The Ultimate Face Serum Guide

We developed this comprehensive face serum guide to help everyone learn more about face serum.

We take a close look at serum ingredients and the skin conditions that they can treat. We also answer many common face serum questions.

It’s time for everyone to experience the benefits that face serums can offer. Let’s answer some questions that everybody has starting with, what exactly is “serum”?

When you finish reading, you can learn more about our own serums on this page – Nayelle face serums.

The Face Serum Guide

What is face serum?

When we talk about serum in the skin care industry we are talking about highly concentrated skincare products that you can apply directly to your skin.

Serum is designed to deliver concentrated ingredients directly into the skin. It is particularly suited to this task because it is made up of smaller molecules that can penetrate deeply into the skin and deliver a high concentration of active ingredients.

When do I apply serum?

Serum is applied to the skin after cleansing but before moisturizing.

What is the difference between serums and creams?

Serums are highly concentrated water soluble or oil based products that are applied topically to the skin. They are designed to penetrate the skin to deliver their ingredients. Creams are also applied directly to the skin, but they act more as a moisture barrier than a serum does.

Is serum a moisturizer?

We would tend to say that serums are not moisturizers. Serums are usually full of moisturizing ingredients such as hyaluronic acid or ceramides. These ingredients help skin to retain its moisture. This does not make serums moisturizers in the traditional sense.

With face creams and lotions, they are designed to create a barrier on top of the skin’s surface to keep all the good stuff in. A serum is designed to penetrate the skin in an effective manner and not so much to create a moisture barrier on your skin.

What is the difference between serum and face oil?

Most serums are water-based. Most face oils have an oil base as the name would suggest.

Water based face serums:

Water-based serums are designed to go under the skin cream application. They nourish the inner layer of the skin because the molecules are very small. This allows for better skin penetration and delivery of the ingredients.

Oil based face serums:

Oil-based serums are designed to act as that important moisture barrier, with the goal of keeping all the good stuff in and providing hydration to the skin. Oils are comprised of larger molecules so they protect the upper layers of the skin and do not absorb into the deeper layers of the skin as well as water based serums.

How often should I apply a face serum?

This depends highly on the type of serum. It is important to always read the label on any skincare product and follow the instructions carefully. In our experience applying a serum once a day will probably be enough.

A word of caution: Because serums are concentrated, more is not always better. Powerful ingredients can irritate sensitive skin if overused. Always patch-test accordingly.

Is “Essence” a serum?

Essence and serum are very similar. They differ in texture. Serums tend to be gooey and concentrated. Essences are watered-down with a more fluid-like texture.

Why are serums more expensive

Serums tend to be more expensive because they are super-concentrated and potent.

Does serum expire faster?

It does not expire any faster than other skin care products containing the same ingredients. Certain potent ingredients often found in serum can become unstable once they come in contact with air. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C), can oxidize and lose efficacy over time. Many serum based ingredients are now modified to last for this very reason. Always store your serum vial in a cool, dry place and use it up within six months to a year.

Is serum good for your skin?

That all depends on a serum’s ingredients and yes, generally we can serums are good for your skin. Serums are developed with specific ingredients that can help with a variety of skin conditions.

What ingredients are used in Serums?

face serum ingredients

Serums can be produced using a variety of ingredients including oils, natural extracts, peptides, Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA’s), Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA’s), ceramides, retinoids, lipids, vitamins, acids and all kinds of synthetic creations.

Most serums will combine several important ingredients to make the serum as effective as possible at achieving the desired result, whether that be hydrating, exfoliating, acne fighting, anti-inflammatory or reducing the signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles.

Let’s examine the most popular and effective serum ingredients:

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a serum ingredient that everybody is talking about. Hyaluronic acid is naturally present in your skin and 50% of your bodies total HA is found in your skin. There are many scientific studies that show hyaluronic acid to be one of the most effective skin hydrators because of its ability to bind with water and hold up to 1000 times its own weight in water. These hydrating properties make hyaluronic acid a desired ingredient in many serums.

The Hyaluronic acid in your skin diminishes over time as we age. Adding Hyaluronic acid to the skin in the form of a topical application helps to keep skin moisturized but it should be combined with other ingredients to achieve a total skin moisturizing package.

Natural Extracts

Many serums incorporate natural extracts in their ingredients. The idea behind “extracts” is to draw out the most effective and beneficial components of the original source material in a concentrated form. Some of the most popular natural extracts are derived from: green tea, grapeseed, rosemary, aloe vera and acai berries to name a few.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a useful serum ingredient because it can be absorbed into the skin through topical application. Vitamin C is an effective antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties. It does occur naturally in the skin and is a critical factor for collagen synthesis and elastin production. Vitamin C is known to protect skin against UV damage and is needed in the skin for wound healing.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a popular face serum ingredient because it is a well-known acne fighter. The chemical composition of Vitamin E is made up of four tycopherol proteins and four tocotreinol proteins, both are fat-soluble compounds. These proteins are a rich source of anti-oxidants that help skin fight back against the damage caused by free radicals. Reducing the damage of free radicals helps your skin fight inflammatory conditions like acne.

