What is a serum and what the hell do I do with it?



The world of skincare is a giant, often confusing and almost endless sea of products these days. Gone is the simple cleanse-tone-moisturise routine of old; now your skincare daily faff can be as complicated as you like! Serums aren’t new, really, but they are one of those things that people can be confused about using. How? When? And why would I bother? We’ve line up some of the facts below:

So, I know it’s a type of skincare product but what does a serum actually do?

You can think of a serum as a super-boosted or high dose skincare step. They are often water based and can pack a serious punch when it comes to things like hydration or anti-ageing properties. They are mostly to be used as well as your moisturiser not instead of. Use ’em to treat specific skin issues, like dullness, fine lines, dehydration or  pigmentation.

Is it not just a beauty industry swizz?

There are merits to using serums but, yes, it is another step to add to your routine so it is entirely up to you whether you want to or not. We have to say we’re fans. They can supplement your moisturiser and tackle – really quite annoying – issues like dryness, fine lines, dullness etc.

Do I put it on before my makeup? After my moisturiser? Before everything? On top of everything?!

Generally speaking, serums are water-based* and you want those teeny tiny power-packed molecules as close to the skin as possible so they go under your moisturiser. Some may feel sufficiently hydrating that you won’t need a moisturiser (don’t skip your daily SPF though). You should continue to use your day cream/night cream, ideally, as they will keep all that serum goodness where it can do, eh, good. Plus your moisturiser will keep skin supple and comfy.

*Some serums are oil based and they’re better used on top of a moisturiser. Then there are face oils, which are different again…but we’ll talk about them another time!

How do I use it?

A little goes a long way. Serums usually have a watery consistency so a drop or two will do the whole face. Apply before your moisturiser, as we’ve mentioned. Some brands recommend twice a day use but if you find that you’re overloading your skin with products before trying to put makeup on, drop back and just use it at night.

Okay, I’m interested. What should I look for?

Key ingredients to look out for include:
Retinol (vitamin A) is brilliant for anti-ageing. It helps boost cell renewal and can brighten skin. Go easy though as it can be quite strong.
Vitamin E, an antioxidant, protects skin and can help drier skin types.
Omega 3 fatty acids are nourishing and keep the barrier layer working well.
Vitamin C reduces inflammation and brightens the complexion.
Green tea extract is an antioxidant that can brighten dull skin.
Hyaluronic acid is brilliant for hydration as it can hold many times its own weight in water.



Five to try:

Double Serum, from €72, Clarins


Midnight Recovery Concentrate, €44, Kiehl’s


Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, €6.80, The Ordinary


Superstart Skin Renewal Booster, €59, Elizabeth Arden



Hydraphase Intense Serum, €24, La Roche-Posay


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