A couple of weeks ago, a friend took me discretely to one side to ask me what filler I inject into my face. I’ve never used a filler. I attribute my good skin to two things: genetics and the consistent use of high quality skincare products for over a decade.
My friend believed the genetics explanation – my parents look younger than their age. But she scoffed at the very idea that the skincare industry’s claims could be based on truth.
She’s entitled to her opinion. And her reaction inspired me to write this blog. I hope I’ll be able to convince her.
What is a serum and how to do I use it?
Ever since I ditched the high street brand of my youth, I’ve used a serum. Once described to me as ‘breakfast, lunch and dinner for your skin’, the serum is the product doing all the hard work.
Serums are packed with highly concentrated doses of active ingredients, to target specific concerns such as pigmentation, the signs of ageing or hydration. Used regularly, serums can make the skin appear firmer, smoother and more hydrated.
As a category, serums are among the most expensive daily-use skincare products. However, they pack a powerful punch, so you only need to use a small amount.
Apply your serum after cleansing and toning. As they are lightweight, the active ingredients in the serum will penetrate deep into the skin.
Serums are not a substitute for moisturisers as they don’t protect the skin from environmental irritants. Following a serum with a moisturiser, will lock in the nutrients in the serum and create a protective barrier.
What ingredients should I look out for?
Here are some of the most common active ingredients found in serums along with their benefits:
Despite the slightly scary sounding name, Hyaluronic Acid occurs naturally in our own skin cells and is the hero of most serums. Natural production decreases with age and due to environmental factors. It is a humectant, which means it attracts and locks in moisture, helping to keep skin hydrated and healthy. Hyaluronic Acid smooths and plumps the surface and reduces fine lines and wrinkles.
Retinol (Vitamin A)
An active ingredient found in anti-aging serums, Retinol stimulates the production of collagen, which leads to firmer, plumper skin. Retinol’s exfoliating properties encourage new skin cells to surface. Retinol can help with discolouration, and prescription-strength retinoids can even help to fade scars.
L-Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)
This is a powerful antioxidant which helps protect skin from environmental damage such as exposure to the sun, by fighting free radicals and slowing the production of melanin. It also helps to create firmer skin by encouraging collagen production. Vitamin C soothes sun-affected skin, brightens skin tone and improves texture.
Another strong antioxidant, Vitamin E is naturally produced in our skin cells and is the glue that holds them together. Serum containing Vitamin E will nourish and protect skin from sun damage and help minimise the signs of ageing.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)
AHAs are natural acids that can be found in organic sugars, fruits and milk. They exfoliate, clearing away dead skin cells, and enabling skincare products to be absorbed more effectively. Glycolic Acid is an AHA which can treat blocked pores and release trapped bacteria.
Glycerin, also known as Glycerol or Glycerine is a humectant – it attracts moisture, hydrating the skin, keeping it soft and smooth.
When our collagen production deteriorates, we produce peptides which send a message to the skin to produce more collagen. When Peptides are applied in a skincare product, it sends the same message, encouraging cellular skin repair and increasing collagen production.
This firms the skin and reduces wrinkles and fine lines. Matrixyl is a commonly used Peptide in serums.
There are several other ingredients to look out for and I’ve provided a brief explanation in the ‘key ingredients’ section of each serum below.
For the last several months I’ve been testing a number of serums – some from exclusive online specialists, others from the high street.
I’ve given each serum an exclusive two week trial. I realise that in such a short time it’s not easy to show you a difference in skin tone or texture, but I can provide a general impression and explain how my skin reacted to each product.
Here are my top picks:
Best High Street Serum
No7 Laboratories Line Correcting Booster Serum 15ml. RRP £38*
No7 Laboratories Line Correcting Booster Serum is No7’s most concentrated age-defying solution, which is clinically proven to reduce the appearance of wrinkles by up to 5 years.
Super concentrated levels of Matrixyl 3000 Plus (peptide) which maximises skin’s elastic fibrillin repair capabilities.
