What to know before you start serum stacking

The latest skincare craze on BeautyTok is all about stacking serums – so how does it stack up?

We live in a time-poor society, so it’s little wonder that social media is pushing time-saving content and hacks, including in our beauty routines.

Serum stacking is the latest take on the trend which involves, quite literally, layering serum upon serum on your face, with ample drying time between each application.

The idea behind this practice is that you’re getting targeted skin care for multiple skin concerns at once, minus the heaviness associated with layering thicker formulas.


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Is serum stacking right for your skin?

While serum stacking sounds like an ingenious form of multitasking, experts warn it can also carry risks.

Some skincare ingredients and actives aren’t meant to interact, and layering them could lead to skin irritation.

According to Skin Nerd founder Michelle Doolan, serum stacking should only be performed if you’re familiar with the ingredients in each product.

“As an experienced skin technician, I often see consumers following unqualified advice online, which can create more problems than benefits,” Michelle says.

She suggests considering your skin concerns, and whether or not stacking serums would help achieve the results you’re after.

“My recommended approach is to keep it simple (and) seek professional advice,” Michelle says.

With Grace Skin Management dermal clinician Chelsea Cairns also advises against overloading the skin with different products at once.

“The serum stacking trend makes skin care seem more complicated than it has to be,” Chelsea says.

“Not only can it be confusing to decide what serums to include, the trend tends to only spotlight ‘hero’ ingredients at the expense of a more holistic approach.”


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What are the advantages of serum stacking?

With famous fans such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Anne Hathaway, serum stacking remains a popular hack, despite mixed sentiments from skin experts.

Without proper education, following the trend is a sure-fire way to compromise your skin barrier, Michelle says.

Some people try to pack as much punch as they can into their skincare routine without understanding the correct application order of different products.

This is another reason why Michelle discourages serum stacking in general, because incorrect application can also compromise product efficacy.

“Different skincare ingredients have different penetration abilities, with some going deeper into the epidermis while others are more superficial,” she says.

“If you apply them incorrectly, then one may block the other from being properly absorbed.”

Michelle explains there’s only so much product a single skin cell can absorb at any one point in time; once it meets that capacity, anything applied further will have a nil effect.

Hydrating serums, for example, are comprised of large water molecules that fill up skin cells, so any additional serums will basically go to waste.


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How to stack serums safely

Check ingredients

If you’re determined to stack serums, Michelle recommends familiarising yourself with the ingredients in each product to understand which ingredients work  .

Switch it up

Rather than stacking your serums, try alternating them – this way, you’ll still reap the skin benefits of each serum on a weekly basis, without compromising its performance.

Know your skin

Chelsea says knowing what your skin needs is key to building an effective skincare routine, and it’s best to be familiar with your specific skin type and concerns before adding multiple serums to your routine at once.

“In addition to avoiding unnecessary layering, some serums are best used only a few times a week, like AHAs, BHAs and retinols,” Chelsea says.

She says taking a more conservative approach can help to avoid over-exfoliation, which may cause dry and flaky or inflamed skin, or oversensitivity to other products.

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Written by Charlotte Brundrett