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How to Keep Your Serums Potent and How to Layer Them Correctly

September 13, 2021

We all know the benefits of serums for enhancing and fortifying skin treatment results, but how much do we know about effective ways of layering them and preserving their potency?

Lightweight and efficient, serums contain a potent blend of targeted active ingredients formulated for a specific purpose. They often come in higher concentrations of actives suspended in effective delivery systems that allow for quick absorption without leaving a greasy feeling.

Given the wide variety of serum treatments available and the fact that there is a serum for just about every skin concern, you may feel like a disservice to choose just one, not to mention, nearly impossible. Fortunately, that doesn’t have to be the case. It is, however, important to understand how to layer serums and oils to get the most out of them.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when applying serums and oils.

1. Serums go first

As a rule, serums should be the first products that touch the skin after cleansing and exfoliating in order to get the best results. It is pointless applying them over a moisturiser as thicker creams and oils create a protective layer over the skin and hinder absorption.

2. Don’t be afraid to mix and match

According to Dr. Tiina Meder, the great thing about serums and oils is that they can be team players. They can be mixed and work well together, something that your product supply may not tell you.  But of course, there is the right and the wrong way to do this.  For example, you can layer a vitamin C serum with a squalene serum for hydration. When pairing serums, it is important that you base your choice on how the actives will suit the skin condition you are treating.  Knowledge of your ingredients is critical to the deciding factor.

3. Three is the magic number

While there is no limit to how many serums you can add to your regimen, the expert’s recommendation is that you should stop at three. Piling on more products is not only time-consuming but also reduces the chances of each ingredient getting properly absorbed by your skin. If you’re trying to target several concerns, opt for a multitasking serum to address general problems (like dryness) and add one or two that target other pressing concerns like fine lines and wrinkles.

4. Consistency is key

When it comes to deciding which serum goes first, the rule of thumb is to always start light and layer by consistency. Lighter serums will be easily and quickly absorbed while the heavier hydration serums/oils seal in the ingredients and leave your skin softer.

For serums that have more or less the same consistency, priorities the ingredient that will address the primary skin concern. If your biggest concern is pigmentation apply your vitamin C first and if you are combining it with retinol serum include that over the top.  As retinol can photosensitise the skin it can be applied under vitamin C if applied during the day, and of course, sunscreen is always a must during the day.

5. Choose your cocktail carefully

Another option is to mix serums to create your own “cocktail” especially if you are targeting a particular skin condition.  It is a well-known fact that combining serums can deliver a synergistic effect. However, to get this right, remember to choose a combination based on the outcome you are aiming to achieve. 

6. Apply with a gentle massage

Don’t just pat the serum onto the skin, focus on gently massaging the serum into a cleansed skin and work it in until it is absorbed. Also, by massaging it you will help improve circulation, increase oxygen and nutrients to the skin through the blood while boosting cell renewal.

 7. Allow your serums to soak

Some experts would argue that serums cannot “penetrate” the skin, however, it is the expert opinion that serums should be allowed to effectively absorb into the skin before other products are introduced. Waiting a minute or two will not only ensure that your serum has fully seeped into the skin, but it also prevents pilling (that’s when products start to ball up or rub off) when you apply your moisturiser or sunscreen.

8. Everyone can benefit from layering serums 

As long as you’re choosing the right products for the skin condition you are treating, everyone can benefit from using and layering serums. You can first treat the skin with a targeted ingredient and then seal it in with a barrier ingredient that will help to heal and hydrate your skin. As an example, ageing skin with diminished collagen, layering with a combination of potent targeted ingredients such as peptides, retinol, resveratrol, vitamin C, and niacinamide will help boost skin rejuvenation to repair, strengthen the skin, plump, and improve its appearance. 


Many serums come in sealed vials or capsules and in small quantities for targeted use.  In such packaging, they often do not include preservatives and therefore have a very limited shelf-life. Please follow the manufacturer’s instructions after opening them as some require you to store them in the refrigerator and use them within 2-3 days.

While serums usually contain a higher concentration of actives than usually found in creams their stability will also need to be protected.  For example, vitamin C serum is known to oxidise rapidly, especially as an L-ascorbic molecule.  It is therefore important that it is kept away from direct sunlight.

As a rule, however, all serums should be:

  • Kept away from direct sunlight
  • Stored at a room temperature below 25 degrees Celsius
  • Sealed correctly when not in use
  • Used within the recommended time after opening. 

In summary, to gain the maximum benefit from your serum the key considerations to examine and adhere to include expiration, contamination, and curation. Any change in colour would indicate loss of potency or that the stability of the product has been compromised.  If that is the case, please discard it.

While serums and their unique compositions will help to fortify treatment results they should be treated with extra care.

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