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The Science of Layering Serums

by Aubrey Lee


Can I layer face serums or best to keep it simple with just 1? Should I put serums before or after using a toner? We have break it all down for you to get the most of these high impact wonders.



Serum, the concentrated skincare ingredient that comes in a tiny bottle. Once you have built a solid basic skincare routine, you can step up your skincare game by adding serums to target your skin concerns. Serum application comes after the cleansing step, or toner if you use one.

#1 Start with the lightest consistency


The layering order of serum can affect its effectiveness. Start with the lightest consistency serum which has a smaller molecule size, allowing for better penetration into the skin. Rather than slathering multiple serums at once in a hurry, allow the serum to soak into your skin for a couple minutes before layering another serum on top of it.

#2 Less is more


“Less is more.” You’ve probably heard this phrase get used a lot in fashion, art, lifestyle, etc. Minimalism can be practised in skincare, too. I understand the eagerness we all have for better skin. Speaking from personal experience, when I first used -an exfoliating wash-off solution- I saw the instant glow and brightening of my skin, as dead skin cells were gently removed, hatching my new baby skin underneath it. It was tempting to use it more than the recommended application, I had to remind myself to take it slow and that less is truly more in this context.

Although there are no rules when it comes to how many layers of serum you can apply, it is advised to stop at 3 because you are basically wasting money by piling multiple layers as each layer gets a lesser chance of getting through your skin.

#3 Apply on targeted area only


You can apply serum on specific areas that you want to treat. Let’s say you have combination skin where your T-zone is oily and your cheeks are dry, apply niacinamide on T-zone for sebum regulation and hyaluronic acid on your cheeks for hydration.


#4 Learn the ingredient list


It is important to learn the ingredient list because labels can be tricky. Most products that are labelled as ‘acne-fighting’ are usually formulated with oil-controlling ingredients, if you have dehydrated and acne prone skin, using those products can worsen your skin condition. In order to target and treat your skin concerns, you must first identify its core problem. Although the ingredient list doesn't tell us everything, it does give us an idea of what to expect. Some vitamin C serums are formulated with exfoliants, so you might want to avoid layering it with another exfoliating ingredient such as glycolic acid or mandelic acid. However, some people can handle stronger exfoliants better than others, because our skin is unique and different from one another, hence the variation of tolerance levels




#5 Buffer potent ingredient


Potent ingredients like retinol or vitamin C can cause irritations to first-time users. Some enjoy mixing vitamin c/retinol with their moisturizer to minimise the potential side effects, however, it can result in uneven application throughout the face. A better way of buffering potent ingredients is the sandwich method. After cleansing, apply a basic, no-frills moisturiser as a cushion, followed by your chosen serum and then seal it all in with another layer of moisturizer. This is especially helpful for those with sensitive skin.

#6 Always moisturise


After treating your skin, always moisturise to keep the skin barrier healthy. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by skin problems such as acne, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, etc and overlook the skin barrier. Many skin problems can be avoided simply by ensuring our skin barrier is intact because it provides protection to our skin.

#7 Apply sunscreen in the AM


Applying SPF is non-negotiable in the AM skincare routine; UV rays can take a toll on your skin. It seems harmless to skip sunscreen because you won’t notice a drastic change in a day or two. UV rays cause subtle damage to your skin cells daily. Over time, hyperpigmentation, fine lines, loss of elasticity will become prominent. All the good deals that you have invested in your skin in the first place will go to waste if you don’t apply sunscreen as your last step in the morning.

Now that you have done all the steps, here comes the most important part, that is to be patient. We live in a world of instant gratification. Oftentimes, we give up and switch products too soon before giving it a chance to work. Here is a gentle reminder, nothing works overnight, give it some time and glow!