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  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

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Face serums for healthy and radiant skin

Curology’s dermatology providers share some of their favorite serums to elevate your skincare routine.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Aug 28, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
A Woman Applying Face Serum
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Aug 28, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
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.

No matter your skin type, tone, or texture, including high-quality face serums in your beauty routine can help you to get closer to your skincare goals. The potent ingredients found in many face serums are often formulated to specifically target a wide range of common skin concerns, including but not limited to dark spots, fine lines, and acne breakouts. While these products aren’t necessary to have a solid regimen, they can make a great addition to your existing routine.

But, you’ll want to make sure any serum you’re using is right for your skin. Here, Curology’s team of dermatology providers dive into the world of face serums, sharing what you need to know about the beneficial ingredients they can contain and the skin concerns they target.

What do face serums do?

A serum is a potent product with a high ingredient concentration in either a water or oil base. Face serums are often formulated to contain only the essential components while excluding additives, fillers, and other unnecessary substances.¹

Serums usually contain a few ingredients chosen to maximize the active agent, like vitamins, growth factors, or botanical extracts. Unlike face creams and moisturizers, serums can have higher concentrations of active ingredients, sometimes up to 70%, making them ideal for addressing specific skin concerns. Their low overall density enables fast absorption and deeper penetration, while their thin texture allows for quick absorption into the deeper layers of the skin.²

What common ingredients are in skincare, and what do they target?

Skincare products contain a range of common ingredients, each with specific purposes and targets. Frequently used skincare ingredients include:

Hyaluronic acid

One of the key benefits of hyaluronic acid is its ability to effectively retain moisture, helping to keep the skin hydrated and plump. Hyaluronic acid has also been found to improve the skin’s texture, making it smoother and more supple. And beyond that, hyaluronic acid has the potential to address visible signs of skin aging, like wrinkles and fine lines, and enhance the skin’s elasticity, helping it appear firmer and more youthful.³ The versatility of hyaluronic acid makes it a sought-after ingredient for those with dry skin seeking a healthy glow.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is the most abundant antioxidant found in the skin. Unlike plants and some animals, our bodies cannot produce vitamin C alone. Even when we take high doses of vitamin C supplements, only a small portion is present in our skin. That’s why we rely on external sources of vitamin C, which may include topically applied serums.⁴

Topical vitamin C offers a variety of benefits, including the potential for brighter skin, anti-aging, reduced pigmentation issues, and protection against the sun’s harmful effects.⁵

Retinol

Retinol is an ingredient that has been extensively studied for its anti-aging properties. It addresses common signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles. Retinol helps combat the changes in collagen and elastin fibers due to sun damage and aging. Additionally, retinol encourages fibroblasts, the cells responsible for producing collagen, to create collagen fibers, which can help improve the firmness of the skin. Retinol also improves skin elasticity by enhancing elastin fibers' production.⁶

Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is a beneficial ingredient commonly used in skincare products. It helps promote the skin’s natural exfoliation process, removing dead skin cells and improving overall skin texture. Salicylic acid, originally derived from plants like wintergreen and white willow, is particularly effective in treating blackheads and whiteheads. It can penetrate the skin’s surface and help unclog pores by removing excess oil and debris. This treats existing breakouts and helps stop the progression of white and blackheads to becoming more troublesome inflamed acne. Salicylic acids oil-soluble nature allows it to target and address these specific skin concerns, promoting clearer and healthier-looking skin.⁷

Botanical extracts

Botanical extracts often contain skin-replenishing properties and antioxidants, so they are frequently included in skincare products. Thanks to their concentrated form, these extracts possess qualities that may allow them to help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, improve the overall complexion, fade acne scars and age spots, restore balance to oil and moisture levels, promote smoothness and softness of the skin, combat free radicals, and revitalize and protect skin cells.⁸

How should you apply serum?

It’s important to follow the instructions on a serum’s label for optimal benefits. Generally, applying serum on clean skin is best before using heavier products. Applying the serum first after cleansing allows for deeper penetration of the ingredients. Nighttime is usually the ideal time to apply anti-aging serums, as this aligns with the body’s natural circadian rhythm for skin repair and renewal.⁹

Serums we recommend

Upgrade your skincare routine with Curology

Incorporating high-quality face serums into your daily skincare routine can have a transformative impact on your skin. We generally recommend a simple, three-step skincare routine for optimal results.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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To address any skin concerns you may have, sign up to receive a personalized formula* prescribed by one of Curology’s licensed dermatology providers. They have the expertise to evaluate your unique skin concerns and recommend skincare products tailored to your needs. By seeking professional guidance, you can make informed decisions about the most effective measures to protect and nourish your skin.

FAQs

Does face serum really work?

Yes. Face serums are carefully crafted to include only the components our skin needs to help address certain concerns. These specialized formulations are purposefully designed to exclude unnecessary additives, fillers, or other substances that provide no real benefit. Unlike emulsion-based products, serums eliminate the need for emulsifiers, which can compromise the effectiveness of the active ingredients. This ensures that serums deliver maximum potency and efficacy for optimal skincare results.¹⁰

Which facial serums are best for anti-aging skin?

Serums that contain ingredients such as retinol, hyaluronic acid, or vitamin C have anti-aging properties that can lead to firmer, more youthful skin.

Are face serums the same as moisturizers?

No. The consistency of serums tends to be thinner. In contrast to face creams and moisturizers, serums can contain higher concentrations of active ingredients, reaching levels of up to 70%, which makes them excellent for nourishing and layering the skin.¹¹ Their lightweight texture facilitates swift absorption and deeper penetration, while their thin consistency allows for easy application and absorption into the deeper layers of the skin.

When to start using vitamin C serum?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, you can use Vitamin C serum in your 20s if you see dark spots or signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles.¹²

• • •

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

  1. Paradise, P.S., et al. General review on face serum. World Journal of Pharmaceutical Research. (2023, April 10).

  2. Paradise, P.S., et al. General review on face serum. World Journal of Pharmaceutical Research. Ibid.

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

  4. Al-Niami, F. and Chiang, N.Y.Z. Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (2017, July 1). 

  5. Al-Niami, F. and Chiang, N.Y.Z. Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. Ibid.

  6. Paradise, P.S., et al. General review on face serum. World Journal of Pharmaceutical Research. Ibid.

  7. Paradise, P.S., et al. General review on face serum. World Journal of Pharmaceutical Research. Ibid.

  8. Paradise, P.S., et al. General review on face serum. World Journal of Pharmaceutical Research. Ibid.

  9. Paradise, P.S., et al. General review on face serum. World Journal of Pharmaceutical Research. Ibid.

  10. Paradise, P.S., et al. General review on face serum. World Journal of Pharmaceutical Research. Ibid.

  11. Paradise, P.S., et al. General review on face serum. World Journal of Pharmaceutical Research. Ibid.

  12. Ludmann, P. Dermatologist-recommended skin care for your 20s. American Academy of Dermatology Association. (2023, February 23).

Meredith Hartle is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Curology. She earned her medical degree at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, MO.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. 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.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Meredith Hartle, DO

Meredith Hartle, DO

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