Face Serums 101: Get nourishing skin from summer to monsoons

By Roberliza
May 02, 2022

Spring in Hong Kong is but a brief interim between seasons, and the blazing heat will soon be firmly set upon the city. Giving our skin the right treatment to stay nourished and protected against the elements is vital.

You have probably heard of retinol, niacinamide and ascorbyl palmitate – all beauty buzz words nowadays. Derived from vitamins A, B and C respectively, these are the active ingredients commonly found in serums. Each plays a significant role in supporting skin health – balancing, brightening, clearing, hydrating and protecting inside out.

Starting with ‘A’, retinoids are antioxidants that promote the turnover of skin cells and smoothen signs of ageing – those worrying fine lines and wrinkles – while also reinforcing the skin’s natural defences. The popularly used retinol is known to dry out skin because of its high pH level, but when paired with other potent hydrating ingredients, it can work wonders.


South Korean pioneer Sulwhasoo combines research, technology and beauty formulation for its ginseng-centric holistic skincare lines. The newly released Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Serum spotlights a rare type of ginseng saponin in a potion that, per 50ml bottle, contains 190,000 patented Ginsenomics capsules rich in retinol, ginseng seed and amino acids. Said to work eight times faster than earlier formulations, this quick-absorbing serum soothes irritated skin, activates collagen production and delivers anti-ageing benefits.


Plant oils, on the other hand, such as paeonol – an antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory organic compound derived from peony shrubs – are considered gentler alternatives to retinol. Peony root extract is one of the active ingredients in Spanish skincare expert Natura Bissē’s innovative Diamond Extreme Serum. Buoyed by the company’s exclusive Smart Energy Complex and artemiasalina, hailing from plankton, it boosts the skin’s natural protective layer and the epidermis’s resistance to damage caused by UV rays and heat-induced stress. The serum also supports and balances skin metabolism for a more luminous complexion.


Niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3, is an essential nutrient that addresses multiple skincare issues, such as excessive sebum production, inflamed pores, dull complexion and signs of ageing. Its more neutral acid / alkaline level (pH6) also ensures compatibility with other ingredients and a gentler touch – a boon for sensitive skin.


German brand Dr. Barbara Sturm has added The Better B Niacinamide Serum to its science-based skincare range. Delivering a handful of helpful solutions, the new product controls excess oil, reduces fine lines, soothes enlarged pores, evens skin tone and prevents moisture loss by promoting the natural production of ceramide. Returning skin to its natural, flawless state while preserving its unique texture, supple, youthful glow is an skincare’s ultimate aim.

Lots to C

Ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, is the trickiest active ingredient to blend into beauty serums; as an unstable, acidic compound (pH3 or less in water-based solutions), it can cause irritation. However, when done right, its benefits – including collagen and elastin production – will have you excited to start your morning routine.


A great example is N°1 de Chanel Revitalising Serum from the beauty arm of the eponymous French luxury house. Featuring the red camellia, a flower known to contain vitamin C, zinc, potassium, folic acid and amino acid, as the hero ingredient, the serum’s refreshing gel texture instantly seeps into the skin, where it corrects as well as prevents signs of ageing by improving elasticity.


American beauty conglomerate Estée Lauder takes a different track, infusing its new Re-Nutriv Ultimate Diamond Transformative Brilliance Serum with a breakthrough ingredient in the skincare industry: black diamond truffle extract. Derived from truffles in southwest France, this potent harvest is coupled with vitamin C derivatives and the brand’s proprietary youth sustaining technology. The result will be clearer, more radiant skin, and a significant reduction in the harm caused by extensive sun exposure, pollutants, stress and other environmental factors.

Layer On

You don’t need to be a science geek to incorporate serums into your skincare routine, a better understanding of pH level and viscosity certainly helps. A useful rule of thumb is to dab on thinner (water-based) products before thicker oils and emollients, and move your way up the pH scale, from lowest to highest. For example, apply a vitamin C serum before one with a vitamin A kick, followed by a moisturiser; or massage a drop of retinol into the skin ahead of water-soluble acids like AHA and BHA.


Alternatively, you could grab Dior’s Diorsnow Essence of Light Serum. The formula’s co-stars are edelweiss and yeast extract, sources of vitamin C and B that work deep within the dermis to reduce pigmentation and dark spots, thus brightening the skin while also countering the effects of free radicals.


But keep in mind that not all active ingredients work effectively together. Retinol and ascorbic acid, for instance, sit on opposite ends of the pH scale, making it difficult for the skin to absorb both simultaneously. So, split the two into a day-time and night-time routine.
Cult beauty brand IT Cosmetics offers a guided option with its new Bye Bye Serums collection. Co-developed with plastic surgeons and dermatologists, each of the quartet focuses on a specific skin flaw. There’s Bye Bye Dullness, a brightening, nourishing serum of 15-percent pure vitamin C plus vitamin E; the smoothing Bye Bye Pores that combines glycolic acid and hydrating hyaluronic acid; the plumping Bye Bye Lines with hyaluronic acid, vitamin B5 and peptides; and Bye Bye Dark Spots, a skin balancing formulation of niacinamide and ethyl vitamin C.

No matter how you choose to layer your active ingredients, remember that all serums should be applied on a cleansed, toned face, and never skip the moisturiser.