Dermatologists and beauticians weigh in on which serums are best for dry skin, redness, oily skin and more.
Sometimes, it can feel like you need a beauty degree just to figure out what various skin care solutions actually do. Take serums, for instance. What makes them any different than moisturizers? And what are the benefits of adding this extra step to your skin care routine?
As it turns out, serums can help tackle a number of skin care concerns. Wondering what all the hype is about? TODAY Style sought the expertise of the folks who know serum best — dermatologists and aestheticians — to see why it might be worth adding this potent product to your routine.
What is serum?
If you think of your nightly skin care routine as a three course meal, serum is kind of like the main course. After kicking things off with an appetizer (aka cleansing your face), and before treating yourself to dessert (aka a nourishing moisturizer), you fill up on all the important nutrients (aka serum).
“Serums are skin care products that are designed to deliver high concentrations of specific active ingredients to the skin. There are many different types of serums on the market that perform different jobs, ranging from hydration to skin brightening,” said Dr. Joshua Zeichner, board-certified dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital’s department of dermatology.
Most often, serums are clear, gel-based or liquid, and they tend to be less thick than a moisturizer. They’re typically applied before moisturizers to help lock in moisture.
“Often, a serum is able to hydrate more effectively than even the heaviest creams. The molecules are able to truly penetrate the skin and hydrate on the deepest level, while the heavier creams more so sit on those top layers. Hydrating serums do not necessarily replace your moisturizer, but can boost the hydrating effects of your moisturizer,” said celebrity esthetician Karee Hays.
“In general, serums contain topical antioxidants including vitamin A, C and E. They also contain topical retinols and ingredients that even out skin tone. When layered underneath moisturizers, serums act as targeted treatment for wrinkles, pigmentation and redness,” said Dr. Angela J. Lamb, a board-certified dermatologist and associate professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai’s department of dermatology.
But what type of serums should you look for specifically?
“The key is to look for serums that deliver a ton of botanicals, antioxidants and hydration (water!) — they can deliver a concentrated dose of nutrients, and when applied on just-cleaned skin, the serum will penetrate more deeply,” said Dr. Craig Kraffert, board-certified dermatologist.
Since the ingredients in serums can be pretty potent, consider any potential skin sensitivity before trying a new product.
“The active ingredient(s) in serums tend to be more concentrated and can occasionally cause irritation and dryness in those who have sensitive skin. It’s a good idea to layer a more substantial moisturizer with the serum if your skin tends to be on the sensitive or dry side,” said board-certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon in New York City Dr. Fran Cook-Bolden.
How to use serum
Everyone’s skin is different, but on average, you should give it about seven weeks to see how your skin responds to a new serum routine. Depending on the serum and the current state of your skin, you might even see initial results — like slightly more hydrated skin — in just a few days, according to Kraffert.
Generally, you should use a serum all over your face and neck twice daily, once in the morning and then again in the evening, before applying your moisturizer if you want to get the most bang for your buck, according to Lamb