Last Updated on November 12th, 2019
A serum is a liquid that is lighter on your face than a cream, gel, or lotion, but thick enough to stay on your skin. Thousands of skin care products are labeled as serums, but only a few will help clear up acne.
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The problem with many products that are supposed to help clear up acne-prone skin is that they actually make acne problems worse. A cream, for instance, is great for sticking to your skin, but there are two major problems with any “creamy” acne care product. One problem with a cream is that it can clog pores. The other problem with any kind of cream is that irritant ingredients stay on your skin and do maximum damage, and many misguided formulations for acne care contain multiple irritants—and charge you more for them.
Gels are designed to keep certain ingredients on your skin. The antiseptic benzoyl peroxide, for example, is often applied as a gel. Gels are semi-liquid because of the way they use proteins, rather than oils, but if you put the wrong ingredient on your skin, a gel is going to ensure that it stays there.
A lotion is lighter on your skin. It is easier to spread across your skin, but it is thick enough to stay on your skin. Lotions don’t contain the high concentrations of oils and emollients that can clog pores, but lotions often do contain emulsifiers that can irritate your skin.
Most lotions contain an ingredient called cetearyl alcohol, which is also known as cetostearyl alcohol and cetylstearyl alcohol. The addition of cetearyl alcohol to a mixture of oil in water or water in oil helps keep oil and water components blended. Some healing ingredients are water-soluble, and others are soluble in fat. With cetearyl alcohol to keep the whole mixture emulsified, lotions can deliver more different kinds of healing ingredients to the skin.
Even so, there are two major problems with most lotions. One is that the water-soluble vitamins and antioxidants that you are added to many lotions degrade as soon as the container is opened, or even before the container is opened if it made of clear glass or plastic.
The other problem with most lotions is that cetearyl alcohol itself can irritate the skin. One way this lotion ingredient can cause skin problems is by making lotions too foamy. Big bubbles “grab” the skin. They break down the skin and provide tiny passageways for staph and strep infections to enter the skin.
The other way cetearyl lotion can irritate the skin is by activating the immune system in the skin. Chemical byproducts of the interaction of cetearyl alcohol and the air form a kind of homing signal for a group of white blood cells known as the macrophages.
The term macrophage literally means “big eater.” A macrophage can surround a bacterium and consume it. That sounds like a good thing, but macrophages tend to get stuck in blood vessels and in pores.
The more often the immune system sends macrophages to the skin, the more likely they are to cause localized swelling. When the macrophages eventually die, the immune system sends still more macrophages to recycle them. These macrophages can get stuck, too. The result is puffiness in the skin that is not caused by allergy or infection, and that is very hard to treat.
Serums have advantages over both creams and lotions. Wikipedia defines a serum as a “cosmetic that is more expensive than a cream,” but not all serums are more expensive than creams and lotions, and there are reasons serums may work much better on the skin.
What makes a serum a serum is its lightness. Serums stick to the skin without smothering pores. They keep the healing ingredients on the skin but they don’t lock the ingredient into the skin.
Serums usually contain glycerin to give them the ability to stick to the skin. Glycerin is a food. (Glycerol, which was the main ingredient in antifreeze before the widespread use of ethylene glycol, is toxic.) Glycerin absorbs moisture from the air and helps keep moisture in the skin. It slowly releases the botanical ingredients or medications dissolved in it, without forcing them into pores.
Glycerin is safe for all skin types, and it is preferable for serums used to treat normal, oily, and slightly dry skin. A similar chemical, propylene glycol, is not a foodstuff but is even lighter on the skin. Triglycerides and alkyl benzoates act in a similar way and are also safe for all skin types. But even serums can go wrong.
There is always a way to make a good acne product bad, and that happens with some serums. Some serums include sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate (labeled in the UK and Australia and sodium dodecyl sulfate). This ingredient helps serums spread smoothly over the face, but it also irritates the skin. Tiny red pimples break out, especially at the corners of the mouth. The addition of sodium lauryl sulfate to a serum makes it a product you should avoid.
On the other hand, some serums are very well balanced for treatment of acne-prone skin. Exposed Skin Care Acne Treatment Serum, for example, uses a glycerin-like ingredient called propylene glycol in purified water to spread green tea extracts and tea tree oil over the skin. You really would not want to eat this product (you would get diarrhea), but it is non-toxic and light on this skin.
Exposed Skin Care Clear Pore Treatment uses propylene glycol and purified water to carry witch hazel extract, which helps bind “loose” skin cells to the surface of the skin, as well as licorice extract, which reduces the effects of testosterone on the skin. Witch hazel, by the way, is not for treating acne. It is for preventing infection with staph and strep bacteria that can cause blemishes that are far worse than acne.
Serums can be an important but inexpensive part of your daily acne prevention program. For more information about acne treatment serums that come with a money-back guarantee, see Exposed Skin Care.
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