Serums 101: How to Pick the Right Serum For Your Skin Issues

Serums 101: How to Pick the Right Serum For Your Skin Issues

If you couldn’t tell by now, serums are a passion of mine. I went over some of the major varieties of serum formulations in the first part of my love letter to serums (I also like things in pairs), and that’s why I find them one of the most interesting types of skin care products in my routine. There’s just so much flexibility in terms of the formulations possible, which also makes the possible benefits of any given serum pretty open-ended.

This, however, can make for one of those double-edged sword scenarios: The variety increases the potential for you to find a serum that you like, but the variety can also make you feel a little lost when you’re trying to figure out where to even start. Serums are a highly individual category, one that I’ve spent an abundance of time exploring. So here’s what I currently look for when incorporating serums into my skin care lineup.

The variety of serums increases the potential for you to find a serum that you like, but the variety can also make you feel lost on where to even start.


Hydration Station

My first foray into serums was of the hydrating variety, and I’ve never looked back. The large majority of the serums in this category are in the watery type of serum, and I’ve found that’s my favorite texture when I’m looking for much-needed hydration in the extremely dry environment I live in. In the last year or so I’ve gotten into the habit of applying these types of serums while my face is still damp from a toner that I’ve spritzed on or patted in. The application onto damp skin really helps the serum spread out and sink in nicer than it would on its own.

Hyaluronic acid has definitely been the most popular hydrating ingredient that brands are featuring, but I like to see a combination of multiple types of hydrators blended together into one serum. There is absolutely no scientific data to back up the fact that a diverse group of hydrators in one product is superior to a singular ingredient, but I’ve personally noticed a big difference in keeping my skin hydrated through all the low humidity and forced air conditioning that is my life half the year.

There are way too many hydrating ingredients for me to list and explain, and there are probably a ton that I still have yet to discover as well, but looking at what’s on my counter and in my skin care stash, the hydrating ingredients I see appearing in many products include glycerin, hyaluronic acid (in a few different forms including sodium hyaluronate), aloe, sodium PCA, urea, and polyglutamic acid.


Light the Way

As the owner of skin that is very, and I mean VERY, prone to excess pigmentation, I’m always looking for a way to brighten up my skin tone. Let’s make it abundantly clear that I am in no way speaking about lightening or bleaching your skin to be lighter than it genetically should be. That’s a total waste of time and potentially extremely dangerous. I’m talking primarily about breaking up dark spots and patches left behind from breakouts, sun exposure, and bits of genetically gifted uneven-ness.

There are a lot of ways to brighten or even out your skin tone, and some of them are more prone to cause irritation than others. Of course you can have a sensitivity to anything due to everyone’s skin being different, and there are a whole host of ingredients that claim to brighten up the skin, especially with brands popular in places like Korea. But the two that I would recommend are niacinamide, for those with more sensitive skin, and a form of vitamin A (aka retinoid) for those of you who aren’t as concerned about potential irritation. Both can really help even out the skin with consistent use and are definitely my two favorites for helping break up excess pigmentation on my skin.


Facial Green Juice

In the category of things that just make me feel happy to use, serums (oil serums in particular) that contain a ton of plant extracts and oils are some of my favorite things to use. This is when we cross heavily into the territory of potential irritation from ingredients like essential oils, so you really should proceed with caution and tread lightly if you’re newer to this category. Causing irritation is never a goal when it comes to your skin care routine.

That being said, this is one of the skin care product types that excite me the most. Maybe it’s because I’m drawn to “green” or eco beauty brands that respect the effects plants can have on the skin and body (if you grew up on Chinese/Asian medicinal herbs, you know what I’m talking about), but I just love using these types of plant oil and extract blends. The colors are beautiful, the scents are amazing, and I love products that claim to be antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and healing for the skin, because for me, they have been.

It’s hard for me to really pin down specific ingredients that I would recommend you try because the experiences are not only highly individual but the “hero” ingredients vary hugely from brand to brand. My eyes might light up at fermented ingredients or traditional Korean medicinal herbs like ginseng or things that smell like pine trees and grass, but those might be totally different for you. The thing to highlight here rather than ingredients is the idea to really be deliberate in your choices and your testing periods because this is not a fun way to find out you have a specific botanical allergy.

What do y’all consider your top ingredients in serums for your skin issues? Are there any that you’re curious about? Sound off below, and I’ll be more than happy to offer a bit more guidance. I hope you’re all staying healthy and safe out there.


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