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How Many Serums Can You Use at Once?

woman using skincare serum

Skincare routines can get complicated — and fast. Especially if you have a range of skin concerns you'd like to address, or you just enjoy having some time dedicated purely to self-care at the beginning and end of your day, it's easy to end up with a pretty extensive routine.

However, there is such thing as too much of a good thing. Particularly if you struggle with oily skin, you may have some well-founded concerns about doing too much and worsening your skin.

Regarding serums, you don't need to limit yourself to just one! But how many serums can you layer before it becomes too much for your skin to handle? Let's talk about how serums work and how to find the balance your skin needs to thrive.

What Is a Skin Serum?

Serums are a crucial part of a well-rounded skincare routine. Think of them like the little black dress of your skincare routine — you can live without them, but why would you want that?

Your cleanser, moisturizer and SPF are the non-negotiables. They'll keep your skin clean, decongested and hydrated to prevent visible signs of aging and harmful damage from UV rays. But if you have any specific skin concerns, such as dullness, hyperpigmentation or breakouts, you'll want to add at least one more thing to your lineup to improve your skin.

That's where a serum comes in. Serums are light formulas, generally oil or water-based, which easily spread onto your skin and absorb. They typically come in stronger solutions, so while you may be alarmed at a high price tag and a small bottle size, you'll usually only need a few drops of a quality serum to see its effects.

You'll want to apply your skin serum before cleansing and toning but before moisturizing. Since serums are usually thinner in consistency, you'll want to be sure your skin can absorb them properly, so leave your super-hydrating moisturizer until after.

Face Oils

Especially when you think of serums as the part of your routine that comes in a small bottle and need only be used sparingly, it's easy to confuse serums with face oils. While there is some crossover here — some serums may be formulated with oils, and some face oils may have additives that tilt them more in the direction of serums — it's important to note that there is a difference.

Serums are generally applied after cleansing but before moisturizing. This goes with the overall rule of thumb for skincare application: layer from lightest to heaviest. Following a serum with a moisturizer gives your serum the best chance to absorb into your skin without being interrupted by a thicker moisturizer.

Face oils, however, should be applied after your moisturizer. This is because face oils are occlusive. Occlusives are key to effective skin hydration because they work by creating a seal over your face, locking moisture and other skincare products in so they can work their magic.

If you apply a face oil like an occlusive, you will prevent anything you apply afterward from working to its fullest potential. So while these two products may not look different, it's important to know that they are!

Why Would You Want To Use Multiple Serums?

We get it! If you were looking for the best face wash for acne, you wouldn't layer multiple different anti-breakout cleansers on top of one another for best results. (Although double-cleansing to remove makeup isn't the worst idea!) So why would you do the same with serums?

Well, since different serums address different skincare concerns rather than one uniform product that works on the same issues, you may want to use more than one serum to get your skin glowing. And even if you only have one main complexion concern, sometimes it's worth doubling down on your efforts and using multiple products with different ingredients.

For instance, if visible signs of aging and dryness are a concern for you, our HydraFirm + Brightening Serum will be perfect. It uses a potent combination of super-moisturizing Hyaluronic Acid alongside ingredients like Alpha Arbutin and Niacinamide, which are great for supporting an even skin tone and skin texture. Alpha Arbutin is also a useful brightening agent, which makes this serum equally effective for hyperpigmentation as it is on fine lines and wrinkles.

At the same time, you may be interested in a boost of free radical-fighting antioxidants. Using an antioxidant-rich serum can help you protect your skin from sun damage. It can also mitigate other negative effects brought on by stressors your skin is likely to encounter throughout the day, which can guard against a wide range of skin concerns in the long term.

Our Super C Brightening Serum makes use of the powerful antioxidant Vitamin C to help bring radiance to dull skin, leaving you with a bright, glowing and even-looking complexion. It's the perfect companion to our Hydrafirm + Brightening Serum because they complement one another's effects while both bringing something special to the table.

So, How Many Serums Can You Use?

When it comes to serums, you most likely shouldn't exceed a limit of 2-3 serums in your skincare routine. This is for the simple reason of absorption! If you have too many products on your face, it can be difficult for them to absorb properly, making it more likely you'll end up wiping them off before your skin has been able to use them.

This goes double if you have an oily skin type. While serums aren't generally comedogenic, too much product can disrupt your skin's delicate microbiome, leading to uncomfortable side effects.

However, there's a bit of a loophole here — while you shouldn't layer more than 2-3 serums depending on your skin type and tolerance, you can use 2-3 serums in the morning… and then use different serums in the evening.

You can also rotate the days on which you use certain serums. If you apply one set of serums every other day and another set on the remaining days, you'll be able to work more products more effectively into your routine.

The amount of serums you use with these variations in mind is personal! Some of us like a simple, straightforward routine — and some of us love to try new products and dive into the science behind ingredients. Whichever type of person you are, serums are the perfect addition to your routine.

But when it comes to using multiple serums at once, it's important to know how to layer them properly.

How Do You Layer Serums?

On one level, layering your serums is like layering every other part of your skincare routine. As we've mentioned, you'll want to start with the lightest product and work your way up to heavy products, like thick moisturizers and facial oils. This will give everything the best chance to absorb.

If you have a question about which of your serums is lightest, think about the viscosity — does it feel more like oil? Leave that until last. Is it thin and light like water? You can probably apply that one first.

It's also ideal to leave a little bit of time in between applications, especially if you're layering a few products. Apply your first serum, and then give it a 10-15 minute break to soak into your skin before moving on to your next layer. This may sound like it will add a lot of time to your routine, but if time is of the essence, you can multitask. Apply your first serum fresh out of the shower, and then let it soak in while you pick out your outfit. Then apply your next serum. Let it absorb while you get dressed, and then go for step three. Massage in your moisturizer after packing your work bag for the day, and leave your SPF by the door to apply right before you leave!

The other thing to bear in mind is ingredient interactions. While we'd never recommend you use something that can be dangerous to your skin, certain ingredients can cause negative side effects, or simply lose their efficacy, when applied together.

For instance, AHAs and BHAs can greatly add to any routine due to their amazing chemical exfoliation benefits. But they can cause irritation if they're layered with Vitamin A or Retinol — so keep them at opposite ends of your skincare routine, apply them on alternating days or pick your favorite. Just don't layer them together!

On the other hand, while Vitamin C is a super gentle ingredient and common in many skin serums, it's also best not to pair this with Retinol because each one's respective pH balance can render the other a bit less effective. While this isn't likely to give you any side effects, it will take you longer to see the effects of your serums, and since serums are among the pricier skincare products, this isn't ideal.

If you're leaving this article feeling like you want to work a bunch of new serums into your routine, it's also important to do so in moderation! Overwhelming your skin with a ton of new ingredients is just asking for dryness and breakouts. Introduce your serums one at a time, and build up your usage slowly — only add new ingredients once you're sure your current routine is stable and isn't causing any negative reactions from your skin.

In Conclusion

Serums are a magical addition to your skincare routine, offering a wide range of benefits that can take your complexion from drab to fab in no time. But if you're a bit of a skincare junkie and you're watching your skincare shelf start to bow in the middle with the number of bottles you've stacked on it, it's worth knowing how to find the perfect balance to keep from overwhelming your skin with too many products at once.

As long as you're mindful of the application and know how to layer appropriately, it's possible to work a wide combination of products into your routine!

By: Ivey Rogers Aesthetician Educator & Community
Engagement Manager