How do I choose the right serum for my skin? 6 of our most pressing questions, answered.

Estée Lauder
Thanks to our brand partner, Estée Lauder

Fact: The whole skincare game can be freakin' confusing. So many brands! So many products! So many fancy words! So many monies! My goodness. So, please don't feel you're the only one who is utterly bewildered by it all. Feeling overwhelmed is very much allowed.

Invariably, one of the major areas you'll struggle with is trying to navigate the (often virtual) aisle of serums. Like, we know they're good for our skin, but 11/10 times you'll end up feeling that you need a science degree to figure out what your skin *actually* needs. And we get it - there's nothing worse than doshing out your hard-earned pennies on something that ends up making your skin freak out. Ugh.

With that in mind, it’s worth investing a bit of time into researching a serum to make sure it meets your skin's needs, before taking the leap and chucking it in your shopping basket. But we get it - Googling these kinda things is just A LOT.

To save you some time trawling through the web like a lost lamb, we thought we'd answer the most common serum-related questions in one place. We asked women from our You Beauty Facebook group what they wanted to know about serums - and for the love of glycolic acid, did they have questions! (They did).

Because we're no experts (fooled you!), we asked Nica Marcello, who is the National Education Manager for Estée Lauder and Tom Ford Beauty (she has a whopping 21 years of experience in the industry under her belt #nobiggie) to give us the rundown on what we should look out for when it comes to choosing a serum.


Alrighty. Let's go!

Before we get into it, can you tell me exactly why I need a serum?

OK, basically a serum is a product that delivers a super-concentrated hit of ingredients to the skin. They're like the heavy-lifters of the family and are used to target specific skin concerns. Lightweight and fast-absorbing, these guys get to the root of the problem and address it, STAT (hey, breakouts and pigmentation) - that's why they tend to be a bit pricier, fancier and eat way more caviar than your other skincare products.

So, should we be looking for one 'super serum' to do it all? Or should we find and layer a couple that address different issues?

We are BIG, LOUD fans of product layering. All about it. But - as Marcello points out - you need to know what you actually want to target before just slapping on a bunch of fancy serums.

"The most important factor to consider when choosing a serum is what time of day you are going to use it, as well as the needs and concerns you have with your skin," Marcello told Mamamia.

That's because different serums are designed for day and night, in order to target specific skin concerns. For example, retinol and most BHA/AHA acids should only be used at night, because exposing your skin to UV during the day will only reverse the benefits, said Marcello.

"Our skin goes into repair mode when we sleep. Choosing a serum for nighttime use that helps to optimise the skin's own natural repair process would amplify the benefits of your serum," she added.

In saying this, there are some do-it-all serums that can benefit your skin throughout the day AND night (such as Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Multi-Recovery Complex - a shiny new updated version of the cult Advanced Night Repair, which now works even harder to boost your skin's collagen production). These kinds of gems are good for normal skin types that aren't all needy and forever wanting attention in a particular area.


"The beauty of Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair is it's multi-benefit for day and night – it works on our circadian skin rhythm at night, enhancing the production of collagen and repairing our skin while we sleep. During the day, Advanced Night Repair delivers eight-hour antioxidant protection, ensuring our skin is protected from environmental assaults - such as pollution and free radicals that blue light omits."

Yep. She's a real overachiever.

There she is! The new and improved Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Multi-Recovery Complex. Image: Supplied.


"We lose moisture from our skin from late to the early hours of the morning. Hyaluronic acid ensures our skin is hydrated for up to 72 hours. In terms of a 'super serum' – this one is pretty close!" said Marcello. 

OK, so if we're looking for a specific all-rounder ingredient that is suitable (and beneficial) for all skin types, what should we look out for?

"If you were to ask me about a super 'ingredient', I would say hyaluronic acid. It really is the miracle and uncomplicated ingredient that suits everyone. It helps to lock moisture in the skin, which results in plumper and firmer looking skin, as well as the reduction of fine lines."

*Orders 45678 hyaluronic acid serums*.

Can the products you put over/under a serum affect its potency? 

Good question! If you're layering your serums, you're probably wondering if there's there any order you should follow. Because what we don't want to do is sabotage our serums with other products we might be using, like moisturisers or foundations.


"Layering skincare correctly is key. An easy way to work out when and what to layer with your skincare, is texture. Layering from lightest to richer formulas helps each product to penetrate the skin. For example, after cleansing, apply an essence, follow with a serum then lock it all in with a moisturiser," explained Marcello.

If you're one of those cute kids who doesn't use a moisturiser because you think you don't need to, you could be doing yourself (and your serum) a serious disservice. "Using a serum without a moisturiser will only negate the effects of your serum. Serums are made up of smaller molecules meaning they can penetrate deeper into the skin, but they also have the tendency to evaporate quickly."

