Clinique Smart Custom Repair Serum
1 fl. oz. for $59.50
Category:Skin Care > Serums > Serums
Last Updated:04.07.2015
Jar Packaging:No
Tested on animals:Yes
Review Overview

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.

Our smart serum understands the particular needs of your skin, providing custom repair for the damage you see and the damage you don’t. 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. Paul’s 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

Brand Overview

Clinique At-A-Glance

Strengths: One of the best selections of state-of-the-art moisturizers and serums loaded with ingredients that research has shown are of great benefit to skin; excellent sunscreens; several Redness Solutions products excel; an outstanding benzoyl peroxide product; good selection of self-tanning products; some very good cleansers and eye makeup removers; some unique mattifying products; a large and wholly impressive selection of foundations, many with reliable sun protection (and shades for darker skin tones); good concealers; some remarkable mascaras; much-improved eyeshadows; loose powder; blush products; some brilliant lipsticks and lip gloss; gel eyeliner; priced lower than most competing department-store lines.

Weaknesses: The three-step skincare routine, because of the bar soaps and irritant-laden clarifying lotions; jar packaging downgrades several otherwise top-notch moisturizers; incomplete routines for those prone to acne; skin-lightening products with either unproven or insufficient levels of lightening agents.

Estee Lauder-owned Clinique's tremendous success (the company's products are sold in over 13,000 department stores and in 110 countries) reshaped the way cosmetics lines identified themselves, sending the concept of line loyalty out to pasture. Today, cosmetics companies expand their market either by buying already established companies or by creating new ones, and Lauder has been adept at doing both. Of course, cosmetics companies keep this multiple-personality identity hidden from the consumer. If the general buying public realized that these apparently different companies were so intertwined with each other, how could they flaunt their independence and claim that their unparalleled formulations are secret or the best? It's hard to think Lauder (or any company) would, even if they could, keep secrets from one branch separate from the others. And as evidenced by the formulary similarities between brands, they don't!

The niche Clinique built 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). Regarding allergy testing, unless you can see the results, what difference does it make if a product makes that claim? What if the test showed 20% of the women who used it had a sensitizing reaction, dryness, or irritation? Would Clinique highlight this, or is it just easier to default to the generic allergy-tested claim and leave such details out, figuring consumers won't ask for more? 

Moreover, "hypoallergenic" is a term not regulated by the FDA, so any product can use the word without having to substantiate the claim. "Dermatologist tested" is also bogus, because without published test results the term can easily mean nothing more than that a dermatologist picked up the product, looked at the container, and said "This looks good." And what about the dermatologists on Clinique's payroll? How do we know they're not the ones involved in testing, rather than sending the products out for independent, impartial evaluation (though how impartial can any study be that's paid for by the company making the product)?

Clinique declined any participation for this site, which included refusing to send us copies of the allergy studies they maintain have been performed for every product they sell. We find their unwillingness to help odd because, for the most part, we genuinely like most of their products. In fact, more than any other department-store line except Estee Lauder, Clinique is leading the way with cutting-edge, state-of-the-art moisturizers and serums, plus some formidable makeup. They also have their act together for sunscreens and have expanded their decades-old three-step skin-care routine to include water-soluble cleansers instead of bar soap. They also now have a second "Dramatically Different" moisturizer that's well-suited for those with normal to oily skin and FINALLY reformulated their longstanding water-and-wax yellow lotion.

The Clinique consultants, dressed in medical-looking white lab coats (Clinique's image in that sense was ahead of the times given today's plethora of doctor-designed skin-care lines), do their best to speak intelligently about skin-care routines, but for the most part they're trained to sell the products rather than to provide information about what substantiated research has shown about the skin's needs to look and feel its best.

