What Are Pressed Serums & Do You Need One?

Photo: @myblithe

Sometimes it's exciting when a new type of skin care product hits the market. Other times, you're left wondering whether you actually need it. Take powder cleansers for example—a trendy product this year. They're different from traditional cleansers and feel slightly more exotic but not gimmicky because they're both effective and practical.

For many other new products, there's some (totally warranted) skepticism. "The phrase 'pressed serum' is unusual and catches your attention, so I understand why it seems alluring," said Sarah Villafranco, M.D., founder of Osmia Organics.

The most famous pressed serum on the internet, and arguably the one that defines the entire category, is a Korean beauty product, Tundra Chaga Pressed Serum. It's a best-seller on popular Korean beauty retailer Glow Recipe and is notably made of 60 percent chaga mushroom, one of mbg's favorite adaptogens. According to Google Trends, the term "pressed serum" peaked in 2017 and continues to trend upward.

How necessary and worthwhile are pressed serums, really? Let's take a look.

What's in a pressed serum?

In beauty industry nomenclature, "pressed" refers to a product, typically a powder, that's been condensed and is longer lasting. Pressed highlighters and eye shadows are common too. A pressed serum is different because the format changes from liquid to hardened oil, dealing with a different format, which makes it feel more exotic and new than a traditional free-flowing liquid or oil-based serum.

Pressed serum vs. beauty balm: What's the difference?

Dr. Villafranco, who has done loads of research for her product line, likens natural pressed serums to balms. They are "products made with solid oils like shea or coconut, or liquid oils combined with a hardening wax like beeswax or candelilla wax," and she's not wrong.

Credo Beauty's in-house esthetician said that potent treatment ingredients separate pressed serums from moisturizers, oils, and balms. "Pressed serums are truly unique in that they moisturize like a cream but deliver the high-powered benefits of a serum. They are a great product for someone who wants to simplify their routine without sacrificing results," said Credo Beauty's in-house esthetician, Hannah Brady. She recommends The Super Blend Pressed Serum Concentrate by Maya Chia.

Natural beauty expert Jessa Blades agreed. "Balms tend to have more shea butter or beeswax and protect and hydrate skin at the same time," Blades said. So pressed serums are analogous to beauty balms, but the differentiating factor is the ratios of oils, moisturizers, and active treatment ingredients.

That said, Dr. Villafranco has a good point. "I’d rather see people reading labels and choosing a gorgeous, high-quality product packed with pure, powerful ingredients than falling for a fancy name like 'pressed serum,'" she said. In other words, the line between pressed serums and beauty balms is blurry at best. "A beautiful facial oil (Nectar Vital Rose Drops) or a silky balm (Josh Rosebrook’s Vital Balm Cream or May Lindstrom’s Blue Cocoon) will make you glow every bit as much as a pressed serum," she said.

Long story short, a pressed serum is similar to a balm but typically has more treatment and solution-oriented benefits other than hydration. That said, different skin types have varying needs, and a beauty balm might be just as good a pressed serum for your skin. Pressed serums are a good option in cold weather because they pull double duty treatment and hydration benefits.

Not all moisturizers are created equal. Read this before you reach for that jar of coconut oil!

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