IMAGE: Julian Winslow/Corbis Images

There are tons of skincare serums on the market, but really, apart from being a concentrated light-weight moisturiser ‒ what do serums actually do? The pretty glass bottles are often twice or thrice the price our regular moisturisers, but are they worth it? I spoke to Dr Low Chai Ling, co-founder of the Sloane Clinic, to discover the five things you need to know about serums.

1. You pay for what you get
The tiny bottle sitting atop my dressing table probably costs ten times the price of my drug store moisturiser. I’ve always known that serums were expensive ‒ but why? According to Dr Low, serums do away with moisturising ingredients and thickening agents (which are also known as inactive ingredients). As such, a serum is essentially a concentrate of active skin care ingredients such as vitamins and antioxidants. Active skin care ingredients costs a lot more than moisturising and thickening agents (such as oils). So technically, you’re just paying for the good stuff.

2. Serums are not for everyone
They really aren’t. Most serums leave out oil and thickeners for several reasons: The serum then becomes water-based and easily absorbed into the skin. As such, if you have chronic skin conditions such as eczema or rosacea, or have a weakened skin barrier, Dr Low says it is best if you skip this skin care product. This is because serums penetrate so quickly that they might irritate your skin. You wouldn’t want to pay for that, would you?

3. Glass and dark-coloured bottles please
Have you noticed that serums are mostly packaged in glass? Or a dark-coloured plastic? The reason for this is simple: Active ingredients can lose their effectiveness once exposed to UV rays, so having it in a dark-coloured or tinted bottle will help it last longer. Glass (compared to plastic) is also known to lower the chances of chemical reactions between your serum and its container. So the next time you’re picking a serum, consider getting one that is well-packaged.

4. Don’t ditch the moisturiser yet!
As with all facial products, you need to know what goes into your serum to know whether it is for you, and your skin condition. For example, oily skin sufferers may find that water-based serums are moisturising enough for their skin, therefore a moisturising serum may be all they need. On the other hand, moisturising serums alone may not be enough for dry skin sufferers. And they might still need creams and lotions for added hydration. Why? According to Dr Low: “Thicker and heavier ingredients in creams form a barrier on your skin, which is then great for locking moisture in.” So even though moisturisers have a lower percentage of active skin ingredients, creams and thickening agents work like a blanket over your face to “seal” in moisture and the good stuff ‒ “trapping” the active ingredients in. So don’t be too quick to throw that moisturiser away.

5. So … Do I need a serum?
The answer to this question really depends on your skin care needs, and of course, budget. Dr Low reckons that serums are often the most expensive in any skincare line ‒ but with good reason. Containing a much higher amount of active ingredients compared to other skincare products, many will find serums more effective in tackling their skin concerns. However, as mentioned, serums are costly and maintaining this skin care regime will come at a price. At the end of the day, if cost isn’t a factor, I personally feel that serums are a great investment for your skin.

Itching to try some serums? Stay tuned tomorrow for my serum recommendations.


Dr Low Chai Ling is the co-founder of Sloane Clinic at 30 Raffles Place #03-01 Chevron House Singapore 048622, and she has her own skincare range, Sloane Inc. For more information, visit and follow the brand on Facebook.