"By using moisturiser after your serum you are helping to seal in the benefits of your serum and your moisturiser. As always, your last step should be sunscreen (during the day!)."

So, yeah. DO use a moisturiser after your serum! And an SPF. Obvs.

When it comes to applying things like foundation, it can be annoying trying to wait until everything sinks in. Especially when you should've been out the door and on the bus, like, 30 minutes ago. If this sounds like you, keep your eyes peeled for serums that offer instant absorption.

"The new Advanced Night Repair formulation now has faster repair and instant hydration, meaning it will penetrate deeper into your skin a lot quicker, no waiting time needed," said Marcello.


Hot tip: Look for serums that include an ingredient called 'sodium hyaluronate' - a moisture-magnet that results in plumper, smoother-looking skin. This means you can ditch your priming step (can you tell we're all about that 'extra five-minutes in bed' life?). "Most primers that help your foundation stay on longer have this ingredient. So you save time in not needing a primer should you want to layer with foundation."

Best. Tip. Ever.

How long should you be using a serum before you should start to see its benefits?

We're all hungry for those sweet results. But according to Marcello, this all depends on the ingredients of your serum.

"You can see instant benefits, such as a glow to the skin and plumped-out fine lines, if your serum has ingredients like sodium hyaluronate and hyaluronic acid - because these are moisture-magnets for your skin," Marcello said.

In general, Marcello said you should expect to see results anywhere between two to three weeks of using your serum, with benefits peaking at four to six weeks and over a course of time.

What's the difference between day and night serums?

We briefly touched on this before, but we're here to give the people what they want - so here's a little more in-depth explanation.

"Daytime serums often feature ingredients that protect your skin against factors that your skin would be exposed to during the day, such as blue light from smart devices, pollution, air conditioning and the like. They will often also feature natural priming ingredients in them, such as hyaluronic acid. This helps your foundation stay on for longer too," said Marcello.


And le other type of serums?

"Nighttime serums are more likely to feature ingredients that will optimise the repair process that naturally occurs when we are asleep. We are also producing collagen as we sleep and when our entire body is in repair mode," Marcello said. "You really want a serum that is going to protect you during the day and help to repair your skin at night while you sleep."

As mentioned before, if you're choosing a serum that contains actives such as retinol, it is best to apply at night as it can make the skin sensitive, especially to UV. Marcello said ingredients like vitamin C can be applied day or night, or both. 

"Just ensure that you are using a high protection sunscreen during the day. Vitamin C brightens the skin and also helps to break down pigment, while retinol works to accelerate skin-renewal and cell turnover – a process that is amplified at night. You will be more susceptible to the effects of UV from the sun and blue light, so protecting your skin is key to help prevent further damage and pigmentation."

Load up on the SPF to prevent burning a layer of skin off our faces - gotcha!

Does the way that I apply serums really matter? Pressing into the skin v swiping across the skin? Dry v damp skin? What's good?

"I always love to give myself a mini-facial when I apply my serum - using a technique that stimulates facial skin circulation," said Marcello. "Applying an essence before your serum will also aid in increasing the benefits of hydration from both products."


OK, tell us your secrets! How do you do it?

"We have a unique heart ritual application that was created specifically for Advanced Night Repair serum to ensure its optimum delivery into the skin," Marcello explained. "This technique promotes lymphatic draining resulting in a firm and lifted effect to the skin."

Go on...

1. Warm one dropper of serum between hands and massage onto face in a heart shape.

2. Using all four fingers on both hands, start at the centre of the face and move out to ears down along the jawline, to the chin.

3. Next, trace a larger heart from middle of forehead out toward temples. Glide down the sides of the face to the jawline and close the heart again at chin. 

4. Continue gliding both hands down the neck. This motion helps to rid the skin of toxins.

Look at you glow, you cute thing!

Want to try for yourself? Head to to purchase your own Advanced Night Repair serum. 

Feature image: Getty/Leigh Campbell.

Anything else you want to know about choosing a serum? Have you tried Estée Lauder's Advanced Night Repair? Share with us in the comment section below.

Estée Lauder
The best just got better. The NEW Advanced Night Repair now helps repair the look of lines faster than ever and for the first time, helps skin increase its production of collagen for firmer skin. Advanced Night Repair reduces the look of multiple signs of aging and helps protect skin from the environmental assaults of modern life. After just three weeks lines appear reduced and skin feels firmer, and after one bottle, pores are visibly diminished, skin looks healthy, younger, with new bounce and vitality. Wake up every day to your most beautiful skin.