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Serum Layering 101: Layer Serums Like A Pro

Close up of a young woman applying a hydrating skincare serum to a cleansed face

Skincare layering is a must-know technique to getting the most out of your skincare products - and after all, if you’re investing in your skin, you want to get the most out of every wonderful ingredient!

Not sure where to start? Confused by all the options? Want to make sure that you’re layering serums in the right order?

Fear not, because we’ve put together a handy guide to all things skincare layering, including how to layer your serums, which ingredients to pair together and the best order for your skincare routine. 

What is skincare layering?

Skincare layering is the act of applying multiple products (creams, serums, oils) to your skin at a time, applying them on top of each other to reap the benefits of each product, especially if your products all target unique and specific needs. 

Skincare product layering is a great option if you can’t find all the ingredients that you need in one bottle, or if you have multiple skin concerns that you wish to treat (for example, hyperpigmentation that you might wish to treat with Vitamin C and dryness that you might wish to treat with Hyaluronic Acid). 

Can you layer serums?

Yes, absolutely! You can layer serums together with ease, since serums are generally highly viscous and lightweight. This means that they dry down and absorb quickly into the skin, so you can easily apply multiple serums without your skin feeling sticky, built-up or caked on.

Serums offer multiple benefits, and are packed with active ingredients that target specific skin needs, such as hydration, anti ageing and brightening the complexion. 

This means that serum layering is an ideal solution to tailor your skincare treatments to your specific needs, particularly if you have multiple skincare concerns or combination skin.

For example, if you wished to treat some fine lines on your forehead but didn’t have the same concern on your cheeks and instead wanted to treat some hyperpigmentation there, using an anti-ageing serum on the forehead and a brightening serum on the cheeks would allow you to simultaneously address both concerns. 

Dr Pen Australia - Anti Ageing Serum - Woman holding anti-ageing serum near freshly cleansed face

Which serums mix well together?

To help you make the most of your skincare routine, we’ve prepared a list of serum ingredients that pair beautifully together to give your complexion a healthy glow.

1. Hyaluronic Acid and Retinol

Hyaluronic Acid works to hydrate the skin deeply, as it carries water, and retinol (one of the most powerful anti-ageing ingredients) works to fight fine lines and wrinkles. 

The reason they work so well together is because as retinol can sometimes be drying, HA’s deep hydration properties counteract the drying effect of the retinol and help minimise any potential irritation.

We recommend: Try our Anti-Ageing Serum Pack of 3, which contains a Hyaluronic Acid serum, Retinol serum and Vitamin C serum. It’s the perfect way to start your serum layering journey!

2.Niacinamide and Retinol

Niacinamide (a.k.a. Vitamin B3) work synergistically together to revitalise the skin. While retinol stimulates the skin and increases cell turnover rates, niacinamide helps to strengthen the skin by building up the moisture barrier that protects the skin’s integrity. 

Both serums have a neutral base and are neither acidic nor alkaline), which makes them pair beautifully together to revive the skin and prep for your other skincare ingredients. 

3.Vitamin C and Niacinamide

Niacinamide also plays well with Vitamin C, as niacinamide (like Vitamin C) has a brightening effect on the skin - so together, they give an amazing glow. 

The Vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant, so it will help to protect the skin from harmful free-radicals and pollution in the atmosphere, whilst also reducing redness and soothing the skin. 

4. Hyaluronic Acid and Vitamin C 

HA and ascorbic acid (which is a water-soluble Vitamin C) exist naturally in the skin, and help contribute to a firm tone and glowing complexion. Both serums will improve the skin’s natural water-retention properties, meaning that the skin is better able to keep itself hydrated. 

Vitamin C also helps to stimulate collagen synthesis, which keeps the skin strong and firm, diminishing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. 

5. AHAs and BHAs

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) complement each other beautifully - don’t be scared off by the idea of applying two acids to your skin! They’re both gentle yet effective at sloughing off dead skin cells and reducing dullness. 

After using these two serums, your skin will glow as fresh, new skin cells are revealed and as a bonus, with dead skin cells out of the way, your other skincare products will better penetrate the skin and be more effective.

What serums should not be mixed? 

Certain active ingredients should be mixed with caution, as they can react unpredictably together. In other cases, some active ingredients might counteract the effects of each other - and when layering, you always want your ingredients to be amplifying each other! 

As a general rule, Vitamin C and retinol should not be mixed together as when paired, they can irritate the skin and increase the skin’s sensitivity to light too much, which can cause the skin to burn and the serums to oxidise on the surface of the skin. 

Retinol also should be paired cautiously with acids such as AHAs and BHAs - but these acids can be used with Vitamin C. 

But never fear - if you wish to reap the benefits of serums that don’t necessarily pair well together, this doesn’t mean that you can’t use them both separately. For instance, if you wanted the brightening benefits of Vitamin C and the anti-ageing benefits of retinol, you may wish to use your Vitamin C serum in the morning and your retinol in the evening. 

