Outside of beauty circles, serums can still be confusing. Cleansers cleanse; moisturisers moisturise, but serums? Not so obvious.
So, let us explain. Serums can be water-based or more of an oil. But always apply them after your best toner and before moisturising, with the intent of treating skin concerns – everything from dehydration and wrinkles, to dullness and pigmentation.
Put another way, serums make you glow like the galaxy and make your skin texture look like the smooth surface of a plum. Precisely why skin experts agree it’s the single most important product in your skincare regime and the one you should invest the most money in. Here’s everything you need to know…
What is face serum?
Due to their high concentration and potency, serums are the most effective way of delivering active ingredients into the skin. ‘With a much lighter consistency than your face cream, serums are made up of tiny molecules that absorb into the skin on a deeper level,’ says consultant dermatologist Dr Justine Kluk. Moisturiser is thicker and sits on the surface of your skin where, among other things, it seals in moisture and all the goodness from a serum into your skin.
How often should you apply face serum?
Twice daily is the golden rule, but the serum you apply in the morning should differ from the one you use before bed.
‘During the day, the priority is protecting against inflammatory and oxidising elements,’ explains Dr Barbara Sturm. ‘This means anti-pollution protection, UV protection, and using a hyaluronic acid-based serum. At night, it’s essential to use active ingredients that assist the body’s repair processes while you sleep.’
To that end she has invented the Night Serum (from £90, Cult Beauty). It contains the antioxidant purslane to help repair environmental damage, cotton thistle to counteract dryness, beta-glucans to reduce redness and a high dose of hyaluronic acid, which, Sturm says, ‘works throughout the night to replenish moisture reservoirs in multiple skin layers.’ Once you’ve applied your serum, follow up with one of the best moisturisers for dry skin or best moisturisers for oily skin, depending on your skin type.
How to choose the best face serum for your skin type
‘Make a list of goals for your skin – for example brightening or hydrating,’ says Kluk. ‘Focus on the top one or two priorities and select ingredients that tackle these first. You can always adjust them as your needs change.’
Below are some of the most common skin concerns and the best serums to treat them.
Best vitamin C serum
Charlotte Tilbury Magic Serum Crystal Elixir, from £25 | Cult Beauty
Vitamin C is one of skincare’s heavy hitters when it comes to brightening and evening out skin tone. But its efficacy is matched only by its instability. If you’ve ever used a vitamin C serum and the smell or colour has changed over time, then it’s likely deteriorated as a result of being exposed to air, light or water.
To combat this problem, Charlotte Tilbury has used ‘golden vitamin C’ in her new hotly-anticipated serum. ‘This form of vitamin C is bound to gold for added stability and enhanced penetration into the skin,’ says dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto.
Best serum with retinol
La Roche-Posay Retinol 0.3% + Vitamin B3 Serum, £28.50 | Lookfantastic
The only ingredient clinically proven to prevent and improve the appearance of fine lines is retinol – but it can be harsh on sensitive skin. Enter the latest addition to the La Roche-Posay ‘retinol, but make it soothing’ family. ‘It contains a combination of both corrective and compensating ingredients,’ says cosmetic and medical doctor and founder of SKNDOCTOR, Dr Ewoma Ukeleghe. ‘Retinol is corrective, specifically pure retinol at 0.1% and 0.2% gradual release retinol. Niacinamide calms irritation and glycerin is amazing for hydrating the skin.’
Best anti-ageing serum
Avon Skin Reset Plumping Shots, £18 | avon.uk.com
Here’s something we bet you didn’t know. Avon has one of the most cutting-edge research facilities in the world, where beauty boffins are developing high-tech products. That includes these Plumping Shots, which don’t disappoint. Our skin is made up of two types of collagen: collagen 1, or adult collagen, and collagen 3, otherwise known as ‘baby collagen’ because it’s responsible for a baby’s plump, juicy skin. We need both types for bouncy skin, as baby collagen provides the framework on which adult collagen is built.
Avon’s new ingredient Protinol works by increasing the amount of baby collagen in the skin, which then increases the ratio of adult collagen. In fact, this seven-day course claims to restore a whopping seven years of collagen loss, with fewer wrinkles and less sagging to boot. Pretty impressive, right?