The serum comes in a syringe shaped bottle. Push the bottom of the syringe and apply the serum topically, directly to the areas you want to target. It’s cute, but ultimately just a gimmick as the serum isn’t thick enough to apply topically. This is a booster serum, so can be used before your usual serum, or can be added to your moisturiser, eye cream or foundation. It is light, unchallenging and unscented.
Best Value Serum
Osmosis Replenish Antioxidant Repair Serum 30ml. RRP £69
Formulated with a comprehensive blend of Vitamin E, Astaxanthin and Grape Seed Extract, this impressive antioxidant serum is an essential preventative measure for all skin types, especially skin that endures a lot of UV exposure. Added Niacinamide strengthens the epidermal barrier while Peptides halt the ageing process caused by the sun and free radicals in the environment. Skin becomes brighter, smoother, better nourished and plumper with continued use.
Niacinamide (Vitamin B3 – a skin restoring agent); Lactic Acid; Astaxanthin (an antioxidant found in algae); Sythne-6 (a type of Matrixyl peptide); Vitamin E and Panthenol (Vitamin B5 for hydration).
The serum is a pleasure to use. It’s cool on the skin with the texture of a lotion. The tangerine aroma is fresh, but can be an irritant if applied too close to the eyes. As the name would suggest, Osmosis Repair Serum absorbs quickly leaving a pleasant tightness.
Best Vegan Serum
Arbonne RE9 Advanced Intensive Renewal Serum 30ml. RRP £52
This super concentrated formula helps reduce the appearance of fine lines, balanced with a light, silky texture. Advanced peptides, antioxidants and essential botanicals work synergistically within the formula, to hold in moisture and help enhance the look of skin smoothness and firmness.
Orange stem cells; Stabilised Vitamin C; Brown Algae Extract (helps diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles); Sea Buckthorn Oil (replenishes the skin’s moisture); Peptides; AHAs; Niacinamide.
I’ve been using the RE9 serum from Arbonne for several years on and off. I go back to Arbonne whenever I’m not testing other brands. All their products are vegan, gluten free and paraben free.
Unlike the other products in the RE9 range which have a citrus smell, the absence of essential oils makes this creamy serum almost unscented. The serum absorbs well and leaves an almost matte finish.
Best Organic Serum
Neal’s Yard Remedies Frankincense Intense Lift Serum 30ml. RRP £75 (best organic product)
This high-performing serum is clinically proven to lift and recontour your skin. We’ve added an exclusive blend of aromatherapeutic frankincense essential oils, clinically proven to help you feel relaxed. Scientifically formulated with active and certified organic ingredients, it targets skin that’s starting to show a lack of firmness, elasticity and definition. 85% of women agree inhaling the aroma of the serum when applying helps them feel less stressed.
Ribose (restores and lifts the skin); Linseed Extract (redefines); Hyaluronic Acid; Frankincense Active Phyto Complex (collagen protecting properties with an antioxidant effect).
I loved using this product. The beautifully aromatic Frankincense smells divine. Rub the serum into your hands first and breathe in the aroma. Then enjoy the instant tightening ‘lifting’ sensation you’ll experience immediately after application.
Most Luxurious Serum
DCL Hydra Boost Finishing Serum 30ml. £98
Drench the skin in a wealth of hydrating complexes with the Hydra Boost Finishing Serum from DCL. Designed to be the last step in any skincare routine, this serum contains three forms of Hyaluronic Acid to deeply hydrate, plump and rejuvenate the skin, effectively minimising the appearance and depth of fine lines and wrinkles. Used alone or paired with other moisturising products, this impressive serum promises to redefine and perfect the texture of lacklustre skin.
3 forms of Hyaluronic Acid; A blend of Seaweed and Algae Extracts (encourage cell turnover); Vitamin B5; Chamomile (for inflammation).
Yup, you read it right, this serum is meant to be applied as the last step in your skincare routine, layered on top of your moisturiser. I used this during the heatwave when my skin needed extra hydration. It can be patted onto dry patches after makeup has been applied for a bit of topical TLC.