We recommend: Our Vitamin C serum is natural, organic and vegan - plus it’s infused with Vitamin E to soothe the skin and Hyaluronic Acid to deeply hydrate. This makes it a great choice for those who want the ultra-brightening benefits of Vitamin C with a lower chance of irritation. 

When adding any new serums or ingredients to your skincare routine, always start slowly to test how your skin reacts - any skincare ingredients is going to interact with the unique climate of your skin differently than it will sit on another person, so ease in and once you know how your skin reacts, you’ll be better equipped to start mixing cocktails of your preferred anti-ageing ingredients. 

Woman applying serum to cheekbone

How do you mix serums with different consistencies?

According to dermatologists, a good rule of thumb when layering skincare products is to apply the product with the thinnest/lightest consistency first, and then work your way up to the heaviest products.

This rule also applies to layering serums - so if you had a thin serum and a slightly stickier serum, the thinner serum would go on first.

If you have any oil-based products, including oil-based serums, these should be applied after water-based products. This is because oil-based products may prevent water-based products from properly absorbing into the skin. Oil-based products are better applied last, as they help to lock moisture into the skin.

For best results before applying any serums, we recommend that you cleanse your face thoroughly. Double cleansing is strongly recommended if you have been wearing makeup. Followed by applying a toner or cleansing lotion. Once your skin is clean and prepared, then apply 2-3 drops of the appropriate serum(s).

To avoid cross-contamination ensure that serum dropper does not touch your face and hands.

Which order should you layer your skincare in?

Using the consistency rule of thumb, a typical skin care application order might look a little something like this:

Step 1: Cleansers, exfoliators, toners and treatments
Step 2: Water-thin serums, then stickier serums and oil based serums (if applicable) and essences
Step 3: Oils, eye creams, moisturisers
Step 4: SPFs

SPF is designed to sit on top of the skin, rather than penetrate it, so it should always be applied last in your daytime skincare routine (if you apply SPF and then any other serums or moisturisers on top of it, the active ingredients won’t be able to penetrate past the SPF and would be wasted).

The order in which you apply your products will also vary slightly between your AM and PM skincare routines.

In your PM skincare routine, you can go a little heavier on your oil-based products (since you’ll be sleeping and won’t have to worry about makeup sitting on top of your oil-based products). 

This gives you license to go nuts with your luxe, creamy, oily treatments and let them get to work while you get your 8 hours - and when you awake, your skin will thank you!

For a luxurious self-care treat, why not also spend an evening treating your skin to deep, concentrated nourishment with a sheet mask. Sheet masks trap in the active ingredients from your serum to allow for deeper product penetration and will flood your skin with nutrients.

A bestseller, the EAORON Hyaluronic Acid and Collagen Sheet Masks will help plump your skin with dewy hydration, whilst also stimulating your skin’s natural production of collagen and elastin for firmer, younger looking skin.

In the PM, you also don’t have to worry about the sun being a factor in oxidising your products or burning your skin, so you can bring out your acids and retinoids to help fight the visible signs of ageing.

Top tip: Keep in mind that you don’t need to use every single product, every single day. With retinoids, for instance, you might wish to use these every other day (and especially as you build up your tolerance to them, as too much retinol introduced too quickly can increase the chances of you experiencing irritation, dryness or flaking).

Serums can also be mixed in with your moisturiser to slightly dilute their potency - this is especially useful for helping you get used to a new product, or if your skin is sensitive. 

How many serums can you layer?

When it comes to serum layering, less is more! Seek out high-quality serums with targeted ingredients and apply them intentionally. Keep in mind that you’re not going to treat every single skin concern under the sun at once, so it’s more than alright to have different products for your AM/PM routines or  to vary your routine every couple of weeks.

Using too many active ingredients at once can make your skin more prone to being overly stimulated and reactive, so as a general rule, dermatologists often recommend sticking to layering no more than two or three serums per routine. 

How long do you leave between applying each serum?

It’s important to make sure that your serums have time to absorb into the skin before you add on another ingredient, so whilst there’s no set rule, generally you should leave a few minutes between applying each serum to give the product time to penetrate the epidermis so the skin can absorb the ingredients that it needs. 

Please note: If you’re applying a retinol serum, this takes a little longer to penetrate the skin - up to 20-30 minutes - and this time should be allowed before applying any other serums.

If you apply a second serum too quickly, you might run the risk of diluting the first serum, or lifting product away with your fingers. 

Where to next?

If you’d like assistance on your skincare journey or aren’t sure where to start with serum layering, let us help! Give us a call today and our in-house Beauty Advisor will be more than happy to walk you through some tailored solutions for your specific skin care needs.

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From our in-house Beauty Advisor to the warehouse staff that package your order with love and care, we are invested in your results. We are here to help you and be a part of your skin journey. 

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