Does Your Skin Need a Serum? - The Skincare Edit

Does Your Skin Need a Serum?

The hottest new skincare category is arguably the most important one.

When it comes to my wardrobe, I'm all about the layers. Scarf, hat, cardi—not only are they totes on trend (or so I hear), but they also help protect me from the elements and keep me prepared for whatever curveballs the weather throws my way.

I do the same with my face. After all, if you layer your clothing, then why not your skincare products? 

This sounds a lot more complicated than it is, I promise. Skincare layering can be as simple as incorporating a serum into your routine. 

Yep, serum. I always, ALWAYS smooth one on before moisturizer or makeup, as my main way of fighting the first signs of aging. 

So should you use a serum, too? Here's what you need to know about the skincare product I now consider an essential:

What is a Serum?

I know the word "serum" sounds vaguely medical and like it might possibly require a syringe. 

Nope! Allow me to clarify. Serums are topical treatment products that efficiently deliver active ingredients—things like antioxidants, vitamins and moisturizing agents—into the skin.

Typically, they are the thinnest product you will apply, going on top of bare skin and penetrating quickly. Some are straight-up liquids, some feel more like gels, and some (like Biotherm's Skin Best Serum-in-Cream) are hybrids. 

Biotherm's Skin Best Serum-in-Cream.

But more on that last one in a sec!

The Benefits of Serums

So why would you want to add another step to your skincare routine—instead of, y'know, having more time to sleep in in the mornings? (Not that serums take more than a few seconds to apply.)

The reason is because a serum is the workhorse of your ENTIRE regimen. Compared to a regular moisturizer or lotion, you're getting way more bang for your skincare buck.

Here's how the dermatologists I've interviewed over the years explain it. The active ingredients that "do the work" in our skincare products are inherently unstable compounds. Serums, because they are fat-based, provide these compounds with a stable environment to live in—more stable than if they were in a traditional moisturizer. This means the ingredients mix together more easily and are less likely to come out of the solution, so all the goodness gets delivered right to your skin.

Another benefit is that you're probably getting a higher percentage of actives when you use a serum. The job of a moisturizer is to protect the skin barrier, so the ingredients are going to be diluted with emollients, which can lessen the potency. Serums, however, give you actives in a more concentrated form. Score!

Types of Serums

So there are specialist serums that treat specific skincare concerns. And then there are all-rounders, serums that do a bit of everything and are perfect when you're just starting to worry about first signs of aging. 

(Note: Layering your serums is totally fine, too!)

 Here are some of the most popular types:

  • Antioxidant Serums: These help neutralize the environmental free radicals that cause photo-aging. The cult favourite SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic is one example I've talked about a lot on this website. 
  • Hydrating Serums: Applied day or night under moisturizer, these deliver an extra layer of hydration (via ingredients like glycerin and hyaluronic acid) and can help soothe and calm irritated skin.
  • Exfoliating Serums: Usually worn overnight, these are a new way to gently dissolve away dead skin cells, using ingredients such as glycolic and salicylic acid.
  • Wrinkle and Firming Serums: These typically target more advanced signs of aging such as lines and sagging, and are formulated with retinol (a vitamin A derivative that may increase skin sensitivity).
  • Brightening Serums: These focus on evening out skin tone and fading hyperpigmentation. They may contain light reflectors for instant results, brightening agents like kojic acid and/or exfoliants to accelerate spot reduction.
  • Multitasking Serums: The best multitasking serums should give you some antioxidant action and help combat the first signs of aging, while also adding a layer of hydration and an instantly more luminous look. Biotherm's Skin Best Serum-in-Cream is a great example of this. The velvety cream texture means extra moisture—but as a serum, it's also delivering concentrated protection against environmental aggressors. Another benefit is that it's formulated with spirulina, a.k.a. the "super-algae". When applied to the skin, spirulina acts as a cellular energy booster for instant radiance.

How To Use a Serum

Apply your serum on top of clean, dry, bare skin.

Step 1: Always apply your serum to clean, bare, dry skin—it should be the first thing you put on after cleansing. If you're layering a couple different serums, then use the most targeted one first so you don't dilute the actives.

Biotherm recommends applying two pumps of its Skin Best Serum-in-Cream, rubbing your hands together and spreading it onto the forehead, starting from the centre of the face and working out. Repeat on the nose and cheeks, and then go from the chin to the jaw line. (Follow the instructions here for a simple application ritual inspired by Japanese pressure point massage, designed to activate microcirculation!)

Step 2: Give your serum a few minutes to sink in before you apply your moisturizer. (If your skin is oily, you can skip this step during the daytime, but remember to at least wear sunscreen!) To get the most out of your serum, it's important to seal it in with something that protects the skin barrier.

Step 3: If your moisturizer doesn't contain SPF, then sunscreen should be the final daytime layer in your skincare routine. If you put it on sooner, it can prevent the actives in your other products from penetrating. 

Step 4: Makeup, if you wear it. But maybe a serum will have your skin looking so great that you won't need it!

Do you use serum?
What's your favourite type?
Have you noticed a change in your skin?

Related Articles

Does Your Skin Need Hyaluronic Acid?

Hyaluronic acid is the hottest ingredient in skincare right now—but how well does it actually work as a moisturizer and wrinkle-plumper?

How to Get Your Skin Ready for Fall

Your game plan for repairing summer skin and preparing for cooler temps.

How to Treat Dry, Sensitive, Aging Skin

Suggestions for a reactive complexion.

Do You Really Need to Moisturize?

It might be making your skin worse, not better.

Tata Harper on Starting a Natural Skincare Line, Her Favourite Products and Best Skin Tips

The green beauty entrepreneur shares the inspiration behind her brand, how she sources clean ingredients, and more.

10 Tips to Save Your Skin from Cold, Dry Winter Weather

Dry skin, begone! Plus my winter skincare regimen revealed.