A stroll down the skincare aisle searching for the next big thing that's going to jump start your skin frequently starts with a lot of excitement, but can quickly unravel to utter confusion. The choices are overwhelming. 1 product that's often a mystery: the serum. What is it? Is it actually worth the money? What's the point? Here is some clarity on this high-tech skin booster.

What's a serum?

Think about a serum as the powerhouse of a skin care regimen. "A serum is highly concentrated and contains biologically active substances to help accomplish certain goals," says Catherine Orentreich, M.D., a New York City-based board certified dermatologist that serves as a guiding dermatologist for Clinique. Packed with powerful and concentrated ingredients, serums are usually on a single assignment, whether it's to reduce dark spots, boost your glow, smooth fine lines or tighten everything up a bit. A serum is also lighter and thinner than many moisturizers, allowing it to quickly penetrate into the skin and work on a deeper level. It's the stealth bomber of skin care.

Do you need a moisturizer and a serum?

Not really if you don't have some huge skin gripes that are bugging you. But, if you are bothered by a skin dilemma, like a persistent dark place or little lines creeping up around your eyes, then including a serum to your regimen is a fantastic idea. Using a serum and a moisturizer that contain complementary ingredients to handle an issue is like delivering a one-two punch to knock it out. You'll see results faster. Together, they're the ideal support group for your skin.

If a serum is stronger than a moisturizer, do you even need a moisturizer?

In addition to all of the potent problem-solving ingredients that are in a serum, it may offer a specific amount of hydration, but not enough to replace your moisturizer. Moisturizers also deliver a more well-rounded meal, containing other healthful ingredients that your skin needs beyond combating your primary concern. Last, serums do not have SPF because they are designed to go deep into your skin, while sun protection ingredients are supposed to remain on the upper layers to manage those damaging UV rays.

Which do you apply first?

The rule of thumb when it comes to layering skin care: proceed from thinnest to thickest. Serum first, moisturizer next.

When should you start using a serum?

It is not really about age, but the state of your skin, and if you have any issues that you wish to tackle. Thinking you need a power pair? Here is what to search for...

If your concern is...dark spots and uneven skin tone

Start with a serum such as Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector & Optimizer, which comprises Vitamin C, yeast, and salicylic acid to split up dark spots and reduce discoloration while soothing Gyokuro green tea, a potent antioxidant, quells irritation. "Salicylic acid is wonderful for promoting exfoliation," states Dr. Orentreich.

While the passage of time is inevitable, sagging isn't. As you age, the support structures that give your skin its pillow and rebound begin to break down. To fight this reduction, search for ingredients such as collagen, elastin, and peptide, which support your skin's arrangements, helping to bring back youthful-looking contours to your face.

Sculptural Lift and Contour Serum for Face and Neck can create a visible 40% lift over the jawline in eight weeks. To encourage that hardworking serum, Repairwear Uplifting Firming Cream Broad Spectrum SPF 15 comprises protein and peptide to help firm, volumize and tone skin. Additionally, it offers protection against UV rays, which really can break down collagen. Give your skin a little exercise by applying it with this stimulating, facialist-developed massage technique.

If your concern is...lines and wrinkles

Do not let fine lines and wrinkles cause you anxiety. When the #skingoal is to minimize lines and wrinkles, the right moisturizer plays a uniquely important role. The plumper your skin, the less deep your wrinkles seem.

Oh, to only have one skin care concern. For a lot of us, it is sagging and dark spots, or wrinkles and dullness. Luckily, some serums are smart enough to multi-task. Clinique Smart Custom-Repair Serum intuitively knows the needs of your skin and provides custom repair, whether you're aware of the damage or not. And an intelligent serum demands a clever moisturizer. Clinique Smart Broad Spectrum SPF 15 Custom-Repair Moisturizer does a lot of everything: It tackles lines and wrinkles, lifts and firms skin, evens skin tone and improves radiance. This moisturizer has a healthy dose of hyaluronic acid, which can hold 1,000 times its weight in water, plumping up your skin, while also delivering ingredients to visibly repair damaged skin.

As you started to get to grips with the monotonous routine of cleansing, toning and moisturizing your skin daily the beauty world introduces a fresh, must-have, wonder step -- serum.

If you're left mystified by what a serum really does, you're not alone because even the best of us are baffled by its contradictions.

So, let's make this simple. A serum is a skin care product that you apply to your skin after cleansing but before moisturizing with the intent to deliver a powerful shot of ingredients directly into your skin.

Unlike a moisturizer, serums have a lipid-soluble foundation that allows the active ingredients to penetrate into the epidermis rather than lying on the surface. By doing this, they can offer highly-concentrated doses directly to your skin that makes them great for targeting specific concerns like wrinkles, brightness, hydration or acne.

It's because of this ability to soak into your skin, paired with the fact that they contain concentrated doses of ingredients that are effective, that serums may often be pricey but if it's results you are after, this is not a step you are going to want to scrimp on.

Using a pea-sized quantity of serum, gently massage the product into your face and neck a few minutes are your cleanser. After that, proceed to apply your regular moisturizer and make-up as ordinary.

There are also formulas specifically designed for nighttime use so that you can slather on the item for maximum results come morning.

That having been said, with all these variations on the market, knowing which one to pick for your skin dilemma can be a minefield.

Products that contain Vitamin C, retinol and salicylic acid should be a go-to for anybody with acne-prone skin as these can help to reduce inflammation, ace as an antioxidant and unclog pores.

Those with dry skin should look for serums that contain Vitamin E, glycolic acid and hyaluronic acid for extra moisture, elasticity, and gentle exfoliation.

While dull complexions will feel brighter and smoother thanks to ingredients like green tea extract and ferulic acid.