A Guide to Serums – The 5 different types

The word serum is used widely in the natural skincare industry and means different things to different people. By some people’s definition, a serum means an oil based serum. That being said, by manufacturing standards and natural skincare definition, serums take on five different types. Let’s discuss those differences.

1. Oil Serums. This serum has most common knowledge as a serum. Generally, it contains a foundation of exclusively high-end specialized carrier oils and fast-absorbing (or dry) oils. The benefit of these serums is they not only offer moisturizing and barrier repair properties, but also contain polyphenols, essential fatty acids and other compounds that can be metabolized by the skin.

Sometimes, you might find oil-soluble extracts that can have a notable effect on skin, as well as aroma-blends that contain aromatic chemicals that can benefit the skin. Oil serums provide moisturizing and barrier strengthening properties to the skin, and offer antioxidant properties.

This type of formulation does not need a preservative because it doesn’t contain water. However, all oil serums should contain an antioxidant like tocopherol (Vitamin E). An antioxidant lengthens the serums shelf life and can add potential benefits to the product.

2. Gel Serums. When you place a gel serum on the face it imparts a tightening feeling on the skin. This gives the sensation that the skin is being temporarily lifted or tightened. Because this serum is water-based, you’ll often find wonderful water-based botanical extracts.

Often gel serums are transparent but sometimes color is added with extracts or botanical powders.

3. Water-based Serums. Water-based serums are similar to gel serums, although will contain fewer thickening agents or none at all and are usually misted or dropper applied. This serum would be used to deliver high performance botanical extracts which can be trapped against the skin underneath a cream or lotion. The perfect way to encourage greater penetration of water-based ingredients into the skin, delivering high performance ingredients slightly deeper into the layers of the skin, is by layering an anti-aging facial mist underneath an emulsion then underneath an oil (i.e., water-based serum followed by an emulsion serum followed by an oil serum).

A water-based serum contains a foundation that consists of water-based ingredients such as hydrosols which can have a soothing, skin toning and balancing properties. Also humectants are added which help the serum cling to the skin along with high-performance botanical extracts and aroma-blends for an over-all botanical goodness.

4. Emulsion Serums. A facial serum with an emulsion is a moisturizer that delivers high performance ingredients into the skin, as well as acting to strengthen the skin’s barrier function. These are in cream or lotion form. Emulsions bring together two components that typically don’t mix with each other, oil and water. An emulsifier is used to create a bond between the oil and water and hold them in a stable form.

An emulsion serum has the greatest potential for delivering high performance actives deep down into the skin’s tissues. Getting down to the dermis is very challenging for any cosmetic ingredient, given the skin’s barrier function, but a blend of oil and water is best suited for achieving this impressive task. The emulsion will also deliver moisturizing properties to the skin, strengthening the barrier function.

5. ‘Pressed’ Balm Serums. Balm serums actually started trending in 2017. This is the only serum that takes on a solid form (all others are liquid). A balm serum has a typical foundation of butters, waxes, oils, and oil-soluble active ingredients that can offer benefits to the skin. The butters and waxes create an occlusive layer on the skin which moisturizes and nourishes, while giving the active ingredients the opportunity to work their magic on the skin.

Although these 5 different types of are indeed very different, they all have one thing in common—the way we use them on our skin.

  • Facial serums are formulated with higher concentration of active ingredients, so only a few drops are usually needed.
  • Facial serums are applied daily after cleansing and toning
  • Facial serums are massaged into the skin to avoid wasting of the serum

Face serums are powerhouses of active ingredients designed to target specific skin types, issues, and needs. As described, they come in different types of formulations. Often, selection is a matter of skincare needs and personal preference, or possibly dictated by seasonal changes. There is no single, one-serum-fits-all product or brand of serum on the market. It’s why we offer a few different types.

Keep looking up!


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