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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:


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 your do to get the benefits of both types of serums. I recommend waiting a minute or two before applying another serum. That's all the time it takes for your exfoliating serum to sink in and do its work. Brush your teeth or change into your PJs. Your skin will be ready for the next step. Don't combine exfoliating serums. By using both retinoids (retinol) and alpha hydroxy acids in the same sitting is asking for trouble - a red, irritated, inflamed skin. Save your exfoliating serums for your nighttime routine and alternate them. Use your AHAs twice a week (for most skin types) and three times a week for Retinol.


Specialty Serums:

Specialty serums should come next. They have a high concentration of actives that are directed to achieve certain goals for your skin. There are two main types of specialty serums:


Protective Serums:

These are serums you apply in the morning to help defend your skin against environmental damage from pollution, the sun and irritants. They help reduce inflammation that contributes to aging free radical damage, pigmentation and collagen degradation. The most notable of these protective serums is Vitamin C. Vitamin C (L-ascorbic Acid) is a well known antioxidant and tyrosinase inhibitor. Tyrosinase is a group of enzymes that contribute to your skin's pigmentation process. Plus, it is a vital component in collagen production. I believe this highly researched ingredient is vital for everyone's skincare routine. Our C & E Antioxidant Serum should be used every day in the morning, right after cleansing and toning to protect the skin. And, it actually boosts the efficacy of your sunscreen.


What about acids making your skin more vulnerable to the sun? To manage this potential problem choose a Vitamin C serum that is not acid based. Look for Vitamin C esters instead of L-Ascorbic Acid. An ester is a Vitamin C option that isn't really L-ascorbic acid until it's applied to the skin. Then it is gradually converted into L-Ascorbic Acid, the active form of the vitamin. Vitamin C esters are also much more stable than applying L-Ascorbic acid directly to your skin. L-Ascorbic Acid based serums have a very short shelf life. Old L-Ascorbic acid serums can actually be promoters of free radical damage - which ages your skin. Good choices for Vitamin C esters are:

  • Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate - a very stable, time released Vitamin C. Helps stops damaging free radicals in pollutants and sunlight from aging your skin. Noticeably smooths lines and improves tone.

  • Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate - a lipid soluble form of Vitamin C which increases brightness and has the ability to deliver Vitamin C’s antioxidants deeper into the skin.

  • Ascorbyl Methylsilanol Pectinate - a non-irritating form of Vitamin C that acts as an anti-aging antioxidant.

  • It's also good to include Vitamin E in this formula. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that will help recycle Vitamin C. As Vitamin C hands off unstable electrons to vitamin E it is ready to disarm the next damaging electron.

So Vitamin C is an important serum to apply every morning on a freshly cleansed and toned skin. But you can layer Vitamin C with other serums if done in the right way. If you are using a stable ester version you don't have to worry about the pH issue. That means you don't have to wait for the next step. But if you cocktail it with too many other serums you'll dilute your Vitamin C to an ineffectual level. One serum you can cocktail Vitamin C with is an antioxidant boosting serum. I recommend Sunrise Solution for this purpose. This unusual serum is based on 18 high impact antioxidant rich super foods that play nicely with Vitamin C. For this purpose I suggest cutting back your C & E Antioxidant Serum from 3 pumps to 2. Then add just one pump of Sunrise Solution in the palm of your hand - gently smooth it over your skin. Now your skin is ready for a sunscreen/moisturizer.


Another protective serum you may want to layer over your skin is Environmental Protection. However, this should not be done as part of your serum layering routine. Think of this silicone and calming oil based serum as an overcoat for your skin. Apply Environmental Protection after you've done your moisturizing or sunscreen step and before makeup. A drop of this serum acts as a barrier between you and the outside world. Whether it's because the air in your house is too dry (summer or winter) or you have a fragile or dry skin that needs an extra boost to your barrier layer (to reduce irritation and trans epidural water loss (dehydration) or just to make your skin feel more comfortable. It may be the solution you are looking for. Remember: Environmental Protection is a surface product not meant to penetrate the skin so it should be the last step in your routine. This way it won't block other serums from getting into your skin..


Hydrating Serums:

Everyone enjoys a good hyaluronic acid hydration serum. But where should you incorporate it into your routine? Hyaluronic Acid is not very good at penetrating the skin. But it sure is a great hydrator! In most cases I would recommend Hydraessence in lieu of other specialty serums for a younger client who is dehydrated. Or layer it over other serums after they have had a reasonable amount of time to penetrate. We have one serum though that was actually formulated to be used in cocktail form when combined with a hyaluronic acid serum. This serum is our Peptide Firming Serum. This serum has several variations of peptides along with CoQ10 and Pomegranate Extract which are two effective antioxidants that quell inflammation. CoQ10 is also an energy booster. The combination of Peptide Firming Serum and Hydraessence gives you potent skin repair along with the hydration needed that stays nearer the surface of the skin. It is recommended to mix two pumps of each serum together and apply it before your nighttime moisture cream.


Growth Factor Serums:

A true growth factor serum should be made from exosomes. These are repair molecules excreted from stressed mesenchymal stem cells. The repair molecules include peptides, growth factors and anti-inflammatory cytokines. They are extremely light, gentle on the skin and can penetrate the skin easily as your first treatment after exfoliation.


What are growth factors good for? They are perfect for triggering your skin's own stem cells to jump into repair mode. Though you can use them morning and night I feel the nighttime approach is more valuable. At night, during REM sleep is when your skin actively makes repairs from assaults on your skin that have occurred during the day. You can layer on this serum (which feels like nothing) after exfoliation and it will quickly penetrate, leaving a pathway for other repair serums to follow. There are a couple of serums that cocktail very nicely with Stem Stim (our growth factor serum) which will further enhance the benefits of skin repair ingredients without diluting it. Namely AGELESS and Revitalize Cell Therapy. Choose AGELESS if your main concern is sensitivity or a compromised protective skin barrier (it features niacinamide which is great for stepping up production of barrier ceramides). Choose Revitalize Cell Therapy if you're more concerned with dullness or the loss of energy (this serum contains extremophiles which are particularly good at boosting cellular energy and stimulating autophagy (clearing away old senescent cells).


Other ingredients that boost your reparative capabilities and work well with Stem Stim are architectural peptides. These are the peptides that send signals to fibroblasts (stem cells in your dermis) to produce collagen, elastin and other firming components of the skin.


Supporting your skin’s architecture is Matrixyl synthe’6, a facial architectural peptide that increases the synthesis of 6 major constituents of the ECM (extracellular matrix) and EDJ (epidermal-dermal junction), ensuring optimal architecture of the tissue. It smoothes wrinkles from the inside by rebuilding the facial contours where it is needed, particularly on the forehead and crow’s feet area for visibly smoother and plumper skin.


I hope you now have a better idea as how to use your serums and how to make better choices for serums that fit into your skincare routine.



Elizabeth believes in "Longevity Skincare", the idea that beautiful skin can endure throughout one's lifetime when utilizing the best that science and nature has to offer. LONGEVITY is a science-based skincare line that appreciates skin of all ages. LONGEVITY by Elizabeth Renee provides hydration, nutrition and protection from environmental aging. Your skin will receive high performance ingredients to help energize and repair its cells, resulting in a healthy skin with an enduring, vital glow.



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