Among the many innovations to arrive in the body-care realm—celebrity-backed shower essentials and sleep-enhancing tools among them—few are as indicative of this expanded scope of attention as body serums. This fast-growing category sets out to address skin issues on the back, arms, and legs, with the help of attuned formulations. After all, issues like dryness and breakouts don’t adhere to preconceived boundaries.
“Body serums”—as their name implies—“are really an extension of face serum,” says cosmetic chemist Ginger King. The primary difference between the two lies in the concentrations of given active ingredients (the skin on the body can withstand more potent formulas) as well as the target benefits. For the face, for instance, formulas often target fine lines or dark spots, whereas body serums might prioritize firming, smoothing, and brightening, usually with an added boost of hydration.
That said, such products won’t take the place of your usual post-shower cream. “Body lotions are typically meant to moisturize, whereas body serums are made to address specific skin concerns, like hyperpigmentation, acne, or dull skin,” says dermatologist Melanie Palm, MD. As a result, body serums generally have a higher concentration of active ingredients than lotions, and tend to have a more lightweight texture that allows skin to absorb them more quickly. “Body serums are meant to be layered on first, followed by your body lotion to lock in moisture,” says Palm, who notes that a hydrating body serum may be enough for the warmer months.
Similar to face serums, the latest lineup of body serums boasts recognizable ingredients, such as retinol to offer long-term firming and smoothing, salicylic acid to address body breakouts, vitamin C to brighten, and hyaluronic acid to hydrate and plump. Keep in mind, however, that the same rules apply: “For those applying body serums with active ingredients that can have drying effects, like retinol and salicylic acid, it’s best to follow up with a lotion to avoid drying out your skin,” Palm says. Those two, in particular, are also known to make the skin more prone to sun damage, she points out, “so plan on applying an SPF 30 or higher on your body if you’ll be outdoors.”
Palm also advises not overdoing it when it comes to exfoliation. Although the skin on the body is naturally more resilient than that of the face, the skin barrier can still become compromised, leading to irritation. “If using a body serum with exfoliating properties, be mindful of other forms of exfoliation, like washing your body with an exfoliating towel, shaving, or using scrubs in the shower,” she says. But a measured dose of key ingredients—as seen in this array of targeted products—can take your body care to the next level.