The ultimate guide: How to layer serums for maximum skincare benefits

Let's dive into all things serums and how to use them.

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Team Software
Medically reviewed by
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Nailing your skincare routine often takes time and a fair bit of trial and error before you find the products that work for your skin.

Serums are an integral part of a skincare regime as they can effectively target all manner of skin concerns, from pigmentation to ageing and dehydration. You might have found a few serums that work well for your skin but you're probably wondering how to incorporate them into your routine and the best way to layer these products.

Let's dive into all things serums and how to use them.

What is a serum?

Serums are a special type of skincare products. They aren't a moisturiser, cream or oil but a viscous formula designed to deliver high-quality ingredients to the skin.

These formulas are highly concentrated and are often designed for specific skin needs; for example, a hydrating serum targets dehydration, while a brightening serum can help treat pigmentation and signs of ageing.

Different types of serums

There are several different types of serums available — if you can dream it, chances it exists — but we're going to focus on 3 of the most common serum styles.

Brightening serum

If you're looking for a product to target dullness and leave you with radiant skin, you're looking for a vitamin C serum. Vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbic acid, is an antioxidant that works to protect skin cells from air pollution, sun damage and anything else that prematurely ages your skin.

Vitamin C is powerful because of the way it boosts your skin's natural regeneration process, which in turn helps your body repair damaged skin cells. The topical application of vitamin C works similarly to the way consuming antioxidant-rich foods does.

Some of the benefits of a vitamin C serum include:

  • It can help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles thanks to the alpha-lipoic acid, while vitamin E protects against environmental stressors
  • It can help brighten your skin and reduce pigmentation and dark spots by inhibiting melanin production
  • It helps keep skin soft and supple by boosting collagen production
  • Antioxidants prevent or reduce damage to our cells by neutralising the production of highly reactive molecules called free radicals

Software's Vitamin C + Ferulic Serum leverages the best part of vitamin C and ferulic acid to brighten and firm skin, even out skin tone, stimulate collagen production and reduce fine lines.

Unlike others, our formula contains a full 15% dose of vitamin C which works fast to fight dullness, dark spots and discolouration deep within the skin, while protecting precious cells from free radicals caused by UV rays and environmental stressors.

Hydrating serum

For those looking to supercharge their skin with a hydrating ingredient, a hyaluronic acid serum is the one for you.

Choosing a serum enriched with hyaluronic acid rather than a cream means you'll be able to deliver the powerful ingredient directly into your skin for maximum absorption as serums contain molecules that can penetrate far deeper into the layers of the skin.

Hyaluronic acid holds up to 1000 times its weight in water to keep your skin hydrated and plump. It does this by binding with collagen and water molecules [1], which traps the acid in your skin and prevents it from evaporating into the air.

Generally, hyaluronic acid serums can boost your complexion quickly by upping your skin's moisture retention and help to keep your skin moisturised all day long.

Some of the benefits of a hyaluronic acid serum include:

  • It can plump your skin, leaving it hydrated supple and radiant
  • Hyaluronic acid boosts antioxidant benefits, helping to shield your skin from free radicals and environmental stressors like pollution
  • It can help promote skill cell regeneration thanks to the extra hydration

Software's Hyaluronic Complex Serum is designed to instantly hydrate, thanks to the addition of 4 types of hyaluronic acid which help combat dryness and dehydration.

Natural Moisturising Factors (NMF) and sodium hyaluronate crosspolymer attract water from the atmosphere to maintain hydration all day and help keep external stressors at bay by strengthening the skin's surface.

Anti-ageing serums

Another popular style of serum is one that targets the signs of ageing. A retinol serum is designed to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by helping to boost collagen production and increase skin cell turnover.

There are several retinol-based products available, from serums to oils and creams. Retinol, which is derived from vitamin A, works well in all delivery formats so it's up to you as to what you prefer.

While not a serum, Software's Retinol Complex Oil is a restorative facial oil that works to diminish fine lines, dark spots and dryness. Derived from coconut, seed and fruit oils, this is a great alternative to a retinol serum and works in much the same way to support cell renewal and increase elasticity.

Can you layer serums?

Yes, you can layer serums but it's advised that you don't use too many at one time as it might overwhelm your skin or make the products slightly less effective.

While you can use a few different serums across your morning and evening skincare routine, take care of layering too many at once as less is often more when it comes to skincare.

How many serums should you layer?

We recommend layering 2 serums at a time but we'd avoid layering on more than that. In saying that, you may use 3 or 4 serums across both your morning and evening skincare routines but not all of these will typically used together.

Take your morning routine, for example, where you might like to use 2 serums to target brightening and hydration. In this case, you'd start by applying your vitamin C serum, letting it sink in and following it up with a hyaluronic acid serum.

The consistency rule

The first is the consistency rule, which you should follow for all skincare products. This refers to the consistency of the products and how these should be applied from thinnest to thickest.

This means starting with your most liquid serums before moving on to oils and thicker creams to lock everything in. Thicker products like lotions and oils create a protective layer over the skin and can make it harder for other products to soak in, which is why these go last.

When using multiple serums, try to follow this rule, starting with the lightest serum and ending with the most viscous one.

Layering your skincare products

While your skincare routine is specific to each person, here's how a basic regime might look and how you can layer serums within it.



  • Cleanser
  • Hyaluronic acid serum
  • Retinol serum or oil
  • Moisturiser

How to layer serums and acids

When it comes to layering serums, there are some dos and don'ts to follow. Here's how to approach layering a vitamin C serum with acids.

Hyaluronic acid and everything else

While hyaluronic acid has the word 'acid' in its name, it's actually a super gentle ingredient and can be used with all manner of acid products. Feel free to layer hyaluronic acid with your vitamin C serum or any other acid-based product.

Vitamin C and AHAs / BHAs

Vitamin C shouldn't be mixed with acids, which includes all AHAs and BHAs. This is because combining an acid with vitamin C can increase the potency of the latter ingredient and cause skin irritation [2].

Vitamin C and benzoyl peroxide

It's best to steer clear of combining your vitamin C serum with a benzoyl peroxide product as the latter oxidises the former, rendering them both ineffective. Instead, aim to use these on different days.

How to layer serums and retinol

Retinol and retinoids need to be used with care to avoid skin irritation. And, there are a few rules on how to layer a retinol serum (or retinol oil!) with other serums.

Retinol and vitamin C

It's best to avoid using retinol and vitamin C together (one after another) as there is a risk of irritation to the skin as well as redness (especially for those with sensitive skin).

While we don't recommend layering them, you can use these 2 products in your skincare routine. To do this, start by using only one ingredient for a full skin cell turnover (4 weeks) and be sure to look after your skin barrier with rich moisturising ingredients (like Software's Hyaluronic Complex Serum and Ceramide Repair Balm).

Try using the products on different days or separate each ingredient into a day and night routine. For example, use vitamin C in the morning and retinol in the evening to avoid layering these products together.

Retinol and hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid is the perfect product to match with retinol products, as these can sometimes have side effects like dryness, flaking, redness and irritation. Hyaluronic acid complements retinol by soothing skin and it doesn't interfere with the efficacy of the vitamin A product.

How long do you leave between applying each serum?

It's important to leave some time between each product to allow it to sink into the skin. Try to leave around a minute between products as this will allow the serum to sink in a little before you layer the next one on.

How to layer serums without pilling

Pilling can happen when you apply too much of a product or you haven't given your skin enough time to absorb it before layering on another.

Leaving a minute or more between each layer will help prevent annoying pilling and means you won't have to start from scratch.

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* Software lifestyle survey of 116 patients who were using
Software for ageing concerns, June 2022