Smart Custom Repair Serum

1.00 fl. oz. for $ 59.50
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This fragrance-free serum from Clinique makes some intriguing claims, but before we get to those, it's worth pointing out that the formula isn't as unique or customized as it seems. It mostly contains crossover ingredients from Clinique's Repairwear Laser Focus serum and their Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector, with the latter being the most similar to Smart Custom Repair Serum. Despite the overlapping formulas, Clinique Smart makes some claims that the other two Clinique products do not. But let's see if it's really a smarter option!

The big claim (and one we're highly skeptical of) is that this serum can somehow "sense" where your skin needs repair and where it doesn't. It's supposed to be able to identify and then respond to the differing "signals" skin sends when, for example, it's tone is uneven, dark spots are present, and loss of elasticity has occurred. Clinique maintains these signals differ depending on the state of one's skin, hence their claim that this serum provides customized repair.

Here's how it's supposed to work: You apply this serum and once it senses where the trouble spots are, it releases repairing ingredients to improve the concern, and where no damage is detected, it moves on. Consider that the face is a small area, so how would ingredients, such as the emollients this contains, only be able to spread over certain areas? How would any of the plant extracts or the salicylic acid this contains know to go to one area of damaged skin cells but not another? The science isn't there, but even if it was possible then all of the other Clinique products that contain these same ingredients (and there are several) would do the same thing.

As with any well-formulated serum (or moisturizer) this contains barrier-repairing ingredients that can, to some extent, reduce signs of sun damage. Barrier-repairing ingredients are an important part of serums and moisturizers because research has shown sun damage impairs skin's barrier, leading to a host of skin problems (Sources: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, October 2012, pages 75-81; and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, October 2012, pages 17,111-17,116). So, it's "smart" that Clinique included such ingredients in this serum's formula, but they're hardly the only brand using them.

Cell-communicating ingredients such as the peptide this serum contains, are believed to be able to attach to receptor sites on skin cells, where the ingredient can "tell" misbehaving, damaged cells to start making better, healthier cells. Assuming the right "connections" are made, good cellular communication results, and, over time, skin begins to look and act younger—because the cells are now communicating like they did before they became damaged. Keep in mind these ingredients go to all cells with receptor sites for them, not just a select few showing signs of damage. This entire category of ingredients is fascinating and absolutely the future of anti-aging skin care—but, just as with barrier-repair ingredients, Clinique is hardly the only brand capitalizing on it.

Antioxidants play a role, too, and they're plentiful in this serum—though again, the same antioxidants show up in lots of Clinique products, diminishing Smart Custom Repair Serum's must-have status for those already using another good Clinique product. When you apply a product loaded with antioxidants, these ingredients shore up skin's defenses as they reduce inflammation and, in some cases, stimulate healthy collagen production.

One cause for concern is that this serum contains a higher-than-usual amount of grapefruit peel extract. Appearing as Citrus grandis (grapefruit) peel extract on the ingredient list, the peel is loaded with a class of ingredients known as furanocoumarins and coumarins which are primarily responsible for what's known as a phototoxic reaction when skin is exposed to the sun—the result can leave skin discolored (Source: Journal of Food and Agriculture, October 2013, pages 10,677–10,684). Suffice to say, this is not the result you want when using a product promising to improve skin tone, as this serum claims! If you opt to use this product, please make sure you're protecting your skin from UV light exposure every day, rain or shine. Forgoing this important step can make the grapefruit peel extract a potential problem that gets in the way of this serum being able to produce good results.

Although this product isn't any smarter than other Clinique serums to those on our list of Best Serums, it's an overall good formula for all skin types. It feels light, is very silky, and can double as your foundation primer. The matte-finish formula contains "brightening" mineral pigments for a subtle radiance that softly perks up a dull complexion, a benefit many other serums have, too.

If you're wondering about the salicylic acid this serum contains, the amount seems to be way too low to benefit skin, not to mention this product's pH of 6.1 is far beyond the range salicylic acid needs to function as an exfoliant.

Note: Clinique also sells a 1.7-ounce size of this serum for $89 and a 3.4-ounce size for $154.

  • Contains a good mix of beneficial anti-aging ingredients.
  • Luxuriously silky texture makes skin feel very smooth (you can skip the foundation primer).
  • Fragrance-free.
  • Contains mineral pigments for a subtle glow.
  • Clinique's "custom repair" claims are clever, but more marketing than fact.
  • The amount of grapefruit peel extract could be problematic if you're not diligent about protecting your skin from UV light.
Jar Packaging: No
Tested on animals: Yes

Our smart serum understands the particular needs of your skin, providing custom repair for the damage you see and the damage you dont. Targeted repair as needed, where needed. Visibly addresses uneven skin tone, lines and wrinkles, firming, or radiance. Calming ingredients help skin stay more receptive to repair.

