Serums: What’s in a Name?

by Anahit Markosian, Nairian Co-Founder and Head of R&D

Let’s start with a definition of a serum. The dictionary tells us that serum is an amber-colored, protein-rich liquid that separates out when blood coagulates”, but what does it mean in cosmetics?

In cosmetics, a serum has quite a different meaning. It is a product typified by its rapid absorption and ability to penetrate into the deeper layers of skin, an intensive formula with a very high concentration of active substances. So serums are often created to address specific skin problems and are considered to be somewhat more effective than other cosmetic products, such as creams and balms because the active ingredients in a serum penetrate your skin faster and more effectively.

Unlike serums, which are designed to deliver active ingredients and nutrients to the deeper layers of the skin, cosmetic creams mostly work in the outermost layer, fortifying it, binding skin cells together more effectively, and providing better hydration. 

Whether to use a serum or a cream depends on a skin problem one is trying to address, but there are times when the two could be used together, especially in the case of dryer skin or tired skin with the signs of aging.

How do we layer the two products when we use them together? Usually, the thinner product should go first: a serum delivers the actives deep into the skin layers, and a moisturizer used on top of it seals them to make the serum working more effectively. In fact, NAIRIAN has a product that uniquely combines in itself the properties of both a serum and a moisturizer, and this is one of our best sellers – the famous Night Serum. The high concentration of fast penetrating, nutrient and vitamin-rich oils definitely make it a serum, but since it also contains moisturizing coconut oil, which is, as a matter of fact, a good skin penetration enhancer,  and some sealing beeswax on top of it, this product could be also considered to be a moisturizer. Thus, using the Night Serum is the same as using a serum and a moisturizer combined,  so it could be recommended for people with dry skin and/or aging skin.

Another interesting serum in the NAIRIAN product line is the bi-phase Vitamin C Brightening Serum. This serum utilizes a bi-phase technology to optimize the penetration of plant-derived brightening ingredients, combined with vitamins C and B3 (aqueous phase) with oil-soluble carotenoids contained in large amounts in Rosehip oil.  Of course, we could have mixed the two phases together, creating a brightening cream, but in this case, at least 8% of the overall ingredients would be taken by emulsifier and possibly some kind of a thickener, plus the whole thing won’t be penetrating very deep into the skin layers. Instead, we choose to add more Jojoba, Olive, and Grapeseed oils into the product, which are also known to be penetration enhancers and which cosmetic actives to penetrate deeper into the skin layers.

A serum could come in a complicated form of a deep-penetrating hydrogel (actually, the gels have the fastest rate and the greatest depth of penetration of all other substances), or be a simple mix of some oils, which are fastly absorbed into the skin, such as, for example,  NAIRIAN’s Rosehip Day Serum. This serum is a preservative-free mix of fast penetrating carrier and essential oils, which are rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and collagen-boosting carotenoids (tretinoin in the rosehip oil, which is a  precursor of retinol). For the even faster and deeper penetration and added benefits, we recommend it to be used over NAIRIAN’s Toner, which is made with real Rosewater and promotes soft and healthy-looking skin. Toner hydrates the skin, and increase skin hydration may swell and open the structure of the Stratum Corneum, i.e. the packed outermost horny layer, leading to an increase in penetration. Thus, the combination of the two will give the skin this healthy glow that so many of us strive to achieve.