How to Apply Face Serum Correctly

how to apply face serum
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Face serums have rapidly become a mandatory part of a skincare regimen. They come in a wide range of formulations with different beneficial ingredients, so there is a serum for every skin type and condition. But if you’re new to these formulas you will need the 411 on exactly when and how to apply face serums. 

Here is a step-by-step guide to help you incorporate face serums into your daily skincare routine and get the most out of your new fountain of youth. 

How to Apply Face Serum-The Correct Order:

Step 1 – Cleanse

Wash your face before you apply any other skincare products to eliminate dirt, bacteria, sweat, and pollution from the surface of the skin.  Having a clean slate to work with will help make the rest of your skin care ingredients more effective.

Step 2 – Apply a Toner or Mist

Using a toner or mist will nourish and prepare your skin to absorb your serum.  Having moist skin makes it up to 10 times more permeable than dry skin, so this is a crucial step in your routine.

If using a toner, be sure it is alcohol-free and hydrating.  Choose a water based toner with humectants such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, or vitamin E.  Do not use an exfoliating toner with Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) or Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) if you will be applying a serum with acids or retinols.  With a cotton ball or cosmetic round, gently apply your toner all over your face and neck.   

Facial sprays can be used to create the same hydrating effect as a toner, while also supplying other beneficial nutrients to the skin.   If using a spray instead of a toner, simply mist your entire face and neck and immediately follow up with your serum.

Step 3 – Apply Facial Serum

After your skin is clean and hydrated, dispense a pea sized amount of your serum and gently press it into your skin.  If your serum is dispensed from a dropper, apply about three drops. 

Serums often have a high concentration of active ingredients so avoid over-application.  Too much at one time will increase your chances of irritation and often cause more harm than good.  Stick to a a very light layer over your face and neck. 

If the serum is new to you, start by using it every third day for the first week or two.  If your skin adjust to it without irritation, increase to every other day and eventually daily. 

Some serums should not be used daily though depending on the ingredients.  If you are using retinol and glycolic acid, they should be used on alternate days.  See this article to find out more about how to use these serums together. 

Step 4- Apply Facial Oils

This is an optional step, but if your skin type is especially dry, applying a squalane or Rosehip oil after your serum can really help with hydration. But remember that an oil can not moisturize on its own.  These oils heavy in linoleic acid help to rebuild the lipid layers, but they do not have the ability to draw in moisture.

In order for these types of oils to be effective, you must also use a moisturizer with humectants to draw water into the skin. 

There is a strong debate centered around whether to use oils or moisturizers first.  Many claim that oils are occlusive and form a barrier that does not allow the moisturizer to penetrate the skin and do its job. 

But in fact, many oils such as squalane and rosehip are lighter, dryer oils that absorb quickly, so therefore they are not occlusive.  For this reason, these oils should be applied before your heavier, more occlusive moisturizers so that your skin can drink them up.  

To get the most out of your oil, dispense 3-4 drops of oil and warm it by rubbing it between your fingertips.  Gently press your facial oil into your skin immediately following the application of your serum.  

Step 5– Apply Moisturizer 

This is when you will want an occlusive effect to seal in nutrients and moisture from your facial oils and serums. 

Coat your face and neck with a non-comedogenic moisturizer with humectants like hyaluronic acid or glycerin to attract moisture to the skin. 

Many serum ingredients will make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so for your morning routine, use a moisturizer with a broad-spectrum sunscreen, or follow up with a separate sunblock.  

Who Needs to Use Face Serum?

Facial serums are so powerful and effective that many dermatologists and skincare experts regard them as an essential part of a daily skincare routine, along with sunscreen. In fact, if you have especially dry, damaged, or aging skin, a face serum can help increase the effectiveness of your daily moisturizers, hydrating skin from the inside out.

In other words, almost everyone can benefit from a facial serum, and a great serum can supply almost everything your skin needs to be healthy and glowing. As a rule, there are only two skincare types that should be cautious about using some serums:


People with eczema and other forms of dermatitis often have a compromised skin barrier, and should consult with a dermatologist before using a serum. Serums contain powerful ingredients that are highly concentrated, and can irritate damaged skin.

While people with eczema can often benefit from gentle, hydrating serums, with ingredients like hyaluronic acid or ceramides, they should read ingredients carefully and use serums with caution. Creams and moisturizers are sometimes a better way to help heal and protect skin with dermatitis.

