I have a confession to make.
For years, I didn’t use a serum. I thought it was just one of those skincare gimmicks that suck your money dry, but don’t really do anything for your skin. Not if you’re using a good moisturizer, anyway.
“Wouldn’t I just pay twice for the same thing?,” the cynic in me said. It’s not like skincare brands never repackage their facial creams in smaller jars and call them eye creams…
But, you can’t exactly run a beauty blog that focuses on skincare and avoid serums for good. So, in my mid-20s, I took the plunge. Back then, I was just starting to get into anti-aging, so I picked up one that was laden with antioxidants.
And then kicked myself in the butt for not adding this stuff to my skincare routine earlier.
Turns out, serum isn’t a useless gimmick. It’s the workhorse of your skincare routine. Here’s why:
What The Heck Is A Serum?
A serum is a lightweight lotion packed with active ingredients designed to target a specific skincare concern, like wrinkles, dehydration or dark spots.
It’s their incredibly high concentrations of active ingredients that makes them stand out. Only boosters contain more – but those are for emergencies, not daily use.
Related: The Complete Guide To Skincare Booster: What They Are, What They Do, And How To Use Them
Not sure what ingredients you can use together? Download the “How To Combine Actives Like A Pro” cheatsheet below to find out:
Do You Really Need A Serum?
When choosing a moisturizer, I always made sure it had plenty of antioxidants. If I got my fix from a moisturizer, I reasoned, I didn’t have to buy an antioxidant serum, too. Why pay twice for the same thing?
Because a serum contains a much higher concentration of antioxidants than any moisturizer ever will. Same is true for every other active ingredient, by the way.
You see, a moisturizer is made up of a thousand things. Occlusive oils to seal moisture in. Thickeners to make the formula richer. And so on.
Compare this to serums. They contain their active ingredients and not much else. With little else to fight for space for, these active ingredients take up most of the formula.
And, their lightweight textures make it easier for them to penetrate your skin, too. That’s why serums work better and faster than any other skincare product out there.
Related: Dry Skin? Here’s What Your Moisturiser Should Contain
How Do You Use A Serum?
Ok, now that you know a serum is not negotiable, how do you use one?
Easy. Pour a pea-sized amount on your hand and apply it on your skin after your cleanser or AHA/BHA exfoliant, but before your moisturizer.
Moisturizers create a barrier on your skin that’s almost impossible for serums to get through. Some of the actives may still make it, but the serum won’t work as well as it could.
If your skin is oily, you may not need to apply a moisturizer at all. There’s the chance the serum will be hydrating enough for your skin on its own. I sometimes skip the moisturizer on my oily t-zone. But, on my dry cheeks? It’s a must. If I don’t, my skin feels tight and dry.
Related: Can You Skip Moisturiser And Use Serum Alone?
What Are The Best Serums Out There?
So, now that you know you should use a serum, which one should you pick? 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 ($166.00) 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)
Great list of serums! I remember to put mine on before moisturizer by associating the word serum with medicine. Beauty serums are designed to penetrate like topical drugs.
I think beauty serums started appearing about 35 years ago. The first I recall was an Avon product. My skin felt different instantly – really smooth and hydrated. But the idea didn’t catch on then. I’m so happy to have serums available today. They really are essential to maintain skin health as we age.
Jean, that’s a great association! I agree. It’s an essential alley in our arsenal that is too often overlooked. I thought I didn’t need it either, but once I tried one, wow! It really does make a huge difference!
I have to admit, it’s only recently that I started to use serums and that’s because moisturizers don’t help me anymore with hydrating my skin. So I try to compensate that with serums. Up to now I used only hydrating serums and now I’ve started with Vitamin C, anti-ageing, oil blends and different anti-oxidants. I can really feel the difference, if I stop using them my skin immediately shows dry patches, which are a pain in the “posterieur” when I try to cover them up with make-up.
Livia, once you tried them you never go back, do you? I like hydrating serums, but it’s when I started using those with retinol and vitamin c that I saw a big improvement. They make skin so smooth!
Awesome post Gio! I love serums, especially under makeup, because they’re usually lightweight, but moisturizing! 🙂 x
Stavroula, thanks! Serums are wonderful, aren’t they?
Any other tips on drugstore/affordable serums? I’m afraid that the ones you mentioned are not available in my country. I definitely need a serum, thanks for the informative article! 🙂
Regn, glad you found it useful. Too bad none of these are available in your country. Mm, you can try Olay, the Regenerist line. It’s pretty good and not too expensive.
After reading this, I’ve decided to give serums a go – never used one before and I’m already 30! However my skin is problematic – sensitive and acne-prone/oily on T-zone at the same time. Which affordable serum You would recommend for this type of skin and which moisturizer will go well with it? I live in northern Europe, unfortunately we don’t have Olay or Paula’s choice 🙁
Olga, glad I convinced you to try a serum! I started using them late too, and have never gone back. I believe Paula’s Choice ships worldwide, but if you’re not comfortable buying your skincare online, you can try Neutrogena. The Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum is pretty good. They also make some nice moisturizers. Hope this helps.
Thanks Gio. i have a doubt. Drunk elephant tlc os a serum or a exfoliator? Could i use a hidratación serum after it? Thank you very much!
Lucila, it’s an exfoliator in serum form. And yes you can use a hydrating serum after it.