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Understanding face serum benefits and how to use them in your skincare routine

Depending on the serum you use, you can get closer to your skincare goals.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Nov 10, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
Serum Dropping from Pipette
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Nov 10, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
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.

In this article

What are face serums?
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Nourishing, rejuvenating, and invigorating—these are some of the common selling points of face serums. Even though they aren’t considered a mandatory step in a complete skincare routine, potential face serum benefits could be game-changing for your skin health. 

Ranging from hydration to anti-aging, brightening, calming, and anti-acne effects, these potent benefits are the results of specific skincare ingredients. But how do you select the right serum for your needs? And once you’ve found it, how do you add it to your daily regimen? 

We asked Curology’s team of licensed dermatology providers to dive into the world of face serums, examining their diverse potential benefits and decoding the mystery of their key ingredients. Plus, we’ll share tips on how to smoothly incorporate them into your skincare routine, ensuring you extract the maximum benefits. 

What are face serums?

Face serums are a specialized skincare product, often touted for their concentrated and targeted impact. Imagine them as power-packed liquids that come in petite bottles but carry a mighty punch for your skin. Their light, water- or oil-based formulations ensure easy absorption, penetrating the skin typically without leaving a greasy residue.

What makes serums unique? They’re concentrated concoctions made with active ingredients that tackle common skin complaints. You can target plenty of skin concerns—from hydration, wrinkle-fighting, brightening, or combatting acne—with the right serum. The choice of the main ingredient or the combination formula decides the specific purpose of the serum.

Using a serum is akin to adding a boost to your skincare regimen. They’re simple to apply, owing to their usual packaging in small bottles with a dropper. Generally, just a few drops evenly spread across your face are all you need to take in its benefits.

While face serums can be effective, they aren’t essential to your skincare routine. They serve as an optional layer that can supplement your regular skincare steps, delivering enhanced and personalized skincare results. Just remember that each serum is unique, so it’s key to choose one that suits your skin's requirements.

5 potential face serum benefits

Face serums, with their targeted and concentrated ingredients, may be considered secret weapons in your skincare arsenal. Depending on their active ingredients, they can offer a range of benefits and are designed to address specific skin concerns. Here are five potential face serum benefits that illustrate their versatility and efficacy:

Hydration

Hydrating serums are like a tall glass of water for your skin. They may employ such ingredients as humectants to attract and lock in moisture and emollients to help prevent dryness and flakiness. Ingredients such as hyaluronic acid are known for their exceptional moisture-retaining properties.¹ Additionally, ceramides and fatty acids strengthen the skin barrier, making it more resilient and better at retaining hydration.²

Anti-aging

When it comes to fighting visible signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles, anti-aging serums can be a great go-to. These formulas may contain ingredients such as retinol, vitamins C and E, and copper peptides, which can help improve the visible signs of skin aging.³ Niacinamide (also known as vitamin B3) helps regulate cell regeneration and is another common anti-aging ingredient.⁴

Skin-brightening

If you’re battling dark spots, a skin-brightening serum might be the answer. They typically contain powerful ingredients like vitamin C,⁵ known for its photoprotective properties, niacinamide,⁶ which fades hyperpigmentation, and azelaic acid,⁷ which can help address discoloration. These serums can make your skin look more radiant and even-toned.

Skin-calming

Irritated, red, or dry skin may benefit from calming serums. These formulations typically contain anti-inflammatory ingredients like vitamin E.⁸ Moisturizing agents such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, and ceramides may also hydrate and help repair and strengthen the skin barrier, promoting a calmer, more balanced complexion.

Acne-fighting

When dealing with acne, anti-acne serums can be a game-changer. They could contain ingredients like salicylic acid, a chemical exfoliant that clears clogged pores by sweeping away dead skin cells, dirt, and oil, thereby reducing the chance of acne formation.⁹ 

In a nutshell, face serums offer a diverse array of benefits tailored to various skin concerns. They can hydrate, fight signs of aging, brighten the skin, calm irritation, and combat acne. Remember to choose a serum based on your specific skin needs, and patch-test a new product before fully integrating it into your routine. With the right serum, you can boost your skincare regimen and achieve healthier, more radiant skin.

How to add face serum to your skincare routine 

Adding a face serum to your skincare routine can seem daunting given its concentrated nature. But with the right approach, it can be a seamless and beneficial addition. Here are some steps to ensure you integrate serums effectively and safely into your routine.