The good news for you is that the chemists behind Clinique's arsenal of products have been keeping up on this exciting information, and formulating superior products in response. We wouldn't blindly and solely bank on Clinique as your skin-care solution, but more than ever what they offer is, despite some far-out claims and problematic products, what epitomizes advanced skin care for all ages. Shop carefully and you'll leave confident that you are purchasing products with solid science, not just marketing hype, behind them.

Turning to makeup, Clinique continues to offer a vast palette of colors and textures, especially in their huge and imposing selection of foundations, many of which feature effective sunscreens. In fact, this category has become the most compelling reason to shop Clinique's makeup collection. Without a doubt the numerous formulas offer something for every skin type and almost every skin color. The shade selection has improved considerably, with more neutrals and a broader range than ever before. You still need to use caution and watch out for peach-toned duds, but for the most part finding a natural-looking match shouldn't be a frustrating experience, and the counter personnel are happy to provide samples.

Although the foundation and powder shades take darker skin tones into account, the blush, eye pencil, and most of the lipstick shades do not. Perhaps that will change in the future, as Clinique beautifully updated their eyeshadow collection with ultra-smooth textures and deeper colors that show up on darker skin.

Compliments are also due for Clinique's updated makeup tester units. They are well-organized, labeled with product name and price, and easily accessible without a salesperson's help. And speaking of salespeople, most of the Clinique consultants we encounter go above and beyond to provide assistance and to answer any questions we had (even if we didn't always agree with their responses). Those white lab coats don't mean medical expertise, but we'll take outstanding customer service over pseudoscience any day!

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 brand’s state that they don’t 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 proudly and unequivocally maintains the commitment that Paula Begoun, founder of Beautypedia and Paula's Choice Skincare made over 30 years ago-to help you find the best products possible for your skin. We do this by relentlessly pursuing and relying on published scientific research so you will have unbiased information on what works and what doesn't-and the sneaky ways you could be making your skin worse, not better!

The Beautypedia Team reviews all products using the same research, criteria, and objectivity, whether the product being reviewed is from Paula's Choice or another brand.

Member Comments
Summary of Member Comments
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I like it!

Great! Didn't break me out! Smoothing, worked well

Reviewed by
Unable to find sample

I tried several stores ALL who stated they were out of the 20 day trial. I was very upset because this was the second time I tried to obtain samples to be told they were out. I spend a good amount of money on skin care (esp as my wrinkles increase with age 46) any suggestions? Thank you

Reviewed by
Lorraine, P
Timewise Repair vs Clinique Smart Custom Repair

I find that the Mary Kay Timewise Repair products are FAR SUPERIOR to Clinique's Smart Repair - also, when you compare the ingredient list, Mary Kay has far more PLANT product vs chemicals no one can pronounce...just sayin'

Reviewed by
Skin care junkie

I started using this product in June when I visited my Clinique counter and it was recommended to me because I used both even better serum and RWLF serum. I loved my routine and didn't want to change. After 3 weeks of using smart serum I noticed my skin was more radiant and bouncy. At 6 weeks everyone started complimenting on how smooth and pretty my skin looked. I NEVER want to be with out this serum and I will always have a spare bottle in my cabinet! Amazing!!!

Reviewed by
2 months' worth??

This serum worked just ok on my 50-something, combo-to-oily skin. Problem is, it ran out in only 2 months, using one pump twice daily. If you used as much as Clinique wants you to, it would only last a month! The packaging doesn't give you any way to see how much is left, and I suspect that's on purpose. Clinique's still my favorite line; I'll probably go back to Laser Focus.

Reviewed by
I just tried it!

I was offered a sample when this product 1st came out and had no desire to try until now. There was absolutely no irritation with this product. But the 2 products 1 put on afterwards made me on the verge of tears. I need to make a change. That's how sensitive my skin can get. That's a compliment to Clinique and this product.

Reviewed by
Annette D.
I'm anti-grapefruit,anti-irritants

I don't trust grapefruit, I'll never put it on my skin ever again. Cosmetics companies have a lot to learn about improving their products.

Reviewed by
Annette D.
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