Can Serum Be Used as a Primer Without Breaking Skincare Rules?

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If you’re applying the right serum, you can use it as a primer before makeup and as a pre-treatment to soothe the irritating effect of certain ingredients like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, and retinol.

Skin serums have found more use than treating skin concerns, especially hydrating serums. Primer serves as a protective interface between your skincare and makeup. It keeps your skin hydrated and gives your makeup a dewy finish.

To use a serum as a primer, you need the right formula to avoid any skin irritations and discomfort. Continue reading to see how you can use a serum as a primer in your beauty routine.

Can Serum Be Used As a Primer?

Serums can make good primers to prep your skin and make a smooth canvas for makeup. You can also use a serum to pre-treat your skin with moisture before applying ingredients that can dry out your skin.

A hydrating serum works like a regular primer. It keeps your skin hydrated while you have your makeup on for long hours of the day.

A serum is lighter and quickly absorbs into your skin. It makes your face breathable while you have makeup on. Skin tightening serums can help make your skin look firmer and more vibrant.

A hyaluronic acid-based serum amps hydration levels and makes fine lines and wrinkles less prominent.

Oil-based serums are great choices for primer. Most importantly, while you’re looking to use a serum as a primer, you shouldn’t grab just any serum. It remains important to use a serum that works for your skin type.

Can Serum Be Used Alone?

You may find serums alone highly moisturizing and hydrating. However, you shouldn’t use serum alone. To a large degree, your skin type also determines whether you can use serum alone.

If your skin is excessively oily or if you have a normal skin type, a serum alone may suffice to keep your skin hydrated. The same may not always apply to dry skin. People with dry skin need both serum and moisturizer to provide optimal hydration for their skin.

In addition, during harsh weather conditions like winter, it is best to use a serum with moisturizer to seal in moisture and prevent an ingredient like hyaluronic acid from drawing moisture from the deep layers of your skin.

Also, a serum that contains actives like retinol, AHA, and BHA should be followed with a moisturizer to restore moisture to your skin. These active ingredients have a common drying effect that can lead to skin irritations.

What Is the Difference Between Face Serum and Primer?

Face serum and makeup primer are two different products. Face serum is a skin treatment product while primer is a cosmetic product. Applying face serum hydrates your skin and helps to deliver active ingredients that target specific skin concerns.

Primer, on the other hand, preps your skin for makeup. It creates that barrier that prevents the interference of the chemicals from makeup products with your skincare products.

It also helps makeup adhere to your skin, prevents it from falling apart, and gives you a glowing finish.

The active ingredients, texture, and purpose differentiate a face serum from a primer. A primer can smoothen out your face but cannot treat signs of aging.

Can You Use Serum With BHA?

Yes, you can. After exfoliating your skin with a BHA, follow up with a serum to restore moisture and prevent skin irritations.

Exfoliation opens your skin to receive active ingredients. It is a process that sloughs off dead skin cells by breaking the bonds that hold these cells together.

BHAs are very effective exfoliating acids but can be too drying for the skin. Therefore, you should apply a hydrating product like a serum to hydrate your skin and perfectly deliver active ingredients to improve the appearance of your skin.

What Serum Can You Use With BHA?

The choice of serum you use with BHA (beta hydroxy acid) matters. As a skin exfoliant, it can dry out your skin and cause skin redness with certain skin types. You do not want to worsen the case with ingredients that will have a similar effect on your skin.

The serum you use after exfoliating with BHA should be a hydrating serum that contains active ingredients like niacinamide or hyaluronic acid.

Serums that contain retinol, vitamin C, AHA (alpha hydroxy acid), and other BHAs should not be used immediately after exfoliating with BHA.

BHA exfoliates your skin and reveals a sensitive layer that is prone to irritations and inflammation. Using an ingredient with a similar effect can be too harsh for your skin. This is why a hydrating serum is your best bet.

Can You Use Serum With Salicylic Acid?

Always restore moisture to your skin after using a salicylic acid cleanser or exfoliant. It is advised that you hydrate your skin after using salicylic acid.

