In my last post, I talked about how serums are among the few skincare product types that can be expected to deliver real skin improvements, since serums can be formulated to target a single, specific problem, without the limitations that primary functions like cleansing or moisturization would impose. I’m nothing if not good at pretending like I have some kind of plan, so today I’m comparing two anti-aging serums I’ve been testing for the past few months: Primera Super Sprout Serum and Mamonde First Energy Serum. Neither of these were holy grail for me, but as I put them through their paces, I thought a lot about the concept of anti-aging and for whom these products might be better suited.
The products reviewed in this post were provided at my request by Jolse.
Anti-aging serums: The basics
As a Snail of a Certain Age (it’s under my picture over there on the right), I keep at least one anti-aging serum in my skincare wardrobe at all times, even if I’m sometimes fuzzy on what it’s actually going to do. An anti-aging serum just seems like a good thing to have around. This is absolutely not a smart way to go about building a skincare routine, so for my first act, I’m going to talk about the concept of the anti-aging serum in general!
At the most basic level, an anti-aging serum should oppose visible skin aging. It’s right in the name! The main signs of visible skin aging are fine lines and wrinkles, dark spots due to sun damage, and loss of elasticity due to collagen breakdown due in large part to sun damage. An anti-aging serum should therefore either actively reduce existing signs of aging, or delay their appearance in the future, or, ideally, both.
(Speaking of sun damage, sunscreen remains the most effective way to prevent future skin aging. Period. So get some and use it. Don’t forget. Fiddy nags because Fiddy luhhhs.)
Actively reducing existing signs of aging is a very difficult thing for a topical cosmetic product to do. Fine lines, wrinkles, and loss of elasticity are caused by the breakdown of collagen in the skin and by aging skin’s inability to produce enough new collagen to compensate. Only a few ingredients have been proven to increase collagen production. The most common are vitamin C and retinoids, including OTC retinol and prescription tretinoin, my drug of choice. Sunspots are a little easier to treat, since they’re reducible not only with vitamin C and retinoids but also with niacinamide, arbutin, and a number of other melanin-inhibiting agents. Still, even sunspots require some serious firepower to see significant change.
So if an anti-aging serum doesn’t contain many (or any) of those Tier 1 anti-aging ingredients or Tier 2 lightening agents, what gives it the right to call itself an anti-aging serum?
Most likely, antioxidants. Antioxidants may help to delay skin aging by protecting against the cell damage caused by free radicals, which are generated by UV radiation, pollution, and, oh yeah, pretty much just being living organisms.
We get many of our antioxidants in our diet (or supplements if you have a shitty diet like me). Unfortunately, our skin tends to get the shaft when it comes to ingested nutrition, most of which gets used up by other systems before our largest organ even has a chance to benefit. So it makes sense, at least to me, to add some topical antioxidants to an anti-aging skincare routine. While you may not see visible changes to your skin over the short term from an antioxidant serum, theoretically you will be minimizing the free radical damage that would otherwise accelerate your skin’s aging in the long term.
Without further rambling, here are two ways to do so!
Primera Super Sprout Serum vs. Mamonde First Energy Serum comparison review
I requested both of these serums from Jolse a while back. I’ve been through several anti-aging serums in my time, including the famed Missha Long Name Ampoule, the reformulated Longer Name Ampoule, and my near-holy-grail Banila Co Miss Flower & Mr. Honey Essence Oil, and I felt the itch for something new. I was also a little tired of snails and bees at the time (GASP!!) and wanted to explore other star ingredients. Both the Primera and Mamonde serums rely heavily on botanical extracts.
Purpose: Primera Super Sprout Serum and Mamonde First Energy Serum are billed as moisturizing anti-aging serums that will increase skin’s elasticity and youthful appearance while protecting against free radical damage. Mamonde First Energy Serum also claims whitening effects.
Best suited for: All skin types and ages as part of a well balanced skincare routine.
