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You are not alone in having no earthly idea what a serum is. Even if you’re the proud owner of several serums, it’s not a particularly clear product on it’s surface. Think of the contradictions: It’s moisturizing, but you still use moisturizer. It can be oily, but it’s not necessarily face oil. It can be watery, but is it essence? So many questions and we haven’t even gotten to ingredient lists yet!

Skincare should never stress you out (that would sort of defeat the purpose), so we pooled our collective knowledge, did a bit more research, and compiled a cheat sheet of sorts. There’s not going to be a test, but study up anyway. We hear skincare talk makes great party ice breakers.

What is serum?

Serum is a skincare product you can apply to your skin after cleansing but before moisturizing with the intent of delivering powerful ingredients directly into the skin. Serum is particularly suited to this task because it is made up of smaller molecules that can penetrate deeply into the skin and deliver a very high concentration of active ingredients. This makes them a great tool for targeting specific skincare concerns, like wrinkles. Goodbye, signs of aging!

Is serum a moisturizer?

Yes and no. Serums can be chock-full of moisturizing ingredients (hyaluronic acid, ceramides) to help skin retain moisture. But, that doesn’t make them moisturizers in the traditional sense. Face lotions and creams are richer and create a barrier on top of the skin to keep all that good stuff in.

How often should I use my serum?

Well, this all depends on the serum. Read the label, but once a day will probably cover your bases.

What’s the difference between serum and face oil?

Good question. Traditional serums are water-based. Though, as the face oil trend grows (and there are more and more oils on the market), more oils are marketed as ‘serums.’ . Water-based serums go under the cream and they are so important. They nourish the inner layer of the skin because the molecule is very small so it penetrates—because of the P50, of course. The oil-based serums go on top of the moisturizer because they have a bigger molecule. They’re supposed to keep the cream and whatever you put underneath moist during the entire day. There are so many products out there and everybody claims that it’s the best, so consumers are confused as to what works for them.”

What about essence? Is essence serum?

Essentially. Based on where they come in the routine (after cleansing, before moisturizing) and what function they serve (targeted skincare needs besides simple hydration) serums and essences are very similar. If anything, they differ in texture; Serums are gooier and more concentrated, while essences are watered-down with a more fluid texture.


Yes, serums tend to be on the pricier end of the skincare spectrum. But for a pretty decent reason! Remember that bit about being super concentrated and potent? You are getting your bang for your buck here…

Doesn’t serum expire really fast?

Certain potent ingredients often found in serum can become unstable once they come in contact with air. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C), for instace, can oxidize and lose efficacy over time. But thanks to science, modified versions of the ingredient (that are water-soluble, etc.) last longer so they can do your skin more good. Best rule of thumb is to store your vial in a cool, dry place (obviously) and use it up within six months to a year.

Is serum right for your skin?

Probably. Get to know your ingredients first. If you’re…
Serum for Acne-prone: Look for vitamin C (increases collagen production, enhances skin’s repair process, and reduces inflammation), retinol (also an antioxidant, reduces inflammation), zinc (soothes irritation, regulates oil production), and salicylic acid (unclogs pores).

Serum for Dry Skin : Look for vitamin E (an antioxidant, protects cells from oxidative damage), niacinamide (improves skin elasticity, increases ceramide levels in skin), glycolic acid (gently exfoliates and lightens discoloration), and hyaluronic acid (retains moisture).

Feeling dull: Look for antioxidants like green tea extract, resveratrol, ferulic acid (these combat free radicals, increase effectiveness of sunscreen by day, and promote cellular repair and healing by night).

A word of caution: Because serums are super potent, more is not always better. Be careful before piling it on. Powerful ingredients can irritate sensitive skin. Always patch-test accordingly.

The 6 Different Types of Face Serums

Face serums target a number of different areas.

The varying types of serums, along with the selection of active ingredients and the overall texture, serve many different functions and offer various benefits.

We should note that there is crossover between each of these types and one specific type of face serum usually boasts more than just one benefit.

Let’s take a look at each of the most popular types.

 1.  Anti-Aging Serums

Facial serums are most known for their amazing anti-aging benefits. These serums are able to treat the most common signs of aging along with slowing down the process in general.

They target any current fine lines, sagging, or wrinkles, while firming and plumping the skin. Anti-aging serums also focus on promoting increased cell turnover, aiding in cell repair, and cell renewal.

This helps rejuvenate the skin and smooths out the overall texture and appearance.

Retinol (a derivative of Vitamin A), is a commonly used and notable ingredient for powerful anti-aging effects. It helps with cell turnover, increasing collagen and elastic production, preventing collagen loss, firming, and hydrating or plumping the skin.

You might see anti-aging serums specifically for nighttime use.VBThis is because it’s suggested that retinol is negatively affected by the sun’s UV rays and could lead to potential adverse skin effects.

A plus for using retinol based anti-aging serums at night is that this is a prime time for your body to restore and repair itself as you’re sleeping. Retinol is able to work it’s magic without any interferences such as UV rays and will supercharge your body’s natural repair functions.

Other common anti-aging ingredients include:  fruit stem cells, evening primrose, grape seed extract, serum Vitamin C, peptides, growth factors, and Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs).

2.  Skin Brightening Serums

Another huge draw of face serums is their ability to brighten dull skin. Brightening serums work by smoothing your complexion, fading any age or sunspots, evening skin tone, and diminishing hyperpigmentation.

This leaves your skin with a natural, radiant glow. These particular serums may contain extracts such as green tea, licorice root, and grapefruit or antioxidants like vitamin E and vitamin C.

