What Exactly Do Serums Do And How Should I Be Using Them?

According to important-sounding beauty people, serums are an ‘essential’ part of your skincare routine – but how do they actually work? Debrief partnership with Boots.

Boots Serums

by Rachel Eling |

You know when you hit 14 and your skin went from being the top layer of your face to The Source Of All Woe? And every magazine you read told you to cleanse, tone, moisturise? Just cleanse, tone, moisturise and all will be well. Apparently, there’s news. Now it’s cleanse, tone, SERUM, moisturise. We know. Someone added a thing. At some point in the last two years or so – we don’t know exactly when, we called in sick that day – everyone started using a serum as well. And we’re curious as George to find out why.


What’s all this about then?

Serums. They are light, easily absorbed liquids packed with highly concentrated, active ingredients. You’ll have seen them on the shelf in Boots, often in a small glass bottle, with a professional-looking dropper on the top. They come in tubes, too.

What are serums for?

Dude, it like, depends. When serums first became A Thing, they were mainly billed as an anti-ageing fix, a bonus blast of hydration for mature skin. But now you can pick up a serum to do ALL the things. Visible pores? On it. Pigmentation? No problemo. Breakouts? Bad luck with the spots, madam, but we promise there’s a serum that’s just made for you.

Think of that little glass bottle as the pocket rocket of your skincare arsenal. Whatever you want to target, there’s a serum to do the job.

So do I need a serum AND a moisturiser?

In a word: maybe. Serums are specially designed with smaller molecules than a regular moisturiser so that they easily penetrate the skin and deliver potent doses of active ingredients. In other words, they sink in quickly, instead of sitting on your face and rubbing off on your coat hood while you’re at the bus stop.

For some people, a serum is enough, but if you have the kind of skin that feels all cross and tight when you first get out of the shower, chances are you’ll still want to layer up with a moisturiser, since most serums are oil-free. Applying a cream on top of the serum will help lock in the good work the serum does, and create a barrier that stops water evaporating and dehydrating your skin.

What was the order of the routine again?

Come on, you know this. Cleanser, toner, SERUM, moisturiser. Got it? The serum is the jam in your skincare sponge cake. So AFTER you cleanse, but BEFORE you moisturise, pat the smallest blob of serum all over your skin. Then you can moisturise as normal, and don’t forget the SPF!

Are there any ingredients I need to keep an eye out for?

For pigmentation, vitamin C, liquorice root, vitamin A, and lactic acid will do the trick.

For anti-aging benefits, you’re after serums with vitamin A, coenzyme Q10, hyaluronic acid, malic acid or glycolic acid.

For acne, acids are your friends. Look for serums with salicylic glycolic and lactic acids.

For sensitive skin prone to inflammation, choose serums containing aloe, lavender and chamomile.

OK. I’m fully onboard with this, but which ones should I be looking at?

There are plenty, so you need to keep your wits about you, but these are six of our favourites.

Botanics All Bright Radiance Concentrate Serum, £6.99 for 30ml, exclusive to Boots

Worried your oily skin may go haywire with an extra layer of product to cope with? This is the one for you.

Origins Original Skin Renewal Serum, £32 for 30ml, Boots.com

Goes on like a dream, and minimises pores as it goes. Instagram-ready skin in a bottle.

Indeed Labs hydraluron™ moisture boosting facial serum, £24.99 for 30ml, exclusive to Boots

Does exactly what it says on the tin. Load up dehydrated skin with a super-hit of hyaluronic acid and watch it plump up with delight. You can only get this one at Boots!

Vichy LiftActiv Serum 10, £35.50 for 50ml, Boots.com

Excellent for sensitive souls, this French fancy works well as a primer under your make-up.

Time Delay Youth Maintain Luminosity Serum, £12.49 for 50ml, exclusive to Boots

Weightier than a regular serum without being greasy, this one gives touch of illumination to even the most fed-up faces.

No7 Protect & Perfect ADVANCED Serum, £23.95 for 30ml, exclusive to Boots

This award-winner, sacks off the early signs of ageing and clears skin.


*You know what’s great? Order at boots.com or at your local store today by 8pm and collect free in store from 12pm tomorrow. Perfect.

See boots.com/ordertodaycollecttomorrow for more info. Monday-Saturday only. Geographical exclusions apply.

Like this? You might also be interested in:

How To Actually Take Your Make-Up Off Properly

Your Payday Boots Beauty Haul: The Hair Edition

The Ultimate Gif Guide To Hiding Your Dark Under-Eye Circles

Follow Rachel on Twitter @racheleling

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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