how to layer serums

I used to collect lipglosses. Now I collect serums.

My bathroom cabinet is full to the brim with them. You’ll find the occasional cleanser or sheet mask in there, but you’ll have to wade through the sea of serums to get to them.

I have one for everything. Retinol for wrinkles. Antioxidants for prevention. Vitamin C for brightening. Hyaluronic acid for hydration. You name it, it’s there.

Why the obsession with serums? They’re packed with active ingredients that get the job done. Plus, their lightweight textures sink deeply into the skin, delivering those goodies where they need to be to work their magic. 

Serums are so good, I just can’t use them one at a time. More like two, or three. Here’s how I get the most out of them:

Why Should You Layer Serums?

Why not use just the one? Well, you can totally do that. Sometimes, I do, too.

In summer, when my skin is soft and plump, I just use an antioxidant serum in the morning and alternate between a vitamin C and a retinoid serum in the evening.

But, in winter, my skin gets drier. I have to add a hyaluronic acid serum to the mix to keep my skin hydrated. Otherwise, it dries up, flakes and looks downright horrible.

If you’re trying to fix more than one skin woe, using more than one serum makes sense. Some serums are multi-taskers, but sometimes, you just need something more powerful. That’s when you use two (or three) separate products.

Related: Why Serums Are The Workhorses Of Your Skincare Routine

Don’t know which serums and ingredients you can safely use together without compromising their effectiveness? Download your FREE “How To Combine Actives Like A Pro” to find out:

How Many Serums Can You Layer At One Time?

There isn’t a definite answer. But, I’d stop at 3. If you add more than that, you’re just throwing money away. Plus, it’ll take you an hour to finish your skincare routine.

If you have lots of different skin woes to fix, I recommend you go for a multi-tasking serum and then add an extra one or two to address your most pressing problem.

Let’s say, you want to reduce wrinkles, hydrate your skin, and fade away your dark spots. I’d opt for a hydrating retinol serum (the multi-tasker) and then add a hydroquinone serum to help fade the dark spots even faster.

If you have sensitive skin, I don’t recommend you use more than one serum at a time. There’s only so little your skin can take, so don’t go overboard!

Related: How Many Skincare Products Is It Safe To Use At A Time?

peter thomas roth retinol infusion pm night serum 01

What’s The Best Way To Layer Serums?

As a general rule, the order depends on the texture. The lightest-textured serums go first and the thickest-textured serums go last.

But I also like to take into consideration the type of active ingredient your serum has. Retinoids, vitamin C and anything that targets dark spots should be applied on clear skin to better be able to penetrate it.

Let’s say that it’s winter and I’m using a hyaluronic acid serum to drench my skin in moisture and a retinol serum to treat wrinkles. Unless the retinol serum has a far thicker texture than the hyaluronic acid serum, I go in with the retinol first.

My reasoning is simple: wrinkles are, for me, a more serious concern that dehydration. I want that retinol to be the first thing that hits my skin after cleansing so I know that nothing stands in its path to the deeper layers.

Hyaluronic acid works well even when left on the surface of the skin (in fact, only some types of low molecular weight hyaluronic acids penetrate skin anyway), so it makes sense to apply it later.

To make it easier for your serum to penetrate your skin, apply it after cleanser and exfoliating (only if you’re exfoliating that day – don’t do this every time!) but before moisturizer.

Your moisturizer has a much thicker texture that makes it difficult for serums to get through it. If you apply your moisturizer first, you’re sabotaging its effectiveness.

What Are The Best Serums Out There?

Here are a few of my favourites:

For exfoliating skin: Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum ($90.00)and Alpha Skin Care Intensive Rejuvenating Serum ($18.99)

For fading dark spots and brightening skin: Dr Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic Acid + Retinol Brightening Solution ($88.00) and Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum ($80.00)

For hydrating skin: Niod Multi Molecular Hyaluronic Complex ($25.00) and Skinceuticals Hyaluronic Acid Intensifier ($98.00)

For preventing wrinkles: Skinceuticals CE Ferulic ($163.00) and Paula’s Choice Resist Ultra-Light Super Concentrate Serum ($38.00)

For soothing skin: Niod Modulating Glucosides (£17.00) and Paula’s Choice Calm Redness Relief Repairing Serum ($34.00)

For treating wrinkles and sun damage: Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM ($65.00) and Paula’s Choice Resist Wrinkle Intensive Retinol Repair Serum ($42.00)

The Bottom Line

You can totally layer all the serums you need. Just make sure you apply those with the lightest texture and most important actives first.