If you have a skin care routine, or are just putting one together for the first time, you’re probably wondering what items you need and which ones you can skip. Every routine needs at least three components: cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen. Beyond that, it can be hard to know what you need or if you already have the basic necessities.
When it comes to serums, we’re often asked, “Do I need one?” and “What exactly does it do?” In short, serums deliver specific ingredients to the deeper layers of your skin. They generally cost more than other skin care products and are marketed in a way that makes it seem like you’re missing out if you don’t have at least one (or five) in your routine. Before you invest in a serum, here are some things that will make choosing the correct product easier.
What Is It?
Serums come in little bottles, usually one ounce or less, and often have a short shelf life due to ingredients that are difficult to stabilize, like vitamin C. Some products should be refrigerated to keep them from degrading due to heat, and the bottles are usually opaque or amber-colored to keep all that skin loving goodness from oxidizing in the sun (which reduces the potency). Think of serum as a position player, like a quarterback. It does one job really well, for which it is handsomely rewarded. In the skin care world, serums are stars and command high prices.
What Does It Feel Like?
Unlike cream or lotion, most serums are thin and watery, but many border on creamy or have a gel consistency. Determining which one you prefer takes a little trial and error, and you may end up wanting one of each. Most serums absorb quickly and hydrate the skin, but they aren’t occlusive, which is why they’re applied after cleansing and before applying moisturizer and sunscreen. Now, when you think about it, you can see why some ingredients in cream and lotion don’t contribute much in the way of moisture. That’s not their only job. They prevent moisture loss, which means you may need more hydration than they can offer as standalone products. Finally, serums rarely contain oil since most are water-based. So if you have oily skin, don’t forego a serum simply over concerns about it causing or exacerbating acne. In fact, many people with oily skin find serums work better than creams.
What Does It Do?
Most serums have a singular job. After all, these are dedicated products, and they usually claim to do one or a few things really well. Whether or not they live up to the hype depends on the formulation, ingredient concentration, and how successfully they fit into your routine. That last one, by the way, depends on a number of variables, any one of which can fall short and cause you to ditch the product altogether. Failure is generally a sign that a serum is either too sticky, smells bad, causes irritation, or doesn’t provide results. While we’ll often tolerate less than perfect scents and textures, poor performance is a deal breaker.
What Kind of Serum Do I Need?
Before adding a serum to your routine, think about what you want it to do for your skin. You can use it to boost hydration, increase cell turnover, brighten or eliminate hyperpigmentation, or prevent damage caused by pollution, etc. Serums that claim to do all of the above should trigger your skepticism. By packing too many main ingredients into one little bottle, manufacturers are diluting the efficacy of each individual ingredient. It’s best to do one thing really well than to be mediocre at everything.
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With a little research, you’ll find the right serum for your routine. We’ll explore serums for various skin conditions in future articles, so don’t forget to check back with us for more targeted advice. In the meantime, take our simple quiz to determine which skin care products we recommend for your unique situation. And, as always, feel free to write to us if you have questions. We’re happy to help.
To good skin days,
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