I absolutely loved the texture of this serum – a slightly viscose lotion. It’s silky, luxurious and gives a slight tightening sensation.
Zenii Hyaluronic Booster Serum 30ml. RRP £70
Combat dehydration lines, dry patches and signs of fatigue with the Hyaluronic Booster Serum from ZENii. This oil-free serum is packed with low molecular weight Hyaluronic Acid to deeply hydrate and plump the skin, without making it feel heavy or greasy. Skin instantly feels softer and plumper after application, with dry patches, fine lines and slackness improving with continued use.
Hyaluronic Acid and Glycerin
The texture of this serum is unlike any of the others. The clear, velvety gel is akin to a primer. It is almost fragrance free and takes a little while longer to absorb. This can be used to top up your skin’s hydration throughout the day.
A silky smooth, ground-breaking formula that specifically targets sagging, deep lines and wrinkles, loss of elasticity and dehydration by intensifying the anti-ageing power of plant actives. With Biosome5, Ginseng Root Extract and Licorice Root Extract, this skin-firming and contouring complex helps to boost the skin’s luminosity for instant soft-focus luminosity and moisture levels, re-texturising the complexion for a radiant, ageless look. Skin feels re-contoured, re-defined and re-energised.
Glycerin; Ginseng Extract (helps smooth the appearance of lines and wrinkles, rebalance oiliness and improve uneven skin tone); Horseradish Extract (helps improve skin firmness); Peppermint Leaf Extract (soothes and protects, revitalises dull skin)
A smooth creamy serum with a strong fragrance – spicy and herbal.
A few of my readers recommended I try Clarins Double Serum which is a huge seller in the UK. I did try it, but found it sticky, so unfortunately it didn’t make the cut. There were several others I tested for a few days before deciding they were too ‘meh’ to include.
There are two stand out products in my roundup – the DCL hydra boost finishing serum and Neal’s Yard Remedies Frankincense intense lift serum, which I would definitely purchase again.
At the end of the trial:
The cumulative effect of my serum trials is that I have no wrinkles on my forehead or around my eyes. I have deep smile lines, which no amount of anti-ageing ingredients can touch.
I’ve just taken an extreme close up of my forehead and have included it below, completely unedited, unfiltered, with no makeup, freshly cleansed. It’s remarkable, to me at least, that this 45 year old has a wrinkle free forehead.
I’ve never used a filler and at this rate, I’ll never need to. I will continue to slather on the serum twice a day.
Which serum is your favourite? Perhaps you’ve never used a serum before? If so, I hope I’ve made the case for you to start. Let me know.
Sensica Sensilift trial update
If you’ve been wondering how effective my Sensilift trial was, here are the results. You can read about the device in this post and watch my video about how to use it. Sensica claims the Sensilift firms and plumps the skin and that using it just once a week for eight weeks will have noticeable effects.
I used the device for eight weeks and couldn’t see a difference. But I wasn’t satisfied with my trial. Afterall, perhaps the change was small and incremental. So I started another trial, this time targeting just one area, on one side of my face. I used the device every other night for three weeks.
I posted about the trial on Instagram stories, and invited followers to guess which side of my face I’d been using the Sensilift on. Most of my followers got it wrong. I then posted before and after photos, and asked if they could tell the difference. Most couldn’t.
So I am very disappointed to report that Sensica hasn’t made any difference to my skin’s elasticity or appearance. I’m not saying it doesn’t work, just that I couldn’t see or feel a difference personally. Plenty of other reviewers have reported improvements. I’m yet to read a convincing review with clear, unfiltered before and after shots.
Much love, Vx
[Disclosure: thanks go to Boots, Jurlique and Neal’s Yard Remedies for sending me samples for this trial. EffortlessSkin.com provided the DCL, Zenii and Osmosis serums for which many thanks. I use affiliate links within this post, so if you make a purchase from those links, I will receive a few pennies in commission. However, these views are honest and based on my personal experience. Several other brands sent me products, for which I’m grateful, but were not included as they didn’t warrant a positive review.]
*Prices are correct at time of writing.