Skincare, Two Ways is our new series exploring skincare routines in-depth, from the perspective of two humans who have very different skin types. In this fourth installment, our resident skincare enthusiasts, Courtney and Becca, are taking on serums and essences for different skin types, at different price points, and beyond.

But first, why should I bother slathering on a serum?

Well, serums and essences provide a boost that then gets sealed in by your moisturizer, and can help treat all kind of skin issues that have been holding you back from greatness, from dryness to dull texture. The idea is that they soak into your freshly cleansed skin, and have active ingredients to do the heavy lifting. What’s the difference between and essence and a serum, you ask? Good question! They’re similar, but an essence is usually more lightweight and closer to a toner, and you can read more about it here.

Courtney’s Routine

Skin type: Oily and sensitive

“My skin is oily with visible pores and it’s moderately sensitive. I’m always combating cystic hormonal acne under my chin, and will get small whiteheads if I’m not careful about cleansing after sweating. Over the last couple of years, my cheeks and forehead become slightly tighter when I’m traveling to cold, dry climates.”

First Essence

CosRX Snail Mucin
"Tacky, but effective. I use this in the mornings after a toner and let it chill on my face for a minute or two before applying serum/moisturizers/sunscreen. I thought the texture would break me out, but so far so good! I’m on my second bottle and a lil bit goes a long way."
$21 at Ulta

Second Essence

Belif Hungarian Water Essence
“I can’t even tell you how many bottles I’ve gone through. A friend recommended their travel kit several years back, and this was the first essence I’d ever used which totally spoiled me. The formula feels perfect — not sticky, light but thick enough to feel like your skin just drank 8 glasses of water. It sinks in very quickly, even on my oiliest mornings, and my other products absorb noticeably better after using it which is very helpful in the winter when I use a medium-heavy moisturizer. This product also has chickweed extract in it, which can help calm psoriasis!”
$42 at Sephora

First Serum

Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin C
“I’ve tried many Vit Cs and a lot of them break me out, this keeps my skin clear and has most effectively evened out my acne scars, dark spots and dull patches. If you’re just starting to incorporate vitamin C into your routine, you may experience slight tingling, so just mix it with a light moisturizer to help build your skin’s tolerance. This one has centella asiatica extract which is great for sensitive skin, but it also has skullcap extract which can help fight inflammation and sun sensitivity. Always follow vitamin c with a sunscreen and keep your bottle in the coolest darkest place you can because it will oxidize fast if you don’t! ”
$23 at SokoGlam

Second Serum

The Ordinary
The Ordinary Niacinamide 10 \+ Zinc 1%
“This might be classified as more of a “treatment” but I use it like a serum so here we go. I highly recommend keeping this around when you feel a breakout on the horizon. Sometimes I need a product that covers more surface area than spot treatments and zit patches, something that’s not too complex that I can layer with other products. For the last two years, I’ve been able to rely on this for my frequent hormonal breakouts or *gasp* if I wake up after a night out and realize I didn’t completely remove my makeup. She’s cheap. She’s effective. Sure, she’s a lil tacky but she’s a team player who stays on task! It’s ok to layer her with vitamin C, but if your skin is sensitive and you’re unsure, just alternate ‘em.”
$5.90 at Sephora

Third Serum

Boscia Sake Serum
“The price isn’t cute but I’ll tell you what is: people with all skin types seem to love this serum and 3 drops covers my whole face. I am in AWE of this stuff. I’ve only been using it for 4 weeks, but it’s extremely light and VERY hydrating. Seriously, my face hasn’t been this soft and smooth since I was a toddler, and it’s so weightless unlike other hydrating serums that just fill my pores with goop. I’m a sucker for anything with caffeine in it, which is what drew me in to begin with, but I’m really impressed with how calm my skin has been since I started using it. 12/10 would splurge.”
$50 at Ulta

Becca’s Routine

Skin type: Normal/Dry

“My skin trends (and I say this with enormous quotes) “normal”, but tends to get dehydrated fairly easily. While I don’t get breakouts often, I am extremely prone to clogged pores (talk to me about how I once shocked my derm by getting milia all over my face!).”

First Serum

Neogen Real Vita C Powder
“If you take nothing else away from this series, please try adding a vitamin C product to your lineup if you haven’t already. Vitamin C is just slightly shy of a miracle ingredient. It: brightens dark spots and generally evens skin tone, promotes collagen production, and (this is the one that gets me) helps boost the effectiveness of your sunscreen. What can’t it do, you might be asking, and the answer is: last much longer than 3 months without oxidizing and turning a sad dark brown. Vitamin C is notoriously fickle, and after buying a few too many liquid serums and watching them oxidize before I was even halfway, I decided to try this powder version. Previously I was using the Drunk Elephant C-Firma, and I would say in comparison, this works just about as well. I like to mix it with a watery essence (personally I mix it with Hadalabo Oil-in lotion, and I can’t find where to buy it online but if you’re in NYC, you can find it at oo35mm) and put it on as a first step in the morning. Bizarrely all vitamin C products smell like hot dog water (there is no better way to describe this), but you just have to push through it.”
$20 at SokoGlam

Second Serum

Hadalabo Premium Hyaluronic Lotion
“I think I’m on my third bottle of this now. This is THE thing to be using in the winter. It has five different types of hyaluronic acid in it. Do you need that many? I don’t know! But it’s a luxurious-feeling thick serum that’s exceptionally hydrating. I usually apply it morning and night, with multiple layers, and even then a bottle will get me through the whole winter. A couple of drops is more than enough for a layer.”
$13.50 at Amazon

Third Serum

Krave Beauty
Krave Beauty Great Barrier Relief Skin Barrier Repairing Serum
“I think this was the quickest I ever finished a product. I bought this back in the spring at the tail end of a bout of too-frequent exfoliation, and this helped speed the barrier rebuilding process. The consistency is like a light moisturizer, and I think if you have oily skin, you might even be able to get away with using this as one. It has a great mixture of barrier-repairing oils like Tamanu oil and safflower oil, ceramides to help mimic a healthy skin barrier, and niacinamide, which, from what I’ve read, does just about everything for your skin, including brightening and barrier repair. I will add — though the focus of this product is on repair, I use this all the time, and have definitely noticed a difference in how healthy my skin seems.”
$40.58 at Amazon

First Essence

Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence
“Honestly, who hasn’t recommended this essence at this point. It’s snail! It’s a little sticky! It’s fine! I think I’m on my 4th or 5th bottle of this now, and I’m planning on going through at least 4-5 more. This isn’t a put it on and wake up the next morning with a dramatic change, but it is a solid product that’ll help hydrate your skin and make it a little more resilient. I’ve tried a few snail mucin products but this one is my favorite. It’s a great price, will last you ~6 months, and sinks in well. And if you’re curious about snail mucin as an ingredient in general, here's a good intro.”
$21 at Ulta

Courtney is a brand designer living in Austin. You can find her posting about dogs and several attempts to leave her house @courtneyleonard (ig) and @courteroy (twitter).

Becca is professionally a software engineer, and personally a reality tv enthusiast living in Brooklyn. You can find her online @becckitt.

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