What Serum Should I Use? Here’s Your Ultimate Guide

We love serums. We love serums with the strength of a thousand suns and almost as much as Karl Lagerfeld loves Choupette and Donald Trump loves hairspray. Which is a whole lot. 

For anyone who is not yet a convert, adding a serum to your routine means that you benefit from concentrated ingredients that work right on the surface of the skin to treat just about any skin concern that you have. The problem with serums is that there is no standardized definition of what they actually are and of what makes a product a serum as opposed to a runny moisturizer or a gloopy gel with loads of filler ingredients and very little of the good stuff. 

It’s almost as bad as flippin’ Alphabet Creams (here). But creating consumer confusion is something that the cosmetic industry has refined to a fine art, so it is up to us to educate ourselves, read labels and figure out what is actually in this new ‘wonder’ product. 

The easiest thing to do is to glance down the ingredient list (which will be printed in the smallest type ever, so you’ll have to get out your magnifying glass) and see where in the list the ‘actives’ are. 

The active ingredients are the ones that actually do something, instead of the ones that are just there to keep the mixture stable or to make it easy to apply, such as silicones. So, for example, if a serum advertises itself as a moisturizing hyaluronic acid serum, but you can clearly see that hyaluronic acid is sixth on the list of eight ingredients, then the amount of hyaluronic acid it contains is minimal and you’re being deliberately deceived. It doesn’t matter what the active is – it could be lactic or glycolic acid, vitamin C or any expensive ingredient – reading the label will tell you exactly how much of it is in there.

Put serum on after your cleanser (and toner, if you use it). Let it sink in for a couple of minutes and then apply moisturizer. So now all that is out of the way, let’s see which serums are actually great for your skin.

What Serum Should I Use?

You can use any serum at any age – they treat skin concerns rather than rigid age groups. It doesn’t matter if something markets itself ‘for the quarter-life crisis’ or any of that lark – if you like the look of the ingredients and think it will do your skin good, then go for it. It’s easy to spend a fortune on serum because if it’s good, it will have a high concentration of quality actives. 

The cheaper serums tend to rely more on inexpensive ingredients, like glycerin and silicones, which actually are very good at moisturizing and should not be written off, particularly if you have normal skin.

This dermatologist-approved guide will help you choose the right serum for your skin type and concerns.

Best Serums For All Types of Skin

Brands like Nivea have great serums – their Cellular Anti-Age Skin-Refining Serum is fresh, light, and will make your skin feel better straight away. Use it under the night moisturizer from the same range and you have a duo that is perfect for hydration on a budget. Don’t turn your nose up at the supermarket brands either: check the ingredients and if they have hyaluronic acid, niacin, or glycerin, they are going to hydrate and smooth your skin. 

Olay is the leader in the mid-market skincare field and some of their serums are fantastic. There are so many of them, so choose one from the Total Effects line. Give the moisturizing and serum duo a bash – it’s great for busy mornings when you don’t have time to layer up your products. No7 Protect & Perfect Advanced cannot go without a mention either: they’ve done the research and presented us with the evidence that their serums really do work. Boots Botanics Radiant Youth Super Serum is another serum we can really get on board with – it is absolutely excellent for the price point. 

Oskia Super 16 Pro-Collagen Super Serum will work happily with any skin regime as it contains a gentle retinol ingredient and other nutrients. Laura Mercier Multi-Vitamin Serum is a duo crammed with antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E, which protect skin against damage. And other all-rounders like Origins Plantscription Youth-renewing Face Oil, Aesop Parsley Seed Anti-Oxidant Serum, Clinique Smart Custom-Repair Serum, and Omorovicza Radiance Renewal Serum all work well to give dull skin its mojo back. 

Although Bobbi Brown is better known for their make-up, some of their skincare is very good. The Intensive Skin Supplement is a great serum. BareMinerals Active Cell Renewal Night Serum is another good skincare product from a make-up brand.

Best Serums For Oily Skin

Oily, acne-prone skin is well catered for on the serum front as not only can serums produce a potent mix of skin-friendly ingredients, they often also contain glycolic and salicylic acid, which work quietly away all day and night on your skin without harshness. Clinique Turnaround Revitalizing Serum with salicylic acid and Estée Lauder Perfectionist [CP+R] Wrinkle-Lifting/Firming Serum are both stand-outs. Thalgo Intense Regulating Serum works very hard to calm down bad-tempered skin as does Murad T-Zone Pore Refining Serum. 

Best Serums For Dry Skin

Those with dry skin should head straight towards serums packed with hyaluronic acid and other water attracters. When you put your moisturizer on top of the serum, it seals in the serum’s hydration, leaving your skin feeling soft and nourished for the day or night. Fine lines will magically disappear, your skin will look softer and fresher and make-up will go on much more smoothly. No one is paying us to say this: it really happens. These serums work well after a period of illness too and will go a long way towards restoring your skin to normal. 

