The 20 Best Face Serums to Add to Your Skincare Routine
Let's face it, the term "serum" is a loaded one. There are hundreds — if not thousands — of different types on the market, which can make choosing a single dropper for your skincare routine quite a daunting task. But it doesn't have to be.
We conducted hours of research to find the best face serums based on specific needs and ingredient superstars. We considered the formula's benefits, texture, ingredients, and value to determine which serums are good for all skin types and concerns from dryness to dullness to acne. SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Serum claimed our top spot because the hardworking blend of actives is dermatologist-loved.
Without further ado, here are the best face serums to add to your skincare routine.
- Best Overall: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Serum
- Best Value: The Inkey List Retinol Anti-Aging Serum
- Best Drugstore: No7 Protect & Perfect Intense Advanced Serum
- Best Splurge: La Mer The Revitalizing Hydrating Serum
- Best Exfoliating: Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment
- Best for Lines & Wrinkles: OleHenriksen Truth Serum
- Best for Acne: iS Clinical Active Serum
- Best for Dark Spots: SkinMedica Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum
- Best for Dry Skin: Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Liquid Gel Cloud Serum
- Best for Oily Skin: The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% Oil Control Serum
Best Overall: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Serum
Best Value: The Inkey List Retinol Anti-Aging Serum
Best Drugstore: No7 Protect & Perfect Intense Advanced Serum
Best Splurge: La Mer The Revitalizing Hydrating Serum
Best Exfoliating: Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment
Best for Lines & Wrinkles: Ole Henriksen Truth Serum
Best for Acne: iS Clinical Active Serum
Best for Dark Spots: SkinMedica Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum
Best for Dry Skin: Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Liquid Gel Cloud Serum
Best for Oily Skin: The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% Oil Control Serum
Best Vitamin C: Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Vitamin-C Day Serum
Best for Sensitive Skin: Caudalie Vinosource S.O.S. Thirst Quenching Serum
Best for Nighttime: SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum
Best for Brightening: Herbivore Nova 15% Vitamin C + Turmeric Brightening Serum
Best Retinol: Shiseido Benefiance Wrinkle Smoothing Retinol Serum
Best Niacinamide: Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Niacinamide Dew Drops
Best Anti-Aging: Biossance Squalane + Phyto Retinol Serum
Best Peptide: Youth to the People Triple Peptide + Cactus Hydrating + Firming Oasis Serum
Best with SPF: Supergoop! Daily Dose Hydra-Ceramide Boost + SPF 40 Sunscreen Oil
Best for Glowing Skin: Glossier Futuredew
What to Keep in Mind
While we love a multi-tasking product, serums with too many actives or promises might do more harm than good. "Veer away from serums that try to do too much or solve too many skin issues," says Karen Fernandez, a Lead Aesthetician at SkinSpirit. When a product is too complicated, it can "irritate skin and work against you," she explains. Identify your primary skin concern, like acne or brightening or anti-aging, and find a serum for your routine that targets that.
With something that gets washed off like a cleanser or makeup remover, you can choose a more budget-friendly option and still reap the benefits of the product. However, when it comes to skincare serums, "you get what you pay for," Fernandez notes. Serums are where you want to invest a little more to get the powerful active ingredients at efficacious levels and formulas with nice textures. "Get the best you can afford," Fernandez says.
AM vs. PM
As mentioned above, choosing a serum that targets your specific concerns is important. One way to maximize your skin's potential is to pick a serum for day and night. "The most important serum is your antioxidant, such as vitamin C, which should be applied every morning on clean, dry skin," says Fernandez. "You could do a hydrating serum after that, followed by your moisturizer," she adds. And never skip SPF as the final step in your morning routine.
Fernandez also says to be mindful of what you apply to your complexion at night, adding that your nighttime regimen should include a serum that "feeds" the skin "so that while you are sleeping your skin can be replenished and you wake up to fresh skin." Retinol or other powerful anti-aging serums are a good choice, but be warned that they can take some time for your skin to adjust, so ease in to daily use.
Your Questions, Answered
Do face serums really work?
In short, yes, serums do really work. "They are typically concentrated active ingredients in a delivery system appropriate for that product," says Fernandez. "They tend to be pricier than other steps in your regimen because they are designed to really penetrate the skin," she adds. There is a lot of research and development that goes into serums to develop potent formulas that can deliver the benefits they promise.
When should you apply a face serum?
You can apply serums in the morning and at night (just be sure to make note of any ingredients that are recommended for nighttime use only, like retinol). And, they are best applied "before your moisturizers or SPF," says Fernandez. "In general, apply products thinnest to thickest, so your more water or light products go first, then thicker ones after that, and SPF [is] always last," she explains. Often serums are your most hardworking step and should be applied directly to the skin after any cleansing or toning steps.
What's the difference between a serum and a moisturizer?
"A moisturizer is typically designed to replenish the lipids in your skin and provide a barrier to lock in your own moisture and hydration," Fernandez explains. She says moisturizers will be thicker "and deliver ingredients to more of the superficial layers of the skin, where serums can go to deeper layers." Serums and moisturizers work together to achieve your skin goals—serums often deliver the hardworking ingredients to transform the skin and moisturizers lock in that goodness and protect it against the elements, like sun and pollution.
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