sometimes on the same day. Firstly, I’ll apply three drops to my recently cleansed face so that my skin benefits from all of the active ingredients and it improvises long term, but if I want some extra ‘glow’ instantly just to improve the superficial ‘look’ of my face in a ‘quick fix’ or ‘papering over the cracks’ fashion, then I mix some in with a foundation or moisturiser. The glow is immediate and it isn’t ‘oily’ looking, it’s more subtly luminous and healthy looking.
I hope these reviews were helpful!
BUY THESE PRODUCTS HERE:
Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair- http://m.feelunique.com/p/Estee-Lauder-Advanced-Night-Repair-Synchronized-Recovery-Complex-II-50ml
Sunday Riley Good Genes- https://www.cultbeauty.co.uk/sunday-riley-good-genes
Vichy Aqualia Thermal Serum- http://m.feelunique.com/p/Vichy-Aqualia-Thermal-Serum-30ml
Astalift Jelly Aquarysta- https://www.lookfantastic.com/astalift-jelly-aquarysta-rejuvenating-concentrate-serum-60g/11111633.html
Clarins Hydraquench Intensive Serum- http://www.boots.com/clarins-hydraquench-intensive-serum-bi-phase-sos-moisture-for-thirsty-skin-30ml
Clinique Dark Spot Corrector Concentrate- https://www.lookfantastic.com/clinique-even-better-clinical-dark-spot-corrector/11143971.html
Avene Hydrance Optimale Hydrating Serum- http://www.boots.com/avene-hydrance-optimale-hydrating-serum-30ml-10084155
Ole Henriksen Truth Serum Collagen Booster- http://m.feelunique.com/p/Ole_Henriksen_Truth_Serum_Collagen_Booster_30ml?url=Ole_Henriksen_Truth_Serum_Collagen_Booster_30ml
ARK Radiance Perfector Serum- https://m.lookfantastic.com/ark-skin-perfector-radiance-serum/11306920.html