How it works:

  • Share your skin goals and snap selfies

  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

How it works:

  • Share your skin goals and snap selfies

  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

5 types of serums that can supplement your skincare routine

Facial serums aren’t necessary to use—but they can help give your skin an extra boost.

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Curology Team
Nov 07, 2022 · 7 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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  3. > 5 types of serums that can supplement your skincare routine

When it comes to skincare, serums are a popular way to target specific skin concerns or goals—but they’re also completely optional. If you already have a good skincare routine that includes cleansing, moisturizing, treating, and protecting with SPF, you probably don’t need to add a serum. With all of the latest skincare products and treatment trends popping up, though, we know they can be fun to try!

Here we’ll explain everything you need to know about the types of serums and exfoliating serums you can use in your skincare routine. We’ll also give you step-by-step instructions on how to use them if you decide to give them a whirl. 

What is a serum?

Serums are topical skincare products with highly concentrated ingredients designed to penetrate deeper into your skin. Depending on the ingredients they contain, serums help benefit skin conditions like acne, dryness, fine lines, wrinkles, skin texture, and uneven skin tone. Many serums contain minimal ingredients—just what’s needed to do what they’re designed to do. In other words, serums typically work with other products, not in place of them. 

Because of their concentrated formulas, facial serums may cause skin sensitivity, although this can certainly vary depending on the active ingredients they contain. If you’re new to using over-the-counter or prescription treatment creams like your personalized Curology formula, your skin may need a chance to adjust before adding a serum. We usually recommend waiting a week or two before adding other products with active ingredients like AHA, BHA, retinol, and vitamin C back into your routine after starting prescription treatments like Curology. 

What types of serums exist?

Serums usually address specific skin concerns while complementing your usual skincare routine. So, if you’re asking yourself, “What serum should I use?”, the answer depends on your specific skincare goals. 

Here are five different types of serums you can consider: 

  1. Anti-aging serums work to help prevent or decrease signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles. Common ingredients in anti-aging serums include retinol (a vitamin A derivative) and niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3). Retinols promote skin cell turnover, and niacinamide boosts collagen production.¹ Ingredients like this may give your skin a smoother, fuller appearance.

  2. Brightening serums target hyperpigmentation (dark spots), helping even out skin tone. Topical vitamin C is well-known for reducing damage from free radicals, increasing collagen production, and evening skin tone from sun damage.²

  3. Exfoliating serums help speed the natural process of turning over dead skin cells. Serums use chemical exfoliating ingredients like alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs). AHAs like glycolic acid work close to the skin’s surface to remove dead skin cells.

  4. Hydrating serums use humectants and emollients to attract and maintain moisture, helping to prevent irritation and strengthen the skin barrier. Many hydrating serums contain hyaluronic acid, a humectant that works to pull water from the environment and deeper skin layers to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.³

  5. Calming serums are designed to help soothe irritated, dry, and red skin. They often contain soothing and hydrating ingredients like aloe vera, ceramides, niacinamide, and green tea extract. 

Should I use serums?

Serums can be a great addition to your skincare routine when you’re looking for an optional boost to reach your skincare goals. Remember, serums complement what you’re already doing, so choose one that will give your skin that little oomph it needs. 

Here’s what you can expect from a serum: 

  • Lightweight. Serums tend to have a thin, non-greasy texture; many are oil-free, so people with oily skin generally do well with them. 

  • Easy to layer. Because of their texture, serums are easy to layer. This can give your skin a boost without feeling like you have layer upon layer of cream on your face. 

  • Targeted. Serums use specific ingredients to target signs of aging, hyperpigmentation, or other skin concerns.   

  • Fast-absorbing. Serums are made with ingredients that are designed to penetrate your skin. They often absorb quickly without forming a greasy barrier on your skin’s surface. 

How to use serums

woman applying serum

The order in which you apply skincare products matters, and it should start with cleansing your face. What comes next depends on the time of day and the products you use. Serums usually go on just after washing your face and before moisturizing. Whether you apply your serum as part of your morning or night routine depends on the active ingredients it contains. 

Daytime serums often contain ingredients like vitamin C, which helps protect skin from sun damage.⁴ Nighttime serums usually contain exfoliants like AHAs. This ingredient increases your skin’s sensitivity to UV rays,⁵ so not only should it be used at night, but you should also wear sunscreen with at least SPF 30 during the day—which you should already be doing anyway, regardless of whether you use a serum! 

