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What You Need To Know About Face Serums

At Kiehl’s, we believe the most effective skincare routines are the ones that use powerful ingredients intelligently. This doesn’t mean your skincare routine needs to be 10-plus steps; on the contrary, you can address a broad range of complexion concerns with just a few staple products. One of these essential products is serum. These concentrated liquids are packed with hydrating ingredients and antioxidants vital for maintaining your complexion’s health and appearance.

While serums can hydrate the skin, that’s not their main purpose. These targeted treatments are designed to directly address and remedy specific complexion concerns. As such, they’re an essential step in any skincare routine, regardless of your skin type. Of course, for optimal results, it’s crucial to pick the right formula for your needs.

Ahead, we’ll explain in-depth why serums are an essential step in a healthy skincare routine. We’ll also provide recommendations on the best serums for your skin. Read on for the official Kiehl’s guide to face serums.

What Is Serum?

A facial serum is a targeted skincare treatment designed to address one or more complexion concerns. Serums are generally thin, spreadable liquids, though they may also come in slightly thicker gel formulations. They usually feature concentrated doses of active ingredients in a water-based matrix. The lightweight consistency of serum enables these active ingredients to penetrate the skin’s deeper layers for targeted treatment of a range of complexion concerns.

What Is The Difference Between a Face Serum and Oil?

Serums differ from facial oils in that they are typically water-based and devoid of heavier oils. At Kiehl’s, our serums are sometimes labeled as "solutions" or "treatments" to indicate potency. While also rich in active ingredients, facial oils tend to be formulated with emollients and are slightly heavier and thicker in consistency.

What Does Serum Do?

Most serums provide some level of hydration for the skin. The exact benefit of any given serum will depend largely on the ingredients and the complexion concern(s) it's meant to address. Lightweight serums with vitamin C, for example, generally target issues such as dullness and hyperpigmentation. Formulas that contain hyaluronic acid, on the other hand, may be designed to plump the skin. Because they’re applied directly to clean skin after toning, serums can penetrate the skin to deliver high doses of active ingredients. For this reason, serums are considered a crucial step in any effective skincare routine.

When Should You Use a Face Serum?

Generally, face serum is applied to dry skin after cleansing and toning but before moisturizing. That said, not all formulas are the same. For specific instructions, you should always read the directions on the product you’re using.

How To Apply Serum

To apply a daily serum, you’ll first need to thoroughly cleanse your skin (if you need help picking a face wash, check out our article How To Pick The Best Face Wash For You). Then, after rinsing your cleanser off, use a cotton pad to apply toner to your face.

Once your skin is dry, you can apply your serum. Apply two to three pumps of the serum to your palm and use clean fingertips to gently pat the formula onto your skin. It’s generally best to avoid rubbing, as this can pull at the skin and lead to wrinkles and sagging skin down the line. Make sure when applying your serum to avoid your eye area, unless the formula explicitly states it’s safe to use around the eyes.

Allow the formula to absorb fully, so there’s no tacky or sticky feel, and then continue with your skincare routine, applying eye cream, moisturizer, and sunscreen as needed.

What Are The Different Types of Face Serum?

Serums can be formulated to address a wide range of complexion concerns, from anti-aging to dryness. Some serums are designed for daily use, while other, typically more potent formulas, are meant to be used less frequently. Read on to discover what types of serums we offer at Kiehl’s and how to use them in your routine.

Hydrating Serums

The primary purposes of hydrating serums are to moisturize, soften, and plump the skin. If dryness is a concern, we recommend adding an extra dose of hydration to your skincare routine with Hydro-Plumping Re-Texturizing Serum Concentrate. This top-rated serum is formulated for all skin types and contains a blend of lightweight moisturizing ingredients, including glycerin and shiso leaf extract. It provides deep hydration to help plump the skin and minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Anti-Aging Serums

Anti-aging serums may target a particular complexion concern, such as wrinkles, or several age-related issues, like dullness, sagginess, and hyperpigmentation. What formula you choose depends largely on your skin type and the extent of your age-related concerns.

We recommend tackling several signs of aging at once with our top-rated Powerful Strength Vitamin C Serum. This water-free serum is formulated with hyaluronic acid and 12% vitamin C to visibly brighten and even skin tone. With regular use, it helps firm skin and diminish the appearance of fine lines while boosting radiance. It’s also effective at minimizing the appearance of enlarged pores, which are a common concern for those with oily complexions. Apply a dime-sized amount to clean, dry skin day and night for a healthy-looking glow.

Brightening Serums

Brightening serums are typically formulated to address tone-related complexion concerns, particularly dullness and hyperpigmentation. If hyperpigmentation is your main concern, try Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution. This powerful serum is formulated with activated C, white birch extract, and antioxidant-rich peony extract. These ingredients work together to help fade a wide variety of dark spots and discolorations, including sun spots and post-acne marks. You can use it as an all-over facial serum or apply it as a spot treatment on problem areas. This best-selling formula is safe for all skin types and is clinically-demonstrated to visibly lighten dark spots on all skin tones.*

Treatment Serums

Treatment serums tend to be slightly more potent formulations than daily serums. As such, they’re generally used a little bit differently—either only once per day (generally overnight) or as part of a specific treatment plan. The purpose of these is typically to deliver a high dose of active ingredients to the skin without causing irritation or dryness.

One of our favorite treatment serums is Nightly Refining Micro-Peel Concentrate. This unique formula contains mild chemical exfoliants, including phytic acid and quinoa husk extract, to gently resurface the skin. It’s designed to be used while you sleep and helps increase cell turnover for smoother, more radiant skin. With regular use, it’s clinically demonstrated to visibly even skin tone and smooth skin texture for glowing skin.**

For intensive treatment of stubborn dark spots and discolorations, incorporate Clearly Corrective Accelerated Clarity Renewing Ampoules into your routine. This targeted treatment includes 28 individual ampoules, designed to be used twice daily for two continuous weeks. Each ampoule contains activated C and a blend of gentle exfoliating acids to resurface the skin. In just two weeks, it leaves skin 33% brighter and visibly evens skin tone.*** You can incorporate this powerful treatment into your routine anytime your skin needs a boost of radiance for a visibly smoother, renewed appearance.

Serums For Men

Gender is another factor that plays a role in determining which you should choose. This is because men tend to have thicker, oilier skin and are more susceptible to developing deeper wrinkles, particularly on the forehead. For guys, we recommend Age Defender Power Serum, which contains adenosine and cypress extract. In our formula, these ingredients work together to help reduce visible signs of aging. The men’s face serum helps smooth the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles for a firmer-, smoother-looking complexion.

Kiehl’s Expert Tip: If you’re not sure how often you should use a serum, read the package. It seems obvious, but there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to skincare, and the most accurate instructions will always be written out on the product you’re using.

*This product was tested on a multi-ethnic panel equally distributed: 25% African American, 25% Asian, 25% Caucasian, 25% Hispanic. Results based upon a clinical study of upper layers of the skin
**Results based upon expert grading in a dermatologist-controlled clinical study
***Based on expert grading in a 2-week clinical study of 85 panelists in Brazil

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