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What is a Face Serum? Plus 4 of the Best to Try

From the Experts | Jan 12, 2023
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You’ve heard beauty experts praise their benefits, and seen them go viral on Instagram – but if you’re still not sure what face serums actually do, you’re far from alone. You might even be wondering whether you need one if you’re already using a moisturiser. The answer? Absolutely. Here’s why serums are a must for all skin types, and how to find the right one for you…

First – What is a Face Serum?

While they might feel weightless, face serums are loaded with skincare benefits. They’re ultra-thin, yet they boast a high concentration of active ingredients that, thanks to their texture, can be absorbed into skin’s deeper layers. This makes them extra-effective at treating your biggest complexion woes, whether you’re targeting wrinkles, signs of fatigue or dryness and dehydration. Think of them as potent pore perfectors with supercharged effects. If you want to get to the heart of skin concerns, a face serum is essential to your routine.

The Benefits of a Face Serum

Different serums offer different benefits, depending on the ingredients they deliver directly to pores. However, there are certain qualities that all face serums have in common:


They Work Deep in Pores

The weightless feel and thin texture of a serum allows it to penetrate deeper into skin, so you get a turbo boost of the active ingredients your pores really need.


They Lock in Nourishment

All serums – from anti-wrinkle concentrates to hyper-hydrating lotions – infuse skin with nourishment, like a much-needed glass of water for your complexion.


They Feel Light and Non-Greasy

Because they’re so lightweight, face serums never make your complexion feel greasy. Even if your skin is prone to oiliness, they absorb quickly and effortlessly.

How and When to Apply Face Serum

Applying a face serum is simple. Most come with a pump on the bottle, so dispense enough to cover your face and neck into the palms of your hands, then smooth over skin in upwards and outwards motions. To boost absorbency, ‘drum’ fingertips over your contours – the tops of cheekbones, the forehead and the chin. Serums work day and night, so follow this quick routine in the AM and PM.

Just make sure you’re applying serum at exactly the right stage in your routine. This is the secret to getting the most from your daily serum dose.

Face Serum Comes After…

  • Cleanser – You should always apply face serum to fresh, clean skin. Try double cleansing to sweep away every last impurity, ensuring your formula can work deep down into pores. We recommend the Perfect Cleansing Oil for the first cleanse to dissolve makeup and grime, followed by the Complete Cleansing Microfoam for soft skin that’s serum-ready.

  • Skin softener – Not only does a skin softener infuse your complexion with lightweight, dewy moisture; it also boosts the effects of the serums and moisturisers you apply on top. Try the Treatment Softener Enriched to make this Japanese beauty staple part of your daily ritual.

Face Serum Comes Before…

  • Moisturiser – When it comes to your your skin routine order, a serum is always applied before moisturiser. Let the serum sink in first, then massage your day cream or night cream over the top.

  • Treatment – Whether you’re using an acne cream or a corrective treatment (like the Vital Perfection Intensive WrinkleSpot Treatment), this goes over the top of your serum and moisturiser.

  • SPFSuncare comes at the end of your morning skincare routine, creating a shield over your perfectly prepped skin. It’s a daily essential – especially after using night serums that contain retinoids or acids.

4 of the Best Face Serums for Your Skin Type

1. Ultimune Serum Power Infusing Concentrate

For all skin types and all ages, our hero Ultimune Serum Power Infusing Concentrate is a foolproof formula that reveals your most radiant skin in just three days*. There’s a reason it’s won 224 beauty awards**; the dewy serum suits everyone. It glides over skin to activate its inner defences against everyday aggressors, from pollution to the effects of stress. Meanwhile, a blend of botanical ingredients soothes and softens for calm, hydrated skin. Think plump and glowy, lending a super-smooth canvas for makeup. Apply morning and night to achieve healthy and youthful-looking skin. You can team Ultimune with any Shiseido face cream for a truly bespoke routine.

*Consumer test on 103 volunteers. *Number of awards as of December 2022 worldwide.

2. Vital Perfection LiftDefine Radiance Serum

If firmer, glowing skin is your goal, apply Vital Perfection LiftDefine Radiance Serum post-softener. It visibly brightens skin in just one week, and lifts and firms in only four weeks*. Designed to be applied to face and neck, it combines 24-hour hydration* with concentrated tightening for a more youthful-looking complexion. Pair it with the Uplifting and Firming Cream to enhance the tightening effects, and for an added boost, apply the LiftDefine Radiance Face Mask as a weekly skin-smoothing treat.

*Clinical test on 38 women. **Instrumental test on 20 volunteers.

3. Bio-Performance Skin Filler

A serum duo like no other; BioPerformance Skin Filler is a two-step system inspired by aesthetic procedures, with incredible results to back it up. It helps skin look 5 years younger in just one day* by targeting loss of volume and wrinkles. The secret? MolecuShift technology; a hyaluronic acid-based innovation that ‘pushes’ skin up from within. Apply the Infill Serum at night for supercharged absorption of hyaluronic while you sleep, and the Full Expansion Serum by day to expand the molecule and achieve a plumping effect. The instant gain in volume leaves your complexion bouncy, fresh and dewy. Think of it as instant filler benefits, found in the comfort of your home.

*Consumer test on 110 women.

4. Benefiance Wrinkle Smoothing Serum

This cutting-edge serum unlocks your skin’s inner power. As we age, our skin’s ability to react to skincare declines, but the Benefiance Wrinkle Smoothing Serum works to direct your internal sensory signals. In doing so, it makes your skin optimally responsive to the age-defying benefits of skincare, so you can reap the full rewards of the serum’s anti-wrinkle effects. Combine it with the Wrinkle Smoothing Day Cream SPF25 and Overnight Wrinkle Resisting Cream for true pore plumping. It’s the perfect combination for mature skins in need of soothing care.

Up next:

Now you know about the benefits of face serum, read our complete guide to skin softeners; the Japanese beauty essential that levels up your skincare like never before.