Mid-layer is not only the layer between a ski jacket and long johns, it is also the a layer in skincare! Between the cleanser and the moisturiser, there is the mid-layer, often referred to as the “serum”.
A basic skincare routine can consist of 3 steps - the cleansing, the mid-layer (the serum but not always) and the moisturising cream. Other than serum, the mid-layer has other names - solution, ampoule, softener. A toner or a layer of oil could also be used in lieu of a serum.
What is a serum?
Technically, a serum is a concentration of key active ingredients that target a problem. They are popular in the anti-ageing range. A serum can target fine lines, discolouration of the skin, boost collagen, brightens the skin (lightens the skin tone), makes skin glow, etc. But a serum can also be formulated to nourish (mostly with oils) or to add an extra hydration (hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, etc).
What is a solution, ampoule, softener?
A solution is richer than a toner but lighter than a serum. An ampoule is a concentrated form of serum, usually with expensive ingredients. A softener can be similar to a solution or a serum. These are terms that come from the many steps in K-Beauty.
What is a toner and an astringent?
A toner is a water-based formula that contains a humectant (holds water) such as glycerin. The toner would be applied right after the cleanser providing hydration and helping your skin feel less taut after the cleansing. A toner can also be used as a second cleanser that doesn't necessitate rinsing. Some toners contain alcohol and these must be avoided. To read more about double cleansing with surfactants see All About the Cleansing.
Astringents tighten the pores and help dry excess sebum, which can be a good thing, but there are several issues with them. The distillation process uses chemicals that inevitably remain in the ingredient. Most astringents (with or without alcohol) are too drying for the skin and can lead to the skin barrier damage. Denatured alcohol, which is present in many astringents, promotes free radicals. Witch hazel is an example of an astringent. Astringents date back to a skincare routines of the 60s and 70s, and unfortunately don't really fit well in a modern, healthy skincare routine.
When do you need a mid-layer?
Skin changes following the weather, the season, your current health condition, your current stress level, your menstrual cycle, etc. For example, your skin may not need many layers of skincare during the summer. But in the freezing months of the winter, your skin will need the extra layers as reinforcement.
Simple guidelines for young skin - teens and young adults.
Normal or Combination Skin
If you have a good cleanser and a moisturiser, you probably don’t need a serum. However, a good toner (to add extra hydration) can be applied between the cleanser and the cream. You may have noticed that if you use a moisturiser immediately after the cleanser, more moisturiser is needed to spread all over the face. And a good amount of moisturiser is important since it is the only layer after the cleanser and the only protection to the skin barrier. If you use a toner, you will need less moisturiser, as the moisturiser will mix with the toner to spread easier around the face. But still, a good amount of moisturiser is important in the absence of a serum.
If you decide to choose a serum, you could opt for something that gives you the glow, the plump effect or makes your skin soft. Ingredients for glowing skin could include Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid or its derivatives like sodium ascorbyl phosphate, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, etc), Vitamin E, some nourishing oils extracted from plants like pomegranate, rosehip oil, but not essential oils. For the plump, you would need to drink a lot of water (yes!) and look for a serum with hyaluronic acid (sodium hyaluronate). To achieve soft skin, look for ingredients like green tea and jojoba oil.
Remember, there are thousands of ingredients in skincare. If a product irritates your skin, you shouldn’t use it because the product is badly formulated. Always choose non-irritating skincare products.
You could use oil in lieu of a serum for dry skin. Start with a good cleanser like Skin Diligent Triple Action Cleanser, which is formulated for all skin types. Then massage a dry oil on the skin (dry oil is type of oil that doesn't leave a greasy feeling on the skin like borage oil, rosehip oil). Follow with your moisturising cream. To find out more about moisturisers, read All About Moisturisers.
Alternatively, you could also use the toner first, followed by a layer of dry oil (massaged well into the skin), and finish with the moisturiser to seal everything.
For a serum, the choices can be the same as normal to combination skin type above.
Depending on the type of moisturiser, you may need a serum to absorb the extra sebum. Look for a serum that contains clay that does this without irritation or stripping the skin. Skin Diligent Serum Multilayer is formulated with bentonite, a clay that has been completely transformed to be stable and to protect other active ingredients in the formula. It’s perfectly balanced for oily skin and acne-prone skin.
Salicylic acid is also another ingredient that can help oily skin.
HOWEVER: Did you know that the rules of ingredients in the US and elsewhere are different to European rules? In Europe, we are limited to 0.5% of salicylic acid on leave-on (no rinsing) products. Americans don’t have this rule so you can find products with 2-10% salicylic acid content, which can be extremely drying, irritating and sensitising.
Acne-prone or with Acne Skin.
Acne is a specific problem and therefore, the use of a serum is important in targeting the problem. Skin Diligent Serum Multilayer targets sebum and redness on the skin. The serum absorbs the oxidised sebum and releases good oils from the formulation throughout the day.
One serum that would be useful in treating acne may be targeting scarring. Unfortunately, scarring is not easy to solve with skincare products. Most ingredients have some effect on new (reddish) scars. But once the scarring process has been dealt with by the repairing brigade of the skin, it is hard to modify the infrastructure of the new skin that is already formed.
The best policy is to prevent scarring. To prevent it, it is imperative not to use harsh products, over-drying products or irritating products. Deep lesions have the potential to leave scars behind, but by using products that help the skin go through the healing on its own time without rushing, can reduce the scarring. Forward thinking is key in preventing or decreasing the chances of scarring.
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