No matter your skin type, skin tone, or skin texture, almost everyone can agree that the best face serums can make or break a skin care routine; they’re one of the simplest and most efficient ways to upgrade your regimen. In fact, depending on your concerns, all it takes is using one or two a few times to start seeing a noticeable difference in your complexion.
That’s because face serums contain a high amount of active ingredients that target specific concerns, such as hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and acne breakouts, Lauren Penzi, MD, board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology, tells Glamour. “Serums are lightweight, liquid-like formulations that are able to penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin where they are able to exert their beneficial effects,” she explains. “Other face products, such as cleansers or creams, contain a lower amount of active ingredients and therefore are not as strong and powerful.”
Other products usually aren’t able to penetrate to the deeper dermal layer of the skin the way serums can, which is why celebrity facialist Candace Marino refers to face serums as “power products.” “Face serums are highly concentrated skin care products with smaller molecules that deliver ingredients deeper in the skin, versus a cream that sits on top of the skin,” she says. “They are generally the most active product in a routine that warrants a result.” Translation? When it comes to improving your skin via topical products, face serum formulations that target your specific concerns are the best way to go.
Our top picks:
- Best Acne Serum: Glow Recipe Strawberry Smooth BHA + AHA Salicylic Acid Serum, $42
- Best Brightening Serum: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Serum, $183
- Best Exfoliating Serum: OleHenriksen Dewtopia 20% Acid Night Treatment, $60
- Best Retinol: CeraVe Anti Aging Retinol Serum, $27
- Best Retinoid for Sensitive Skin: Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum, $85
- Best Hydrating Serum: Lancer Ultra Hydrating Serum with Hyaluronic Complex-7, $95
How do I choose a skin serum?
The best face serum for your skin depends on your skin care concerns and goals. That said, a good (and basic) place to start is with an antioxidant serum in the daytime and a reparative serum (think retinol, AHAs) at night, says Marisa Garshick, MD, board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology. “For brightening and antiaging, it is best to consider serums containing vitamin C, as an antioxidant for the morning to help protect the skin against free radical damage which can contribute to signs of aging,” she says. “For evening, a retinol serum can help to boost collagen production, improving the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and for acne, serums containing salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid (BHA), can be helpful to unclog the pores and reduce oil.”
What ingredients should I look for in face serums?
Key ingredients include niacinamide for redness, hyperpigmentation, improving the skin barrier, and soothing the skin; azelaic acid, as it helps to address acne, redness, and pigmentation; bakuchiol, which is considered a natural retinol alternative; and exfoliating ingredients such as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), lactic acid or glycolic acid.