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Skin serums are all the rage, but are these often-tiny bottles of concentrated goop really worth adding to your skin care routine?

We talked to a board certified dermatologist to get the deets on what serums can do for your face, the best ingredients for certain skin concerns, and how to find serums that work for your specific skin type (because everyone is different).

Keep reading for our list of the best products — categorized by need, so you can easily find the product of your dreams.

We asked board certified dermatologist Dr. Stacy Chimento to spill the tea on everything serum-related, including criteria for choosing the G.O.A.T. face serums. Here’s what we looked for:

  • Variety. A little of this, a little of that. We included serums that address a variety of skin concerns because not everyone has the same skin type.
  • $$$$. The list below includes serums at various price points, from steals to serious splurges.
  • Quality ingredients. We included only brands known for creating top-notch products with quality ingredients.
  • Reviews. Obvi, a brand can say all it wants about what its products can and can’t do, so we looked to reviews to make sure real customers had good experiences with these products.
  • Vetted products only. After choosing some products based on Chimento’s tips, we also put every product through a thorough vetting process to make sure brands aren’t making any unsupported health claims or engaging in shady business practices. Only brands that passed made our list.

Best overall face serum

Laneige Glowy Makeup Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Benefits: hydrates skin
  • Standout ingredients: diamond mineral powder and ceramides
  • Size: 1 ounce (oz.)
  • Skin type: normal, combo, oily

This serum in a little pink bottle is your ticket to a dewy, smooth finish. It also helps makeup stay put longer and can help with textural issues and dryness. The serum’s diamond mineral powder ingredient leaves behind a radiant glow — hence the name. ✨

Plus, ceramides lock down moisture, so your skin will be thirsty no more. The formula is also free of phthalates and parabens. BYEEE, nasty chemicals!

Like many serums, this one has a sticky feel that some people don’t love. But most reviewers are head over heels for this product, with one person going so far as to call it a “game-changer.” Reviewers rave about how hydrating it is and how well it keeps makeup looking fresh all day long.

Best budget face serum

The Ordinary Buffet

  • Price: $
  • Benefits: reduces signs of aging, including lines, wrinkles, dryness, and loss of elasticity
  • Standout ingredients: peptides for banishing wrinkles and hyaluronic acid for a boost of H2O
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • Skin type: normal, combo, oily, dry

Not long ago you could barely get your hands on this top-selling product from The Ordinary. In a sprawling line of bargain bin-priced skin care products, the Buffet serum stands out as a multipurpose formula that targets wrinkles, dryness, and loss of firmness.

The all-star serum is also oil-free and gets rave reviews from customers, including people with sensitive skin.

It’s hard to find something else that rivals the Buffet serum in terms of price and results. And while a few people say it didn’t change their skin at all, it’s an excellent product to try if you have reactive skin or are new to serums, because you won’t sob over money lost.

Best vitamin C face serum

The INKEY List Vitamin C and EGF Brightening Serum

  • Price: $
  • Benefits: targets hyperpigmentation, texture issues, and dullness
  • Standout ingredients: vitamin C (duh) and epitensive, a plant-derived ingredient that helps promote skin elasticity
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • Skin type: normal, combo, oily, dry

Vitamin C is a powerhouse skin care ingredient that kicks skin-damaging free radicals to the curb. It can also reduce hyperpigmentation and acne and protect against sun damage — but it’s NOT a replacement for sunscreen.

If you’re looking for a serum that might turn your face into #SkinGoals, consider this vitamin C serum from The INKEY List. The vegan formula is cruelty-free and reef-safe. It’s a good choice if you want to zhuzh up your skin and make it appear brighter.

What do reviewers like about it? For one thing, the price tag. But people also love that it’s lightweight, hydrating, and effective. Careful if you have sensitive skin, though. You might need to start slow when using this product.

Best anti-aging face serum

Glow Recipe Plum Plump Hyaluronic Acid Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Benefits: plumps, hydrates, provides anti-aging (or, as we like to say, pro-aging) support
  • Standout ingredients: hyaluronic acid, plum, vegan collagen
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • Skin type: normal, combo, oily, dry

Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a potent ingredient that helps lock in moisture, so it’s a great choice if you deal with perpetually dry skin. But it’s not just an oasis for the desert that is your skin. HA can also help smooth out and reduce the look of acne scars and fine lines.

