Skincare 101: All About Serums

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.

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. 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 the mixture into your skin. Because 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, apply serum after cleansing your face and putting on toner but before any oils or moisturizer (or makeup). In the evening, wash your face, apply your serum to do the deep rejuvenating work, and then put on moisturizer to hydrate and protect the top layer of your skin.

What serum is good for my skin type?

Traditionally, serums are water-based, which is ideal for individuals with oily skin. Water-based serums have a lightweight gel-like texture and they absorb more quickly into the skin. However, when you shop for serums (check out my favorites at the end of this post) you’ll notice that they typically identify all skin types that the product is suited to.

The best way to satisfy your skin is to use a serum in combination with an oil and a moisturizer. They all serve different functions and accommodate different skin characteristics. Oil-based products are great for any babe with a dry complexion, and they leave skin looking luminous. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to avoid oils like the plague if you’re prone to breakouts. You can seek a non-clogging (non-comedogenic) oil to balance out 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 popular yet mysterious three.

Serums vs. Essences:

Serums and essences are very similar except for the texture of each product. A serum is more gel-like and typically has a higher concentration of active ingredients while an essence is usually more watery and a bit less potent. 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 go deeper than moisturizers but are not as intense as serums. Oils are ideal for anyone with dry skin and promote a bright, glowing complexion. A face oil is essentially a supercharged moisturizer that provides intense hydration, brightness, and nourishment. This is applied right before moisturizer or you can choose to mix in a few drops and combine the two. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to avoid oils like the plague if you’re prone to breakouts. You can seek a non-clogging (non-comedogenic) oil to balance out your natural oils such as an argan oil.

Serums vs. Moisturizers:

Moisturizers usually contain both oil and water and cater to the upper layers of your skin. 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 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 down the list of ingredients. Soooo you can prioritize your skin concerns and find the best serum for your needs.  Here are a few ingredients to look for 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

I hope this post helped you gain a better understanding of the skincare superstar known as a serum. Sure, they can be pricey, but the high concentration of healing ingredients will work wonders for your skin. It may take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months of consistent use to really see results, but your older self will thank you. I hit the snooze button on proper skincare in my early twenties, but now it’s as non-negotiable as brushing my teeth or drinking water. Take it from me. Skincare is worth the effort.



Shop My Favorite Serums


  1. Tina
    February 21, 2018 / 3:47 PM

    Love how the Herbivore products are packaged. They look so cute!

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