Do not use if: You are sensitive to fragrance, botanical extracts, alcohol, or anything else in the ingredients lists.
When and how to use: At the serum step of your morning and/or evening skincare routines, dispense one or two pumps of product and spread thinly over face. Pat in or let dry slightly before layering on additional products.
Primera Super Sprout Serum ingredients (via Hwahae): Water, propanediol, oryza sativa (rice) germ extract, glycerin, alcohol, glycine soja (soybean) sprout extract, sesaumum indicum (sesame) sprout extract, dicaprylyl ether, rheum undulatum root/stalk/stem extract, oleanolic acid, theobroma cacao (cocoa) extract, C14-22 alcohols, sucrose palmitate, xanthan gum, glyceryl stearate citrate, hydrogenated lecithin, glyceryl stearate, C12-20 alkyl glucoside, cellulose gum, sodium phytate, glyceryl caprylate, dextrin, mannan, sucrose, fragrance (CosDNA analysis)
Mamonde First Energy Serum ingredients (again via Hwahae, because I just had to choose two products without English ingredients printed on the packaging): Lonicera japonica (honeysuckle) flower extract, butylene glycol, cyclopentasiloxane, dipropylene glycol, diethoxyethyl succinate, glycereth-26, niacinamide, alcohol, water, dimethiconol, salix alba (willow) bark extract, cyclohexasiloxane, glyceryl polymethacrylate, Bis-PEG-18 methyl ether dimethyl silane, polysorbate 20, cetearyl alcohol, hydroxypropyl starch phosphate, PEG-60 hydrogenated castor oil, xanthan gum, acrylates/C10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, glyceryl stearate, stearic acid, hydrogenated lecithin, chondrus crispus (carrageenan), phenyl trimethicone, adenosine, polyglyceryl-3 methylglucose distearate, propylene glycol, disodium EDTA, phenoxyethanol, fragrance (CosDNA analysis)
Notable ingredients and comparison: Right off the bat, I’m starting to get a sense of the different ways that the Primera and Mamonde serums aim to tackle aging skin.
If you’re looking for an anti-aging serum that takes a more “natural” approach with a “cleaner” ingredients list, the Primera Super Sprout Serum will probably be more your style. The Super Sprout Serum contains a larger variety of plant extracts, including soybean sprout extract, which contains potent antioxidants and shows some promise for fading excess pigmentation. CosDNA doesn’t raise a single flag for this product, and while CosDNA is most definitely not infallible or universally reliable, the clean list is reassuring. On the other hand, I ran the ingredients list past my master indie formulator friend Chel of Holy Snails fame, and she pointed out that there aren’t any standard preservatives in the Super Sprout Serum. It’s likely that Primera is relying on the dark glass pump bottle to help prevent contamination and degradation. Preservative-free cosmetics aren’t a new thing, and this doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, but I personally prefer conventionally preserved skincare. I’m paranoid about things growing in the stuff I smear on my face.
The Mamonde First Energy Serum has a more conventional-looking list of ingredients. Apart from the wonderfully antioxidant and anti-inflammatory honeysuckle flower extract at the top and the anti-inflammatory willow bark extract down below, this product of the Amore Pacific Botanical Garden is made mostly of silicones and siliconey things. It doesn’t have half the botanical cachet of the Primera Super Sprout Serum. Buuuuuut the Mamonde First Energy Serum does have some nice things the Primera does not. Namely, the research-backed brightening and anti-aging ingredients niacinamide and adenosine. I’m a big fan of both these ingredients and would rather have them and some dependable preservatives than a whole boatload of maybe-they-work-maybe-they-don’t extracts.
(Ideally I’d have both, but this is what we’re working with. Can’t marry Chris Hemsworth while expecting him to also be Cillian Murphy.)
Winner for the ingredients round: Mamonde First Energy Serum by a bit. There’s a definite aesthetic and philosophical appeal to Primera’s shorter and more natural ingredients list, but when it comes to a serious skincare product, give me the proven stuff, please.
