HOW TO LAYER SERUMS
Cocktail your formulas like a pro, thanks to these top skin tips.
Note: All content and information in this article are for information purposes only. You should consult a medical professional prior to starting new skincare regimens.
Over the past few years, serums have skyrocketed in popularity—and rightfully so. The buzzy formulas address a myriad of skincare concerns, from brightening (looking at you, vitamin C) to minimizing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles (retinol to the rescue!). Even better: you aren’t limited to just one. Want to learn how to layer ‘em on? You’re in luck… Shopbop got the scoop from the best in the biz: we’re talking renowned dermatologists & brand founders. Read on to learn the most effective way to—as the pros say—cocktail your formulas.
What Is A Serum?
“[Serums] are made to target a particular concern like [reducing the appearance of] fine lines and hyperpigmentation,” explains Dr. Dennis Gross, a board-certified cosmetic & medical dermatologist and co-founder of Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare. To combat these problems, serums harness all-star hero ingredients like vitamin C, retinol, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide—just to name a few. Consider serums your targeted skin savers that are formulated to absorb into the skin “more effectively than thicker formulations such as moisturizers,” according to Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, MD FAAD, a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist and founder of namesake brand Dr. Loretta. The key difference between moisturizers and serums? Serums absorb below the skin's surface, whereas moisturizers form a barrier on your skin to keep it hydrated.
Why do pros recommend using more than one serum? “You want to maximize the product benefits such as firming, brightening, and smoothing at each living skin layer,” Dr. Loretta explains. But as a best practice, the dermatologist suggests sticking to two formulas. “When we start to layer three or four serums, there is a chance that they will dilute or counteract some of the benefits of each other.”
Both dermatologists advise against mixing certain ingredients as they could potentially irritate the skin. For instance, Dr. Loretta says to avoid combing tretinoin with alpha hydroxy acids (think chemical exfoliants like glycolic, lactic, and mandelic acids). Dr. Gross agrees, explaining that tretinoin on its own can be harsh and not suitable for all skin types. “Adding glycolic acid [as well as other AHAs], can lead to red, inflamed skin.”
Water-Based vs. Oil-Based Serums
Dr. Loretta suggests starting with the thinnest formula—a.k.a. your water-based serum. “Most serums are water-based, and one way to find out is by looking at the ingredient listing,” she explains. “If water is the first or second ingredient, then the serum is considered water-based.” Next, the dermatologist recommends layering an oil-based serum. Not sure if it’s oil-based? Use the same trick mentioned above by checking the ingredient listing. It's oil-based if an oil is listed first or second. Dr. Loretta says oil-based serums are typically more hydrating than water-based formulas.
Dermatologist-Approved Tips For Layering Serums
Ready to start layering? Dr. Loretta has you covered. “In the morning, you may want to layer a photoprotective serum with a hydrating serum,” the dermatologist explains. “At night, you might use a hydrating serum again or something with vitamin A/retinol,” she adds. Lastly, lock everything in with a moisturizer. Et voilà! You’ve mastered the art of serum layering. So long, lackluster skin.