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Every Question You Could Possibly Have About Serum, Answered

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Photo by Artem Varnitsin/Getty Images

Facial serum is a product beauty pros and dermatologists often point to as a go-to for solving almost every major skin concern you can think of. Looking to lighten hyperpigmentation? There's a serum for that. Trying to reverse signs of aging? Add a serum to your skincare routine. Need help getting rid of hormonal blemishes? You guessed it, serum to the rescue.

But what is facial serum and what makes it stand out from an oil formula or even a moisturizer? And moreover, how do you use it? We took our questions about this multitasking skincare product to Dr. Shuting Hu and esthetician Alexia Wambua. You’ll find everything you could ever possibly want to know about facial serum below, so keep reading for their expert insight!


About the Experts: 
Dr. Shuting Hu specializes in skin biology, natural ingredients, and green technology. She is also the founder of Acaderma.
Alexia Wambua is an esthetician and spa owner with over 20 years of experience. She is the owner of Native Atlas.

So, What Even Is Facial Serum?

The answer is somewhat simpler than you'd think. Both Dr. Hu and Alexia note that serum is a targeted product which delivers a high concentration of active ingredients directly to the skin in order to help target skincare concerns. Alexia describes a serum as a "specific 'medicine' that helps skin issues like dryness, dullness, wrinkles, or hyperpigmentation." 

Serums tend to be confused with moisturizers, namely due to their hydrating properties, but they aren't exactly the same thing. Moisturizers tend to be a bit thicker, whereas serums are lighter and able to more deeply penetrate your skin to send their powerful active ingredients where they need to go. "Serums are low-viscosity, so the active molecules can penetrate the skin on a deeper level compared to a cream or moisturizer," Dr. Hu shares. "And while each serum will range in actives and formulations, they all treat the skin the same by using a high amount of concentrated actives."

What Are the Biggest Skincare Benefits Serum Has to Offer?

  • They're a more targeted product.

Face serums are designed to specifically target some of the biggest skin issues out there with highly potent ingredients, more so than any other skincare product on the market. "Serums actively target and solve skincare problems, such as aging or dehydration, because they have a high concentration of active ingredients," mentions Dr. Hu.

  • They protect against free radicals.

Free radicals such as UV light and air pollution can do a number on skin’s elasticity, which can cause fine lines, wrinkles, and even saggy skin. Thankfully, serum works hard to preserve your skin cells. "Serums are an excellent way to protect your skin from damaging UV light or other environmental pollutants. I recommend looking for serums that are rich with antioxidants or contain ingredients such as vitamin C or vitamin E," Dr. Hu shares.

  • There's a face serum for every skincare concern.

Whether you're looking for an anti-aging serum to reduce fine lines and wrinkles or brightening serums to get rid of dark spots and hyperpigmentation, you won't have any trouble finding a serum that works for your specific skin concerns. Alexia notes that "because there are so many different actives on the market, there’s going to be something for everyone."

  • A little face serum goes a long way.

With most skincare products, you may notice you tend to replace them fairly quickly, which can do a number on your bank account. One of our favorite benefits of serum is that a little really does go a long way. "Because serums are so supercharged, you don’t need to use a lot of product to start seeing visible results," Alexia reminds us. We find that once we've found the best facial serum for our complexion, it does the job for quite a while.

  • They're lightweight.

Moisturizers can sometimes feel heavy and oils can often be, well, oily. Serums, on the other hand, are very lightweight. Dr. Hu shares "Your skin will quickly absorb the serum since they have a thinner viscosity."

  • They can be used in the morning and at night.

Some skincare products can't be used as regularly as you'd like, but that's not the case with serums. Most can be used daily, in your morning and nighttime skincare routines depending on the formula. Dr. Hu and Alexia stress the importance of using a different serum in the morning and evening. "Some exfoliating acids are great for your skin, but can cause sun sensitivity in the day," Alexia points out.

  • Serums work well with other skincare products.

