Within the skin care world, body care is a category that’s been booming with formula and product innovations that go beyond your generic moisturizing body lotion. As of late, it’s body serums in particular that have been flooding the beauty shelves.
In general, serums are the products that get sandwiched between your cleanser and your moisturizer. They function as the workhorse of your beauty routine since they contain a hefty dose of active ingredients that address specific skin concerns — think of them as boosters that can help with anything from hyperpigmentation to inflammation.
While you may be well-acquainted with serums for your face, body serums promise similar results for the skin beneath your neck. “These are formulated for the thicker skin of the body, to penetrate more deeply and spread more easily since the area is larger and has thicker protective surface skin,” says Dr. Jason Emer, M.D., a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist. And, though you can find a facial serum for practically any issue, those for the body tend to be geared towards nourishing, tightening, and hydrating, says board-certified facial plastic surgeon Dr. Kevin Sadati, M.D. — although as the category continues to grow, you can expect to see a wider variety of treatments start to crop up.
So why not just apply your facial serums to your body? According to the experts, not only is that financially inefficient (imagine how many bottles you’ll go through) but the products are milder and less likely to penetrate the thicker skin as effectively as those formulated for the body. Read on for intel on how to find the right body serum for you along with the best ones to shop.
How To Pick A Body Serum
You probably know how to shop for your skin type when it comes to face care, but your body isn’t as straightforward. This is mainly because of how much more surface area there is and how different the skin can be across the body — the skin beneath your neck can’t be categorized as solely dry or only oily. Just think of the skin on your elbows compared to, say, that on your stomach.
According to Dr. Arash Akhavan, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of The Dermatology & Laser Group, the four general skin categories that exist across the body are normal, dry, oily, and sensitive. For example, Sadati says your décolletage and neck likely have thinner, more sensitive skin, but you may notice dry knees and elbows along with a more oily, breakout-prone backside.
That said, you can still find a body serum that’ll play well with all areas — you just have to know which ingredients to look for. Los Angeles-based dermatologist Dr. Shirley Chi, M.D., recommends formulas that contain hyaluronic acid for hydration, antioxidants to help prevent aging and protect your skin from pollution and other sources of cellular damage, niacinamide for soothing inflammation, and chemical exfoliants (like alpha hydroxy and beta hydroxy acids) for smoothing roughness. “These ingredients are generally well-tolerated,” she tells Bustle. “Pick a serum that matches your problem area.”
If you reach for stronger actives like retinol or vitamin C, derms say to approach them the same way you would in your facial skin care routine — aka remember to do a patch test on your body to make sure there’s no irritation. And with a retinol serum, Chi advises to only use it at night since it’s photosensitive and would break down if exposed to sunlight.
When incorporating a body serum into your routine, Akhavan says to apply it after washing your skin. “I recommend allowing the serum to dry so the active ingredients fully absorb prior to applying lotion,” he tells Bustle. And there you have it: your three-step body care routine.
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Shop Body Serums
A Plumping Serum
Boscia’s formula is all about restoring softness and pliancy to your appendages, which it does via collagen-stimulating peptides, niacinamide, glycerin, and squalane. You also reap the benefit of aromatherapy: The scent of citrus oils in the bottle (orange and grapefruit) deliver a quick mood boost.
A Smoothing Serum
This serum packs a hat trick of benefits. Squalane and hyaluronic acid hydrate and keep moisture in the skin, alpha-hydroxy acids exfoliate and resurface, and a trademarked blend of actives (dubbed M-Tight) along with caffeine and baobab work to de-puff and firm. It can get tingly upon application, but that’s because it’s working to boost your circulation and rejuvenate your limbs.
A Cooling Gel Serum
In the summer, it can be tempting to skip body care altogether because it’s just so. hot. outside. But African Botanics’ gel-textured formula is perfect for cooling your skin after a day in the sun or humidity. As you enjoy how good it feels to apply, your complexion soaks up circulation-boosting menthol and caffeine, firming and hydrating nettle and resurrection plant, and antioxidant-rich green rooibos tea extract.
A Gentle Everyday Serum
This serum is the type of product that’s gentle enough to be applied all over every single day (sensitive skin types included). The formula works to boost hydration with the go-to moisturizing ingredients you know and love: hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, ceramides, and aloe vera.
An Antioxidant-Packed Bathtime Serum
If you’re looking to slough off scaly patches of dryness, this product is a must. A combo of fruit-derived exfoliating acids works to uncover softer, smoother skin while omega-rich botanicals nourish your limbs with essential vitamins and nutrients. And, if you’re partial to baths, this baby doubles as a dreamy oil to elevate your soak sesh.
A Milky Body Serum
Josie Maran’s gentle serum targets sun damage and signs of aging (think crepey texture and a loss of elasticity), all via a creamy, milky elixir. The brand’s signature argan extract is combined with lactic acid for lightly exfoliated, more supple skin.
A Resurfacing Body Serum
Popular facial exfoliants AHAs and BHAs are the starring ingredients within Farmacy’s Honeymoon Glow serum. These work together to slough away dead skin cells and pigmentation to reveal a more even complexion without feeling dry afterward (thanks to a moisturizing trio of shea butter, prickly pear leaf juice, and honey).
A CBD-Spiked Serum
This baby is a multitasker: CBD and ceramides soothe and hydrate your skin as a cocktail of chemical exfoliants rids your body of rough patches. The end result? You’re left with soft-as-a-baby appendages.
Tolleson, W. (2005). Photodecomposition and Phototoxicity of Natural Retinoids. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3814709/
Dr. Jason Emer, M.D., board-certified cosmetic dermatologist
Dr. Kevin Sadati, M.D., board-certified facial plastic surgeon
Dr. Arash Akhavan, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of The Dermatology & Laser Group
Dr. Shirley Chi, M.D., Los Angeles-based board-certified dermatologist