Serums: Here are some that Work

On the phone last night, stringing the wire of my headphones through my knuckles like rings, I spoke to my best friend on the matter of serums - particularly, the point in using them at all.

If you’re not sure what, in fact, a serum is, rest easy in the knowledge that you’re not alone. At it’s most basic level, a serum contains fewer, more targeted components than a moisturizer, eschewing occlusive ingredients like petrolatum or mineral oil which trap water from evaporating. As they're generally lower in viscosity, serums also contain fewer lubricating and thickening agents, like nut and seed oils. Most serums, due to this, are water-based.

The molecular structure of a water-based serum allows for greater layering potential and a consequently more targeted, specialized approach when it comes to your skincare regime - all without added weight that a moisturizer would provide. Ni'Kita Wilson, a cosmetic chemist and vice president of research and innovation at Englewood Lab, recommends everyone add a serum to their regimen. "The beauty of a serum is that most of the fluid is eliminated, so what you're left with is a high concentration of active ingredients," she notes. Acknowledging that serums tend contain to the largest concentration of powerhouse ingredients, Wilson also considers them to be the true workhorses of any product line.

If you’re not sure what, in fact, a serum is, rest easy in the knowledge that you’re not alone.

When it comes to integrating a serum into your daily routine, consider ordering the procedure by viscosity - lighter, quick-to-absorb substances first, followed by thickest product (such as a moisturizer, or spf) applied last. The molecular size of a serum is generally much smaller than that of a moisturizer, which enables the product to more effectively penetrate the skin. 

What ingredients should we be seeking out? This is where it gets tricky - the most daunting part of serum use exists in the infinite amount we can choose from. As most of us around the world at Su are under 30, we recommend focusing on tasks such as hydration, calming sensitivity and targeting blemishes with a gentle hand. For added moisture, look to ingredients such as panthenol, hyaluronic acid, phospholipids and allantoin - each of these work to infuse moisture deep in the cells of our skin, protecting against surface dryness and the premature creation of fine lines. If your skin is especially sensitive, seek aloe vera, lichochalcone, licorice root, sea whip, green tea, white tea or zinc - these ingredients work to eliminate redness while preventing inflammatory damage. Acne or hormonal breakouts can be improved in a myriad of ways beyond a skincare routine, but one to two specialized serums can help dramatically. For these products, ingredients like beta glucans, salicylic acid, zinc, aloe vera and tea tree are used in higher concentrations to control bacteria, sooth redness and ease inflammation. 

Though typically water soluble, some facial oils are classified as serums, adding to the confusion about what a serum is and when in our routine we should to use them. Which iteration to choose is an often debated question, and depends on the unique needs of your skin. At Su, we tend to favour oil-free varieties as the molecule is much smaller and can work on the skin's surface without clogging pores. Regardless, using both (especially in winter!) can be done - follow the thin-thick rule of application, applying serums after cleansing and using facial oils as a final step to seal in potent ingredients. 

Our Recommendations*

*each product listed on Su La Po has been tested for four months or one product life cycle, on a variety of skin types, using science for objective backup. Aka, we did our homework.

The HA

An amazing hyaluronic acid serum at an even better price, this Toronto-made offering's second iteration contains a staggering 15 forms of hyaluronic compounds, precursors and hyaluronic support technology - something you simply don't see at this price or, bluntly, ever. This product, with a very rare direct form of hyaluronic acid (most HA-boasting products just use a sodium salt derivative) will penetrate deep within the skin's layers, locking in moisture on even the driest of days. 

The K-Beauty

Created from a base of organic rice bran oil, this liquid-like serum will treat the skin to targeted doses of co-enzyme q-10, licorice root, squalane and pearl to gently protect the skin against signs of aging.

The French

Harnessing the je-ne-sais-qoui in "grape water," this storied french brand has amassed a cult following in this serum - us included. Gentle on even the most sensitive of skin types, Vinosource SOS delivers Caudalie's patented grape-seed polyphenols, providing antioxidant protection against wrinkle-aggravating UV rays and free radicals. 

The Plant Oil

A science-backed elixir (the Kiehl's brand comes from a deep history in pharmacology), the midnight recovery concentrate is for those who want to wake up looking like we actually got sleep last night. Packed with barrier-repairing oils like evening primrose and squalane, and jojoba oil (which most naturally mimics the molecular structure of our skin's sebum) to add visible glow, this serum is a great pre-fall pick.  

Images of model are by Brandon Taelor Aviram, part of a global collective of creatives represented at Su La Po. Brandon is based in New York City.