Face Serum Explained: How It Works + Why It's So Effective

Skin Care
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how face serums work

Face serums are the most rewarding step in your beauty routine, the reason most skin experts refer to them as "medicine" for the complexion. Since serums can penetrate the skin very well and are infused with high amounts of active ingredients, they are the go-to when addressing any skin issue you may have. Whether you want to soften fine lines and wrinkles, minimize dark spots, strengthen your barrier, or fight acne, an effective face serum is a huge asset in your beauty arsenal.

What is a Face Serum?

A face serum is a lightweight, easily absorbed oil or water-based liquid with a high concentration of active ingredients — like retinol, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin C — that target specific skin concerns.

Benefits of Face Serums

Serums are a universal staple in any robust skincare strategy due to the plethora of benefits they deliver to the skin. Due to their thin texture and small molecules, they easily penetrate deeply into the epidermis (outer skin layer), carrying their actives with them and triggering visible changes. This is one of the reasons we chose serums as our primary product with a mission in mind: to raise the standard for effective skincare. Not only do Exponent Superior Serums allow you to mix fresh actives on demand, but they're also as clean as possible, clinically proven to deliver, and housed in a system that doesn't allow ingredients to degrade.

Here are some features of face serums:

  • High concentrations of active ingredients
  • Lightweight and non-greasy
  • Thin consistency
  • Absorb quickly 
  • Penetrate deeper into the skin

Why are Face Serums So Effective

The concentrated serum formulas are made up of tiny molecules that enter the skin, which is why they are so effective and address skin issues in a more targeted way than other products in your routine. The bounty of active ingredients in each serum acts like medicine for a number of skin concerns. Plus, a little goes a long way with serums — they can improve the complexion with just a small amount of product. 

What to Look for When Choosing a Face Serum

There are a lot of things to take into consideration when you choose your face serum. Above everything, it's essential to select a product according to your skin type and needs; otherwise, you might not get the desired outcomes, or it can even worsen your condition. As such, pay attention to the ingredient list and be aware these are listed in order of predominance, with the compounds used in the greatest amount first, followed in descending order by those in smaller amounts. The packaging, how you dispense the product, shelf-life, and the brand's trustworthiness are also essential factors to consider when purchasing a face serum.

These are the broad categories of face serums you can choose from:

  • Anti-aging
  • Brightening
  • Hydrating
  • Protecting
  • Repairing
  • Excess sebum
  • Breakouts

How to Use a Face Serum

For those that don't know how and when to use a face serum, here's the gist: apply your serum on cleansed skin, preferably after toner, when the skin is still damp for increased absorption. Unlike creams, a serum should not be applied by massage but with gentle tapping motions with your palms onto the skin until complete absorption. In case you are not familiar with the correct order of layering ingredients, after serum comes moisturizer, followed by sunscreen in the AM. For remarkable results you’ll want to use your serum twice daily, in the morning and before you go to sleep at night.

Self-Activated Face Serums

Nothing can beat a serum that allows you to activate ingredients at the moment of application for peak potency in every dose. Exponent serums are different because the first-of-its-kind precision-dosed, refillable package prevents oxidation and degradation of actives, allowing you to mix ingredients at the moment of use so that no benefit is lost. 

It's worth pointing out that Exponent self-activated serums are composed of two chambers, one for the active ingredient packed powder (the Globe + Dispenser), which allows you to dispense a precise powder dose, and another one (the Base + Bowl) for the Quadruple Hyaluronic Acid Hydrator. When you push and twist the Activator System, the powder mixes with the Hydrator, creating a clinical-grade Superior Serum in as little as 10 seconds. 

The Exponent Standard is founded on three main principles. First and foremost, the products are made with science-backed actives used at a meaningful concentration that's maintained over the product's useful life and are clinically proven to deliver what they promise and then some.

Quadruple Hyaluronic Acid Hydrator


The star of the show, multi-weight hyaluronic acid, is the liquid activator for all Exponent Superior Serums, and it's easy to see why. Our Quadruple Hyaluronic Acid Hydrator contains four weights of hyaluronic acid molecules that work on multiple layers of skin for supreme absorption of concentrated actives, plus instant and long-term hydration. As one of the best humectants, hyaluronic acid is the shortcut to plump, glowy skin, and it can be mixed with any other active out there without bad interactions.