Serums do exist that consist solely of hyaluronic acid but through trial and error, we’ve found that hyaluronic acid feels more moisturizing and performs more effectively when it is mixed with other ingredients. If you are hell-bent on using pure hyaluronic acid, it looks and feel exactly like water. To use it, you dampen your face and pat it on. It is not until you apply moisturizer over the top that you will notice any benefits – the hyaluronic acid needs to draw in moisture to work.

However, as we’ve said we prefer hyaluronic acid serums that contain other complementary ingredients such as vitamin E or resveratrol. Hydrating serums we like (and boy, was it hard to whittle down this list) include Oz Naturals Hyaluronic Acid + Vitamin C Professional Moisturizing Serum, SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Gel, Olay Regenerist 3 Point Super Serum, Shiseido Bio-Performance Glow Revival Serum, Clarins Double Serum, The Body Shop Vitamin E Overnight Serum-in-Oil and Trilogy Nutrient Plus Firming Serum. They all give skin that’s gasping like a landed fish some aqua back. 

Alpha H is one of the serum brands that are creating the most excitement at the moment, but its original formula is strong so it can only be used on alternate nights due to its high concentration of glycolic acid. Liquid Gold Intensive Night Repair Serum, on the other hand, can be used nightly, and we think it is a better alternative. For a gentler approach – but one we think is underrated for its efficacy – try Ren Radiance Perfection Serum.

Best Serums For Mature Skin

We’re saying post-thirty-five as a rough guideline, but you can use the following serums at any age. It’s important to remember that you can use any product at any age, so don’t let labels and marketing upset you or make you feel boxed into a type or make you think you need more even if everything is working fine. The purpose of good skincare should be to make you feel great about yourself and if you feel miserable about using a product labeled ‘mature’, then simply don’t do it. 

If you turn your back on products labeled ‘mature’ or ‘anti-aging’ though, you might be missing out because, with these serums, we’re really sucking diesel as they tend to have a higher amount of active ingredients. ‘Mature’ and ‘antiageing’ serums are among the most brilliant products around and can seriously supercharge your skincare routine. You’re quite literally spoilt for choice, but be warned: the cosmetic industry views you as the segment of the market that is ready to spend on premium products, so make sure you don’t fall for marketing hype.

Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair is one of the originals and it is still one of the best, while Pevonia Power Repair Age Correction Collagen & Myoxy Caviar Intensifier is an absolute treat for the skin. It is so deeply hydrating, and this nutrient-rich serum really does saturates the skin with moisture. We almost wept when it was finished. Another serum that will cause you to weep when it is gone is SkinCeuticals Resveratrol B E, which Aisling loved so much she almost screamed and screamed when it was empty. L’Oréal Youth Code Serum, L’Oréal Age Perfect Intensive Re-Nourish Serum, and Olay 3 Point Super Serum have all also been used to the very last drops.

Best Serums For Hyperpigmentation

For hyperpigmentation, there are so many exciting serum options. You can fade dark spots in several ways, depending on whether they’re melasma, age spots, sun spots, or remnants of past breakouts.

To target hyperpigmentation effectively, you should start by looking for a stable vitamin C serum. Furthermore, there are serums that combine vitamin C with botanicals to further brighten skin, such as:

  • Licorice
  • azelaic acid
  • kojic acid
  • mulberry extract
  • alpha arbutin

Lastly, niacinamide, in addition to regulating oil production, also lightens dark spots.

Can You Layer Face Serums?

Layering serums is the secret to meeting your skincare goals faster, whether you’re looking to treat blemishes, dull skin, dark spots, or fine lines. 

Ideally, you should layer no more than two serums at once. The ingredients may not be absorbed as effectively if there are too many layers.

By layering, go from the lightest consistency to the thickest. It is common for serums to have a similar viscous consistency (including all Bye Bye Serums), but if you notice one is thicker, try the thinner formula first.

Before moving on to the next serum, allow each to set for several seconds.

If products are layered incorrectly, they may pill, cause skin sensitivity, or cause breakouts.

When applying acids to your skin, be mindful of how many you apply at once. Excessive use can cause skin sensitivity and breakouts. In some products, multiple acids are pre-formulated, but these amounts are carefully measured to ensure safety.

How To Use Serums?

Serum should be applied after cleansing and before moisturizing. For more advanced regimens, apply after toning and spraying a facial mist, but before you apply creams or other occlusives. Whenever in doubt, apply products thickest to thinnest.

If you layer serums, apply one in the morning and one at night. The rotation might also be more convenient for you if you do it daily.

If your dermatologist has advised you to use it daily, follow the instructions on the package.

Final Words

It’s likely that serum can significantly help you achieve a major skincare goal.

Since they contain higher concentrations of active ingredients, they tend to be more expensive. It is important to note, however, that once you find the best serum(s) for you, you will likely find that beautiful skin-as well as the confidence that follows-are priceless.

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