Water, Isododecane, Dimethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane, Polysilicone-11, Butylene Glycol, Ascorbyl Glucoside, PEG-10 Dimethicone, PEG-6, Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Peel Extract, Morus Nigra (Mulberry) Root Extract, Hordeum Vulgare (Barely) Extract, Scutellaria Baicalensis Root Extract, Cucumis Sativa (Cucumber) Fruit Extract, Algae Extract, Plankton Extract, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Fruit Extract, Sigesbeckia Orientalis (St. Pauls Wort) Extract, Triticum Vulgare (Wheat Germ) Extract, Glycerin, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Extract, Yeast Extract, Acetyl Hexapeptide-8, Palmitoyl Oligopeptide, Ergothioneine, Whey Protein, Polysorbate 20, Micrococcus Lysate, Cholesterol, DI-C-12-18 Alkyl Dimonium Chloride, Salicylic Acid, Isohexadecane, Propylene Glycol Dicaprate, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seedcake, Caffeine, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Protein, Tocopheryl Acetate, Acetyl Glucosamine, Caprylyl Glycol, Glyceryl Polymethacrylate, Dimethoxytolyl Propylresorcinol, Synthetic Fluorogopite, Glycyrrhetinic Acid, Tromethanmine, Polysorbate 80, Sodium Hyaluronate, Sodium RNA, Squalane, Aminopropyl Ascorbyl Phosphate, Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer, PEG-8, Lecithin, Hexylene Glycol, Acrylamide/Sodium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer, Sodium Hydroxide, Tin Oxide, Disodium EDTA, Arabidopsis Thaliana Extract, Phenoxyethanol, Yellow 5, Red 4, Titanium Dioxide

Clinique At-A-Glance

Strengths: A few excellent moisturizers and serums; excellent sunscreens; very good cleansers and eye makeup removers; unique mattifying products; impressive selection of foundations, good concealers; some remarkable mascaras; much-improved eyeshadows, lip colors and blush formulas.

Weaknesses: Bar soaps (which can clog pores and dull skin); alcohol-based toners; unfortunate choice of jar packaging for antioxidant-loaded moisturizers.

Estee Lauder-owned Clinique launched the concept of cosmetics being "allergy-tested," "hypoallergenic," "100% fragrance-free," and "dermatologist tested." Of those marketing claims, the only one with significance is "100% fragrance-free," which, for the most part, Clinique maintains (although it does add some fragrant extracts to a few products). Unfortunately, terms like hypoallergenic and dermatologist tested aren't regulated by the FDA and can mean anything, thus, you still need to rely on the ingredient list to tell you whether their product contains any ingredients with the potential to irritate skin.

That inconvenient fact aside, Clinique is leading the way with cutting-edge, state-of-the-art moisturizers and serums, plus some formidable makeup and more than a few excellent sunscreens. While Clinique has some products that we see as missteps for reasons discussed in their reviews, more than ever, what they offer is quite good (just have realistic expectations, as some of their claims go beyond what their products are capable of).

Turning to makeup, Clinique continues to offer a vast palette of colors and textures, especially with their enormous selection of foundations, many of which feature effective sunscreens. Without a doubt, the numerous formulas offer something for every skin type and almost every skin color, though the blushes, eye makeup and lip colors are frequently not pigmented enough for deeper skin tones.

The bottom line is that, despite a few shortcomings, Clinique is one of the most comprehensive (and comparably affordable) department-store makeup lines, and it is completely understandable why they enjoy such broad appeal.

Note: Clinique is categorized as one that tests on animals because their products are sold in China. Although Clinique does not conduct animal testing for their products sold elsewhere, the Chinese government requires imported cosmetics be tested on animals, so foreign companies retailing there must comply. This requirement is why some brands state that they dont test on animals unless required by law. Animal rights organizations consider cosmetic companies retailed in China to be brands that test on animals, and so does the Beautypedia Team.

For more information about Clinique, call (800) 419-4041 or visit www.clinique.com.

About the Experts

The Beautypedia team consists of skin care and makeup experts personally trained by the original Cosmetics Cop and best-selling beauty author, Paula Begoun. We’re fascinated by skin care and makeup products and thrilled when they meet or exceed our expectations, but we’re also disappointed when they fail to perform as claimed, are wildly overpriced, or contain ingredients scientific research has proven can hurt skin.

Our mission has always been to help you find the best products for your skin, no matter your budget or preferences. Beautypedia’s thorough and insightful reviews cut through the hype and provide reliable recommendations for all ages, skin types, and skin tones.

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