Label Lab: What's in Your Anti-Aging Serum?

First, choose a good one (we'll help). Then, use it right, regularly, and for a while. The payoff: smoother, younger-looking skin.

Why You Need It

Serums are powerful wrinkle fighters: They tend to have a higher concentration of active anti-aging ingredients than creams and fewer oils and waxes for texture. Use yours with (or instead of) moisturizer.

What to Look For

You don't want all four — too many strong ingredients in one product could be overkill on your skin.

  1. Retinol is super-versatile and effective at helping your skin produce collagen (the protein that keeps it plump), create healthy cells, and even out discoloration.
  2. Antioxidants such as vitamin E and pomegranate or green tea extracts may prevent free radicals from etching lines; vitamin C can help spur collagen production.
  3. Alpha hydroxy acids loosen skin-cell bonds, sloughing away dead stuff so ingredients can sink in.
  4. Hyaluronic acid is a deep hydrator that plumps and softens skin.

Pro tip: Since some serums contain light-sensitive ingredients, look for opaque packaging to make sure the product starts off (and stays) fresh and potent.

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Be patient: There's no such thing as an overnight miracle. It can take up to a month to see a difference with a serum. The product needs to do its thing over a few skin-cell cycles (when new cells replace dead ones) to speed up collagen production.

How to Use It

  1. Spread a thin layer on clean, dry skin (when it's damp, some active ingredients penetrate more quickly, which may lead to irritation).
  2. Once it has dried, spread another very light coat on top to ensure that enough active ingredients are layered on your skin.
  3. If your product contains retinol, apply it at night (every other day), since sunlight makes it less effective.

When a Serum Can Double as a Moisturizer

Serums are usually water-based, which makes them lighter than moisturizers, and some contain the same key ingredients (glycerin, silicones). So if you have oily skin, you might not need an additional cream. But if your skin is dry, spring for a separate moisturizer for extra hydration — just be sure to apply the serum first to let the active ingredients sink in.

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