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Take Your Skincare Routine to the Next Level with Serums and Retinoids

A great skincare routine starts with four basic steps: cleanser, toner, moisturizer, and sunscreen. Once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s time to take your routine to the next level.

The goal of many skincare routines is to prevent or reverse the signs of aging. Pollution, UV exposure, and lifestyle habits like smoking break down healthy skin cells, which your body doesn’t replenish as quickly as you get older.

The right mix of products can turn back the clock and prevent future aging before it starts. In this article, we’ll look at two classes of products, serums and retinoids, that you should consider including in your skincare routine.



A serum is a concentrated liquid that is doesn’t include any moisturizing ingredients. Since they’re so lightweight, serums can penetrate deeper into the skin than lotions and creams, delivering a powerful anti-aging punch. In general, skincare products should be applied in order from lightest to heaviest, so you’ll use a serum before you moisturize.  

Fine lines and wrinkles are the result of diminishing collagen and elastin in the skin as we age. The goal of most serums is to increase collagen and elastin to restore fullness and smoothness.

Look for some of the following potent ingredients in a serum:

  • Vitamin C – This powerful antioxidant reduces cellular damage from free radicals and boosts collagen production. It also acts as a chemical exfoliant, so it speeds cell turnover and gives your skin a beautiful glow.
  • Hyaluronic Acid – This ingredient is popular in serums because it’s a humectant, which means that it boosts your skin’s hydration. As a result, your skin will look plumper and fuller.
  • Vitamin E – Another antioxidant, vitamin E protects your skin from damaging free radicals and prevents photodamage. It can also reduce the appearance of scars and plump the skin for a more even tone and texture.
  • Peptides – These are strings of amino acids that serve as the building blocks for cellular proteins like collagen, which diminish as we age. Using a serum with peptides actually tricks your body into thinking that you have an injury, so it produces more collagen and elastin to “heal.”

When choosing a serum, follow the Golden Rule of skincare: test just one product at a time to see how your skin reacts. It’s tempting to slather all of these amazing ingredients onto your face at once, but that can result in breakouts and dryness.



Retinoids are a class of vitamin A derivative drugs. They do an amazing job of reducing fine lines, evening hyperpigmentation, and smoothing roughness and texture. Retinoids were first introduced in the 1970s to treat acne, and today are popular for both clearing skin and reducing signs of aging.

Often called the “holy grail” of anti-aging skincare, retinoids work by speeding cell turnover and slowing the breakdown of collagen. They actually thicken the epidermis, your second layer of skin, which naturally thins from collagen loss as you age. Retinoids also lighten sunspots and hyperpigmentation, plus they clear dead skin cells and oil from your pores. The result is clear, smooth skin.


Prescription Strength vs. Over-the-Counter

Many drugstore skincare products contain retinoids, but prescription varieties are much stronger. The most common prescription retinoid is tretinoin, commonly called Retin-A. You only need to apply a pea-sized amount of this topical to your face and neck. Applying more doesn’t speed your results; it only irritates your skin.

Common side effects with prescription retinoids are redness, dryness, peeling, and flaking. Most people need to begin using tretinoin every other night and build up to nightly application as their skin adjusts. Most people will begin to see smoother skin in 6 – 8 weeks.

Over-the-counter (OTC) retinoids provide the same benefits as prescription versions, but they work more slowly. It can take up to six months to see results, and your results are likely to plateau after a year.

Many users see great success by starting with an OTC retinoid and then working up to a prescription-strength topical once their skin has plateaued. Doing so can help reduce the initial sensitivity period that people experience when they start prescription retinoids.


Using Serums and Retinoids Together

Integrating serums and retinoids into your skincare routine can have a dramatic impact on your skin’s smoothness. To minimize your sensitivity, use a serum in the morning and a retinoid at night. Try the following skincare schedule:

AM Skincare: cleanser, toner, serum, light moisturizer, sunscreen

PM Skincare: cleanser, retinoid, thick moisturizer (most night creams are thicker than daytime moisturizer to lock in hydration overnight)

If retinoids irritate your skin too much, try applying them for only fifteen minutes at night and then rinsing them off. You’ll still get a lot of the benefits, but you’ll experience much less irritation. You can also opt to apply your retinoid just a few nights a week rather than every night.


What’s Your Perfect Skincare Routine?

Choosing the right products takes trial and error to figure out what works well for your skin. If you’d like help choosing a serum or you’re interested in a prescription retinoid, schedule your appointment with Cumberland Dermatology today.

Cumberland Skin Surgery and Dermatology provides effective, compassionate general dermatology, skin cancer surgery and cosmetic dermatology solutions for our patients throughout the Southeast. With offices in Hermitage, Lebanon, Brentwood and Hendersonville, Tennessee, we’re your destination for high-caliber skincare. Visit our website at or give us a call today at 615-257-7128.

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