What is serum — and do you really need yet another beauty product on your bathroom counter? Actually, you just might be surprised by how valuable these little vials of liquid can be! Serums are packed with active ingredients and formulated to deliver their benefits more deeply into your pores than other classes of skin care. Rather than replacing cleansers, moisturizers, and eye creams, facial serums can be an extra tool in your beauty tool kit.
What Is Serum And How Can It Improve Your Skin?
In this article:
- What is Serum?
- Facial Serum Advantages
- Which Ingredients Should You Look For?
- How to Use Serum
- Is Serum Right For Everyone?
- Mixing and Matching Isn’t Always Wise
What is Serum?
Facial serums are skin care products that are usually liquid-based and packaged in small bottles. Because they don’t use a gel or cream base as carrier mediums, the active ingredients are extremely concentrated. They’re formulated with smaller molecules for deeper penetration compared to what cream or gel moisturizers can provide. These factors allow for maximum impact of the active ingredients.
Facial Serum Advantages
Serums are helpful for a range of skin types. Many women prize them for their anti-aging properties. People with oily skin find that serums hydrate without clogging pores. For those with dry skin, serums are a valuable ally that pairs well with moisturizers. And for all skin types, serums provide a broad range of benefits, including skin brightening, cell repair, and anti-aging protection.
The concentrated effect of the active ingredients is a property shared by virtually all serums on the market. The active ingredients of the serum you choose will determine the specific benefits. Some serums are blended to deliver wrinkle protection, while others have a “brightening” and spot-reducing focus. In general, serums are superior anti-aging products that can also be beneficial for users who have oily skin.
Which Ingredients Should You Look For?
With prices ranging from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars, facial serums contain a range of natural and formulated components. Here are a few ingredients to watch for whether you stick with one or more serum products:
- Vitamin C serum has emerged as one of the most sought-after “brightening” products, especially for daytime serums. It helps fight dark spots while boosting collagen production. This makes the nutrient a superior “anti-sag” ingredient.
- Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A. It is considered the gold standard for wrinkle repair and prevention. Retinol works by boosting skin cell production to help fight off fine lines and to even out skin tone. It also gives your skin a better chance of fighting off free radicals such as those that enter through UV rays and air pollution. Retinol additionally fights inflammation, making it a good choice for people with redness and acne.
- Plant extract antioxidants are natural antioxidant sources. They fight the free radicals that attack skin cells. Among the most familiar are grape seed extract and coffee berry. About to hit the market are purple tea leaf extracts, which are much higher in a range of antioxidants than black and even green tea products. (Alternatively, look for a serum with both purple tea and green tea extracts, to broaden the product’s antioxidant protection.)
- Vitamin E is super-hydrating. If you worry that the serum’s other active ingredients will be too drying for your complexion, make sure to choose one containing Vitamin E.
- Kojic acid and glycolic acid are compounds that are helpful for people with dry spots and brown patches on their skin. Their presence in a serum indicates the product has a brightening effect.
- Salicylic acid benefits women who are fighting acne and wrinkles at the same time. This ingredient unclogs pores and provides gentle exfoliation.
How to Use Serum
The basic method for applying serum is the same whether you do it in the morning or evening. But where it fits into your routine often depends on the time of day. Many people opt for a morning serum and a bedtime serum. That method allows users to take advantage of different active ingredients that don’t necessarily work well when used at the same time.
General Application Tips
Start by washing and lightly drying your face. If you have time, it helps to apply a warm damp washcloth to your face to open pores.
Next, add a few drops of serum to your clean hand. Use the fingers of your other hand to dot your face with the serum. Work quickly to spread it across your complexion with gentle strokes. If you see your skin pulling as you do this, lighten your touch. To encourage deeper penetration, tap your face all over with your fingertips once you’ve spread it evenly.
When you’re starting your day, follow up cleansing and serum application with moisturizer, sunscreen, and makeup. Wait for three minutes after applying your serum, then sweep moisturizer across your face. Allow the moisturizer to set, then apply your sunscreen. Once that is in place, your makeup, including foundation, should go on last. (If you’re using a foundation or moisturizer with SPF protection, you can forgo the separate sunscreen.)
Vitamin C serum and sunscreen are good partners for a morning routine. They don’t interact with one another negatively and both work to either address or prevent damage from UV rays. In addition, citrus-based products like Vitamin C serum can make some people more prone to photosensitivity. Following Vitamin C serum up with sunscreen reduces the likelihood of that problem.
Night Time Routine
At the end of the day, you’re removing makeup and sunscreen rather than applying it. The serum you use in your nighttime routine may also differ. Many dermatologists recommend that if you choose a retinol serum, it should be applied at night. This allows the anti-wrinkle protection to go to work while you sleep.
Kenyan purple tea is also a great ingredient to have in your night serum as it contains anti-aging properties. It also helps even out skin tone. You can even create a natural toner by combining a strong brew of purple tea with lemon juice.
After washing your face and perhaps using a makeup-remover wipe, tone your skin. Afterward, you’re ready to apply your serum product. Wait about three minutes, then sweep moisturizer across your face. Tap in your eye cream, if you use it, after the moisturizer has set for a few minutes.
Why do it in this order? Unless your product labels say otherwise, your heaviest products go on last. That means that serum, which is thin and light, goes first. Next should be any oil- or gel-based products such as moisturizer. Heavier products like eye creams are the final layer.
Is Serum Right For Everyone?
There are a few people for whom most serums aren’t advisable. The concentrated nature of serums means that sensitive skins may have poor reactions. Any serum which has an acid-base, including Vitamin C serum and retinol, may be too intense for complexions prone to eczema, rosacea, or occasional hives.
Some serums are made for sensitive skin, however. Look for those with ingredients that calm redness and bumps, such as arnica and chamomile. One of the “acids” which is more gentle to the skin is hyaluronic acid, known for trapping moisture and creating a protective barrier. If you have a chronic condition such as rosacea, check with your dermatologist to see if any of the over the counter serum products are gentle enough for you.
There is another undeniable disadvantage of serums — their price. Because the products are made almost entirely of active ingredients, they are costlier than creams and lotions, which are made up largely of a carrier medium. For that reason, serums may be difficult to work into your budget. Keep in mind, however, that a little goes a long way. Over time, a small bottle of serum may last you as long as three jars of a less expensive product.
Mixing and Matching Isn’t Always Wise
One common mistake for people new to serums is layering Vitamin C serum with a retinol product. Because the two ingredients create different pH levels on the skin, using both Vitamin C and retinol at the same time can make each less effective. Instead, use one of these beneficial products at night, and one in the morning.
There are other ingredient combinations that cancel one another out. Among the combinations that render each other less effective are benzoyl peroxide plus retinol serum, or benzoyl peroxide plus vitamin C serum.
It’s also a bad idea to combine either alpha or beta hydroxy acid products with those containing retinol. Combining a hydroxy acid that exfoliates with retinol, which fights wrinkles can be too much of a good thing. That much intensity can boomerang into irritated or overly dry skin, as it reacts to the powerful ingredients. Use your retinol serum and your alpha or beta hydroxy serum or cream on different days, or at least at different times of day.
This video from Gurang Diipa will help you answer the question, what is serum:
Of course, cosmetic serum might not be quite as vital to your life as actual blood serum and plasma. But for many people, skin care serums represent a way to deliver potent ingredients to their complexions for less money than visiting a spa. If you’re still not sure which serum ingredients will work for you, investing in a consultation with a dermatologist will answer many of these questions.
What is serum to you? Do you think it’s an essential part of skin care? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!