What Makes a Serum a Serum?

by | 27 May 2014

By Reika Roberts


Do they really live up to expectations?

Does the use of a serum automatically mean the product becomes more active?

Does the use of a serum ensure better outcomes?

Can some serums be too active and potentially cause reactions or irritation?


A myriad of questions always arise whenever a new product or technology enters the marketplace and this is as it should be.  Every skin treatment therapist wants to obtain the best results, use the most efficacious and safest products, offer the best advice, and importantly, have the best armoury to do so.


What is a Serum?

A serum is simply a concentrate of an active agent.  Serums can be water or lipid based, or a blend of both.

What is crucial to determining the efficiency and quality of any serum, however, is to understand what the serum is encapsulated (or contained) within and the concentration of the active/s within the serum.  These two factors can dramatically affect the efficacy serums.  Not all serums are created equal!

Additionally, when considering the use of serums, we first need to have an understanding of how the skin functions at a cellular level.  There’s a lot going on at each layer of the skin.

Scientific research into the skin and its function indicates that there is an abundance of cell-to-cell communication.  If we can deliver active ingredients to the deeper layers of the epidermis (stratum spinosum), we are in turn supplying these cells with the nutrients they require to function at optimal health and to make their return journey to the outer most layer of our skin (stratum corneum) easier, thus providing a balanced, healthy and glowing complexion.  But how best to get the ‘super foods’ there in the first place?

The principles of Corneotherapy should be applied when using serums. Corneotherapy calls for a thorough initial examination of the condition of the bi-layers of the skin. It is important during this process not to upset the acid mantle, but rather give it what it needs to maintain harmony. Then, and only then, can you give it the ‘super food’ (via serums), that it needs for the skin to maintain its structure and function. You can use any serum you wish but without first establishing a healthy, functioning skin, you will not obtain the desired result.

Serums have been available over the last twenty years, however a new generation of serums are beginning to emerge. Improved encapsulation processes enable effective penetration that until recently was only possible by using machinery processes such as Lontophorosis and Sonophoresis.

Only those serums that are encapsulated in liposomal membranes are truly effective.  They merge with the barrier layers of the skin and allow for transportation of actives through the stratum corneum. The active agents are then released and penetrate through the skin barrier, providing an accurate and responsive delivery system. True liposomes have membranes like living cells (phospatidylcholine), so they not only adequately protect the active agent, or serum, but merge and dissolve without any lingering effect.  It is true to say that dermaviduals is one of few cosmeceutical companies supplying encapsulated serums.

Take for instance Hyaluronic Acid.  By partnering it in a liposomal delivery system, dermaviduals increases effectiveness by more than double. Boswellia can be used more effectively when transported by a nanoparticle, as it carries the oil soluble ingredient and preserves the integrity of the ingredient.  Even ‘everyday’ ingredients such as Evening Primrose Oil can be more effective using advanced encapsulation processes. Liposomes and nanoparticles open ONTO the skin, allowing only the active ingredients to penetrate through to the lipid bi-layers.  The liposome or nanoparticle is safely left behind on the outer layer of the skin.

So, not all serums are born equal.  What is becoming more apparent to the skin care industry is that it is not necessarily the active ingredients that comprise the serum but what the serum is encapsulated within that will determine its success.