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What Is a Serum?

Kristina Cadwell  
December 11, 2023  

A good daily skincare routine involves three basic steps: cleansing, moisturizing, and applying sunscreen. If you listen to skin experts, though, they often mention additional products to improve the complexion, including toners, face oils, and serums. While the purpose of cleansers, moisturizers, and sunscreens is clear, people are often confused about the extra skincare steps.

This article unpacks the mystery behind a serum, explaining its unique purpose, how it differs from a moisturizer, and how to choose among different serum types.

What is a serum in skin care

What is a Serum?

A serum is a skincare product with highly concentrated doses of active ingredients – vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids, etc. It has a lightweight, often viscous texture and the skin quickly absorbs it.

What is the Purpose of a Serum

Face serums address specific skin concerns, such as wrinkles, acne, large pores, or hyperpigmentation. Their formula contains smaller molecules than a moisturizer, enabling the ingredients to penetrate deeper and faster.  

Serum vs. Moisturizer

Serums are typically water-based, lighter, and stickier than a moisturizer. They contain fewer ingredients and focus on improving a specific skin problem. Both serums and moisturizers can hydrate the skin, depending on the ingredients, but serums are more potent. Since these two types of products address different concerns, it is best to use them in combination.

Serum vs. Face Oil

Serums are traditionally water-based and can help the skin draw in moisture. Face oils don’t have any water in them, and they don’t affect the skin’s hydration – they only seal in existing moisture and protect the skin’s barrier. Serums are applied before a moisturizer, and face oils are applied instead of or after a moisturizer.

Note: Learn about holistic skin care and how to introduce natural serums and creams into your skincare regimen.

Serum Benefits

Face serums provide the following benefits:

  • Lightweight - They are usually water-based and have a thin consistency, allowing the skin to absorb them quickly.
  • Penetrate deep dermal layers - Small molecules enable the ingredients to penetrate deeper dermal layers.
  • Quicker results - Infused with high doses of active ingredients, serums enable faster skin repair than other skincare products.
  • For all skin types – Every skin type can benefit from a serum, depending on the formulation.

Who Should Use Serums?

Skin experts recommend serums to people with specific skin issues, such as fine lines and wrinkles, acne, dull skin, and dark spots. People can also start using them in their 20s as a preventative measure against premature aging signs.

How to Use a Serum

Serums are used after cleansing the skin and before moisturizing. People who use toners and essences can apply a serum after these steps.

Place a few drops on the face and neck and apply evenly. Lightly pat until the product is absorbed. Some serums come in a bottle with a dropper for easier application.

Serums may cause redness because of the high doses of active ingredients, especially if they contain retinol. Patch test the serum on a small piece of skin before using it on a larger area.

Most serums can be used once or twice daily. Retinol serums should be introduced in a skincare routine with more caution. Start with once or twice weekly application, until the skin gets used to it.

Note: Learn how a retinol serum differs from a retinol cream.

Best Serums by Type

There are many types of serums depending on their formulation and purpose. The following are the most popular.

Hyaluronic Acid (HA)

Hyaluronic acid is the hydration superstar. It binds moisture to skin cells, hydrating, plumping, and rejuvenating the complexion. Hydrating serums can contain only HA or include additional skin-enhancing ingredients, such as vitamin C, A (retinol), B3 (niacinamide), peptides, ceramides, and soothing botanicals like aloe vera.

Hydrating face serums are ideal for people with dull, dehydrated skin, which can occur to any skin type, even oily.

Alastin’s Hyaluronic Acid Immerse Serum is an ultra-hydrating formula containing an essential form of hyaluronic acid and glycerin. It is also infused with potent antioxidants for added skin barrier protection – vitamin E and Silver Ear Mushroom.


Many people have started using serums for their anti-aging benefits. Retinol, a common form of vitamin A in over-the-counter skincare products, is the most effective ingredient in anti-aging face serums. It reduces wrinkles, dark spots, and uneven texture. Other ingredients that help rejuvenate the skin include vitamin C, vitamin E, niacinamide, glycolic acid, and botanicals such as green tea.  

iS Clinical GeneXC is a powerful blend of vitamin C, botanically sourced enzymes, and fruit extracts, providing antioxidant protection. It strengthens and brightens the skin, promoting a youthful complexion.

If you want to explore the rejuvenating effects of retinol, try Alastin’s Renewal Retinol serum. It is formulated with retinol encapsulated in a solid lipid, reducing the risk of skin irritation, so you can use it every night. The serum also contains niacinamide, helping to brighten and clear acne-prone skin, and soothing botanicals like oat kernel extract and bisabolol.


Antioxidants in skin care are powerful rejuvenation aids, especially vitamins C, E, A, and B3. They counter the effects of skin-damaging factors like pollution, UV radiation, and inflammation, helping to improve skin barrier function and promote healthier skin. Face serums typically contain a higher dose of antioxidants than other skincare products.

Replenish Antioxidant Infusion Serum by Osmosis MD is infused with 17 antioxidants, including niacinamide, alpha-lipoic acid, Q10, green tea, and pure vitamin E. It also includes lactic acid, which deeply exfoliates and moisturizes the skin.


Aging skin is slower to shed dead cells from its surface, contributing to a dull complexion. This can be reversed using serums with brightening agents, such as niacinamide, vitamin C, retinol, and exfoliating agents (e.g., glycolic and salicylic acids).

Mystro Active Balance Serum by skinbetter is an innovative formula featuring niacinamide as the main ingredient, helping to balance sebum production, unclog pores, and reduce pigmentation. The serum contains turmeric root, another brightening agent, and many other plant extracts with antioxidant, hydrating, and soothing properties.  

Growth Factor

Growth factor serums focus on repairing skin damage. Their main ingredients are proteins (growth factors) that promote collagen production, helping to strengthen the skin’s natural protective barrier, improve elasticity, and reduce aging signs.

StemFactor by Osmosis MD is a growth factor serum with a technologically advanced formula to feed stem cells and fibroblasts. It helps rebuild collagen and elastin, stimulate new cell production, and reverse aging signs.

TNS Advanced + Serum by SkinMedica is a pricier, but more effective formula and the only growth factor serum that can help with sagging skin. It also reduces coarse wrinkles and improves skin tone thanks to Human Fibroblast Conditioned Media (HFCM), a mix of growth factors derived from human fibroblast cells.


People who treat their skin with cosmetic treatments like dermal fillers, microneedling, and Botox have a set of aftercare rules to follow to ensure optimal results. One recommendation is to treat the skin with products that support skin recovery and don’t cause irritations.

INhance Post-Injection Serum by Alastin is the perfect solution for Botox and filler patients. It is specially designed to reduce bruising and swelling that typically follow injectable treatments. The serum stimulates collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid production thanks to the innovative TriHex Technology. It uses a blend of peptides to remove damaged skin-building proteins and improve tone and texture.


Many skin experts recommend using serums, because they dramatically improve the skin’s health, especially aging skin. Explore different serum types to learn which are suitable for your concern.

If you need help, contact our experts at Vibrant Skin Bar and we will create an effective skincare regimen for your needs.

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About the Author:
Kristina Cadwell
PA Kristina Cadwell graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology. She then completed the Physician Assistant program at A.T. Still University graduating with a Masters of Medical Science degree. Kristina has been working in the Aesthetic Medical field for over 10 years. She is certified in neurotoxin cosmetic injection, dermal fillers, Plasma Pen skin tightening, chemical peels, and laser therapy. She is known for producing natural results and has extensive knowledge in diet and exercise allowing her to help you achieve vibrant skin from the inside out.
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