The unsung hero of skincare right behind toners. Serums are this weird expensive small bottle that promises the world to you. But what the hell is it doing? Why am I required to use ANOTHER product in this already drawn out skincare routine? I got so many questions about why we need serums, what the hell IS a serum and how do I even use it. It’s a must-have product and step in your routine.
Just like you, I was clueless about this skincare product. I didn’t start using a serum until my aesthetician Ryan at Cosmedix made me. There’s a good reason why serums are in small bottles, are expensive and promise insane results. And today we’re going to talk all about it!
What Is A Serum?
I have to start this post out with answering the number question I get about this topic. What the heck is even a serum?! It seems this is a product not a lot of people know much about. Sure we know about our cleansers, our face masks, and moisturizers. And if you’ve been reading My Style Vita, you hopefully know a lot about retinol! But a serum is usually a water-based skincare product that is PACKED with high potency, high efficacy active ingredients. Hence the high price tag typically. Serums are used after you cleanse, and before you moisturize. Why? Because they’re super active ingredients that absorb really well into the dermis (your skin!). That’s the basics.
Benefits Of Using A Serum
There are several really great benefits to using a facial serum. Since a serum is water-based and full of tiny powerful molecules of ingredients, it penetrates REALLY well into the skin. After you’ve cleansed, (and hopefully toned!) your skin is ready to take in some powerful ingredients. This is the ideal time to treat skincare concerns before you put on your moisturizer. Moisturizers are really there to create a barrier, moisturize and protect the skin. Not necessarily treat skin care issues or concerns.
When you find the RIGHT serum for your skin concerns, you can see fantastic benefits. Whether you’re looking to boost hydration, deal with dark spots or wrinkles, or combat dullness for brighter skin, serums are the answer to these problems.
Different Types Of Serums
To help address your skincare concerns, I’m breaking down some of the most common skincare issues. From ingredients to look out for, and serums to try, here’s your ultimate guide to shopping for serums.
For Dry Skin
If you’ve been using a heavy moisturizer and even a face oil and are still finding your skin to be dry, this is why you need a serum that addresses dry, parched skin. A moisturizer really just works on the surface of your skin and doesn’t penetrate and work with the dermis as well as a serum can. With that being said, adding in a serum that can bind water to your skin or even create a protective layer to keep water IN is ideal.
Hyaluronic acid is the gold star ingredient for dry skin. This is a moisture-binding ingredient that can hold up to 1,000x its weight in water. It plumps skin and can help reduce fine lines by doing so. It’s actually something our body naturally produces!
Glycerin is another great ingredient that is oftentimes found in moisturizer or hydrating cleansers. If you’re suffering from dry skin though, try finding this ingredient in your serum for an extra boost. Glycerin can attract water from air and keep water in your skin.
A few other ingredients to look for in your serums to combat dryness include niacinamide and essential fatty acids.
shop hydrating serums
SURGE by COSMEDIX Serum
Glossier Serum – Only $28
Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench
Dermalogica Skin Hydrating Booster
For Dark Spots, Dullness and Acne
Dark spots can come about from a few scenarios. Either from acne that has gone away but left a pesky dark spot (this happens to me anytime I get a serious blemish) or from sun damage. There’s also hyperpigmentation as well which is oftentimes caused by hormonal changes. Adding a serum that targets dark spots on your skin can really help speed up the healing process and help slough off discolored skin. Again, since your serum goes on after you’ve cleansed your face, these ingredients can really target areas that you want to focus on WAY more effectively. Here are a few ingredients to keep in mind that help to regenerate skin to lighten those dark spots and make your skin less dull.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that does several great things for dark spots. First, Vitamin C is “able to neutralize some of the damaging free radicals that the sun unleashes on your skin” (source) and also works as an exfoliant. It helps to fight against dark spots from happening and then also from making any current ones look much better. You’ll often see this ingredient on your label as L-Ascorbic Acid. This Obagi one is a favorite among my friends as well as skinfix Correct+.
Retinol is another ingredient that is known to help improve dark spots. Whether you want to go all-in with this Vitamin A ingredient which is highly active, or plant-based with Bakuchiol, retinol is great for lightening dark spots and brightening your skin. IT also helps in a slew of other issues that you can learn more in my BIG retinol post HERE. PS, always wear your sunscreen with retinol ANYTHING!
Other ingredients to look for to combat dark spots and battle dull skin include lactic acid, Glycolic Acid, Vitamin E and alpha-hydroxy acids. You really want ingredients that are exfoliating here to help regenerate skin cell turnover to remove that top layer.
shop serums for dark spots
skinfix Correct+ Dark Spot Corrector
Obaji Professional C Serum
Peter Thomas Roth Potent C Vitamin Serum
Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Serum
For Fighting Fine Lines And Wrinkles
Anti-aging is something we’re always thinking about, right? To fight fine lines and wrinkles, you bet adding a serum into your routine will help with those results. Again, penetrating the skin barrier after you’ve cleansed is KEY to great results. When we think of fighting fine lines and wrinkles you really want to do two things. First, you want to boost collagen and plump your skin. Peptides are great at this! They help build up the skin barrier too. Next, you want to regenerate your skin cells. That will help over time, to reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
Peptides are short chains of amino acids that act as building blocks of proteins such as collagen, elastin and keratin (source). This means, when used in your skincare routine, it can help to tell your skin to tighten up and plump up by increasing collagen and elastin in your skin.
Retinols, Vitamin C and Bakuchiol, all of these help with those pesky dark spots because they encourage your skin to regenerate and reveal newer skin. So by using these for anti-aging, in combination with peptides, you’ve got an anti-aging power couple. You may notice many of these types of serums are designed to be used at night. The renewal process is best to be done without sun exposure!
shop anti aging serums
COSMEDIX Radiance Age Restorative Serum
Couterntime Tripeptide Radiance Serum
bliss Renew & Smooth Night Serum
Drunk Elephant Glycolic Resurfacing Serum
How Do You Use Serums In Your Skincare Routine
In your skincare routine, universally speaking, a serum is to be used AFTER you’ve cleansed and toned your skin and BEFORE you put on moisturizer. It’s designed to penetrate the skin and it won’t be able to do that very well if you already have moisturizer on. And it most definitely WON’T do that if you didn’t do a good job of cleansing. I always like to say, your serum is your vitamin, and your moisturizer is the drink of water.
How much do you need? You also only need a little bit. They’re potent and powerful. Usually, 1-2 pumps max (ALWAYS READ THE LABEL!) and press it into your skin.
Day or night? Depends. Most brands will put instructions on when that serum is designed to be used. So it’s important to read the labels. Typically though, you’ll use facial serums in the morning. I leave my nighttime products for things like retinol or skincare products that help to regenerate skin cells which are best done at night without the risk of sun exposure.
Can you layer serums? Totally! To do so, always start with the lighter/thinner one and move to heavier ones. If you’re concerned about mixing ingredients, don’t be. I asked my go-to aesthetician, Ryan, at Cosmedix and he says “we know that serums are formulated with high level actives but not all active ingredients live well together in a single serum” so mixing them is a great way to get more benefits in your serum step. “Mixing serums is one of my top recommendations for ease of use at home every day.” So don’t be worried about ingredients not mixing well! Once you pump it out of the bottle and apply, there shouldn’t be any reason for concern.
Not sure which skincare products your routine needs? You can check out my big list of the 8 types of products you should have in your medicine cabinet for glowing skin here.
Photos by Hannah Lozano