I wanted to dedicated a full post to the latest addition to my (small but perfectly formed) range: my new barrier support serum. Read on to find out more about the formulation, key ingredients and their benefits!
Niacinamide (vitamin B3)
My interest in niacinamide for skin health started when I began dabbling with retinoids. My previous track record of using actives in skincare hadn’t been great (hello irritation!) and whilst I was keen to build a stronger retinoid into my routine, I wanted to be sure my skin could handle it. If my skin was healthy before I started a prescription retinoid, I felt I’d be more likely to tolerate it without any major issues. I considered ingredients that were keeping my skin healthy, hydrated and balanced, and this formed the concept for my barrier support serum with niacinamide, ceramides & hyaluronic acid taking centre stage. Prior to testing this serum I was having to use 3 different products to get these ingredients and I was really looking to streamline my routine, as I'm all about keeping things simple!
There’s been a lot more buzz around the topical use of niacinamide lately and for good reason. It has a multitude of benefits and skin barrier health is just one of them. Niacinamide supports healthy barrier function by reducing transepidermal water loss (TEWL) and improving the water content of the surface layer of the skin. It does this through different mechanisms including encouraging ceramide production, protein synthesis and accelerating skin cell turnover. If that wasn’t enough, it’s also been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects in acne and rosacea. I have 5% niacinamide in my barrier support formulation – an optimal amount to provide these benefits with a lower risk of irritation than might be seen with higher concentrations. Bear in mind that since niacinamide encourages your skin to function better, you need to give it time to work its magic: at least a few months of consistent use, so be patient! This is why I also wanted to include other ingredients for barrier health e.g. ceramides (as well as the ceramide precursor, phytosphingosine) in my formulation.
A number of different ceramides are found naturally in the skin and play an important role in barrier function and water retaining abilities of the skin. Skin dysfunction, UV exposure and ageing can deplete ceramide levels in the skin, thereby increasing trans epidermal water loss (TEWL). Topically applied ceramides have been shown to hydrate the skin and help to reduce TEWL, as well as having the potential to offer a protective mechanism from sources of irritation (e.g. SLS). My formulation contains ceramides 1, 3, 6 II as well as cholesterol (another lipid found naturally in the skin) and the ceramide precursor phytosphingosine. Phytosphingosine is a naturally occurring lipid which as well as having an ability to repair a damaged skin barrier, has also shown anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.
Hyaluronic acid (INCI sodium hyaluronate, which is the sodium salt of hyaluronic acid) is a well-known humectant ingredient that is found in abundance in the skin / body and helps to give the skin its volume and keep it supple. Topical humectants offer hydration to the skin. They draw moisture from humid environments as well as from the deeper layer of the skin (dermis) to the upper layer (stratum corneum). So HA acts as a hydration booster for the upper layer of skin, which is important as hydrated skin functions better. It also softens and smooths the skin, as well as “plumps” (improving how the skin looks) and forms a film on the skin surface, offering a degree of protection. It's even been shown to aid wound healing! It works well together with glycerin, another reliable humectant in my barrier support serum. My formulation includes a mix of higher weight and super low weight HA to offer hydration on different levels and is plant derived (via biofermentation). HA works best applied to damp skin so it can hold on to that moisture and keep the skin surface feeling hydrated. It also helps if you immediately seal it in with an occlusive moisturiser which will reduce the amount of moisture lost from the skin.
Another notable ingredient included is biosaccharide gum-1, a polysaccharide (plant derived via biofermentation) which offers a complementary hydration effect in conjunction with hyaluronic acid amongst other benefits.
Of course, key ingredients alone aren’t enough to make a formulation effective. Cosmetic elegance, clarity, texture, stability and effective preservation were also key. This all becomes more of a challenge when formulating with actives in a high water content base, so I worked closely with a cosmetic chemist to create exactly what I was looking for: a bespoke formulation over which I could have complete control. You may be aware that it's possible to go down a private label route for developing products (labs sell the same formulation to various brands, who put their own branding on it and sell it on which means you could be buying an identical product from 2 brands at totally different price points). It's probably a MUCH quicker & cheaper process but for me, it misses one of the most important aspects of having a brand - I want to decide every single ingredient that goes INTO my products (and at the right concentration!), and that's more important to me than the branding.
Products with high loads of active ingredients that aren't correctly formulated can become unstable, which can cause discolouration, crystallisation, changes in viscosity, reduction in efficacy and potentially even skin reactions through interactions between ingredients. Whilst the active concentrations of my serum have remained the same over the year of testing, the formulation has gone through several iterations with preservative systems and adjustments to inactive ingredients to get it right. I’m thrilled with the final result and really hope you love it as much as I do. A perfect blend of key ingredients to support a healthy skin barrier housed in a lightweight, watery gel serum that feels instantly hydrating - it feels like a drink for the skin! I’ve formulated it with sensitive skin in mind too: fragrance free and with a new preservative system that allows a reduced amount of phenoxyethanol to be used (which should be helpful for those that can't tolerate it at the max 1% rate). It's also alcohol and silicone free, cruelty free and vegan friendly, as well as being fully compliant with EU cosmetic regulation (including PET challenge testing).
To use the serum: All you need is a small (petit pois size!) amount applied to damp skin, followed immediately with your usual moisturiser (+ oil if using) applied whilst the skin is still damp with serum. It can be used morning and/or night with any other products (including Vitamin C if you use it) and it can be taken around the eyes. Niacinamide is a generally well-tolerated active that is suitable even for sensitive skin or rosacea, certainly compared to stronger actives like AHAs and retinoids but nonetheless it’s advisable to be cautious with use if you haven’t used this ingredient before (which would be the case for any new active ingredient you’re using as reactions to ingredients are very hard to predict!). If you are new to niacinamide, I would recommend building up use gradually, for example every other day for a couple of weeks before moving up to daily use. I would also avoid introducing anything else that’s new into your routine (remember – one new product at a time, always!).
Interestingly the first time I used niacinamide (in a hydrating toner) I experienced a little irritation so I stopped using it for a while. Whether it was down to this product or my skin barrier being compromised at the time, I can’t be sure but when I went back to the same toner a few months later I found I was able to use it again without any irritation at all – and I can use my serum every day without any issues!
I really hope you enjoy my serum as much as I do. If you have any questions about this product or anything else in my range, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can shop my barrier support serum here (it's also available as part of my discovery sets and pick your own bundles!)