August 4th 2014
Sense and Sensitivity: The five best serums for sensitive skin
February 26th 2015 / 3 comments
Serums pack a skincare punch that needs careful consideration, but could also be the long term answer for dealing with sensitivity. Here are our 5 best serums for sensitive skin
As skincare goes, serums are up there as some of the scariest products you could put on your face. Cleansers are washed away quickly, moisturisers act as a form of protection, but serums are usually highly concentrated and designed to do something. They sink into your skin as fast as they can, racing to rejuvenate, hydrate, brighten or soothe from the inside out. Even the non-sensitive would do well to be cautious in picking the right one.
Why buy a serum?
Cosmetic Dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting explains what makes them so powerful: "Serums in the original sense are high-concentration actives in a single phase (as opposed to a cream or lotion, which are oil-water emulsions). Take, for example, vitamin C which is a really useful ingredient in its l-ascorbic acid form. But it needs to be present at a concentration of at least 10% and formulated at a low pH to get it into the skin to reap its collagen-boosting benefits. So the format of a serum really suits this ingredient, helping to ensure it's delivered to the skin in a way that is useful."
The potency, though, while great for skin-boosting benefits, can cause irritation issues if you don't pick your perfect match. "If you pick the wrong 'active' for your skin-type, then irritancy can be a problem," agrees Dr Bunting. "So someone with sensitive skin has different needs to an oily-skinned acne-prone person."
That said, the very fact that they contain actives means that they could be what's standing between you and a happier, less sensitive skin. "The good news is there's something for everyone," Dr Bunting continues. "Niacinamide is a great ingredient for sensitive, reactive skin, for instance. It boosts barrier function by enhancing production of ceramides and delivers a real hydration boost. Ultimately, what matters are the ingredients and choosing a delivery format that's right for your skin."
The five best serums for sensitive skin
Challenge accepted. After trying, testing and retrying a range of serums over the past few wintery weeks, here are my top five:
Thalgo Bio Repair Serum
I originally feared this elegant bottle of serum because though the label states that it is for 'reactive skin' (quite a claim that suggests it really is gentle), the ingredients list included fragrance which I like to avoid. However, though it does indeed have a slightly baby powder-like scent (which I'd really rather it hadn't), this clear gel has shown no signs of causing any trouble. Enriched with active ingredients designed to strengthen the skin including witch hazel, linseed extract, lupin extract (to reinforce the skin barrier) and anti-inflammatory alpha bisabolol, it sinks into the skin fast without leaving any kind of residue. There are no instant effects to be seen, but after regular use my facial redness seems to have calmed down despite the winter chill.
Created by Indeed Labs - the folk behind 'Photoshop for your face' Nanoblur and lash-enhancing Peptalash - this serum has always caught my eye but until now it hadn't quite convinced me. However, with an entry in skincare supremo Caroline Hirons' hall of fame, and the assurance from dermatologists that hyaluronic acid is good for everyone, my doubts were erased and I decided to go for it. Containing the 'purest form of hyaluronic acid' - that is, the ingredient that holds tightly onto moisture in the skin - it promises to maximise the effects of your other skincare products and leave you with fully hydrated skin. It took me a while to work out how much to use; thinking more is more in terms of hydration, at first I piled it on, but I soon realised a small dab on each area is enough to work its magic without leaving a sticky sensation behind. Without question I am using less moisturiser (I put my favourite Avene cream straight on top) and I've lost that tight sensation that the freezing weather and central heating was creating.
Twelve Ideal Moisture Level Serum
Botanical expert Pedro Catala is the genius behind Twelve Beauty, a line of skincare that looks simple on the outside but is full of natural actives on the inside. Texture-wise this feels more like an oil; it's designed specifically to help very dry or mature skin and give it a plumping moisture boost. The entire range is ideal for sensitive skin (Pedro even prescribes them for patients undergoing chemotherapy, whose skin is more reactive), and this serum in particular contains the anti-irritant mallow flower extract, anti-inflammatory imperatoria leaf extract plus antioxidants to protect the skin from within. Patted on gently, it's an instant relief and gives a visible, healthy radiance boost.
Aurelia Probiotic Skincare Revitalise and Glow Serum
A British brand whose products are free from synthetic fragrances, parabens, mineral oils, silicones, sulphates, propylene glycol, phthalates, GMO, PEGs, TEA and DEA, Aurelia has intrigued me ever since our Glossy boss Susannah Taylor raved about its launch. The products are designed to mix scientific results with luxury, all naturally sourced (and never tested on animals). This serum almost looks medicinal in its bottle with a glass pipette, and considering its ingredients it's no wonder. With BioOrganic botanicals such as baobab (full of omega 3), hibiscus and vitamin E, it has a scent derived from the natural mix of jasmine, plumeria, tuberose and mandarin. A tiny amount goes a long way and skin is left feeling a little brighter - in time, I expect it will look it, too.
REN Evercalm Anti-Redness Serum
REN's skincare is, overall, 'clean' - there are no nasties or synthetic fragrances and therefore most of their products are a safe bet if you're sensitive. However, I have had trouble with the odd cream here and there, which led me to try their Evercalm range (formerly known as Hydra-Calm). This serum is not only suitable for sensitive types but addresses the problem itself, by helping to reduce inflammation and hyperpigmentation through the use of bio extracts. It has a soft scent powered by the orange flower water which features high up in its ingredients list and contains hyaluronic acid for an extra hit of hydration. A light but creamy texture, it is one of the few serums that feels like an extension of my moisturiser rather than just disappearing in seconds. With my usual day cream on top, my skin feels far happier.
Struggling with your sensitive skin? Download my Beginner's Guide to Sensitive Skin now for 25 pages of expert advice, skin care routines, product recommendations and more