Glow Recipe’s Plum Plump is full of juicy skin-nourishing ingredients, including HA, antioxidant plums, vegan collagen, and silk proteins. In addition to helping fight the signs of aging (which, BTW, are normal, but we get wanting to have baby-soft skin), the formula has a plumping effect.

One customer calls the Plum Plump serum an “absolute godsend,” saying it helps combat the irritation caused by potent retinoids. A few people comment on the off-putting smell, but most agree that it’s worth the hype.

A word of caution: This product contains artificial fragrances, which can cause skin irritation for some people. That also means it’s not safe for use during pregnancy.

Best serum for fine lines

Charlotte Tilbury Charlotte’s Magic Serum Crystal Elixir

  • Price: $$$
  • Benefits: provides pro-aging support, brightens and plumps
  • Standout ingredients: vitamin C, polyglutamic acid, niacinamide
  • Size: 1 oz. (also available in a 0.27-oz. sample size)
  • Skin type: normal, combo, oily, dry

Abracadabra! Fine lines, get outta here! Alakazam! Yep. This iridescent serum can’t pull a rabbit out of a hat, but it might help reduce signs of skin aging. Vitamin C brightens up the skin, polyglutamic acid hydrates like a boss, and niacinamide makes pores disappear and fixes up skin tone and texture. POOF! (OK, it’s not literally magic, but it does have all the right ingredients to plump up your skin and minimize the appearance of fine lines).

It’s also free from a whole slew of chemicals like parabens, oxybenzone, and coal tar (WAT?).

The good: Lots of people say they saw noticeable differences in the appearance of their skin when using this serum. The bad: Quite a few customers complain about breaking out after applying it. If you’re worried about zits galore but want to see if this product will work for you, try out the teeny-tiny sample size.

A word of caution: This product contains artificial fragrances, which can cause skin irritation for some people. That also means it’s not safe for use during pregnancy.

Best drugstore face serum

L’Oreal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives Hyaluronic Face Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Benefits: provides pro-aging support
  • Standout ingredients: hyaluronic acid
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • Skin type: normal, combo, oily, dry

Drugstore beauty products get a bad rap, but this popular serum from L’Oreal is overwhelmingly beloved by customers and has more than 4,500 positive reviews on the CVS website.

The dermatologist-validated serum contains hyaluronic acid and is designed to help plump skin and diminish wrinkles. It’s also paraben-free and fragrance-free. It’s lightweight enough to wear morning and night and under your makeup.

What do the people have to say? Customers agree that the serum legit tightens skin and even makes it feel oh-so-soft. Some claim they saw instant results — but we’ll chalk that up to the placebo effect (hey, something about just applying a serum makes you feel radiant AF).

Best splurge face serum

SK-II Facial Treatment Essence

  • Price: $$$
  • Benefits: evens out skin texture, helps with dark spots, improves skin tone
  • Standout ingredients: Pitera (a proprietary ingredient that has more than 50 micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, according to the brand)
  • Size: 5.4 oz.
  • Skin type: normal, combo, oily, dry

OK, sure, this product is $$$$$. But the bottle is bigger than those of most other serums, at 5.4 oz., so it should last a while. It’s formulated to smooth out skin texture and tone, get rid of dark spots, and brighten you right up.

Its main ingredient is something called Pitera, a combo of micronutrients including vitamins, amino acids, minerals, and natural acids. SK-II calls it “pure power of nature harnessed by advanced technology.”

Sounds fancy! But does it work? Some say the hype ain’t real. A handful of reviewers report experiencing breakouts after applying the essence. And some complain about the strong scent.

But most people rave about the product, calling it “life-altering.” One person even says they’ll use it till they die (intense much??).

A word of caution: This product isn’t free of parabens, which means it’s not safe for use during pregnancy

Best face serum for evening out skin tone

Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Niacinamide Dew Drops

  • Price: $$
  • Benefits: targets dryness and dullness
  • Standout ingredients: niacinamide and hyaluronic acid
  • Size: 1.35 oz.
  • Skin type: normal, combo, oily, dry

Many Glow Recipe products tend to be less tacky than others, which might be the secret to their popularity. Looking for a dewy, vibrant look? This serum is your ticket to Glow Town — though, sadly, we’re not talking about another season of Netflix’s GLOW. 🙁

The gel-like formula contains niacinamide to help with pigmentation issues and dullness and reduce the appearance of pores, hyaluronic acid to keep moisture locked in, and watermelon to brighten and hydrate.

