What makes a serum a serum? If you’re thinking: a liquid-y substance packed with small molecules of active ingredients (like vitamin C and hyaluronic acid), made to better absorb into the layers of the skin, you’re absolutely right — or at least you used to be. The latest serums are defying traditional form, with pressed options that feel more like pudding in the jar (and are a heck of a lot more travel-friendly), SPF-laced formulas, and even some that look like Dippin’ Dots.
Can the new breed of serums, with their multi-tasking skills and inventive forms really replace your old one? The short answer: “Only if the serum has ingredients it is trying to push into the skin,” says Heather Rogers, MD, a Seattle-based dermatologist and clinical assistant professor at the University of Washington. Formulas that are made with larger molecules (like heavy moisturizers) can sit on top of the skin and protect it, while making it more difficult for the active ingredients to penetrate the skin barrier.
“The bottom line about any type of serum is that the more active ingredients by themselves, the better the results will be for that particular purpose,” agrees Jeannette Graf, MD, a New York-based dermatologist and author of Stop Aging, Start Living. Some newfangled serums may work well on their own as replacements to your traditional serum, while others, concocted like superfood versions of makeup, self tanner, or SPF work as companions to traditional serums, giving skin a double shot of good-for-you ingredients. Ahead, check out the coolest and most unexpected new options hitting the shelves.