October 2, 2021

What Is a Serum and When Do You Use Them?

By eyl4sh21

A serum is almost self-explanatory. “A serum really is just a slippery liquid. It’s in between a true liquid and a cream,” says Angela Lamb, MD, an associate professor in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Within your skin-care routine, they are designed to go after your cleanser and before your moisturizer, says Dr. Lamb. These often contain an active ingredient that aims to address a single goal, such as brightening skin tone or fighting wrinkles. And often, they may be able to deliver better results compared with a similar moisturizer. “Serums have a higher concentration of active ingredients than a traditional moisturizer. They are formulated to penetrate the skin versus sit on the surface of skin and lock moisture in, which is the role of a [traditional] moisturizer,” says Deanne Robinson, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Westport, Connecticut.

How Are Serums Different From Essences and Ampoules?
It’s easy to confuse a serum with other beauty buzzwords, like an essence or ampoule. As Dr. Robinson explains, an essence is a more diluted form of a serum, while an ampoule is highly concentrated but contains fewer active ingredients than a serum. You’d use an ampoule when you need a “turbo dose” of one ingredient to treat a specific skin concern. “A serum is more of a multitasker,” she says. If appropriate, you’d add an essence or ampoule into your routine, alongside a serum.

Which Serum Is Right for You?
In general, a well-chosen serum that takes into account your skin type and goals is safe to use, says Lamb. (For instance, if you are pregnant, you should avoid a serum containing retinol, but you can still use a serum without this active ingredient.)

Serums can be expensive, but to temper the sticker shock, remember this: “When you apply it, you need only one pump, so your product should last you a while,” says Robinson.

To Address Fine Lines and Wrinkles or Improve Texture, Look for Retinol
The natural loss of collagen with age contributes to the formation of fine lines and wrinkles. So what you need right now is to boost skin cell turnover and stimulate collagen production. For that, reach for a retinol serum, says Dr. Lamb. Another plus of retinol: It boosts levels of hyaluronic acid, a natural component of skin that keeps it plump and hydrated, per a study published in May 2017 in the Archives of Dermatological Research. Apply these at night, she says: “Retinols are deactivated by the sun.” One brand she often recommends is RoC.

Try RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Facial Serum, $26.18, Walmart.com.

To Smooth Lines and Wrinkles When You Have Sensitive Skin or Are Pregnant, Go for Bakuchiol
Bakuchiol is a natural retinol alternative, derived from the leaves of the plant Psoralea corylifolia, per Paula’s Choice Skincare. It functions in skin just like a retinol, but is less likely to set off reactions (such as redness and peeling), so it can be a good option for those who need a gentler anti-aging product, says Robinson. Unlike retinol, it is also safe to use during pregnancy. One study, published in February 2019 in the British Journal of Dermatology pitted a 0.5 percent bakuchiol cream against a 0.5 percent retinol cream, and found that after 12 weeks, both equally reduced the appearance of wrinkles and hyperpigmentation — but the bakuchiol product triggered fewer side effects.

Try Biossance Squalene + Phyto-Retinol Serum, $72, Sephora.com.