Skincare

Why a face serum is the little miracle your skin needs and where to buy one on a budget

Your guide to all things face serums - the anti-ageing super-product that actually works.

By Bettina Tyrrell
face serum skincare

Welcome to face serums 101. You may have seen serums sitting on the shelves, in their tiny bottles with their big price tags, promising all sorts of miracles: eliminates fine lines and wrinkles; smooths youthful skin; reverses sun-damage; perfectly evens skin tone. Well, serums sort of are wonder products - they're a gel-like fluid packed with potent, high-performance ingredients that actually deliver on their promises, particularly their anti-ageing guarantees. Hence the hefty price tag!

But you really don't need to spend a fortune to get great results, we've found a bunch of face serums under $50 that you'll love. Plus we unpack exactly what a serum is, if you need one, and how to find the right one for your skin.

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What is a serum?

Let's really break it down. A serum is a skincare product you apply to your face after cleansing, but before moisturising. Yes, if you use a serum, you still need a moisturiser - more on that later. Serums are a treatment product and contain a high concentration of potent ingredients. Meaning, each serum is designed to tackle a specific skincare issue, for example: fine lines and wrinkles, enlarged pores, dryness.

The genius of serums is they deliver their potent ingredients directly to where it's needed. This is because they are made up of tiny molecules that are easily absorbed into the skin, penetrating deep into the skin's dermal layers. Where a moisturiser operates on the first two layers of the skin, a serum reaches the deeper layers where common skin problems manifest.

When do I use a serum?

How often you use a serum depends on the serum and you should read the instructions. However, once daily is fairly common.

Apply a small amount to dry skin after cleansing. Once absorbed into the skin, apply your moisturiser then your usual makeup routine. Or apply before bed, after cleansing and before night cream.

While using a serum is not essential, its reparative properties provide much desired benefits.

How do I find a serum to suit my skin?

As serums tend to come with a specific focus to combat a single problem, first you need to identify your skin type or gripe. Is your skin feeling tight and dry? Do you want to reduce wrinkles and fine lines? Is your skin looking dull? Also think about your calendar. Do you have an event - a wedding or dinner - you're attending and you want that Nicole Kidman-glow? There's a serum for that!

If I use a serum, do I still need a moisturiser?

To put it simply, yes. Moisturisers hydrate the upper layers of the skin. It's important to look after these top layers because these are your first layers of defense for your skin. When dryness and cracks occur on the surface, irritants can get in a cause further problems.

Face serums under $50

Serums tend to cost more than most skincare products, this is because of their potent ingredients. But because of their super-special formulations, serums are far more effective than other skin creams. So it is worth investing in one, but you don't need to pay a small fortune to achieve great results.

For anti-ageing:

Bio Collagen Ampoule Serum, Mizon, $44 at mecca.com.au
As we age, collagen and elastin in our skin breaks down and our skin starts to look thin instead of plump, it sags and lines appear. Mizon's Bio Collagen Ampoule Serum promotes firmer skin by replenishing collagen. And with a high concentration of collagen in its formula – 50% to be exact, it's no wonder it's a favourite of beauty editors world-wide.

For dry and dehydrated skin:

Hyaluronic Acid, The Ordinary, $12.90 at Adore Beauty
Most of us won't realise how dehydrated our skin is until we see how fast hyaluronic acid is slurped up into the skin. While your skin may not be cracking, flaky our dry on the top visible layers, it's what's going on in the layers you don't see that you need to treat. If you're not already familiar with skincare brand The Ordinary, now is the time to get acquainted. It's a no-fuss brand with high-quality products with super low price tags. And their Hyaluronic Acid is as good as any other.

For brightening:

Vitamin C SKin Boost Instant Smoother, The Body Shop, $35 at The Body Shop
There is nothing more refreshing than the zing of Vitamin C on your skin to promote a radiant complexion. Vitamin C is like a pep-talk for your skin - it wakes it up and gives it that boost to get out there and glow, glow, glow. For their Vitamin C Skin Booster, The Body Shop extracts Vitamin C from the camu camu berry which has 20 times more Vitamin C than an orange. Expect some serious power in this bottle!

For scaring and marks:

Rosehip Oil Antioxidant+, Trilogy, $35.95 at Triology
Said as plainly as possible, rosehip oil is excellent for scarring. It's a powerful oil which reduces the appearance of scarring, marks and can even work its making on fine lines. Rosehip oils can be as cheap as chips, but there is one important thing to note - they can go rotten. A rosehip oil combined with strong antioxidants are the way to go, because antioxidants protect the oil from going off and you can keep it for longer. Just store the bottle out of the sun.

For that Nicole Kidman-glow:

Overnight Glow Serum, Pixi, $41.95 at David Jones
For red-carpet-worthy skin, you can't go past this beauty game-changer. Inside this pretty green bottle is a highly concentrated exfoliating gel that works while you sleep (bonus!) to reveal even and radiant skin. Because this potent serum is formulated with 10% glycolic acid (a miracle for treating blackheads, dullness, fine lines and acne) it's recommended you use sparingly and wear a sunscreen in the daytime when using it.

For reduced pores:

Clarifying Booster, Sephora Collection, $22 at Sephora
Pores, ugh. Who needs 'em? Unfortunately us, but we can reduce their appearance with some crafty serum work. Sephora's own range of skincare is as good as the premium products stocked on their shelves. This Clarifying Booster is ideal for oily skin. It contains a high concentration of skin-balancing zinc which minimises excess oils leaving your completion with a matte finish. Apply this serum under your makeup in the morning to avoid that slick oil sheen that seeps through by 3pm.

For Smoothing:

Skin Balancing Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum with Retinol, Paula's Choice, $45 at Paula's Choice Skincare
The buzzword in skincare at the moment is retinol, the technical term for Vitamin A. Retinol gets high praise for it's ability to smooth skin and reduce the signs of ageing and sun damage. Because of retinol's potency, it's recommended that you start with a product that has a lower concentration of retinol and after time build up to something stronger. Paula's Choice Skin Balancing Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum with Retinol is the perfect gateway retinoid.

For a little bit of everything:

Face Hero, Go-To Skincare, $45 at Go-To Skincare
Perhaps you don't need to combat a specific skin problem, but just want something to take care of your face? Just like the brand's name, Face Hero is your go-to for an all-in-one skin pleasing serum. Packed with 10 potent plant and nut oils this product is perfect for every skin type and every day use. The product designed by beauty guru and funny-girl Zoe Foster Blake promises to hydrate, revive and brighten skin plus protect your face against fine lines, dark spots, dryness and ageing inflammation.