Mistakes That May Be Making Your Serums Less Effective

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Very few steps in any skincare routine are as aesthetically pleasing as pressing a few drops of serum on your face and watching them slide down. And interestingly, serums are also usually the most effective treatment step in your routine. 


As explained by L'Oréal Paris, serums are potent moisturizers with more active ingredients than other skincare products. They're usually lightweight and come in bottles with droppers for easy application and spread across the skin. With a higher concentration of active ingredients like retinol, hyaluronic acid, or other skincare heavy-lifters, serums pack a punch and treat specific skin issues. So whether it's dehydrated skin, hyperpigmentation, or a damaged barrier, you can be sure that there's a serum for your skin concern.

But like many treatments, there are ways you could be making your serums less effective and halting the progress they can make with your skin. Here are some of these mistakes, and how to avoid them.


You're applying your serum after moisturizer

Skincare is chemistry, and you need to be aware that when you have a skincare routine, you're applying chemicals and mixtures of different kinds with and on top of each other. This is why the order in which you use your skincare is paramount to a healthy, effective skincare routine. According to Murad, the best way to apply your serum is always before moisturizing. And yes, this includes both your morning and evening routines.


Applying moisturizer or sunscreen before your serums will make your serum less effective as these products sit on the skin, blocking product penetration. So, instead, apply moisturizer after, keeping sunscreen as the last step of your morning routine. As Caldera + Lab explains, applying moisturizer after serum seals the serum within your skin, and therefore it works better for longer. If you pay attention to the order of your skincare, your serum is more likely to work wonders.

You're not cleansing or exfoliating before applying serums

For your serums to treat and help your skin recover, they need to be able to penetrate your skin's layers to some extent. To enable them to do this, you must first cleanse your skin. Cleansing is essential because it washes off dirt, dead skin cells, and grime. The presence of dirt or dead skin cells can prevent deeper penetration of your serum into your skin and render it less effective. Garnier adds that applying serum without cleansing your skin can also clog your pores, possibly causing your skin to develop acne.


Now, cleansing is vital, but it doesn't end there; you also need to exfoliate. Exfoliating, chemically or physically, reveals a new layer of skin, allowing your serums to work better and deeper into your debris-free pores. However, this isn't your pass to exfoliate daily, as that will do more harm than good. Instead, take Versed's advice and gently exfoliate twice or thrice a week.

You're not consistent with your serum

Want to hear a #GlamNugget we think everyone should live by? Consistency is the key to healthy skin. Let's take sunscreen, for example. Sunscreen offers more protection to someone who applies an adequate amount every two to three hours compared to someone who uses sunscreen once a week. It's the same with serums, with which you need to be consistent to get the full effect. According to Pure Fiji, most serums are designed for daily use, twice a day, and you need to keep using them consistently for the full effect.


It is one thing to be consistent with your serum, and it's another to apply the right amount to your face. Serums are lightweight and potent, meaning a little goes a long way. A good amount to start with is a pea-sized dab or around three to four drops. Lightly apply rather than coating your face with the serum.

You're using a serum that is not suited to your skin's needs

So far, we've learned that serums are potent, nutrient-packed skincare ingredients that treat or target specific skin concerns. But what concerns precisely?

Serums are of different types: hydrating, brightening, exfoliating, and more. They all target different skin needs. This is why you need to understand your skin concerns and choose a suitable serum for you.


For example, with skin concerns like fine lines and other signs of premature aging, The Skin Experts recommends using serums containing anti-aging ingredients like retinol. And for dehydrated skin, it is best to try hydrating serums with ingredients like hyaluronic acid and glycerin. However, if you have oily or acne-prone skin and are trying to treat your clogged pores with a hydrating serum, chances are it won't be effective, as you would need an exfoliating serum instead. And if you have darker patches on specific areas of your skin, a hydrating serum will help, but it will not be as effective as a brightening serum.

You're mixing the wrong serums together

It's tempting to make serum cocktails, but different serums are, well, different. Where one serum can penetrate deeper layers of skin and has a thinner texture, another serum sit more easily on the skin's surface as it has a thicker consistency. Also, serums have different ingredients, and not all go well with each other. Mixing specific serums could dilute them, rendering them inactive and thus ineffective (via Renée Rouleau). Or you could create a combo that's too strong and can damage your skin.


That's not to say mixing is inherently terrible. Skingredients confirms that you can mix certain products but you need to be cautious. As an example of ingredients that should not be part of your cocktail, The Klog says vitamin C and retinol do not require mixing with other ingredients. In contrast, hydrating ingredients are usually a go. But if you want to stay safe, skip the mixing and instead pick a serum already formulated with multiple, cohesive ingredients.