Want to learn how to layer serum ingredients? According to Google, you’re not alone. Offering multiple benefits, from a brighter complexion to smoother, firmer, more hydrated skin, facial serums are among the most popular and hardest working products in your skincare routine.
Thanks to their lightweight, fast-absorbing formulas, serums can easily be layered to target competing skin concerns. However, more isn’t always more, and it’s important to know how to layer serums for optimal results, minimal irritation.
From hyaluronic acid to Vitamins A, B and C, this no-nonsense guide to serum layering starts with the benefits of popular active ingredients. It then explains which of these love layering, and which serum ingredients should be combined with caution – or the advice of your dermatologist. Read on.
HOW TO APPLY & LAYER SERUMS
For maximum absorption, serums should be applied to freshly cleansed skin. Apply the thinnest facial serum first, or, if serums are the same consistency, start by addressing your primary skin concern. Massage a few drops into the skin, then wait until absorbed before applying your secondary serum.
Stick with one to two serums in your AM and PM skincare routines, as too many products can result in overstimulated, sensitised skin. Follow serums with moisturiser if required (oily skin types may wish to skip this step), and always complete your morning skincare routine with a high-SPF, Sun Protection.
SERUM INGREDIENTS THAT LAYER WELL
To simplify serum shopping, we’ve created a list of active ingredients that work well together. Sometimes these are combined in a single powerful serum, however some ingredients don’t pair well in a formula. This doesn’t mean they’re incompatible, they may just require different delivery vehicles.
Serum layering is therefore often required to target multiple skin concerns. The following are some of the most beneficial ingredient combinations to consider.
Hyaluronic Acid and Retinol
Hyaluronic acid and retinol (Vitamin A) are the ultimate anti-ageing duo, and can be layered in serums, or used at different times of day. Suitable for all skin types and compatible with most ingredients, hyaluronic acid helps to enhance the skin’s moisture retention abilities. The major benefits of a hyaluronic acid serum therefore include a plumper, smoother, more comfortable complexion – particularly for dry or dehydrated skin.
A retinol serum, on the other hand, increases cellular turnover and repair for more even skin tone and texture, with a visible improvement in fine lines and wrinkles. However, retinol can sometimes be drying, and hyaluronic acid’s hydration-boosting properties will help to combat this.
Vitamin C and Hyaluronic Acid
You now know that hyaluronic acid plumps and retinol smooths – so what are the benefits of a Vitamin C serum? The key active ingredient in antioxidant serums such as La Roche-Posay Pure Vitamin C10 Serum, Vitamin C helps defend skin against free radical damage due to UV, smoke and pollution exposure. It also helps to stimulate collagen synthesis, brighten the skin and reduce signs of photo-ageing, so it’s a wonderful addition to your anti-ageing arsenal.
Hyaluronic acid and ascorbic acid (water-soluble Vitamin C) exist naturally in the skin and together contribute to a firm, glowing complexion. These popular serum ingredients can be layered or applied at different times of the day. If spacing apart, it’s best to use Vitamin C in the morning, with hyaluronic acid at night. If layering, apply your antioxidant serum (Vitamin C) first for maximum protection.
Handy hint: Can’t see hyaluronic acid in an ingredient list? It often appears as sodium hyaluronate – HA in its easily assimilated, water-soluble form.
Retinol and Niacinamide
Helping to strengthen the skin’s barrier, niacinamide (Vitamin B3) is an ideal ingredient for sensitive, ageing and acne-prone skin. Soothing the skin and reducing redness, it assists with hydration and helps regulate oil flow.
When layered, retinol and niacinamide have a direct compensation benefit, as retinol stimulates the skin while niacinamide helps strengthen. As they both have a neutral base and are neither acidic or alkaline, the ingredients can also be combined in a formula, such as the La Roche-Posay Retinol B3 Serum.
Vitamin C and Niacinamide
Much like hyaluronic acid, niacinamide (B3) can be used with most other ingredients – including Vitamin C. “Vitamin C and niacinamide work very well together,” says La Roche-Posay’s Scientific Communications Manager, Rachel McAdam. “The Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant and the niacinamide has multiple benefits including brightening, so it will add to Vitamin C’s brightening benefits, while also soothing the skin and helping visibly reduce redness.”
Vitamin B5 and Hyaluronic Acid
With repairing, soothing and hydrating benefits, Vitamin B5 (or pantothenic acid) is well tolerated by most skin types. However, serums containing Vitamin B5 are most beneficial for those with dry, sensitive skin.
A humectant, Vitamin B5 assists with moisture retention and is therefore highly compatible with hyaluronic acid. You’ll find this combination together in the La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Hyaluronic Acid Serum.
SERUM INGREDIENTS TO LAYER CAREFULLY
APPLY AN ACNE TREATMENT
Some skincare ingredients are less suited to layering. This might be because they’re most beneficial when applied at different times of day, or because they create a compounding affect that may cause irritation.
Vitamin C and Salicylic Acid
The most common beta hydroxy acid, salicylic acid is a popular ingredient in anti-acne and anti-blackhead products. Due to the acid’s ability to penetrate pores and exfoliate from within, the benefits of a salicylic acid serum include clearer skin with reduced breakouts.
The combination of Vitamin C and salicylic acid can be drying, so it’s often advisable to apply at different times of the day. However, this depends on dosage, and they can sometimes be layered with care, or combined in a product, such as the Vitamin C 10 Brightening Serum.
“The serum is high in Vitamin C with a small amount of salicylic acid (<1%) added to boost exfoliation and brighten the skin,” says McAdam. “The concentration is compatible with the Vitamin C without altering the overall pH of the formula – hence keeping the Vitamin C in the formula very stable.”
Vitamin C and Retinol
For brighter, more refined skin, Vitamin C and retinol are the dream team. However, while they can be layered (with care), the best way to apply these is according to their actions. As Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, it’s most beneficial applied in the morning before sun and pollution exposure.
The benefits of a retinol serum are greatest when used in a nighttime routine, as the active ingredient assists with repair. “Retinol affects the skin’s own behaviours and helps it do different things like turn over a little better, which makes it best suited to nighttime use,” says McAdam. Retinol also makes the skin more sensitive to the sun, so PM use is ideal.
Retinol and Acids (AHAs, Salicylic Acid, LHA)
While not a definite ‘don’t’, combining retinol and alpha hydroxy acids, such as glycolic acid, or beta hydroxy acids such as salicylic acid and LHA, should be done with caution – particularly at higher concentrations.
“You always have to be careful not to put too many products on the skin with similar actions and similar ingredients to prevent compounding irritation or side effects, such as redness or peeling,” says McAdam.
Layering different acids often requires the advice of a dermatologist, who may suggest spacing out applications. However, if you suffer from adult acne, a product combining AHA and BHAs can help reduce imperfections as well as signs of ageing. Once such product is La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Anti-Acne Salicylic Acid Serum, which also boasts micro-exfoliating LHA, and glycolic acid to help reduce redness.
ARE THERE SERUM INGREDIENTS YOU SHOULDN'T LAYER?
While certain serum ingredients should be layered with care, McAdam says there are none you categorically cannot mix. Instead, it’s a matter of adding new ingredients cautiously – ensuring you combine active ingredients in a concentration tolerated by your skin, while always following the advice of your dermatologist.
In other words, take things slowly when introducing serums (or any skincare products), monitoring your skin’s response before increasing usage frequency or adding another active.