How to Layer Skincare Serums

Specialty Serums are your most effective tool when it comes to improving your complexion. Whether it's acne, pigmentation, dullness, hydration, or slowing the effects of time, your skin correcting serums are the heavy hitters in your skincare regime for two reasons.



First: A proper serum has higher levels of actives than your other skin care products. They have the ability to transform your skin. Think about it. If you have glycolic acid in your cleanser it just doesn't stay on your skin long enough for those exfoliating properties to effectively boost cell turnover in any appreciable way.


The second reason: A well made serum will include specialized carrier ingredients (think liposomes) that transport those actives deep into your skin where they are needed most to perform their magic. A moisturizer that contains collagen boosting peptides may well be great at moisturizing (peptides also make good humectants) but it's highly unlikely that those actives will go deeper into your skin because the emollients that are used in that moisturizing formula keeps the actives nearer to the surface of the skin. Remember, moisturizers are meant for moisturizing!


So you've decide to invest in some specialty serums. What should you get? How many? And can you mix or layer them on your skin to get a more dramatic result? Well, yes and no, it depends on the compatibility of the serums and if they play well with each other.


The number of serums you include is mostly up to you. Every one has a different amount of commitment regarding time spent on their skin care and their budget. The main serum categories are:


Exfoliating Serums:

This Includes:

AHAs - (alpha hydroxy acids) which includes glycolic acid - great for pore clearing because of it's small molecular structure that allows glycolic to penetrate deeper and lactic acid which doesn't penetrate as deep but is more hydrating and a bit gentler on the skin.

Retinoids - Include Retin-A (retinoic acid) which is the prescription version of this exfoliating acid and Retinols which take a bit longer to work as they slowly transform into retinoic acid, but are gentler which makes for easier compliance: skipping the red, flaky irritation stage which goes hand in hand with Retin-A.

BHAs - Namely salicylic acid) which is oil soluble, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory. This makes it the perfect serum for spot treatments on acne lesions and potential breakout areas.

Azelaic Acid - Which is not exactly an AHA but is still an exfoliating acid. This curious acid works well for inflamed problem skin and rosacea prone skin because as it exfoliates it's antioxidants are of the type that quell inflammation associated with red, inflamed papules.


These serums should always go on your skin first after cleansing and toning. The reason being, they unstick surface cells and the cells that line the pores. So using an exfoliating serum first creates a pathway for your other corrective serums to more easily get into your skin.


The thing about exfoliating serums is that they are acids. Exfoliating acids work by lowering the pH level of your skin. An exfoliating acid must have a pH below 4 (our skin’s pH normally hover around 5.5) to work. When applied, acids create an acidic state which allows the glue that holds dead surface cells together to be dissolved revealing the newer, fresher skin cells that rise to the surface.


The pH of other corrective serums should be closer to that 5.5 range. The problem with applying a corrective serum right after your exfoliating serum is that it changes the pH of your skin to something more neutral. This effectively deactivates your exfoliating serum. Okay, so what should you