How to Choose the Best Skin Serum for Your Skin Concerns

Written by: Rebecca Eaton



Time to read 7 min

By now, you’re likely well aware that face serums are designed to treat specific skin concerns. This means you’re unlikely to find an all-in-one formula that promises to do it all, and instead, you need to educate yourself on individual formulas and which is most suited to your skin concerns. 

Whether you’re trying to improve skin brightness, pigmentation, ageing, blemishes or a plethora of other skin conditions, you’ll be happy to know there’s a serum for just about every concern. The downside? Knowing which option to choose in a sea of possibilities can be tricky. 

In this article, we’ll dive deep into various skin concerns and the best face serum to look for to help treat them. This simple cheat sheet will help you cut through the marketing jargon and technical terminology to decipher exactly what your skin needs to achieve pure radiance. 

The quick guide:

Face serum running down a lady’s face

Let’s Talk Face Serums: What Are They and What Makes Them Unique?  

Before we begin rambling off a list of potent serums and their benefits, it’s essential to understand why they’re so important and how they fit into your overall skincare ritual. Remember, when it comes to skin health, power is knowledge. Let’s get started!  

Let’s run through the basics: 

  • Should you be using serums? Yes! Even people with seemingly perfect skin can benefit from a face serum as they’re designed not just to treat skin concerns but to offer preventative benefits, too (i.e., anti-ageing).  
  • How many should you be using? We recommend no more than two per routine (maybe three if you’re a serious skin wizz).
  • Can’t I use moisturiser instead? This is like comparing apples to oranges; they both serve different purposes. So, technically, no. A serum is designed to treat a skin concern, while a moisturiser is designed to hydrate your skin and minimise moisture loss. 

So, what exactly is a face serum?

A face serum is a lightweight, concentrated formula containing one or two core active ingredients. Unlike a moisturiser, serums target specific skincare concerns, such as ageing, pigmentation, hydration, sun damage, and more. Their lightweight texture and consistency allow them to penetrate the skin deeply, delivering potent ingredients — such as Vitamins E and C, Retinol, Hyaluronic Acid, Peptides, and more — that help repair and improve your skin. 

For a more detailed explanation of face serums, we recommend the following reads:

  1. What Is A Face Serum, And Should I Be Using One?
  2. Serum Layering Guide: How, What & When?

How and where should face serums fit into your skincare ritual?

As a general rule, your face serums should always be applied after you’ve washed your face and applied eye cream and before you’ve applied moisturiser. For example, this will usually look like:

  1. Cleanser
  2. Eye Cream
  3. Serums
  4. Moisturiser
  5. SPF50+ (AM ritual) 

If you’re working with multiple face serums, you’ll want to learn how to layer your serums to maximise their benefits. The golden rule is to arrange your serums from thinnest to thickest consistency. For example, use water-based serums first, followed by oil-based serums. 

Generally speaking, water-based serums are lighter, allowing them to penetrate the skin deeper owing to their smaller particles. This ensures they are rapidly absorbed and ready to get to work. If both serums have the same consistency, apply the most important one first (i.e., the one that treats your most pressing skin concern). 

Close up image of a face serum dropper and serum on flat surface

Choosing the Best Face Serum Based on Your Skin Concern

Skin Concern One: Hyperpigmentation

What is hyperpigmentation? Hyperpigmentation refers to patches of skin that appear darker than others. For some, it can look brown, black, grey, red, or pink in colour and is characterised by spots or patches. There are three primary types of hyperpigmentation, including:

  • Melasma: Usually caused by hormonal changes (i.e., during pregnancy), melasma can appear anywhere on the body, although most commonly on the face and stomach.  
  • Sunspots: Also known as liver spots, sunspots are caused by excess sun exposure. They’re most commonly found on the face and hands and appear over time (areas frequently in contact with the sun). 
  • Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation: Commonly caused by acne, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation refers to skin pigmentation due to inflammation or a condition/injury. 

The best face serum features to look for: Skin brightening properties. 

Ingredients that help treat hyperpigmentation: One of the most beneficial skin-brightening ingredients and serums is Vitamin C. Owing to its rich antioxidant properties and ability to boost collagen production, Vitamin C is suggested to help treat dull and hyperpigmented skin. Another beneficial ingredient is Kakadu Plum, as it’s one of the most potent Vitamin C benefits. 

Our recommendation: Dr Tanya Night Repair Serum

Close up image of a lady applying face serum using a serum dropper

Skin Concern Two: Dry Skin

What is dry skin? Dry skin, also known as xerosis or xeroderma, refers to dry and tight skin often characterised by flaking, redness, rough skin texture, and potential sensitivities. 

