Serums are by far my favourite mode of getting ingredients into the skin because they are so versatile, lightweight and just blimming effective but as a brand that recommend ingredients over products, we are always asked about how many serums can you use at once.
Some people stick to the hard and fast rule of maximum two serums, some adore the simplicity of one serum that works hard and some (us) want to slather as many serums onto us as possible until we’re slipping around like slugs.
Are there any reasons as to why you can’t use more than two, and do you even need more than one? Let’s have a look-see…
Is three the magic number for using serums at once?
The reason why people suggest a maximum of two or three serums comes down to layering and penetration. Heaps of brands, salons and experts recommend leaving time between applying your serums and moisturisers, and doing it in a specific order so as to allow all of the ingredients to actually sink into your epidermis.
This process is called “layering” and it usually simply means that you apply the product with the lightest texture first, finishing with your heaviest layer. For most hoomans, this will mean they start with an essence or toner or pre-serum and their eye cream, if they have these in their routine, followed by their most lightweight serum, then their second most lightweight serum (and maybe even a third or fourth), followed by a moisturiser, night cream or SPF.
An exception to the rule is ingredients that need to be close to the skin, predominantly vitamin A (retinyl palmitate or retinol), vitamin C, salicylic acid and spot treatments. As these are often the ingredients we want to work the hardest, we want to allow them the first chance at reaching the finish line.
Not all skin will easily absorb the same amount of product, and you don’t want to be left with a third serum sitting there and not absorbing into your skin. However, there are workarounds if you want to use more…
Cocktailing and rotating your serums
Since I’ve been using serums, I’ve cocktailed them together in the palm of my hand for my own custom blend. Why would I do this? Well, it means that I can apply much more ingredients in much less time and let me tell you, I do not have a lot of time.
Can you cocktail ANY serums together? Not really, as some will blend together easily and some just won’t. Matching them texture to texture works out the best, for example Environ SkinEssentiA AVST Moisturiser (€57.00) with Environ Focus Care Colostrum Gel (€47.00), or Pestle & Mortar Pure Hyaluronic Serum (€43.00) with IMAGE Iluma Intense Brightening Serum (€49.05 for August). Otherwise, you’ll find that the serums may repel each other and end up with a porridge-y texture.
Once you get into the swing of it, you’re golden. Sometimes I will blend smaller amounts of four or five serums together before patting them on, depending on what my skin needs at any given time…
...Which leads us on nicely to serum rotation. I am an advocate for the notion of a skincare toolkit, that has multiple of each product depending on the type of concerns you’ll see with your skin on a day to day basis. For example, you may not feel that you always need a boost of brightening or pigment protection, but having a brightening, pigment-protecting serum for when you feel that you need it means you’re never stuck.
Now, I’ll admit it’s not a budget-friendly option and you’d need to be hoofing through them to make sure you use them all before their expiration date or before they become less effective (usually 12 months from opening, but in some circumstances just 8 weeks). But if you’re a bit extra and want to be getting as much goodness on to your skin as possible, that’s the way to do it.
What not to mix
We’d usually recommend not to mix a pure retinol as it works best on its own, but retinyl palmitate can be mixed together if you’re not crazy on the consistency. We’d advise against mixing AHAs or BHAs with vitamin A, whether in the form retinyl palmitate or retinol. Because vitamin A increases skin cell turnover and AHAs and BHAs exfoliate, they can be a bit much as a duo… Like Jedward.
Never mix anything with your SPF, as it makes it less effective, and allow a few moments for your products to penetrate prior to applying SPF too!
There are a few mixing myths too:
Niacinamide actually doesn’t counteract the effects of vitamin C or cause redness when combined with it, so don’t stress
Blends of AHAs (such as glycolic acid or lactic acid) and BHA (salicylic acid) are totally a-okay, so long as you’re not blending them yourself
Do I need more than one serum?
Whether you need more than one serum depends on a) what you’re looking to do results-wise when it comes to your skin, b) your budget and c) how much time you’re willing to put in.
It’s a tricky one because different skin concerns need different ingredients, and although you may find all of the ingredients that a “normal” skin with pigmentation and ageing needs within one serum, if you add skin dehydration into that mix, you won’t be fully sorted.
Obviously, buying two serums regularly is going to cost more than buying one serum so if you only have budget for one, that’s always better than none, so long as the ingredients inside it are going to work for your skin.
The majority of clients we recommend routines to in the Nerd Network are recommended 2 or 3 serums, especially at the beginning of their skin-changing journey with us. After a while, we can usually cut at least one of those serums out because they’ve done the job they needed to do. If someone only wants one serum, we will always prioritise which one to go for for them, because that’s how we are as hoomans.
Some of our favourite multitasking serums
For antioxidant, hydration and soothing properties
IMAGE Ormedic Balancing Antioxidant Serum (RRP €71.00, + 20% off for August)
With hydrating lactic acid and hyaluronic acid, potent antioxidants in the form of green tea and other botanical polyphenols, and a copper-complex peptide, this serum simultaneously boosts skin hydration, locks in moisture, protects the skin from environmental damage on the daily and soothes.
Fantastic for hoomans with very inflamed spots, dry or flaky skin, easily irritated skin and “normal” skin!
For anti-ageing, antioxidant, hydration and firming properties
Caudalie Resveratrol [Lift] Firming Serum (RRP €50.00)
Micro hyaluronic acid joins with non-comedogenic oil squalane and resveratrol, one of the most potent antioxidants known to hoomankind, to protect, hydrate and firm up the skin.
Ideal for those with ageing on the mind, dehydrated or dry skin, or those on a bit more of a budget!
For brightening, redness, pigment protection and antioxidant protection
IMAGE Iluma Intense Brightening Serum (RRP €54.50, + 20% off for August)
If we were to summarise the Iluma serum in 3 words, it would be “glow, baby, glow”. Not only does it work to tackle hyperpigmentation overtime and protect your skin from it consistently forming, it gives an instant glow. I always recommend it for brides to be and whenever we’ve been invited to do skin at London Fashion Week, it’s the first thing in our kit.
It’s the perfect daily serum for those who would experience a touch of redness, those looking for a more even skin tone, those who care about looking good daily (the vainers - joking, we are all like that) and those who want to emulate Pippa’s routine, as Iluma is a favourite of hers.