Dermatologists will tell you that serum is the MVP in any skincare regimen. Yet many people still aren’t using one because they’re not sure how to find the best formula for their skin—or why they even need a serum at all. At first glance, serums seem to boast some of the same benefits as creams and lotions, such as hydrating the skin and treating signs of aging. But they actually work quite differently and are far more potent. Adding to the confusion are other types of skincare that look a whole lot like serums but aren’t—we’re talking to you, facial oils—and that serum often goes by other names such as concentrate, emulsion, or elixir.
Whether you’re a serum novice or just trying to navigate all the options, this cheat sheet will tell you all you need to know about this healthy-skin essential to find the right one for your needs.
What is a face serum?
Serums are highly concentrated skincare formulas that contain small molecules of active ingredients. They’re typically water-based liquids, gels, or fluids that are incredibly lightweight, so much so that you often don’t even feel them on your skin. Unlike moisturizers, serums usually don’t contain oils or other occlusive ingredients, so they’re able to penetrate skin quickly and carry their very high concentration of active ingredients deep into the skin where they’re most needed.
How does serum work?
Serums target specific concerns, from protecting your skin against free radical damage to delivering an extra dose of hydration to helping fade spots and wrinkles. Think of these powerful formulas like specialists that focus on your individual needs. Their ultra-thin consistency allows them to absorb into the skin almost instantly, carrying their active ingredients down to the areas where they can be most effective.
What’s the best way to use serum?
Resist the temptation to slather on your serum in gobs. These potent formulas are highly concentrated, so you only need three to five drops for your entire face. If the product is in a pump bottle, one pump is plenty—even half a pump will often suffice. Using more than the recommended amount won’t speed up the results and, because these formulas are so supercharged, could even backfire and irritate your skin—not to mention it’ll drain your wallet as serums typically come in smaller bottles.
Apply your serum after you’ve washed your face and before any other skincare, as you don’t want anything on your skin that could block the absorption of the ingredients. Make sure your skin is dry, then gently pat—don’t rub—on the formula.
Do I really need a serum and a moisturizer?
Yep, because while the benefits of both products may overlap, they each serve a different purpose. Serums sink down into the skin to treat specific issues, whereas face lotions and creams are thicker and create a barrier on the surface of skin to hold in those hard-working actives. A hydrating serum, for example, will deliver moisture to your skin, but you still need to follow with moisturizer to create that seal on top of the skin that helps prevent all the juicy moisture from quickly evaporating.
What’s the difference between serum and facial oil?
A lot. Don’t let their similar packaging fool you: these two products are apples and oranges. Traditional serums are water-based, which is what makes them so lightweight and allows them to carry small active molecules into the deeper layers of skin. Facial oils are—you guessed it—oil-based, and oils are larger molecules that sit on top of the skin and form an occlusive barrier to lock in moisture and ingredients. Facial oil should be the last step in a skincare regimen, whereas serum should go on before any other product.
How do I find the right serum for my skin?
UV rays, pollutants, and other environmental factors trigger free radicals, which are harmful molecules that attack skin cells and contribute to skin cancers as well as the damage that causes skin aging. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals so they can’t do their dirty work, and two of the best are vitamin C and caffeine, both of which are in our PUREVOC All Day Glow Serum.
Depending on which skin issues you’re looking to treat, you may want use a separate serum at night that addresses your specific concerns, or choose a serum that targets multiple issues and can used twice a day. Our PUREVOC All Day Glow Serum contains 10 actives including several different molecular weight hyaluronic acids to plump and moisturize, antioxidant vitamin C to brighten skin and fade spots, collagen boosters to help reduce wrinkles, and plant extracts that fight inflammation and dullness.
Look for a serum that comes in an airtight, opaque pump bottle, which will help preserve the active ingredients for longer. And while you don’t have to break the bank to find an excellent formula, if there’s one product that’s worth spending a little extra on, it’s serum because it’s so potent. These invisible heroes can truly transform your skin, so they’re well worth the investment.