How to Choose a Face Serum

Read on to discover how to choose the best face serum for your skin – and the right way to incorporate it into your daily regime.


Nowadays there are so many different face serums available, catering to every possible skin concern. So if you’ve never used a face serum before, the prospect of choosing the best one for your specific skin type and/or condition can be daunting. Even if you’re already a seasoned serum user, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re using yours correctly, and that your skin’s needs haven’t changed. Getting your serum selection right is one of the best ways to support your skin’s health and enhance its natural beauty. 

What does a face serum do?

In simple terms, a face serum delivers a potent shot of ingredients to your skin, usually with the aim of achieving something specific. Serums are high-performance, concentrated formulas that are designed to address a particular concern, and give your complexion the boost it requires. Serums tend to feature fewer ingredients than other skincare products such as moisturisers, but the powerful actives they do contain penetrate deeply and efficiently. Face serums tend to be clear gel or liquid formulations. They usually have a lightweight consistency that makes them ideal for layering with other complementary products. 

The different types of face serums

There’s a huge range of different serum types available, including hydrating, brightening, exfoliating, and anti-ageing. Before you buy, you need to identify the issues you want your serum to address. Think hard about your key concern(s). As you’d expect, your skin type plays an important role. For example, dry/dehydrated skin would benefit from a moisturising/hydrating face serum, while oily or acne-prone skin is likely to respond well to an exfoliating formulation. If you’re not sure of your skin type – or have more than one concern – do book a consultation with a dermatologist or skincare professional. A Skin Health Assessment, which uses UV Scanner Imaging technology to see beneath your skin’s surface, is an excellent way to assess any skin damage, conditions and concerns that aren’t even visible yet to the naked eye.

What does a face serum do?

Hydrating Serums

As you’d expect from the name, a hydrating serum is designed to introduce moisture/hydration to your skin (and also to prevent moisture and hydration loss). Look out for formulas that contain Hyaluronic Acid, one of the most common ingredients found in hydrating serums. Hyaluronic Acid – also known as Sodium Hyaluronate – is a powerful humectant that attracts and binds moisture to the skin, to keep it plump and hydrated. Glycerin and Aloe Vera are also potent hydrators.


Suitable for all skin types, The Organic Pharmacy’s Hyaluronic Acid Serum delivers intense hydration to leave your complexion looking plump, firm and smooth. Featuring 0.2% naturally derived triple molecular weight Hyaluronic Acid, this lightweight formulation boosts the skin’s natural protective barrier, allowing it to retain and lock in moisture for longer. It’s clinically proven to increase hydration and reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles.

Exfoliating Serums

Exfoliation is the process of removing dead cells from the surface of your skin. Done correctly, it has many advantages. Exfoliation helps to decongest pores, keeps your complexion bright and clear, and allows subsequent topical treatments to work more effectively. Exfoliating serums are chemical exfoliators which use ingredients such as acids to break down the bonds between skin cells, so they are shed more easily. Common examples include Glycolic, Citric, Mandelic, Malic and Lactic – all of which are Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) – and Salicylic Acid, a BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid). 

If your skin is oily or prone to breakouts, an exfoliating serum that unclogs pores and reduces sebum levels is an excellent addition to your regime. We recommend SkinCeuticals SilyMarin CF, which blends exfoliating acids with 15% Vitamin C and Silymarin (a milk thistle concentration). Created specifically for oily and blemish-prone skin, this multitasking antioxidant serum is clinically proven to reduce oil oxidation by up to 76%. It controls excess sebum, improves clarity and refines skin texture, while also providing high-level protection from free radical damage and fighting visible skin ageing.

Brightening Serums

Brightening serums are designed to target hyperpigmentation, reduce discolouration and enhance brightness and glow. Vitamin C and Niacinamide are two of the key ingredients to look out for. Vitamin C helps you get glowing by promoting healthy skin cell turnover and blocking the enzyme responsible for melanin production. So it’s a great choice if you’re keen to diminish the appearance of sun damage and even out red, blotchy skin. Niacinamide (also known as Vitamin B3), is renowned for its ability to address dullness and uneven skin tone. It can also minimise the appearance of pores and strengthen the skin’s barrier function. Unlike Vitamin C, which can cause irritation if your skin is sensitive or reactive, Niacinamide is generally well tolerated by all skin types. 


To boost your natural brightness, we recommend Emma Hardie’s Vitamin C Intense Daily Serum (which also includes Niacinamide). This formulation delivers a stable, time-released dose of Vitamin C to reduce the appearance of redness and pigmentation, and protect against the formation of future age spots and sun damage.

Anti-Ageing Serums

The term ‘anti-ageing’ spans a huge spectrum of issues, although most people associate it primarily with lines and wrinkles. However, tone, texture and volume should also be key considerations. Many issues experienced by ageing skin are caused by a slow-down in cell turnover. Step forward wonder ingredient Retinol – a form of Vitamin A – which is renowned for its ability to help promote skin cell regeneration, and is regarded as one of the most effective anti-ageing ingredients available. 


First, the good news: Retinol is hugely versatile. It can soften fine lines and wrinkles, brighten discolouration, increase elasticity and improve texture and tone. So it’s an excellent ‘all-round’ anti-ageing option for mature skin. The less good news is that Retinol can cause a variety of side effects, including dryness, tightness, redness and increased sun sensitivity. So it’s vital to get the dosage right, and not overdo things. Medik8 offers a range of anti-ageing serums that feature different Retinol strengths and concentrations. Always start low and build up your skin tolerance. Medik8 Retinol 3TR Serum is an ideal entry-level option for first-time Vitamin A users. It’s formulated with gentle, time-release Retinol, supported with stabilising Vitamin E and emollient Squalane to counter dryness.

When to use a face serum

A serum should usually be applied to your skin after cleansing, and before moisturising. Because different serums use different ingredients to address different concerns, they are intended for use at different times. For example, brightening face serums that contain Vitamin C are best applied during the daytime. Anti-ageing serums that contain Retinol should only be used at night, as they can make skin more sensitive to sunlight and UV damage. Always check the instructions – and follow them carefully.

Top tips for serums

Whenever you introduce a new element to your skincare regime, it’s a good idea to take things slowly – and serums are no exception. Even with low concentrations, for formulations that feature Vitamin C or Retinol for example, it’s wise to phase in application, and then gradually increase the frequency. You also need to be mindful of mixing certain actives, or even overdoing the same key ingredient within your routine. Gentle exfoliation in small doses is good. Using a physical scrub, plus an exfoliating daily cleanser, toner and serum is almost always overkill!

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