Is There Any Truth to a Serum's Claims that It Can Boost Your Other Skincare?

I’ve investigated a couple of popular "boosters" to see if that promise can really be kept.
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Publish date:
December 28, 2015
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ingredients, serums, Shiseido, Elizabeth Arden, Boosters

I’ve watched with curiosity as "booster" serums have popped up in the skincare market recently. Everyone wants their skincare to work better, so it’s easy to see the appeal. Do you really need to be adding yet another layer to your skincare routine, though, or is it all just snake oil?

"Booster" is more of a vague adjective than a conventional skincare category; much like BB and CC creams, there’s no right answer about what exactly a booster serum is and how it works. Marketing speak suggests that they make your other skincare work better, so I’ve investigated a couple of popular booster serums available at the moment to see if that claim is reasonable.

Elizabeth Arden Superstart Skin Renewal Booster, $65

Arden’s consumer testing showed some pretty impressive results: 95% of users agreed that Superstart boosted the effectiveness of their skincare products. They’re using Ceramide and Prevage ranges to measure it, which are already premium products, so you’d hope they’d be effective already. I can’t find any details about the consumer testing, though, and I feel like asking people if they notice a difference in their skin is different to rigorous double-blind testing.

Ingredient-wise, Superstart is alcohol-free and packed with glycerin, which is a humectant that’s good at keeping moisture in your skin. Beyond that, though, it’s fairly unremarkable and indistinct from any lightweight moisturising lotion. The ceramides included will help with repairing the skin’s moisture barrier, and it smells nice, but there are no magic ingredients that will hold hands with your other skincare and miraculously transform your skin.

Props are due, though, for the air-tight pump container and the focus on maintaining your skin’s moisture barrier; after all, a sound moisture barrier will help slow signs of aging and can prevent pimples popping up too often.

Shiseido Ultimune Power Infusing Concentrate, $65

Call me a skeptic, but I see Ultimune and Superstart being the same price as an indicator that they’re direct competitors.

Shiseido’s marketing focuses on Ultimune’s ability to boost your skin’s immune system. This would be good, if such a thing existed, and while an intact moisture barrier is kind of like your skin’s immune system, it’s a misleading way to put it. Regardless, is it any good for the moisture barrier?

Glycerin is nice and high on the ingredients list, so it’s looking good, but unfortunately it is preceded by denatured alcohol, which is, like, really bad for your skin. There’s a reason why so many products are touted as being alcohol-free: alcohol is drying and irritating, and actually breaks down the moisture barrier. I just can’t see any positive long-term effects on your skin from a serum with so much alcohol in it; rather than protecting your skin from environmental stress, like they say it will, it will open it up to more damage.

If you’re going to spend extra money anywhere in your skincare routine, you can do it for a serum, but make sure you pick a serum that works. Honestly, a good serum should give you positive results without the introduction of another serum to boost it along. And if you really want a booster, you could look at introducing a "pure" single-focus serum to your other products, like these Paula’s Choice ones.

The closer I look at ingredient lists for expensive skincare, the more I want to stand near skincare counters and stop people from buying silly things (this makes me not a very good counter manager). What’s the worst marketing-speak you’ve been pulled in by?