What is a serum?  Why are they so expensive, and why is it important that I use one?

Well, try thinking of a serum as liquid gold, with every intense little molecule of it being ever so precious.

The process of creating a serum begins with the chemists who design your skincare.  They take various therapeutic ingredients (this is something that can produce a change within the skin, as opposed to a cosmetic that sits on the surface of the skin like eye shadow or foundation), they analyse and identify each ingredient independently and then they combine these in various strengths with other therapeutic ingredients. 

They usually start with an intention or aim (like reducing the appearance of wrinkles, or deep moisturising) and combine therapeutics with known benefits towards that aim.  When they have reached the optimal level of efficacy, and they are achieving the therapeutic results that they were after, they bottle it.  Of course, there are a heap of individual processes within this (extracting, distilling, combining in different balances, testing, regulations, - the list is long!), but these combined therapeutic ingredients are the heart of your liquid gold serum.  In the biz, they are known as the “Actives”.

So, that may help you to understand "why" the expense part. And remember - that is before the end product is packaged and marketed and shipped to its final destinations to be sold!

But, serums aren't the only products in a skincare range that claim to work for similar aims (like reducing the appearance of wrinkles or deep moisturising). So how do you know when to use a serum rather than a cream or fluid?  The answer is that it's mostly about the texture, and the application of the actives, for different skin types.  An oily complexion would feel uncomfortable with a layer of thick cream, whereas a dry complexion may feel deprived with just a light fluid.  So the actives are combined with various bulking, binding and preserving agents to produce different textures.  In this case the percentage of the actives is much lower than in the serum form, however, it is much easier for the end consumer to apply. 

This makes your morning and evening routines easy, and you get the benefits of the actives, combined with the benefits of the other agents.  The creams are generally richer in texture and will help to prevent moisture loss by forming a fine layer on the surface of your skin, whereas the fluid is lighter in texture and will be absorbed more easily and help to transport the actives into your skin.

Yes, there is a lot of speak about how bad preservatives are, but just think for a second how close to impossible it would be to get these products to you, and give you time to use them if they only lasted as long as a vase of cut flowers!  The preservatives help to prevent bacterial activity and slow down the natural deterioration of the raw ingredients.  Many of these preservatives are from organic origin and are not harmful, so be careful of lumping good and bad into the same press rap.

So, when would you use a serum, how often, and how do you apply it?

When you apply a serum to your skin, the intensity of these Actives means that you need only apply a teeny tiny amount to get huge therapeutic value.  Use it sparingly! It is intense!  This is why often you will have a serum that is only applied in a salon environment.  It requires a level of skill and knowledge to use it correctly and get the maximum benefit.  There is not much point in squandering your precious liquid gold by using too much and then having to tissue it off!

At home though, you would apply the serum after cleansing thoroughly and balancing the pH of your skin (toner does this) and before your cream or fluid (preferably the one that has the same aim).  This would then give your skin a mega dose of the actives and their therapeutic benefits.

Normally your serum packaging would tell you the recommended frequency of use, but if not then you should ask your cosmetologist for advice.  Generally though, serums form part of your night time routine so that your skin has a gentle controlled and relaxed environment to absorb and let the magic happen.  This is not true for all serums, as some may only be needed once or twice a week.

In the end though, the benefits of serums are great.  They are the therapeutic actives in a concentrated form – liquid gold.  Well worth it.  Be sure that you select the correct one for the problem that you are trying to resolve – like reducing the appearance of wrinkles or deep moisturising, and always get advice from your trusted salon!