If there’s one single question we get more than anything else it’s “How does skin serum work?” Mostly, the question starts with a lot of doubt and disbelief. And ends with a light-bulb going off.
Before getting into the nitty gritty of how skin serum works, let’s get some terminology out of the way:
Today, the term “Skin serum” is used for a wide range of skin-care products. There are now hundreds of products calling themselves “serums”. So the first thing to understand is that there are serums, and there are serums.
Most of the time when we talk about skin serum we’re talking about concentrated liquid compounds that accelerate turnover of skin-cells and reduce the signs of aging. There are plenty of other kinds of skin serums on the market though. Some of them moisturize. And some of them provide important nutrients to your skin. And many of them do all of the above. Typically though, when we talk about skin serum, we’re talking about serums that:
- Speed up skin-cell turnover
- Reduce fine lines and wrinkles
- Improve the smoothness and youthfulness of your skin.
If that sounds impossible, settle back and prepare for a quick lesson in skin science.
First, the basics:
What is skin serum?
A skin serum is a concentrated liquid that has beneficial effects on the skin. Serums improve the visible quality of skin and counter visible signs of aging. Most of the first-generation of skin serums were based on retinoids (Vitamin A) and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). Both of those agents have been laboratory proven in multiple tests to fight fine-lines and light creases in your skin.
Since those early days, numerous other agents have been added and swapped-out. They include hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, copper peptides and numerous other agents. In addition to the “active” ingredients, many serum makers include essential oils, natural anti-oxidants, glycerin and fragrances. To this day, Vitamin C remains one of the best and most powerful skin serum ingredients, and you will often see it used as the primary ingredient.
So, vitamins sound sort of boring. What makes this process so special?
Think of it as “controlled damage”.
What does skin serum do to your skin?
The primary role of skin serums is to strip away the outer layer of hard, dead skin cells and to accelerate skin cell turnover in the sub-surface layers of your skin.
Why would you want to do this? The simple explanation is that those “new” skin cells underneath look better than old ones on the surface.
But it’s much more powerful than that:
If a serum were to ‘just’ lightly sear away the outer layer of your skin that alone would be a pretty neat trick. Your skin would look younger, and your crows’ feet and fine lines would melt away. But the real magic isn’t happening on the surface of your skin.
It’s happening deep inside.
Skin serums can help you produce collagen
One of the interesting features of our skin is that the rate of new-cell growth can be kick-started by accelerating skin-cell turnover.
Here’s a way to understand this easily: We’re all familiar with how muscles develop. When we do yoga, weight train or exercise we tear muscle cells. Those destroyed cells are then replaced at a faster rate by the body, and our muscles get larger, more defined and more beautiful. It’s not a direct analogy to what’s happening in your skin, but it’s a useful way to think about the process: Encouraging subsurface cell-death in a controlled way leads to more youthful looking skin.
When skin serums are absorbed into the subsurface layers of skin, they accelerate cell death. And while that might sound like something you don’t want to do, this process results in a synchronized dance of fibrocyte and fibroblast cells resulting in a build up of new, healthy skin. The results over time, are scientifically proven and impressive: Your skin will actually grow thicker and build up collagen. And the amount of collagen in your skin is what separates old skin from young, elastic skin.
So what are all the other ingredients for? Isn’t Vitamin C enough?
Vitamin C is an excellent agent for encouraging cell-turnover, gently stripping away the surface layer of old skin cells, and as a natural anti-oxidant it helps defend your skin against the damage caused by free-radicals.
Is Vitamin C enough of a serum for you? Maybe. Many C-serum purists stick with good old ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and see excellent anti-aging results.
But once you’ve encouraged a few of your skin cells to shove off to skin-cell heaven, the next trick is making new, healthy ones as fast as possible. And that’s where a whole host of additional skin serum agents come into the mix.
Remember, sub-surface absorption is key to maximizing any skin serum’s effectiveness. Make sure you read our post on the “right way” to apply skin serum.