Should you be putting that on your face? The truthiness about serums

July 9, 2018 Providence Health Team

You know the basics of skin care: cleanse, tone, moisturize. For some, this routine is sufficient enough to maintain clear and healthy skin. But for those with mature, acne-prone, hyperpigmented or other problematic skin concerns, a fourth step that promises to remedy those issues may seem like a good investment.

With countless options available in-store and online, how do you know which serum, lotion, or potion will do the trick? The answer lies in knowing your skin type. Once you know which products are beneficial for your own unique needs, you can then help your skin find balance by supplementing your skin care routine with specialized products. Keep in mind that skin care is never a “one-size-fits-all” solution. In the same way that our bodies react to food differently, our skin rejects certain ingredients.

When in doubt, always speak to a dermatologist before trying a new product or medicated solution and remember that it never hurts to do some research of your own. You can also try making your own natural beauty products.

What is your skin type?


Despite the frustrating afternoon shine, having oily skin can actually be a good thing. Oily skin ages much slower than other types of skin, and the sebum your skin produces can act like a protective barrier that lends the skin additional moisturizer. However, when your sebum levels are too high, it can lead to acne and clogged pores. To keep oily skin in check:

Use these ingredients:

AHA acids – These acids are antibacterial and help brighten pigmentation.

Salicylic acid – Known as a “deep-cleaning” agent, this ingredient cleans pores and neutralizes bacteria (products with 2% or more salicylic acid can lead to irritation so use discretion).

Sulfur – Great for drying up existing pimples, absorbing excess oil, and minimizing sebum production.

Avoid these ingredients:

Alcohol – Harsh alcohol can strip skin of moisture and cause over-production of sebum.

Coconut oil – Heavy oils like coconut oil can sit on top of the skin and lead to breakouts.

Shea butter – An occlusive moisturizer that forms a “second skin” and doesn’t allow your skin to breathe or cleanse itself, leading to clogged pores and acne.


Mature skin can often be dull and dry. Most people with mature or aged skin notice a loss of elasticity and smoothness as well as dark spots or pigmentation. If your skin concerns include these indications, try a regimen that boosts collagen production and moisture.

Use these ingredients:

Retinol – Also known as Vitamin A, retinol is a common anti-aging ingredient that increases collagen production and treats uneven skin tone. Retinol is highly potent. Use it at night with moisturizer and always wear sunscreen during the day to protect your skin.

Hyaluronic acid – This is a naturally occurring acid that can be found in skin, joint fluid, connective tissues. As you age, your body produces less of it. Search for products that contain hyaluronic acid to help plump your skin and smooth out wrinkles.

Vitamin C – Vitamin C is known to improve the look of scars and stimulate collagen production in the skin.

Avoid these ingredients:

Sulfates – Since mature skin is already dry, you want to avoid cleansers or toners that strip your skin of additional moisture. Sulfates can cause irritation and age the skin further – they are also found in many household cleaning solutions (so you definitely don’t want to use them on your precious skin).

Mineral oil – Derived from petroleum, mineral oil can form a film on top of your skin and end up clogging your pores and irritating your skin.


If your skin is sensitive, then you probably go to great lengths to ensure that what you’re putting on your skin won’t leave you red and inflamed. Since you never really know how your skin will react to a product, it’s best to veer on the safe side and use all natural or “clean” skin care products.

Use these ingredients:

Aloe vera – Aloe is a natural humectant, and although it’s used to treat wounds and burns, sensitive skin can benefit from its ultra-moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties.

Tea tree oil – A natural alternative to fighting breakouts, tea tree oil is anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory.

Colloidal oatmeal -  You can eat it, but you can also use it to soothe irritated skin and calm eczema. Oatmeal contains beta-glucan which activates your immune system and starts to naturally repair the skin. Many skin care companies use oatmeal and you can find it in products ranging from scrubs to face cream.

Avoid these ingredients:

Silicones – Silicone is often used in makeup primers and serums to smooth the skin; however, long-term use can cause congestion and acne.

Parabens – Often used as a preservative in cosmetic products, recent studies have found that parabens can interfere with your body’s hormones.

Dyes – Artificial dyes and fragrances can contain hundreds of chemical components that can irritate sensitive skin.

A new skin care fad will always be right around the corner. To ensure you’re giving your skin exactly what it needs to stay healthy, talk to a doctor or dermatologist today. Find a Providence doctor near you or visit the following:

AK: Dermatologists in Alaska

CA: Dermatological Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center; Dermatology and Laser Center at Providence Medical Institute

OR: Providence Medical Group Dermatology

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