Sensitive skin

Many serums can help heal and soothe sensitive skin, but people with sensitive skin need to be cautious about layering skincare products and ingredient types. Face serums, creams, and treatments that are exfoliating, brightening, and pore-reducing all speed cell turnover, and can be too harsh for sensitive skin.

Ingredients like Vitamin C, retinol, and AHA, glycolic, salicylic or lactic acid can compound the irritating effects and damage sensitive skin. People with sensitive skin should choose serums carefully, noting how the ingredients may interact with their other skincare products, and perform a patch test before applying a serum to their face.

With so many different types of serum, and so many great benefits, there is a serum for nearly everyone.

How to Apply Face Serum

When to Apply Face Serum

As skin care routines become more complex, with more and more products to be included, it can be confusing to figure out when different products should be used. If you aren’t sure when to apply serum, you aren’t alone.

Facial serums should be applied to clean, bare skin. If you use a facial toner, apply it before the serum. If you use a moisturizer, apply it after the serum. If you don’t use a toner, here are a couple of reasons to consider using it before a serum:

  • Restores pH balance. The primary “job” of a skin toner is to restore the pH balance of the skin after cleansing. Cleansers are alkaline, which helps to break up and remove dirt and oils from the surface of the skin, making them more effective at cleaning. Using a toner after cleansing speeds restoration of the naturally higher pH of the skin.
  • Dampens the skin. Skin that is wet or damp is ten times more permeable than dry skin. Applying a serum to skin that is damp promotes deeper penetration of the serum, carrying the ingredients deeper into the skin and making them easier to absorb. Face serums with hydrating ingredients bind to water on damp skin and enhances the effect of hydration.

If you don’t use toner, it’s still a good idea to apply a facial serum to skin that is still damp from cleansing.

How to Apply Face Serum

Apply facial serum morning and night, as part of your regular skincare regimen. To apply facial serum, follow these steps:

  • Make sure your hands and face are clean, and that your face is damp
  • Dispense a pea-sized amount of serum into the palm of your hand. This allows the serum to gently warm and increase absorption
  • Use one or two fingertips to pat serum into the skin of your face
  • On the face, gently press serum outward and upward. On the neck, apply serum with a gentle upward sweep
  • Do not rub or massage serum into the skin, avoiding tugging at the surface of the skin. Instead, pat or press it into the skin
  • After applying face serum, allow it to absorb into the skin for 2 minutes or so before applying moisturizer or other subsequent products.

Following these steps helps you use serum correctly, and get the most benefits from your face serum. In order for serums to be most effective, consistent application over time is critical. If your skincare routine is so time-consuming and complex that you cannot maintain a regular regimen, it is better to streamline your routine and remove steps, making a routine that you can perform every single day.

How Much Face Serum Should You Use

It is very important to not overapply face serums that have active ingredients such as retinol. If you use too much your skin can easily become flakey and irritated. Stick to a pea size amount. Yes, literally the size of a green pea! Believe it or not, this will be enough to cover your entire face. Anything more than this could cause you problems AND waste your precious product and money!

How to Store Face Serum

Facial serums contain concentrated, potent ingredients without a lot of additives and other ingredients that protect and preserve the active ingredients. This means that, although a bottle of facial serum contains enough product to last for several months, it’s important to store it correctly to preserve the effectiveness of the ingredients.

Facial serums need to be protected from light, because UV rays may break down some of the ingredients, and heat, for the same reason. When face serums aren’t stored properly, they become less effective over time.

If possible, store face serums tightly sealed, in the refrigerator. In fact, if you have a lot of serums, masks, mists, and toners, they can all benefit from being refrigerated. Vitamins C and A (retinol) last longer when kept cold. Keeping a facial roller refrigerated will also help to cool and de-puff skin, so you may want to invest in a mini-fridge just for your skincare products.

If you can’t store serum in the fridge, store the bottle in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.

Always refer to the label on your face serum, because it may have information on how best to store and preserve your serum, and it may have an expiration date.


Because facial serums affect skin from the inside out, it can take a few weeks of consistent use before you experience the full effects. But if serum isn’t stored properly, you may never get the most benefit and full effect from the product. Many skincare serums are expensive, and beauty fridges have become much more affordable, so it may be a good investment for you.

Applying face serum correctly and consistently allows you to get the most benefit from these powerful skincare products.

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