Reviewers say the serum delivers on its dewy skin promise. One reviewer calls it a “highlighter in a bottle,” though a handful of people found it sticky instead of dewy.

A word of caution: This product contains artificial fragrances, which can cause skin irritation for some people. That also means it’s not safe for use during pregnancy.

Best face serum for dry skin

Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Benefits: hydrates, provides pro-aging support, targets dullness
  • Standout ingredients: ceramides, vitamin B5, sodium hyaluronate
  • Size: 1.69 oz.
  • Skin type: normal, combo, oily, dry

Who doesn’t love elephants? Because if that person exists, they’re a monster. Drunk Elephant supports the International Elephant Foundation and creates products that are guaranteed cruelty-free. 🐘 💖

This Drunk Elephant serum is formulated to deliver a turbo boost of hydration to moisture-starved skin with the help of ceramides, vitamin B5, and sodium hyaluronate. Ceramides help brighten skin while B5 attracts moisture and keeps it there. Sodium hyaluronate, a similar ingredient to hyaluronic acid, hydrates and minimizes the look of wrinkles and fine lines.

Customers call the serum light and refreshing, and many say it’s a staple of their skin care routine. A few people complain that they didn’t really see a difference in hydration.

Best face serum for acne scars

Selfless by Hyram Retinol & Rainbow Algae Repair Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Benefits: targets redness, dark spots, and acne
  • Standout ingredients: retinol, algae, squalane
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • Skin type: normal, combo, oily

This cruelty-free formula contains retinol, algae, and squalane — all ingredients meant to help improve the look of your skin and calm it TF down as it gets a mega-dose of hydration (AKA a recipe for reducing post-acne scars and dark spots).

One oily-skinned buyer loves that the formula is super lightweight and gets absorbed right away for a nongreasy finish that doesn’t add extra sheen to an already shiny face. Other reviewers say it’s a great way to add retinol into your routine without irritating your skin.

Best clean face serum

Herbivore Cloud Jelly Plumping Hydration Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Benefits: targets dryness and dullness
  • Standout ingredients: tremella mushroom, vegan collagen, strawberry extract
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • Skin type: combo, dry

It’s cloudy with a chance of jelly!

This serum from Herbivore is part of Sephora’s clean beauty line and is cruelty-free and vegan. The formula contains a fun mix of plant-based ingredients, including tremella mushroom, vegan collagen, and strawberry extract. 🍓 Aside from hydrating, the serum nourishes the skin, brightening it with the help of potent antioxidants like vitamin C.

Customers say it’s awesome for parched skin and like that it’s lightweight. A few people say they were disappointed in the plumping effect. Still, most people agree that the serum’s hydrating abilities are lit.

Best face serum for combo skin

Origins Ginzing Into the Glow Brightening Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Benefits: targets textural irregularities, dullness, and visible pores
  • Standout ingredients: AHA and BHA exfoliants, vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • Skin type: normal, combo

Combination skin requires a multitasking product like this serum from Origins. The vegan formula contains a blend of beta hydroxy acid (BHA) and alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) — two all-star exfoliants — along with vitamin C and hyaluronic acid.

The ingredients work together to improve skin health, brighten, and hydrate. The Ginzing serum also reduces the appearance of pores and smooths the skin.

Reviews are overwhelmingly positive, and most people say they love the serum but dislike the strong smell. One person with combo skin calls it the “HOLY GRAIL VITAMIN C.”

A word of caution: This product contains essential oils, which can cause skin irritation for some people.

Best face serum for sensitive skin

Algenist Genius Liquid Collagen

  • Price: $$$
  • Benefits: provides pro-aging support, targets dullness and uneven texture
  • Standout ingredients: Alguronic Acid, vegan collagen, microalgae oil
  • Size: 0.21 oz., 1 oz., or 2 oz.
  • Skin type: normal, combo, oily, dry

You might have combo, normal, oily, or dry skin that’s also sensitive, which can make it really hard to find products — especially for your face — that won’t cause your skin to rebel.

This serum from Algenist has all the ingredients to help reduce the look of fine lines and wrinkles and improve the overall look of your skin. It’s also a good pick for people with dark under-eye circles.

