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).
- 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.