Cheat Sheet: Serums

From reversing time to erasing spots, serums promise the world. (Give them a cape and they’d protect Gotham City with ease.) Despite some outlandish claims and high price tags, serums have serious — and visible — benefits on skin. Here’s a quick tutorial to get you started.

The basics

While moisturizers have a single purpose — hydration — serums address everything from aging to environmental stress. They’re typically light liquids (for quick absorption) that are packed with active ingredients like antioxidants, retinols, and peptides.

Label wise

Serums range widely, in both function and price. Take claims with a grain of salt — they’re not going to magic you into Gwenyth — and read the label. A good serum should have tons of actives: hardworking antioxidants like green tea, grapeseed extract, and vitamins A, E, and C, plus anti-aging all-stars like peptides and hyaluronic acid, which tighten and plump skin.

Use it right

Serums only work if they can sink into the skin. Apply them to clean skin before moisturizer or sunscreen. If you have oily skin you can even use a hydrating serum instead of a moisturizer.

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