All Of Your Questions About Serums Answered


Most of you guys probably know that I’m a vocal skincare enthusiast, but this wasn’t always the case. In my early twenties, my definition of skincare was remembering to wipe off my eye makeup and wash my face before bed. Oh yeah, and sunscreen was supposed to be in there somewhere. Now that I’m older, taking good care of my skin is just as important to me as taking care of my kids. Okay maybe not just as important, but it’s on the rung below that one. 

Not only does proper skincare give you the confidence to rock a foundation-free face in public, it also makes your face feel nourished instead of neglected. When I first decided to get serious about my skincare regimen, getting a grip on all of the products and comprehending how all the steps fit together was confusing as hell. It was difficult to distinguish fad from fact, and I couldn’t seem to translate skincare jargon.

And so, today we’re going to comb through one of the bases of skincare: the serum. If we’re being real, it’s hard to understand how the heck you’re supposed to take care of your face and what a serum really even does, unless you’ve got a personal skincare specialist on speed dial. Now I’m no expert, but I’ve learned a thing or two in this industry. Plus, I like you guys enough to research the subject and make sure I’ve got everything straight.

Now then. Let’s talk serums.

All Of Your Questions About Serums Answered

What even is a serum?

A serum is a lightweight formula containing a high concentration of active ingredients that you apply to nourish and rejuvenate your skin. Serums contain the highest concentration of active ingredients that you can get without a prescription, which makes them one of the most expensive skin care products on the market. Traditionally, serums are water based, which are ideal for individuals with oily skin. They’re made up of small molecules that penetrate deeply into the skin instead of merely brushing the surface. A serum can be moisturizing or not depending on which type you choose, and you can hand select a serum with a specific combination of ingredients that will combat your specific skin care qualms.

When do I put on a serum?

You should apply your serum twice a day by using one or two fingers and massaging into your skin. Since serums contain strong active ingredients, you should be able to apply just a few drops (1-3) to get the desired effect. In the morning, you should apply a serum after cleansing your face and putting on toner. In the evening, apply after cleansing your face and then put on moisturizer before bed.

Do I want a water-based or oil-based serum?

Traditionally, serums are water based, which are ideal for individuals with oily skin. Water based serums have a lightweight gel-like texture and they absorb more quickly into the skin. Oil-based serums are better for anyone with dry skin, and leave you with a luminous complexion. This doesn’t mean you’re limited to water-based serums if you have oily skin. Just ensure that the ingredients you’re seeking are in the serum of your choice. You can seek a non-clogging (non-comedogenic) oil to create harmony with your natural oils such as an argan oil.

But Sai, what about moisturizers, essences, face oils, etc.?

Ah yes, I know. There are a lot of products out there and it’s overwhelming. So let’s break down the differences between all these products. 

Serums vs. Essences:

Serums and essences are very similar except for perhaps the texture of each product. A serum is more gooey and typically has a higher concentration of ingredients while an essence is more watery. Basically, these products are just marketed differently, with the word “serum” being used more in the US and “essence” more prominent in Asian countries. You can achieve the same effects depending on which ingredients you’re seeking.

Serums vs. Face Oils:

Face oils are great for anyone with dry skin, and leave you with a luminous complexion. A face oil is essentially a charged moisturizer that provides even more intense hydration, brightness and nourishment. This is applied right before moisturizer or you can choose to mix in a few drops.

Serums vs. Moisturizers:

Moisturizers have bigger molecules than serums, which hydrate and protect the top layer of the skin. They seal everything in, whereas serums are more like your skin’s daily vitamin, penetrating deeper into the skin tissue.

How do I choose a serum?

The good news is there are serums that focus on all different types of skin care problems so you can find your skin care soulmate in a bottle. The first ingredient has the highest presence in each serum, and the potency tapers off as you get further in the ingredients. So you can prioritize your skin concerns and find the best serum for you.  Here are some ingredients based on your primary skin concerns. 

Dryness | Vitamin E, niacinamide, glycolic acid, and hyaluronic acid

Dullness | Green tea extract, ferulic acid, resveratrol

Acne-prone | Vitamin C, retinol, zinc, salicylic acid