Salicylic acid is present in different strengths. It could be a cleanser, chemical peel, topical spot treatment, toner, face wash, or serum.

In whatever capacity you’re using salicylic acid in your routine, you should not forget to restore moisture and serums are choices for doing this.

What Serum Can You Use With Salicylic Acid?

Following salicylic acid, use a hydrating serum such as one which contains hyaluronic acid or niacinamide. These ingredients will help hydrate your skin, soothe irritations, and calm redness.

Do not use salicylic acid serum over salicylic acid. And this applies to every skin type. It can be too much for your skin and even worsen what you intend to manage.

Other ingredients you shouldn’t use over salicylic acid include any other BHA, AHA, vitamin C, benzoyl peroxide, and retinol.

Can You Use Serum With Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid is an AHA that penetrates deep into your skin with its small molecules. As an exfoliator, it reveals a fresh, sensitive layer of skin that can easily lose moisture or get inflamed.

This acid makes your skin photosensitive and can cause skin purge if you have acne-prone skin. For this reason, you should apply a serum after using glycolic acid. The serum hydrates the exfoliated skin and prevents inflammation.

The serum lays the first layer of protection over the revealed sensitive skin and protects it from damage.

What Serum Can You Use With Glycolic Acid?

Like with every exfoliating acid, what you need for glycolic acid is a hydrating serum. However, this does not include niacinamide if you’ll layer both products. Niacinamide and glycolic acid have similar functions but they are active at different pH levels.

The higher pH level of niacinamide can raise that of glycolic acid and make it too acidic. Therefore, you shouldn’t use niacinamide and glycolic acid together on your skin. It’s best to leave them at alternate times of the day.

Use a hyaluronic acid serum with glycolic acid to replenish moisture and hydrate exfoliated skin. Do not use other exfoliating acids, retinol, vitamin C, or benzoyl peroxide after glycolic acid.

Is It Bad to Use Serum as Makeup Primer?

The right face serum can fill in the role of a primer for your makeup but it may not fulfill its other functions like rejuvenating your skin, reversing signs of aging, or treating acne.

A serum can be a makeshift primer but you shouldn’t expect the full effect of the ingredients in the serum. This is because you can’t layer on moisturizers or other creams. Otherwise, it’ll get too thick for makeup application.

Also, the chemicals in the makeup directly interact with the serum and make it less effective.

How to Use Serum for Primer

Using serum for primer is very easy. All you need to do is apply serum to a pre-cleansed face. Use your fingertips to smooth out the serum and allow it to absorb into your skin for a minute. Then you can go ahead to apply your makeup.

If you’re using a serum to pre-treat your skin before applying ingredients like BHA, it follows the same procedure. Make sure to apply sunscreen before you step out in the morning to shield your skin from UV rays.


Can you use vitamin C serum as a primer?

If your skin can tolerate vitamin C, you can apply it as an under-makeup primer to smoothen out your look and keep your makeup mattified. It will also keep your skin hydrated underneath the makeup.

Is a serum the same as a primer?

Serum and primer are not the same. A serum is a skincare product packed with active ingredients that target specific skin problems like aging and acne.

A makeup primer preps your skin for the smooth application of foundation and keeps makeup in place for a long-lasting look.

Can you use primer without makeup?

You can apply primer without makeup to smoothen your complexion. Water-based primers can also help hydrate your skin and brighten your complexion. Some primers are formulated to soothe skin inflammation and calm redness.


Serums are highly hydrating and can be used as an under-makeup primer to create a barrier between your skincare and makeup. It also helps to hydrate your skin, extend the longevity of your makeup and give it a dewy finish.

Moreover, serums can help soothe your skin while you apply ingredients that can cause your skin to dry out and become prone to inflammation. Exfoliating acids make your skin photosensitive and shouldn’t be used without hydrating serums to preserve the integrity of your skin barrier.

Most importantly, when applying serum as a primer, use serums that work for your skin type.

Thanks for reading.

Check Serum101 to read relevant articles on how to use skincare products to meet the needs of the moment.