What Is Serum and Do I Need a Serum?
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Skin Experts

Do you really need a serum?

A stroll down the skincare aisle often starts with a lot of excitement. What’s that next big thing that's going to jump-start your skin? One product that's often a mystery: the serum. What is it? Is it really worth the money? What's the point? Here's some clarity on this high-tech skin-booster.

What is a serum?

Think of a serum as the powerhouse of a skincare regimen. "A serum is highly concentrated and has biologically active substances to help accomplish specific goals," says Catherine Orentreich, M.D., a New York City-based board certified dermatologist who serves as a guiding dermatologist for Clinique. Packed with potent and targeted ingredients, serums are generally on a single mission, whether it's to reduce dark spots, boost your glow, smooth fine lines, or tighten everything up a bit. A serum is also lighter and thinner than most moisturizers, which allows it to quickly penetrate into the skin and work on a deeper level.

Do you need a moisturizer and a serum?

Not really if you don't have any big skin gripes that are bugging you. But if you're bothered by a skin concern, like a relentless dark spot or little lines creeping up around your eyes, then adding a serum to your regimen is a good idea. Using a serum and a moisturizer that contain complementary ingredients is like a one-two punch on a skin issue: you'll see results faster. Together, they're the ideal support group for your skin.

If a serum is more powerful than a moisturizer, do you even need a moisturizer?

In addition to all the potent problem-solving ingredients that are in a serum, it may provide a certain amount of hydration—but not enough to replace your moisturizer. Moisturizers also deliver a more well-rounded meal, containing other healthy ingredients that your skin needs beyond battling your primary concern. Lastly, serums don't have SPF because they are designed to go deep into your skin, while sun protection ingredients are designed to stay on the upper layers to deal with those harmful UV rays.

Which do you apply first?

The rule of thumb when it comes to layering skincare: Go from thinnest to thickest. Serum first, moisturizer second. You can use the same serum morning and night, but switch up your moisturizers: a day cream with SPF and a night cream with more skin-repair ingredients.

When should you start using a serum?

It's not really about age, but the condition of your skin and any issues you’re concerned about. Thinking you need a power pair? Here's what to look for...

If your concern is...dark spots and uneven skin tone.

Start with a serum like Even Better Clinical™ Radical Dark Spot Corrector + Interrupter, which contains vitamin C, yeast extract, and salicylic acid to break up dark spots and reduce discoloration, while soothing gyokuro green tea, a potent antioxidant, quells irritation. "Salicylic acid is wonderful for promoting exfoliation," says Dr. Orentreich. Pair it with Even Better™ Skin Tone Correcting Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 20, which contains similar ingredients, plus SPF to prevent future damage.

If your concern is...lines and wrinkles.

Don't let fine lines and wrinkles cause anxiety. Keep calm and swipe on a powerful de-ager. Our best wrinkle serum? Clinique Smart Clinical Repair™ Wrinkle Correcting Serum. It’s packed with a peptide-rich complex to help boost skin's natural collagen production, plus a potent yet gentle retinoid. (In fact, it’s gentle enough to use twice a day.) When the #skingoal is to minimize lines and wrinkles, the right moisturizer plays a uniquely important role, since the plumper your skin, the less deep your wrinkles look. Use our anti-aging serum with Clinique Smart™ Broad Spectrum SPF 15 Custom-Repair Moisturizer during the day to protect against UV rays—which can speed up the aging process—and Clinique Smart Clinical Repair™ Wrinkle Correcting Cream at night to smooth and nourish skin.

If your concern is…acne.

You need something gentle yet powerful to help clear and treat those breakouts. Acne Solutions™ Acne + Line Correcting Serum is a hydrating formula with salicylic acid that clears and treats without drying skin. Plus, it has potent anti-aging ingredients like whey protein to visibly improve lines and wrinkles. Clearer and smoother skin? A win-win. Follow with Acne Solutions™ All-Over Clearing Treatment, a lightweight hydrator that treats blemishes, soothes skin, and reduces redness.

If your concern is…hydration.

It’s time to make this refreshing duo part of your routine. Start with the antioxidant-infused Moisture Surge™ Hydrating Supercharged Concentrate. This water-gel formula helps quench dehydrated skin with an intense boost of moisture. Pair it with oil-free Moisture Surge™ 100H Auto-Replenishing Hydrator for hydration that sinks into skin and lasts for hours. Moisture Surge not only helps you get your moisture levels back, but also makes your skin more resilient to the things that dried it out in the first place (think: air travel, pollution, and more)

Want more healthy skin tips? Join us at our expert-led Skincare Essentials class, where you’ll get a customized routine to help you meet your skin goals. Enjoy a 1:1 session or invite your friends.

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Even Better Clinical™ Radical Dark Spot Corrector + Interrupter, Potent brightening serum for hyperpigmentation helps visibly improve dark spots and uneven skin tone.
.33 fl. oz. / 10ml - Travel Size
1.0 fl. oz. / 30 ml
1.7 fl. oz. / 50 ml
3.4 fl. oz. / 100 ml
Clinique Smart Clinical Repair™ Wrinkle Correcting Serum, Clinical repair serum for derm-level results. As effective as a laser on the look of lines and wrinkles.*


.33oz / 10ml - Travel Size
1oz / 30ml
1.7oz / 50ml
3.4oz / 100ml