Vitamin E also helps your skin produce collagen and elastin which in turn help to strengthen your. Healthy strong skin is the best foundation to achieve better skin hydration.


Retinol is just one of many related compounds called retinoids that are derived from vitamin A. Retinol is a common and popular serum ingredient because it stimulates the production of new skin cells. Retinol also helps boost the production of collagen. Retinol helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.


Your skin is naturally comprised of over 50% Ceramides. Ceramides are a family of lipid (fat) molecules comprising of sphingosine and a fatty acid. Ceramides are found in high concentration in the upper layers of the skin. Generally, you will see the word ceramide on the ingredients label as: Ceramide AP, EOP, NG, NP, or NS.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA’s)

Citric acid and malic acid are both effective AHA’s. They are water soluble acids. These acids work by stripping away the top layers of skin giving way for new layers of skin to develop. AHA’s are popular serum ingredients for those looking for skin hydration and ant-aging benefits.

Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA’s)

BHA’s are oil soluble acids and there small molecular size allows them to penetrate deep into the skin to help remove dead skin cells and cleanse the skin of excess sebum. BHA’s are better designed for fighting acne, while AHA’s are better suited for skin hydration.
Salicylic acid is one of the most popular BHA’s found in face serums. It helps to kill the bacteria that causes acne.


Peptides are the building blocks required to make protein. Peptides are sometimes referred to as “the fragments of proteins.” They are made up of chains of amino acids.

When peptides are applied topically to the skin they send signals for the production of new skin. The molecules that make up peptides are small enough to penetrate deep into the skin.

Matrixyl is one of the most well-known peptides prized for its collagen stimulating properties.

Synthetic Blends

The term “synthetic” is not always a bad thing. In fact with skincare synthetic blends can have some amazing properties and benefits for your skin.

Replexium is a synergistic blend of two peptides that can be delivered to the skin in a bio-available form with a small molecular weight. Studies have clearly demonstrated that Replexium can fight several types of wrinkles and can bring back firmness to your skin.

Learn more about the best ingredients used in face serums.

What skin conditions can serums treat?

skin conditions that face serums can treat
Let’s take a look at the most popular skin conditions and the serum ingredients you may want to look for to treat them:

Acne Prone Skin

Acne serums can help treat acne by both providing ingredients that directly treat the acne and by providing ingredients that the skin needs to regulate sebum / oil production. For acne prone skin look for serums that contain these ingredients:

  • Vitamin C – Increases collagen production, enhances skin’s repair process, and reduces inflammation.
  • Retinol – An antioxidant that can reduce inflammation.
  • Zinc – Soothes irritation and regulates sebum production.
  • Salicylic acid – Helps unclogs pores.

Dry Skin

Dry skin serums provide concentrated ingredients that can penetrate deep into the skin and treat the source of dryness. Dry skin serums can also be oil based and give the skin a protective barrier that locks in moisture. Look for these serum ingredients to treat dry skin:

  • Vitamin E – An antioxidant that protects cells from oxidative damage.
  • Niacinamide – Improves skin elasticity and increases ceramide levels in skin.
  • Glycolic acid – Gently exfoliates and lightens the skin helping reduce discoloration.
  • Hyaluronic acid – Allows the skin to retain moisture.

Dull Skin

Look for antioxidant rich natural extracts such as:

  • Green tea extract – A powerful anti-oxidant.
  • Resveratrol – Combats free radicals and promotes cellular repair.


For those that suffer with rosacea look for serums that contain ingredients designed for sensitive skin. Stay away from the acids, alcohol and fragrance! Some popular ingredients include:

  • Hyaluronic acid – A well-known skin hydrator and anti-inflammatory.
  • Vitamin C – An anti-inflammatory that helps repair damaged skin cells.
  • Vitamin E – An Antioxidant that helps protect skin against pollutants and UV rays.
  • Aloe oil – Soothing natural oil with anti-inflammatory properties.

Wrinkles and Fine Lines

It’s a fact of life that as we age many of the natural processes that keep our skin healthy and hydrated start to break down. Environmental damage like pollution and UV rays don’t help one bit either and they all combine to leave our skin with wrinkles and fine lines. Look for these serum ingredients to best treat wrinkles and fine lines:

  • Retinol – Promotes skin renewal and enhances collagen production.
  • Hyaluronic acid – An anti-inflammatory and skin hydrator.
  • Alpha Hydroxy Acids – For skin hydration.
  • Vitamin C – Helps stimulate collagen production and repair damaged skin cells.
  • Peptides – Stimulates the creation of new skin.
  • Natural extracts – Containing rich fusions of nutrients and antioxidants.

References for this Serum Article

“Vitamin E” Wikipedia, Aug 12, 2019.