Here’s how we recommend applying facial skincare products: 

  • Start with a clean face. Choose a cleanser that works with your skin type and massage it into your skin using your fingertips. Rinse with warm water and pat your skin dry with a clean towel. 

  • Apply a pea-sized amount of serum. Gently work the serum into your face and neck. Give it a chance to absorb—serums are fast-absorbing, so it shouldn’t take long. 

  • Topical treatments (if you’re using one) come next. In most cases, you’ll apply this at night. If you’re using a daytime serum, skip this step.  

  • Finish with a moisturizer to help seal in moisture and protect your skin. 

Whenever you start using a new serum, you'll want to take it slow at first. Depending on the ingredients, you might eventually use your serum every day or just once a week. When adding in multiple new products or active ingredients, it’s generally recommended to add one at a time. Always follow the product’s instructions and be sure to apply sunscreen as the last step of your morning routine–it’s a must, no matter what! 

Should I use a serum if I use Curology? 

Using a serum along with your personalized Curology formula is okay, but it’s not necessary. What serum does for your face should complement your treatment. So, if you’re a Curology member, your personalized prescription formula is the core element of your skincare routine. Other products, including serums, are optional, depending on your skin goals.

Remember, active ingredients are more concentrated in serums, and they're often designed to penetrate more deeply than creams. Some serums containing active ingredients may cause sensitivity. Wait to start using a serum until your skin has adjusted to your Curology formula. And remember, more does not always mean “more.” Just because a serum offers concentrated active ingredients does not mean you need it. Simple is typically enough! And if you have any questions, be sure to reach out to your Curology dermatology provider for answers. They’re here to help!

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Curology was founded in 2014 by Dr. David Lorschter, MD, a board-certified dermatologist. We help take the guesswork out of your skincare routine—licensed dermatology providers work with you to examine your skin, assess your skincare goals, and provide custom treatment options. Becoming a member is easy. Please answer a few questions and upload a few selfies to help us get to know your skin, and one of our dermatology providers will consult with you about your skincare routine and goals. If Curology is right for you, we’ll create a personalized prescription formula with a mix of ingredients chosen for your unique needs. No serums are required! Curology’s dermatology experts are there to answer your questions and guide you toward achieving your skincare goals.

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FAQs

What is a serum?

Serums are topical skincare products with highly concentrated ingredients designed to penetrate deeper into your skin. Depending on the ingredients they contain, serums help benefit skin conditions like acne, dryness, fine lines, wrinkles, skin texture, and uneven skin tone.

What types of serums exist?

  1. Anti-aging serums work to help prevent or decrease signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles.

  2. Brightening serums target hyperpigmentation (dark spots), helping even out skin tone.

  3. Exfoliating serums help speed the natural process of turning over dead skin cells.

  4. Hydrating serums use humectants and emollients to attract and maintain moisture, helping to prevent irritation and strengthen the skin barrier.

  5. Calming serums are designed to help soothe irritated, dry, and red skin.

Should I use serums?

Here’s what you can expect from a serum: 

  • Lightweight. Serums tend to have a thin, non-greasy texture; many are oil-free, so people with oily skin generally do well with them. 

  • Easy to layer. Because of their texture, serums are easy to layer. This can give your skin a boost without feeling like you have layer upon layer of cream on your face. 

  • Targeted. Serums use specific ingredients to target signs of aging, hyperpigmentation, or other skin concerns.   

  • Fast-absorbing. Serums are made with ingredients that are designed to penetrate your skin. They often absorb quickly without forming a greasy barrier on your skin’s surface.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Levin, J., et al. How much do we really know about our favorite cosmeceutical ingredients? Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (February 2010).

  2. Telang, P. S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. (2013).

  3. Tatjana Pavicic, et al. Efficacy of cream-based novel formulations of hyaluronic acid of different molecular weights in anti-wrinkle treatment. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. (September 2011).

  4. Pumori Saokar Telang. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. (April-June 2013).

  5. Kornhauser, A., et al. The Effects of Topically Applied Glycolic Acid and Salicylic Acid on Ultraviolet Radiation-Induced Erythema, DNA Damage and Sunburn Cell Formation in Human Skin. Journal of Dermatology Science. (July 2009).

Elise Griffin is a certified physician assistant at Curology. She received her Master of Medical Science in physician assistant studies from Nova Southeastern University in Jacksonville, FL.

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Trial is 30 days. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Elise Griffin, Physician Assistant Curology

Elise Griffin, PA-C

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