Dry skin can be caused by various lifestyle and environmental factors, including cold or dry weather, strong and harsh soaps, over-showering, or sun damage. Dry skin can affect any skin type — including oily skin — during all seasons, particularly in winter, as there’s less moisture in the air to draw from. 

The best face serum features to look for: Hydrating properties. 

Ingredients that help treat dry skin: Generally, you’ll want to look for formulas that contain humectants. Simply put, a humectant is a substance that acts like a magnet by pulling water into the upper layer of your skin — either from deeper layers or from moisture in the air. Humectant ingredients help to boost hydration in the epidermis, which can subsequently give the appearance of plumper and more glowing skin while supporting your moisture barrier. Look for products containing the following ingredients:

  • Hyaluronic Acid
  • Glycerin
  • Panthenol
  • Aloe Vera 
  • Honey 

Additionally, ingredients such as Holy Basil have been used for centuries in Ayurvedic practices to help intensely hydrate the skin and increase firmness and suppleness. 

Our recommendation: Dr Tanya Holy Basil Face Serum 

[Read full article: Cacay Oil vs. Rosehip Oil: Which Is More Beneficial for Skin Health?]  

A close up image of a lady’s eyes and nose

Skin Concern Three: Fine Lines & Wrinkles

What are fine lines and wrinkles? As you age, your body’s natural production of collagen slows down. As collagen is the main structural protein in your skin and connective tissues, its decline usually results in the first signs of ageing. For most of us, ageing is characterised by fine lines, wrinkles, a loss of skin plumpness, skin sagging, and textured skin. 

The best face serum features to look for: Collagen production, hydrating, and skin texture-improving properties. 

Ingredients to help treat dry skin: As collagen naturally declines over time, you may wish to correct the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, uneven skin tone, a rough skin texture, or even dull-looking skin. To achieve this, one of the most effective formulas to lean on is a retinol serum. 

Retinol is a type of retinoid, which is made from Vitamin A. Retinol plays an important role in helping to stimulate collagen production and speed up skin cell turnover, which can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, neutralise free radicals, minimise the appearance of hyperpigmentation, and improve skin texture and tone. Due to retinol’s sensitivity to the sun, your serum is best suited to your AM skincare ritual. 

If you’re a first-time user unsure how your skin will react to retinol, we recommend starting with retinol palmitate — the gentlest of the four retinoids. If your skin is particularly sensitive or dry, you may find this the most beneficial place to start to build a tolerance while still experiencing noticeable results. 

Our recommendations: 

[Read Full Article: Retinoids vs. Retinol: What’s the Real Difference?]

A close up image of a man cleansing his face

Skin Concern Four: Acne-Prone Skin

What is acne? Acne is a skin condition that occurs when hair follicles are plugged with oil and dead skin cells. This encourages harmless bacteria on the skin, which contaminate the clogged follicles, often resulting in inflammation characterised by swelling, redness, pain, and pimples. Depending on the severity of the inflammation, this can show up as whiteheads, blackheads, inflammatory papules, inflammatory pustules, nodules, and cysts. 

As all skin is unique, there are several contributing factors to acne, including the following:

  1. Genetics
  2. Bacteria
  3. Hormonal fluctuations
  4. Diet (including medications)
  5. Gender 

Disclaimer: When it comes to safely and adequately treating acne-prone skin, we strongly advise seeking personalised skincare advice. As all skin is unique, what works for one person may not be the correct solution for your skin. Please use the following information purely as a guide and always seek proper care and guidance from your skin care specialist before trying any new products on your skin. 

The best face serum features to look for: Calming, hydrating, and non-comedogenic ingredients that won’t clog your pores. 

Ingredients that support acne-prone skin: There are a few things to consider when looking for the right ingredients for acne-prone skin. 

Contrary to popular belief, acne-prone skin does need to focus on hydrating the skin. However, the key here is to look for lightweight, non-comedogenic ingredients that will nourish your skin without clogging your pores. Ingredients like hyaluronic acid, AHA/BHAs, and squalane may benefit your skincare ritual. Let’s unpack these in a little more detail:

  • AHAs + BHAs: These incredible chemical exfolianot ingredients help boost cellular turnover and gently dissolve dead skin cells built up on the skin’s surface (i.e., help prevent your pores from getting clogged). We recommend looking for products containing Glycolic Acid (AHA) and Salicylic Acid (BHA). 
  • Squalane: This hydrating ingredient is an excellent alternative to heavy, greasy oils. While it is still an oil, it’s lightweight in nature and non-comedogenic. Research has found that squalane also offers anti-inflammatory benefits and reduces redness and swelling. 

Our recommendations: 

Dr Tanya Luxe Recovery Gel (contains Squalane). Although, we do not advise purchasing products without consulting your skincare therapist. 

Psst — Although not a serum, our Radiant Day Cream is also a great choice for acne-prone skin as it contains AHAs.