Whether you're skincare obsessed or not, chances are you've been swayed by the power of the Instagram #shelfie. These days it's not enough to cleanse, tone and moisturize. Thanks to the burgeoning Korean beauty market, not to mention countless TikTok trends, we're into essences, sunscreen, face masks and facial tools, all of which have made their way into our AM to PM rituals. But the expert consensus is that it's simply a skincare serum which should accompany your trusty cleanser and moisturizer.
Serums are lightweight in texture but they pack a punch. Arguably the most potent product in any skincare routine, there are a handful of transformative ingredients to choose from depending on your skin concern: vitamin C for brightening, salicylic acid for unclogging pores, retinol for smoothing skin texture and wrinkles... If your skin is a little sluggish and slow to see results, it might be worth switching things up.
Right now, one serum in particular is being talked about in dermatology circles. It might not be so popular among skinfluencers and TikTokers just yet but experts are touting it as the next big thing in skincare (especially when it comes to preventing the signs of premature ageing such as fine lines, wrinkles, pigmentation and sagging skin).
Enter: biostimulant serum.
What is a biostimulant serum and what are the skincare benefits?
"A biostimulant serum is a serum that causes a reaction under the skin," explains Alise Mihai, skin expert and senior aesthetician at Skin+IQ. Don't let the word 'reaction' put you off; it's nothing to do with allergies or sensitivity. In fact, it's a good thing. "A biostimulant serum is essentially a skin booster that contains amino acids," which are basically skin-repairing proteins (other ingredients are classed as biostimulants, too). Alise says that these serums stimulate the skin's natural processes. "They improve nutrient uptake, encourage new skin cells and help the skin to deal with stress," all of which are the building blocks for healthy, happy skin.
Two things which are essential for the skin are collagen and elastin, says Alise. "As we age, we expose ourselves to the sun, pollution and more. As a result, the production of collagen in our skin slows down, so the skin loses its elasticity, volume, tone, brightness and freshness. This is where biostimulant serums come in." Alise says they give skin the necessary amino acids and vitamins to stimulate collagen production and repair damaged skin, which makes it brighter and more plump.
Dr. OBT, aesthetic doctor and founder of Halcyon Aesthetics, says that antioxidant serums (for example those containing vitamin C or ferulic acid, both of which shield against dulling environmental factors like pollution) are also classed as biostimulant serums. "Their main aim is to protect the skin barrier," he says. A retinol serum is also a good example, says Dr OBT, as it prompts the skin to produce shiny, new cells.
How do you use a biostimulant serum?
Alise explains that there are various serums available on the market and you should choose one that will suit your individual needs. For all skin types, amino acids are the star ingredient to look out for but these serums are often supplemented with other skin-boosting ingredients depending on which skin concern you'd like to treat. "For example, an amino acid serum with added vitamin C will boost collagen and help shield skin against UV damage and environmental pollution," says Alise. "A serum with retinol helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and fights hyperpigmentation and acne."
Dr OBT seconds the brilliant benefits of vitamin C and retinol. "Antioxidant-rich serums containing vitamin C along with ferulic acid help brighten the skin as well as protect against environmental damage," says Dr OBT. "Such serums also boost collagen production in the skin and can be used in the daytime, with sunscreen applied on top for protection against UV radiation." For the AM, he recommends SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Antioxidant Vitamin C Serum, and suggests using a retinol serum in the evening, which he says can be sandwiched between moisturizer if your skin is prone to irritation. Try the new Kiehl's Retinol Skin Renewing Microdose Serum. It's gentle enough to be used every night.
Alise says your standard skincare routine should look like this: Step one is a cleanser, followed by your serum. Step three would then be a moisturizer and step four a sunscreen (only in the morning). "Your skincare routine would be no different with biostimulants," says Alise. "Serum has a lighter base than a moisturizer so it will be absorbed into the skin easily." She suggests waiting for five or so minutes before applying your moisturizer to make sure the serum has been fully absorbed.
What is the best skincare serum?
"If you're noticing signs of ageing, your skin looks tired, feels dehydrated and is losing its laxity, or even if you have pigmentation and an uneven complexion, I'd suggest investing in a good biostimulant serum," says Alise. If ageing skin is your concern, she recommends NeoStrata's Tri-Therapy Lifting Serum, a firm favourite among beauty editors and skin experts. It's packed with hydrating hyaluronic acid and amino acids to repair skin and look after its barrier. This is especially important in the winter, when the colder weather can cause dryness. Alise also recommends SkinCeuticals H.A. Intensifier, which plumps fine lines and wrinkles or Dermalogica's Phyto Nature Firming Serum, which boasts nourishing oils for very dry skin.
If you're on a budget and it's hydrated, glowing skin you're after, try The Ordinary's 'Buffet'. It features 11 amino acids, hyaluronic acid and buzzy ingredient Matrixyl 3000, which kickstarts collagen for plump, glowing skin all round. Or try The Inkey List's Polyglutamic Acid, which moisturizes deeply and brightens up and evens out skin tone. Lastly, Drunk Elephant Protini Powerpeptide Resurf Serum, is a little pricier but the five-star reviews speak for themselves. A generous layer makes dull, lacklustre skin soft and bouncy instantly and over time.
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the Public Health Agency of Canada website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources. This story was originally published on Refinery29 UK.