All About Serums

What is a serum?

A serum is a liquid skin care product that contains powerful active ingredients chosen for their benefits to your individual skin type. A serum might target wrinkles, acne, sun spots, or all of the above, depending on its active ingredients.

At Activist Skincare, we chose to focus on serums because it's the one skincare product that can have the most impact on your skin. We are passionate about helping our customers select an appropriate serum base (water or oil) and corresponding active ingredients based on each individual's unique skincare needs.

Serums are different from moisturizers

Unlike a moisturizer or lotion, the main focus of a serum is the delivery of active ingredients deep into your skin. Moisturizers are meant to hydrate the surface of your skin, so they contain thickeners that prevent them from penetrating below the surface. Serums don't contain those thickeners, so the active ingredients soak in to your skin.

How to use a serum

To use, simply smooth a few drops of the serum on to your skin after cleansing. Allow the serum to absorb into your skin for about a minute. Then you can apply makeup or moisturizer to seal in the serum.

Types of serums

Serums can be oil-based or water-based, and each has its own set of beneficial properties. Most people can benefit from using both, as they have different sets of compatible active ingredients. You can use one serum during the day, and a different one at night. You can also use serums for selective times of the month or year; for example, when you'll be exposed to more sun, or when you're having more breakouts.

Oil-based serums

Oil-based serums feel rich and luxurious and are used for the delivery of oil-soluble active ingredients such as coenzyme Q10, ceramides and alpha lipoic acid. The essential fatty acids in oil-based serums help bolster your skin's natural lipid barrier, which protects you from environmental toxins and UV rays. A damaged lipid barrier results in dry, sensitive skin that is more susceptible to damage and aging.

Oil-based serums usually take longer to soak in and may leave your skin with a little more sheen than you'd like. A work-around is to mix your oil-based serum with liquid foundation or tinted moisturizer in the morning and finish with a light powder if needed, or use it at night when it can do its work without competing with any other products.

Those with sensitive skin often experience reduced irritation and redness when using an oil-based serum because the oils help calm and repair your skin's protective lipid barrier. For this reason, even those who struggle with acne or oily skin may want to consider using an oil-based serum to counteract the effects of harsh acne treatments that strip and irritate the skin. One of our favorite acne-fighting ingredients, bisabolol, is only available in an oil-based serum, so don't shy away from oil even if your skin is oily.

Water-based serums

Water-based serums are used for the delivery of water-soluble ingredients, such as niacinamide, vitamin C and DMAE. This type of serum usually soaks in more quickly, sometimes leaving a tight feeling, so you'll probably want to use a moisturizer to give your skin a nice hydrated feel and lock in the active ingredients in your serum.

Water-based serums are a good choice for anyone who has excessively oily skin or is prone to clogged pores and breakouts. You'll also need to choose an oil-based serum if you are specifically seeking an active ingredient that is water-soluble only, such as the popular skin-tightening ingredient DMAE.

Two are better than one

We believe that most people will benefit from regularly using both types of serums. This way, you aren't limited to just water-soluble or oil-soluble ingredients and you can get the best of both worlds.

Read more about choosing between an oil-based and a water-based serum.