You won't have to worry about layering other skincare products on top of serums, because they work well with others. Dr. Hu shares that you "can use a few at a time to target different concerns" and Alexia mentions that their layering capabilities "make them perfect to incorporate into anyone’s routine."

  • You won't have trouble adding them to your skincare routine.

As you just read, adding face serums to your daytime and nighttime routines isn't difficult at all. They'll fit quite nicely into said skincare routines and you won't have to stress over how they'll work with your other products. Now all you need to know is how to best incorporate a serum into your skincare routine.

Where Do You Use Serum in Your Skincare Routine?

Before you add a serum to your routine, it's critical you know where it fits and how to get the most out of it. There is a correct order when it comes to applying your skincare products. "A rule of thumb is that products should be applied in order of lightest to heaviest texture and highest to lowest concentration of actives," says Alexia. So where does a serum fit in when following this rule? Right after you use a cleanser and toner. Alexia then recommends "warming the serum up between your fingers and tapping it gently into the skin, and then sealing it all in with a gel or cream moisturizer for your skin type."

The face isn't the only area where a serum can be applied. The more targeted a serum is for your skin concern, it'll be applied to a more specific area of the face, whether that be under the eyes, on the forehead, or around the chin. Alexia mentions that your neck and even your chest can benefit from the active ingredients in serums, so don't forget to treat those areas to a dose of serum as well. Just be sure to lock those ingredients in with a hydration-packed moisturizer.

Which Facial Serums Are Best for Your Skin Concerns?

1. Best Serum for Dry Skin: ÉVOLUÉ SKINCARE Hydrating Serum

The Hydrating Serum from ÉVOLUÉ SKINCARE is loaded with three different molecular weights of hyaluronic acid, which work to majorly hydrate your skin. And don't fret if you have sensitive skin, for ÉVOLUÉ SKINCARE crafts their products specifically for those with a more sensitive complexion.

2. Best Serum for Acne-Prone Skin: BALANCE ME Congested Skin Serum

Sometimes skincare products designed to treat acne can be a bit harsh on skin. However, that's not the case with BALANCE ME's Congested Skin Serum. Nourishing moringa oil and calming eucalyptus alleviate redness and irritation, while kanuka oil clears out congested pores.

3. Best Anti-Aging Serum: JUICE BEAUTY Stem Cellular Anti-Wrinkle Booster Serum

We're big fans of JUICE BEAUTY's skincare and makeup products for their certified organic ingredients. The brand's Stem Cellular Anti-Wrinkle Booster Serum happens to be one of our favorite anti-aging serums for the same reason. Made without parabens, petroleum, propylene or butylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfates, pesticides, phthalates, artificial dyes or synthetic fragrances, this serum delivers only healthy ingredients that work hard to soften fine lines and wrinkles. It's moisturizing, brightening, and protective. What more could you want in a serum?

4. Best Vitamin C Serum: SUNDAY RILEY C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum

Everyone needs vitamin C serum in their skincare regimen, which is why we highly recommend the C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum from SUNDAY RILEY. Not only does it work tirelessly to protect your complexion from the never-ending list of free radicals, the concentrated vitamin C evens out skin tone, minimizes fine lines, reduces redness, and reinforces the skin's moisture barrier. 

5. Best Daytime Serum: NO7 Early Defence Glow Activating Serum

If you're looking for a serum that does it all, look no further than the Early Defence Glow Activating Serum from NO7. Salicylic acid, vitamin C, and ginseng combine to keep your complexion bright and blemish free all day long.

6. Best Nighttime Serum: MINTPEAR Rosehip Night Serum

Rosehip contains a high volume of vitamin A, which essentially makes it a natural alternative to retinol. Similar to other retinol serums, the Rosehip Night Serum from MINTPEAR is hydrating, moisturizing, and brightening, making it the perfect nighttime serum. But that's not all. This rosehip serum boosts collagen production overnight, so you'll wake up looking refreshed and rejuvenated.

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Article Last Updated May 21, 2021 12:00 AM