POSTED: 14 Nov 2017


Sometimes it feels like the beauty industry keeps inventing stuff to relieve us of our hard-earned cash. Serums on the face of it (excuse the pun) are very much at the vanguard of this debate. The main thing that puzzles people seems to be what is a serum and how to use it. Fear no more, this post will clue you up with everything worth knowing about face serums.

What Is A Face Serum?

So what exactly is a serum you say? You’re not alone. Few skincare products are as confusing as face serums. All at once it is moisturising but not a moisturiser, oily but not a face oil and watery but not an essence (don’t worry we’ll work up to what an essence at some point soon!). With all these confusing and intersecting properties it may seem hard to figure out what is a serum. Simply put a skin serum is a skincare product which you apply onto cleansed skin in order to deliver skin boosting active ingredients before you apply moisturiser. The formulation is usually light so that it can be easily absorbed into the skin. Serums are also super concentrated and hence deliver a powerful dose of skin-boosting ingredients per application.

Why Should I Use A Face Serum?

Whether or not to use a face serum is a very personal choice. There are obvious benefits to using a face serum. The main one is being able to address specific skin problems like dehydration, wrinkles, uneven pigmentation, dullness and acne. Serums come in a range of different strengths and compositions. Hence, you can easily control the amount and rate at which you introduce skin boosting ingredients to your skincare routine. For example, if you were interested in introducing a Vitamin you can start with a lower strength. Then, once your skin gets used to it work up to a higher strength. You can also slowly introduce specific ingredients like Vitamins, Hyaluronic acid or AHAs into your skincare routine one a time by purchasing different serums. In our opinion, this is probably the biggest argument for using serums underneath a basic moisturiser rather than using a moisturiser with every skin revitalising ingredient included in it. The big caveat is though that you must be willing to use the serum regularly otherwise it is best to use a catch-all moisturiser.

The Main Serums You Need To Know About

There are a large number of different types of face serum formulations but don’t let that put you off. In our opinion, there are 5 main skin problems you can effectively target with face serums:

  • Hydration
  • Acne, clogged pores & congested skin
  • Rough texture and scarring
  • Lines & wrinkles
  • Uneven pigmentation & dullness

For hydration, opt for serums containing hyaluronic acid, Vitamin B5 and Vitamin E. Serums like Drunk Elephant’s B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Gel lock in moisture and increase radiance for those with dry skin. If you have acne prone and congested skin, look for a serum containing salicylic acid and/or lactic acid. The Mario Badescu Anti Acne Serum contains a generous dose of salicylic acid which is great for neutralising bacteria and inflammation in acne outbreaks. Lactic acid like the Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2% works great on oily skin. Lactic acid smoothes down fine lines, exfoliates the skin and controls excess oil production.

If rough texture, scarring, lines or wrinkles, dullness and uneven skin tone are your main concern then glycolic acid, Retinol and Vitamin C are your hero ingredients. Glycolic acid containing products like the NIP+FAB Glycolic Fix Serum can help smooth lines and wrinkles, minimise pores, even out texture and brighten skin. Retinol containing serums like Medik8 Retinol 3 TR improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles as well as brighten dark spots for a more youthful looking glowing skin. Vitamin C is well established in the world of skin rejuvenation as it helps reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles whilst brightening dull skin. The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% is a great multi-purpose face serum which contains a high strength Vitamin C as well as hydrating hyaluronic acid.

How To Use A Face Serum

You can easily integrate face serums into your skincare routine. The best stage to apply a serum is after you’ve cleansed your skin and before you’ve moisturised. Massage the serum onto your face and neck. This will stimulate blood flow and help increase absorption. Wait for the serum to absorb. This is usually 1-3 minutes (depending on the type of face serum) before you apply your moisturiser.

The time of day to apply a serum will depend on the ingredients. We personally recommend leaving serums containing Vitamin A (Retinol) and exfoliating agents like alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) for the night. You can use hydrating and brightening agents like Vitamin C, Vitamin E and hyaluronic acid in the morning and evening. As a general rule, its best to use 1-2 serums initially. Then, build up either the number of products or strength of the active ingredients as your skin tolerates it. A good example would be to always use a hyaluronic acid serum day and night. Then follow with a retinol or glycolic acid at night.

As you can see, the world of serums is far simpler than its made out. As long as you identify your skincare concerns and have a good skincare routine, it’s super easy to introduce a face serum. Less is always more so start with one or two serums then build p gradually. Consistency is always more important than quantity when it comes to good skincare. Also, start with the smallest amount and weakest concentration of active ingredients. As serums can be quite potent, it’s important to avoid irritating your skin. With that, we wish you happy researching! Feel free to leave a comment below and let us know how you get on. Also, don’t hesitate to suggest any topics you fancy us covering.

What next?

Check out the rest of the blog for more information on retinol, hyaluronic acid as well as advanced skin treatments like chemical peels.

Authored by:

Dr Amel Ibrahim
Aesthetic Doctor & Medical Director
Founder City Skin Clinic
Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
Associate Member of British Association of Body Sculpting GMC Registered - 7049611

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