Could your skin benefit from a serum?

They’re called liquid gold for your beauty regimen, but what do serums really do?

If you’re one of those people who sees all the ads for “miracle” serums, owns a whole shelf full of them, and still has no real idea exactly what they’re for, you’re not alone.

All of a sudden, cleanse, tone, moisturise became cleanse, tone, serum, moisturise and we all jumped on the bandwagon. But hold up, don’t jump off, because serums are actually super useful products.

So what exactly does a serum do?

Cleansing cleans the skin, moisturising makes sure your skin stays supple, so what does a serum do? The better question would probably be what DOESN’T a serum do? The aim of these bottled wonderments is to fix different skin concerns. The formula makeup of these contains small molecules that can deliver a punch of powerful active ingredients deep into your skin. Except, not a literal punch, because ouch. Just one of those metaphorical punches of goodness. Think of them as a super lightweight skincare boost that targets all the annoying skin concerns you’re always examining way too close in the mirror.

Is a serum just a lighter moisturiser?

Yes and no. Some serums have special ingredients with moisture building properties, but some target other areas. A moisturising serum containing hyaluronic acid is particularly good if your skin has difficulty retaining a dewy complexion, as it will lock in the moisture on a much deeper level. Serums without specific ingredients won’t replace a moisturiser, but moisturisers CAN help lock in all the benefits of your serum.

Do I need a serum in my skincare regimen?

Maybe. The short answer is it depends if you have any skincare concerns you want to address. Fine lines? Dark spots? Dry skin? Skin brightness? Loss of elasticity? Inflamed skin? All of these conditions and more can be treated by using a good serum. Look for one that targets whatever you want to fix and slather that stuff on. Well... don’t slather, because there’s so much good stuff in such a small amount of these wonderous formulas that a little goes a very long way. Serums might not be for everyone though. As with all skin care choices, give it a few weeks (like five or six) before ditching it - if it seems like it’s not working. Introducing new products into your routine can make skin worse before it gets better. If you suffer from eczema or rosacea, you might want to consult a dermatologist before attempting to add a serum to your regular rotation.

They’re called liquid gold for your beauty regimen, but what do serums really do?

So when should I use serums in my routine?

Some serums increase sensitivity to light, so make sure you use those ones at night. The directions on the back of the bottle will always tell you if this is a problem, so heed them! In terms of where it comes in your routine, the general rule is to use your products from the thinnest formula to the thickest. This usually means cleanse, tone/exfoliate, serum and moisturise. Make sure if you’ve already used a product with a retinoid (certain chemical exfoliants or at home peels), that you skip your serum if it has similar active ingredients, as you could cause major skin irritation. And as for how many times per day, make sure you read the label, but usually once a day is enough.

Why are some serums so expensive?

Not all serums are super expensive, but many are definitely more pricey than a supermarket cleanser. This is because they can contain high-quality and high concentrations of various active ingredients. There are more cost-effective serums on the market, but it all depends on what skin concerns you want to address. The good news is that with active ingredients, a little goes a very long way, so while you might be spending the big bucks, you’ll get a lot of use and mucho results too.


Elizabeth Best is a beauty expert and writer with more than a decade of experience working for some of Australia’s most prolific media outlets. She enjoys long romantic walks along the makeup aisle, and fully expects for her profound love of travel and food to bankrupt her one day. You can follow her never-ending obsession with food and makeup on Instagram.