When it comes to skincare, less is more. Toners aren’t necessary. For most people, neither are eye creams. And masks may provide a nice pampering experience and a much needed pick me up when your skin is particularly dull and lacklustre. But they’re not a must to keep your skin in top shape.
For a long time, I thought serums fell into the same category. Skincare gimmicks that suck your money dry but provide little benefits if you’re already using a well-formulated moisturizer. Of course, at the time I had no idea what serums were or what they were supposed to do. It’s only when, in my mid 20s, I started taking anti-aging seriously, that I began wondering whether I should add a serum to my skincare routine.
When I did, I never looked back. If anything, I regretted taking so long to jump on the bandwagon. Yep, a lot of skincare products are unnecessary gimmicks designed to separate you from your money, but serum isn’t one of them. As it turns out, a serum is the workhorse of your skincare routine.
Why you should use a serum
I used to think that, if my moisturizer already contained antioxidants, then buying a serum with antioxidants was just a waste of money. Why pay twice for the same ingredients? Because those ingredients are more concentrated in a serum, and therefore work better.
In fact, serums contain anti-aging or skin-lightening ingredients and barely anything else. Moisturizers, on the other hand, are full of occlusive emollients that help keep skin hydrated by forming a barrier that prevents water loss, and thickeners that give them a richer texture. These ingredients are good for skin, but they take up so much space that antioxidants tend to get lost in the formula. Their concentrations are often small.
Not in serums. With little else to fight for space for, antioxidants and/or skin-lighting agents take a prominent place. In serums, more of them are present, and in higher concentrations too. That’s why they work faster and better. You may get away with not using a serum when you’re still very young, but, if you haven’t added one to your skincare routine by your mid-20s, you’re doing your skin a huge disservice.
How do you use a serum?
A serum should be part of both your daytime and night-time skincare routines. Pour a pea-sized amount on your hand and apply it on your skin after a AHA or BHA exfoliant but before your moisturizer. The barrier moisturizers create on the skin keep water in but can also keep active ingredients out. If you apply a serum after your moisturizer, it won’t penetrate skin, and therefore work, as well.
If your skin is oily, you may not need to apply a moisturizer at all. The serum may, on its own, provide all the hydration you need. I sometimes skip the moisturizer on my oily t-zone, but on my dry cheeks, it’s a must. If I don’t, skin feels tight and dry.
My favourite picks
So, now that you know you should use a serum, which one should you pick? Here are a few of my favourites:
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic Acid + Retinol Brightening Solution ($88.00): infused with antioxidants, retinol, glycolic acid, and a bunch of skin-lightening agents, this serum helps reduce all signs of premature aging, from wrinkles to dark spots.
MD Formulations Vit-A Plus Illumination Serum ($65.00): infused with glycolic acid, retinol, and antioxidants, this serum helps both prevent and reduce wrinkles and lighten dark spots. Ideal for mature skin, it provides a great alternative to hydroquinone serums.
Paula’s Choice Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum ($26.95): although not very hydrating, this serum contains a plethora of antioxidants that helps keep the signs of premature aging at bay. Vitamin C also helps slowly reduce dark spots.
Paula’s Choice Resist Intensive Wrinkle-Repair Retinol Serum($31.95): a staple in my night-time skincare routine, this serum is loaded with antioxidants, retinol and anti-irritants that can boost collagen production, help prevent and fight the signs of aging, reduce discolourations and treat acne breakouts.
Peter Thomas Roth De-Spot™ Skin Brightening Corrector ($75.00): another good, but pricey, alternative to hydroquinone serums, it contains niacinamide and a bunch of berry extracts with skin-lightening properties that helps reduce dark spots. It also has antioxidant and hydrating properties, which makes it a great choice for mature, dry skin.
Skin Actives Antioxidant Serum With ROS* Terminator ($25.25): this serum features pretty much every antioxidant you can think of to help prevent premature aging. That’s not all. It also has hydrating and skin-lightening properties to make your skin soft and bright.
Skin Actives Vitamin C Serum ($15.50): a cheaper alternative to Skinceutical CE Ferulic serum, Skin Actives Vitamin C Serum is loaded with antioxidants that can stimulate collage production, reduce sun damage and hyperpigmentation, prevent wrinkles, and exfoliate skin. It’s another staple in my skincare routine.
Do you use a serum? If not, will you start soon?