Serums are our secret anti-aging weapons. The original meaning of the word “serum” is body fluid or the liquid part of blood. Perhaps that is why they tend to be thick-ish liquids and are usually clear or milky. They are always lightweight and easily absorbed into the skin. Indeed, a serum’s job is to effectively deliver active ingredients into the skin. Some formulators would argue that the delivery system is more important that what is delivered. There’s no point in spending money on a high dose of topical vitamin C if it just isn’t going to penetrate very well.
This is all very well, but serums come in a multitude of flavors, making far-reaching promises. How do you know how to hone in on the right one for you? A good place to start is with the basics, and so here’s how to choose the right serum for your age.
Choosing the right serum for 20-somethings and 30-somethings
Many serums focus on heavy hitting ingredients that aim to repair wrinkles. A good example would be growth factors. Because growth factors need something to repair, it would be a waste of money to buy a serum that contains this ingredient if you don’t have any wrinkles. These actives heal existing damage, but are not preventative. For preventative measures, look to antioxidants — and keep it simple.
Red Flower Essential Omega Fresh Berry Oil Serum ($48) is a great starter serum. It is all natural and delivers botanical antioxidants that are rich in vitamins and omegas, such as avocado, cranberry strawberry and raspberry. Antioxidants prevent free radical damage, and that means skin cells are protected and the harmful effects of UV rays are minimized. Another serum that focuses on antioxidants is Your Best Face Antioxidants Concentrate ($65 in the shop). It can be used on its own or blended with other creams, masks and serums. It has some antioxidant heavy hitters including ferulic acid, resveratrol and glutathione, as well as free radical scavengers, spin trap and lipochroman-6.
A great all-rounder and multi-tasker is Trinite Organiques Trinity The Signature Serum ($45). For a product with a mere three ingredients — argan oil, frankincense and myrrh — The Signature Serum is surprisingly versatile, acting as an antioxidant moisturizer for face and body, cuticle softener and split ends mender. It comes highly recommended by our 30-something tester.
Choosing the right serum for 40-somethings
At 40-something, you may see the beginnings of wrinkles and some uneven skin tone, or even hyperpigmentation. This is the point in your life when Clinique just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Two strategic weapons are required: skin brighteners and cell signalers. Skin brighteners can include alpha hydroxy acids and natural whiteners such as plant-derived arbutin. By cell signalers, I mean peptides. These are active molecules that send signals to your cells. When collagen breaks down, it forms specific peptides that signal to your skin that it was damaged and needs to make new collagen. So by applying peptides topically, we are trying to trick our skin into thinking that it has lost collagen recently and needs to make more.
La Vie Celeste’s Eclairange Restorative Serum ($98.50 in the shop) has all kinds of brightening agents: alpha arbutin, a tyrosinase blocker, and bearberry leaf extract, which is a source of arbutin and has properties that can protect the skin from sunlight, and B-White, a combination of amino acids derived from a growth factor (TGF-b). The formula also includes a peptide for firming sagging skin.
A well-known and effective peptide for boosting collagen is Matrixyl 3000. It can be found in Sciote Omni Phyto-Cell Serum ($130 in the shop), which also has a peptide complex of amino acids and the expression line inhibiting peptide, Arginine. Packed with anti-aging actives, this serum also contains a botanical alternative to sodium hyaluronate and a stem cell from a member of the daisy family. Our tester found that wrinkles were actually reversed.
Arcona Peptide Firming Complex has two peptides, Syn-tacks and Syn-coll, Like Matrixyl 3000, Syn-tacks is made by combining two peptides to stimulate a broad spectrum of things responsible for youthful skin- laminin V, collagen types IV, VII and XVII and integrin- all at once. Syn-coll is a small peptide with a unique sequence to mimic the human body's own mechanism to produce collagen via TGF-ß. This serum also has an epidermal growth factor.
Choosing the right serum for 50-somethings
As a 50-something, I look out for ingredients that will improve my skin’s texture, repair wrinkles and keep things firm. I look for ingredients that have a good track record at wrinkle repair, such as copper peptides, potent antioxidants and stem cells.
Innarah Line Smoothing Treatment Serum Oxygenated Moisture Serum ($175) has a firming peptide called tetrapeptide-3. This serum also introduced me to some new ingredients including an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory called apolactoferrin. Magnolia bark is also an anti-inflammatory and there are amino acids from elk antler. I particularly like the velvety texture my skin has from using Innarah.
Two of my favorite anti-aging ingredients are in Kenneth Mark MD Antioxidant Hydrating Cream ($120), astaxanthin, along with potent collagen booster, copper peptides. In addition, there are tons of minerals, vitamin A, two forms of vitamin C, alpha lipoic acid and superoxide dismutase. This serum is good for wrinkle repair and evening out skin tone.
One of the most unusual and effective serums that I have used combines growth factors (FGF 1 peptide) and Far Infrared Powder (FIR) to firm skin, increase volume, smooth texture and reduce redness — all results that I can vouch for. This is E’shee Clinical Esthetic Elixir of Life KI Therapy Serum ($189 in the shop). FIR powder is definitely an uncommon ingredient. Far infrared waves are the longest rays in the light spectrum and easily absorbed by the body to a depth of up to three inches. There, they can do useful things -- wound healing being one of them. Research also revealed greater collagen regeneration and infiltration of fibroblasts.
Choosing the right serum for 60-somethings
Skin can be getting thinner, and so it might be a good idea to avoid serums that exfoliate with AHAs. Sixty-something skin can also begin getting slacker, and slathering on rich moisturizers can make things worse. A better option would be a serum that also hydrates. But the main focus should be on collagen and elastin production. And you’ll be wanting the best that you can find.
Skin Nutrition Cell CPR ($150) is a hydrating serum packed with powerful anti-aging ingredients, including growth factors, ATP, copper peptides, plant cells, phospholipids, enzymes, amino acids, hyaluronic acid and marine extracts. A great all-rounder with all the essential actives that a wrinkle warrior could ask for.
If a simpler formula is your thing, then go for one really powerful active ingredient. MitoQ Moisturizing Anti-Aging Serum ($119 in the shop) has a turbo charged form of ubiquinone that was developed specifically to target mitochondria, which are responsible for providing the necessary energy for cell activity.
Medik8 Firewall ($145 in the shop) takes a broad spectrum approach to anti-aging with copper peptides, Matrixyl 3000, Lipochroman-6 and niacinamide. The dual-chamber packaging ensures that the actives are mixed only on application to ensure potency. There’s four types of copper, the potent antioxidants L’ergpthioneine and superoxide dismutase and they all come together to make a serum that works.
Marta Wohrle is an anti-aging skin care and beauty expert and the founder/CEO of Truth In Aging. Marta is dedicated to uncovering the truth behind anti-aging product claims.