Pure Active Powders

The Exponent Active Powders allow ingredients to stay stable and more potent, unlike most pre-mixed serums, which are prone to lose efficacy every time they come in contact with light, air, and water. This new powder approach eliminates the usage of solvents and water altogether and allows active ingredients to retain stability and efficacy for longer periods. This will definitely lead to more bang for your buck in the long run. 

Our powders contain skincare ingredients that won't quit and are scientifically proven to transform the skin: 

Time Rewind Retinol

Exponent Beauty Time Rewind Retinol

Retinol is great for pretty much any skin issue out there, from discoloration and loss of firmness to pimples and dullness, and it works by encouraging cell turnover, renewing the skin, and spurring collagen growth. Retinol is one of the most fragile active ingredients and will quickly lose its efficacy over time, so a preserved powder form is ideal.

Brightening Boost Vitamin C

Exponent Beauty Brightening Boost Vitamin C

Vitamin C benefits include defense against oxidative stress, evening tone, and firming. Because vitamin C is a vulnerable compound, it easily oxidizes when in contact with the daily environment. Hence, keeping vitamin C in powder form until you use it will preserve stability and potency.

Calm Revival Green Tea Resveratrol

Exponent Beauty Calm Revival Green Tea Resveratrol

Using our Calm Revival Green Tea Resveratrol Serum that boasts these two potent antioxidants will protect your skin against further damage, soothe, ease swelling, and reduce redness and dryness. Antioxidants are prone to oxidation, so a powder formula that allows you to mix fresh actives won't let their perks go to waste.

Firming Filter CoQ10

Exponent Beauty Firming Filter CoQ10

As the name suggests, the Firming Filter CoQ10 Serum firms, reduces fine lines and wrinkles and brightens the complexion while shielding against oxidative damage with a gentle formula that addresses easily reactive and dry skin. Since Coenzyme Q10 is an antioxidant, having it in powder form allows it to stay effective so that you get A-class results every time.   

Clear Comeback Probiotic Enzyme

Exponent Beauty Clear Comeback Probiotic Enzyme

Clear Comeback Probiotic Enzyme Serum addresses blemishes, blackheads, and large pores with fruit enzymes and willow bark extract, while probiotics reinforce the skin so it's less susceptible to damage. Make sure to tackle all breakouts with our powderized version of this formula and you’ll see results in no time. 

Face Serums FAQ

For a quick tldr, we’ll answer the most frequently asked questions on the benefits of face serums in skin care.

What does a face serum do?

A face serum addresses targeted concerns, such as aging signs, acne, dryness, and dullness, and is effective at delivering a higher concentration of actives deeply into the skin. 

Is face serum the same as moisturizer?

Unlike moisturizers, which contain thickening agents that make them sit on top of the skin to keep the complexion moist and defended, serums are liquid, which allows them to penetrate into the skin, addressing concerns in a more targeted way.

Do face serums actually work?

Face serums are great for infusing your skin with plenty of benefits, from anti-aging to hydrating, nourishing and acne-fighting, and play a crucial role in any skincare routine.

What is the best face serum?

The best face serum is one that addresses your skin type/concerns and uses targeted actives at a meaningful concentration to tackle them. 

Can we use face serum daily?

It's safe and recommended to use a face serum daily to get the most benefits. Some serums can be used twice daily if the formula is gentle enough, while other serums, like those with retinol, should only be used once a day.

Add a Face Serum to Your Skincare Routine Today

Now that you're up to date with the face serum benefits and how to apply this essential step in your regimen, it's high time you identify your skin type and what concerns you want to target. Whether it's aging signs, antioxidant defense, a weak barrier, breakouts, or dryness, get started with an Exponent starter kit today and get ready to glow.

Words by: Ana Vasilescu


Powered by clinically-proven, pure Active Powders combined with a Hyaluronic Acid Hydrator, our Superior Serums are made fresh in an instant at peak potency.