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Question and Answer: Are day/night serums necessary? What do they really do?

Posted by Dan Narsete on



The science behind skin and skin care is complex. Knowing how different compounds effect different aspects of your skin is not only complicated for your average joe, but it is tough for physicians and researchers to figure it out (and they are around this stuff all the time). People use all kinds of things on their skin ranging from honey, lemon juice, TCA peels, and growth factors. What is important to consider is what are you attempting to treat? Some of the top concerns for people are acne, anti-aging, and brown spots. So, let’s look at day and night options for both.

This is a great question. Since there isn’t a straight answer, let’s look at what it is that different serums do and when you should use them.

Serum types

A typical regimen should go something like this: cleanser during the shower or when you are getting ready. Next would be one to two serums depending on what you are attempting to correct/prevent. Next would be a moisturizer, followed by sunscreen (or a sunscreen with moisturizer). At night you would do a moisturizer instead of the sunscreen. There are a lot of different types of serums. Growth factors, peptides, hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, retinol, vitamin C & E combinations, green tea extract, azelaic acid and arbutin/kojic acid serums are all common daytime serums.


Acne can be stubborn and sometimes difficult to deal with. It is caused by normal hair follicles that become clogged with dead skin cells and oil from your sebaceous (oil producing) gland. Beyond this, inflammation can make it worse. Sunlight, excessive cleansing, stress and even your diet can trigger more oil production and more acne. Many people don’t know that drying out your skin will cause irritation, inflammation, and in turn, more acne. In order to avoid this, you will want to use a serum that will calm and inhibit any level of inflammation. Serums that contain glycolic and salicylic acids are a good daytime choice. They both are lipophilic (li-po-phi-lic) which means they are attracted to oils and will pull off excess oil without drying out your skin. For a nighttime serum nothing beats retinol. Though it can initially irritate skin and even cause minor breakouts (in the beginning) retinol is great for acne. Retinol communicates with your cells to tell them to turnover. It’s like a natural exfoliator that also helps with pigment (brown spots) and even creates new collagen. 

Daytime suggestion: Epionce has a great daytime serum called Lytic Gel which uses salicylic and azelaic acid to calm and inhibit acne and brown spots. It’s a great serum. IS Clinical also has a really solid Active Serum that has both glycolic, salicylic acids, and arbutin for brown spots. Both are great to use for daytime acne serums. 

Nighttime suggestion: Retinol. You need to be careful with retinol so you don’t overdo it at first. Ease into it over a few weeks alternating the days you put it on and only use pea-sized amounts. Since it will cause skin to turnover it should only be used at night and you must wear sunscreen during the day. Replenix makes a great starter retinol with their all-trans-retinol smoothing serum 2X.  SkinMedica Retinol Complex is another retinol at .25% and is a good place to start.

Brown spots

In the medical world, brown spots are called hyper-pigmentation. The process of pigmentation is complicated so we’ll spare the details on how it happens. Luckily there are a few serums that can do amazing things to help prevent these. The biggest key for any given serum is to slow down inflammation in your skin. In addition to sunscreen, vitamin C serums between 10-20% are great at slowing this down. Arbutin and kojic acid serums work well for this. And, although we do not recommend it, hydroquinone can be also be effective at stopping brown spots.

Daytime suggestion: Vitamin C serums are great for slowing down pigmentation issues. They are also potent antioxidants which can help with sun damage. Citrix makes a great L-Ascorbic Acid (vitamin C) serum that is worth trying if you have brown spots.

Nighttime suggestion: Since it is a nighttime only serum retinol is best used here. Alternatives to retinol are serums that have kojic acid or arbutin in them. IS Clinical has a real nice serum called White Lightning, which is another nighttime option if you don’t want to use retinol.


There are a lot of anti-aging serums out there. The ones with strong clinical backing to them include peptides, growth factors, some anti-inflammatories, and retinol. Like any serum, the challenge with anti-aging is that it takes time. We live in an instant gratification society and it’s difficult to be patient with this kind of stuff. Unfortunately, mother nature didn’t get the memo. Ninety days is really the start of collagen remodeling when using skin care alone. This isn’t to say you won’t see results before, but most studies have shown little efficacy at one month, but significant changes were seen at three or more months.

Daytime suggestion: The IS Clinical Youth Serum has a growth factors, vitamins C&E, salicylic acid, and hyaluronic acid in it. Solid choice for a daytime, anti-aging, and anti-inflammatory serum.

Nighttime suggestion: I’ll give you one guess here…both of our physicians agree that retinol is the best nighttime anti-aging serum on the market. Hands down. So why mess with a good thing? That being said, if you have really sensitive skin, another option is Epionce’s Lytic Lite, which uses azelaic acid and other anti-inflammatories to help regenerate collagen.

We hope this helped answer your question. This isn’t to say there aren’t other options out there, but we have listed recommendations based on our extensive knowledge of skin care products and clinical based results. We always encourage people to take five minutes and try our skin care quiz. It will take your concerns, budget, and needs into account to create a medical-grade skincare regimen for you. It is a free service and has the approval of both a board-certified dermatologist and plastic surgeon. We know what works and are happy to share the good news with you! Thanks for the question(s) and we look forward to the next one.

To having great skin,


Team Reflect

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