SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum 1 oz

Reviewed by Marta on December 13, 2013


SkinMedica TNS is the grandfather of human growth factors in cosmetics. The company arguably pioneered what is still a cutting edge space in skincare and one that is still only sparsely occupied by emerging brands such as ReLuma, E’shee and AQ Skin Solutions. Since, my own results with human growth factor serums have been extremely positive, I thought it was high time to put SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum ($260) to the test.

While the price tag puts SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum into the premium category, I reasoned that this is a twofer: a two-chambered bottle with human fibroblast conditioned media in one chamber and a peptide and antioxidant complex in the other. The idea is to dispense them simultaneously to the back of the hand and blend them together before applying -- a similar system is used by Medik8 Firewall ($145 in the shop).

I have been testing SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum for nearly two months and while my reaction is mostly positive, my feelings are a little mixed. I have sensitive skin and on application my skin tingles uncomfortably. If I use TNS Essential Serum every day my skin starts to look a little inflamed and I get the odd breakout. Once I got past the first 30 days of my test period, I cut the serum back to every 2-3 days and managed to remain breakout free.

The website’s FAQ section admits that the serum has “a bit of an unusual scent.” I’ll say. This is supposedly due to the high concentration of the "TNS protein." I’m not usually put off by a product’s smell, but this is very unpleasantly musty and metallic.

Having gotten that out of the way, on to the more positive aspects of my test. SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum did smooth out my wrinkles and, in particular, did the most noticeable job on my forehead lines. There was less impact on fine lines and I didn’t notice much firming. My conclusion – based entirely on my own experience - is that the worse the wrinkle, the more impactful Essential Serum seems to be. This is logical considering that growth factors (the human fibroblast conditioned media) basically need something to repair.

However, I would have expected more from the peptides and antioxidants. The roster includes palmitoyl tripeptide-5, otherwise known as Syn-Coll and supposedly more powerful than Matrixyl at boosting collagen and the immune defenses. There’s the magic mushroom extract, ergothioneine, hydrating phospholipids, and antioxidant ubiquinone. I was amused to see aminobutyric acid, which purportedly acts as a neuromuscular inhibitor, relaxing facial muscles. Such ingredients are often positioned as an alternative to Botox, owned by Allergan, which also became the proud owner of SkinMedica earlier this year.

There are a few ingredients that I would rather not see, such as most parabens known to man, the harsh preservative phenoxyethanol, various acrylates, and the irritant polysorbate-20. Nonetheless, most of the latter part of the ingredients list is benign, although not particularly helpful other than making a formulator’s life easier. But, hey, there are some pricey department store brands when those ingredients are in the top half of the ingredients list. At least SkinMedica puts its growth factors and other actives front and center.

My conclusion is that SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum is a worthy product. It did not outperform other growth factor products that I regularly use by E’shee, AQ Skin Solutions and ReLuma. Indeed, I would say they still very much have the edge over TNS Essential Serum.