Other ingredients for lightening and brightening are kojic acid, ferulic acid, peptides, and light reflectors or optical diffusers that instantly give you an impeccable glow.

3.  Acne Fighting Serums

Acne fighting serums may be just ticket to finally banish annoying acne breakouts for good. We usually treat acne in a reactive manner, after we’re already eyeballs deep in a breakout.

The goal is really to prevent breakouts before they form. Serums are uniquely positioned to do just that. They are formulated with small molecules that can easily dive deep into the skin and deliver potent active ingredients.

This is in contrast to face washes and creams that work more at the surface of the skin. Serums help stop acne breakouts before they even start. They can also aid in fading acne scars, while gently removing any buildup of dead skin cells.

Acne fighting serums tighten skin, unclog and minimize pores, absorb excess oil, and minimize any redness or irritation. Beneficial acne fighting ingredients are salicylic acid, alpha- hydroxy acid (AHA) and beta-hydroxy acid (BHA), glycolic acid, citric acid, zinc, and botanical extracts like tea tree, thyme, cucumber, and green tea.

When your skin is parched and dehydrated, sometimes moisturizers and lotions just don’t cut it. This is where face serums come into play.

4.  Hydrating Face Serums

However, face serums aren’t meant to replace your daily moisturizer. They work in unison with your moisturizer to amplify the hydrating effects.

These particular face serums penetrate deep into your pores to deliver an extra layer of hydration. Your moisturizer should be applied after your serum as it helps lock in these beneficial ingredients.

To increase moisture in thirsty skin, look for ingredients such as Argan oil, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, rosehip oil, ceramide, rosewater, sea kelp, jojoba, and vitamin E.

5.  Exfoliating Face Serums

Exfoliating has a special place in our skincare routine because it benefits the skin in so many ways. An exfoliating serum works to smooth and tone complexion, diminish fine lines and wrinkles, and correct discoloration and hyperpigmentation from natural aging and sun damage.

Our skin becomes dramatically less efficient at removing dead skin cells as we age, along with producing less collagen and elastin. This layer of buildup due to dead skin cells leads to dull, dry, cracked skin.

It becomes easily irritated, less protected, and hinders the efficiency of your other facial products because they aren’t being absorbed properly. Exfoliating serums are an easy way to ensure that your skin is functioning normally and optimally.

They also work to unclog pores and prevent against breakouts. Key ingredients in exfoliating facial serums are alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic acid or lactic acid, retinol, enzymes from plant or fruit extracts, and citric acid.

6.  Repairative and Renewing Face Serums

Just as face serum does wonders for anti-aging, it also works to repair and restore skin. Face serum, in essence, is able to turn back the clock and restore that youthful glow we all yearn for.

You know that supple, dewy complexion that we all completely took for granted in our teens and early 20s. Our face is a trooper with what it goes through on a daily basis, year after year.

And as we go through the elements and time, it does acquire some noble battle scars Lovely breakouts and regrettable (yet seemingly necessary), pokes and picks that lead to acne scars.

When we avoided SPF like the plague and that summer you first discovered tanning beds.  (Thankfully we all know better now…)

But even your average daily exposure to the sun’s damaging UV rays takes a toll on your sensitive skin. The changing seasons puts additional stress on our skin, along with daily make-up application and removal, or worse, sleeping in it overnight.

All of this leaves our skin with acne scars, sun damage, blotchy areas, discoloration, dryness, fine lines, and wrinkles.

This is when we call in some beauty reinforcements for our lovely, yet tired, skin. Face serum is able to effortlessly repair, renew, and protect your skin from all the wear and tear.

Reparative and renewing face serums stimulate the skin’s natural repair functions so your skin can heal at its core. It fades away acne scarring and sun damage, while promoting the growth of skin cells such as collagen and elastin.

These serums help your epidermis maintain optimal moisture and oil levels to keep skin hydrated, supple, and smooth. They also work hard to protect you against harmful free radicals caused by daily aggressors.

Some main ingredients in these face serums are seaweed, noni extract, flower water, green tea, ceramides, retinol, Resveratrol (from Japanese knotweed), antioxidants, essential oils, and Omega-3 fatty acids.


If you have a major skincare goal, there’s a great chance that serum can significantly help you achieve it.

It’s worth mentioning that since they have higher concentrations of active ingredients, they tend to be on the pricier side. However, once you find the best serum(s) for you, you’ll likely find that beautiful skin—as well as the confidence that results from it—are priceless.

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Where To Buy Anti Aging Serum

Hyaluronic Acid Serum, L’Oreal Paris Skincare Revitalift Triple Power Concentrated Face Serum Treatment with Hyaluronic Acid and Pro-Xylane Anti-Aging Facial Serum to Repair Wrinkles



Where To Buy Skin Brightening Serums

Skincare Iluma Intense Brightening Serum with VT, 1 oz



Where To Buy Acne Fighting Serums

CeraVe Retinol Serum for Post-Acne Marks and Skin Texture | Pore Refining, Resurfacing, Brightening Facial Serum with Retinol | 1 Oz



Where To Buy Hydrating Face Serums

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Serum, Oil-Free and Non-Comedogenic Face Serum Formula for Glowing Complexion, Oil-Free & Non-Comedogenic, 1 fl. oz



Where To Buy Exfoliating Face Serums

Mad Hippie Skin Care Exfoliating Serum 1.02oz



Where To Buy Repairative and Renewing Face Serums

TruSkin Vitamin C Serum for Face with Hyaluronic Acid, Vitamin E, Witch Hazel, 1 fl oz



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