Start with a patch test. This step is a must due to the powerful ingredients serums contain, which, while effective, can sometimes cause skin irritation. To perform a patch test, apply a small amount of the serum on a discreet area, like your inner arm, twice daily for seven to 10 days. If you notice any redness, itchiness, or irritation, it’s likely the product isn’t suitable for your skin.¹⁰

Once you’ve cleared the patch test, the next question is when to apply the serum. This largely depends on the ingredients and the purpose of the serum. Always follow the instructions provided on the product packaging or given by your licensed dermatology provider. However, a general rule of thumb is to apply serum after cleansing your skin but before applying treatments, moisturizers, or sunscreen. This order allows your skin to absorb the potent ingredients in the serum before locking them in with moisturizer.

Incorporating a face serum in your skincare routine can be a game-changer, providing targeted treatment to your specific skin concerns. As long as you use them responsibly, the serums can lead to rewarding potential benefits.

Taking the guesswork out of skincare

Choosing the right skincare products and ingredients can be confusing. It’s tough to know which products will play nice with each other and which ingredients truly work for what you need them for. Consulting with a licensed dermatology provider, like those at Curology, can help you get the answers you need for your skin concerns.

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Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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Curology was founded by dermatologists who believe everyone should have access to skincare products with proven-effective ingredients. Getting started is easy. Just take a quick skin quiz and snap a few photos of your skin concerns. You’ll be paired with one of our licensed dermatology providers who can prescribe a customized treatment plan for your skin. This could include one of our personalized prescription formulas, Custom Formulaᴿˣ for acne or Future Proofᴿˣ for anti-aging, as well as our routine essentials

FAQs

Is it good to use face serum every day?

While face serums aren’t an essential part of a skincare routine, using them daily can certainly enhance your skincare regimen. Their usage depends largely on the ingredients and the directions on the package or those provided by your skincare professional. Some serums are formulated for daily use, even twice a day, while others might need to be used less frequently. Always remember the key to skincare is consistency. So if you decide to use a serum, use it regularly as per the instructions for the best results.

What are the benefits of serums vs. moisturizers?

Serums and moisturizers can both contribute to skin hydration, but they each offer unique benefits. Serums, due to their concentrated nature, generally deliver stronger effects. They may penetrate deeper into the skin, addressing specific concerns like aging signs or acne, in addition to hydration. However, their potency may cause irritation for some. 

On the other hand, moisturizers primarily focus on hydrating and moisturizing the skin. They may not contain the concentrated, targeted ingredients found in serums, but they are generally gentler and less likely to cause irritation. Both can play important roles in a balanced skincare routine.

Does face serum remove dark spots?

Yes, certain face serums can indeed help with dark spots or hyperpigmentation due to their specialized ingredients. Specifically, look for serums that contain vitamin C, niacinamide, or azelaic acid. Vitamin C is renowned for its brightening properties, niacinamide helps in evening out skin tone, and azelaic acid can effectively diminish discoloration. As with all skincare products, remember to use them as directed and be patient, as it may take several weeks to see noticeable improvement.

• • •

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

  1. Jegasothy, S.M., et al. Efficacy of a New Topical Nano-hyaluronic Acid in Humans. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (March 2014).

  2. Michalak, M., et al. Bioactive Compounds for Skin Health: A Review. Nutrients. (January 2021).

  3. Michalak, M., et al. Bioactive Compounds for Skin Health: A Review. Nutrients. Ibid.

  4. Ganceviciene, R., et al. Skin anti-aging strategies. Dermato-endocrinology. (2012, July 1).

  5. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. (April-June 2013).

  6. Cantelli, M., et al. An open-label, investigator-initiated, single-center, prospective, pilot clinical study to evaluate the efficacy of a skin whitening serum applied twice daily combined with a spot-preventing SPF50+ sunscreen in healthy female subjects with melasma hyperpigmentation. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. (April 2022).

  7. Hollinger, J.C. et al. Are Natural Ingredients Effective in the Management of Hyperpigmentation? A Systematic Review. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (February 2018).

  8. Ganceviciene, R., et al. Skin anti-aging strategies. Dermato-endocrinology. Ibid.

  9. Rodan, K., et al. Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare. Plastic and reconstructive surgery. Global open. (December 2016).

  10. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to Test Skin Care Products. (2021, August 10).

Donna McIntyre is a board-certified nurse practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, MA.

• • •
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

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

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