Testing two similar products against each other is fun but time-consuming. To compare the Primera Super Sprout Serum with the Mamonde First Energy Serum, I used them one at a time on my whole face for equal periods and then simultaneously for several weeks, with one on the left side of my face and the other on the right.
Primera Super Sprout Serum is a dense, thick serum with an earthy but sophisticated vegetal scent. It smells like a fancy chef’s herb garden with some lavender blooming off to the side. Of the two products, the Super Sprout Serum has a more nourishing feel. It takes a minute to pat or sink in and can leave a slight sticky film if applied too generously, but my winter-thirsty tretface drank it in and appreciated every drop of rich moisture. I also found that I could get away with quite a short routine as long as the routine included the Super Sprout Serum: my skin would stay soft and supple almost all the way through to my evening cleanse.
Unfortunately, while I’m willing to give the long-term protective effects of the antioxidants in the Super Sprout Serum the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are indeed neutralizing at least some free radicals, I’m at an age where I really want to see some immediate change. Moisturization doesn’t count. I have lots of moisturizers. If I’m using an anti-aging serum, I want it to anti-age me!
The standard against which I judge all other anti-aging serums is my Banila Co Miss Flower & Mr Honey Essence Oil, which contains a buttload of collagen that provides a near-instantaneous firming and smoothing effect on my face to tide me over while its brightening ingredients and antioxidants work their long-term magic. Primera Super Sprout Serum doesn’t do anything like that.
What to expect from Primera Super Sprout Serum: A nice boost of skin-softening moisture; possible protection against free radical damage. Would be a promising choice for dry skin that only needs preventative anti-aging.
Moisturization is one thing I didn’t get from the Mamonde First Energy Serum. Thinner and more liquidy than Primera Super Sprout Serum, with a siliconey slip and a fresh, pretty floral fragrance, Mamonde First Energy Serum feels initially hydrating and refreshing but absorbs super fast and without leaving any extra moisture. On days when I used this product in a short routine, my face got tight and uncomfortable, fast. I wouldn’t rely on it as a hydrating or moisturizing step.
For me, that’s totally fine. Like I said, I have plenty of moisturizers. Judging by anti-aging effects, this product definitely came out ahead. Thanks to all those siliconey-type long science name ingredients, Mamonde First Energy Serum dries down to a supple, silky finish that provides an almost primer-like surface for whatever I put on top. Fine lines and pores are minimized and my skin looks subtly blurred, as if I’ve turned on a real-life beauty mode filter and dialed it down from CG Plastic to Petal Soft.
Even more compelling than the superficial smoothing effect of the First Energy Serum is its brightening power. Split face testing is great because it reveals things I wouldn’t notice if they were happening evenly all over my face. By the time I finished comparing these two serums, the side of my face I’d assigned to the Mamonde had noticeably fewer and noticeably lighter sunspots overall than the Primera side. Thanks, niacinamide!
What to expect from Mamonde First Energy Serum: Instant smoothing and blurring primer effect, hyperpigmentation fading over several weeks of use. Better for skin already showing signs of aging, but dry skin may require additional moisture steps.
Winner for the performance round: Mamonde First Energy Serum, the anti-aging serum that actually demonstrated anti-aging abilities!
Conclusion: For me, both the Primera Super Sprout Serum and the Mamonde First Energy Serum are above average in their category. They’re reasonably priced, pleasant to use, and contain promising protective ingredients. But while I appreciated the moisture provided by the Primera Super Sprout Serum, moisture was a secondary consideration. Mamonde First Energy Serum won this showdown because it delivered immediate fine line smoothing and real, lasting sunspot fading, showing that it has the juice to actually do something about aging skin.
Ratings: Mamonde First Energy Serum 4/5 || Primera Super Sprout Serum 3/5
Where can I buy Primera Super Sprout Serum and Mamonde First Energy Serum?
Both serums are available from Jolse.
What do you look for in anti-aging products?