The lightweight formula contains patented Alguronic Acid, vegan collagen, and microalgae oil. And it’s free of parabens, sulfates, and other unnecessary filler ingredients.

What makes it a good pick for sensitive skin? The formula is hypoallergenic, so it should be skin-friendly for just about anyone. Customers with sensitive skin say the product works, but several complain that the scent is just too strong.

A word of caution: This product contains artificial fragrances, which can cause skin irritation for some people. That also means it’s not safe for use during pregnancy.

Best face serum for oily and acne-prone skin

Peace Out Salicylic Acid Treatment Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Benefits: targets acne, oiliness, and visible pores
  • Standout ingredients: salicylic acid, niacinamide, vitamin C, triluronic acid
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • Skin type: normal, combo, oily, dry

You’re vaxxed and waxed and ready to finally head out to a BBQ tomorrow without a mask.

Cue the biggest zit you’ve ever seen.

This serum from Peace Out can help you get rid of existing pimples and keep others from popping up unexpectedly and ruining your #flawless look.

The formula contains salicylic acid, niacinamide, vitamin C, and triluronic acid. Salicylic acid says BYE, FELICIA to breakouts. Vitamin C brightens. And triluronic acid smooths and moisturizes.

Keep in mind that while salicylic acid is an effective treatment for acne spots, it can seriously dry out your skin. Users with acne-prone skin say the formula is hella effective for breakouts, including maskne.

A word of caution: This product contains essential oils, which can cause skin irritation for some people.

Best anti-redness face serum

Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Benefits: reduces redness, hydrates
  • Standout ingredients: Centella Rx (aka tiger grass), Jartbiome and Cicabond (two blends of ingredients created by Dr. Jart)
  • Size: 1.01 oz.
  • Skin type: normal, combo, oily, dry, sensitive

Customers seem to love this anti-redness serum, which is also made to target dryness, dark circles, and wrinkles. It’s safe for sensitive skin and free of all the usual suspects, including sulfates, parabens, and phthalates.

Ingredients include Centella Rx (aka tiger grass) to calm sensitive skin; Jartbiome, a blend of probiotics that is supposed to help protect skin from damage and irritation; and Cicabond, another blend of proteins and minerals designed to repair damaged skin.

Reviewers say the formula actually helps with redness. It’s especially good for treating ultra-dry skin during the winter months. A few people say it helps a lot with hydration but isn’t as effective at diminishing redness.

A word of caution: This product contains essential oils, which can cause skin irritation for some people.

Best pore minimizing face serum

Sephora Collection Pores Target Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Benefits: minimizes pores
  • Standout ingredients: salicylic acid, gluconolactone
  • Size: 1.01 oz.
  • Skin type: normal, combo, oily

If you have large pores, you’re probably well aware of them. It’s unlikely anyone else is staring at your face and paying attention to the details, but if you’re bothered by “craters” on your face, salicylic acid and gluconolactone are two exfoliants that might help shrink them.

You can’t get rid of pores completely, and their size is determined by genetics. But it’s possible to reduce their appearance by scrubbing out the dirt and bacteria hiding inside. When pores are stuffed with pollutants and other nasties, they look bigger.

Since the key ingredients are both exfoliants, they help flush out the crap inside pores, making them look smaller. Reviewers say the product helped them achieve a noticeably smoother skin texture.

A word of caution: This product contains alcohol, which can be drying to the skin. It also contains artificial fragrances, which can cause skin irritation for some people. That also means it’s not safe for use during pregnancy.

Best retinol alternative face serum

Olehenriksen Glow Cycle Retin-ALT Power Serum

  • Price: $$$
  • Benefits: minimizes pores, provides pro-aging support, brightens, evens out texture
  • Standout ingredients: AHAs, algae, bakuchiol, Edelweiss stem cell, botanical extracts
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • Skin type: normal, combo, oily, dry

This ingredient-packed serum practically does it all — it helps minimize the look of wrinkles and pores and helps improve skin tone and texture.

You’ve prob heard of the AMAZING things retinol can do, but it’s also pretty harsh on your skin. And if your skin is even a tiny bit cranky, it can cause redness and dryness and leave your face feeling less-than-stellar.

Instead of retinol, this serum contains bakuchiol (bakuchi-WHAT?).

Bakuchiol is a plant-based retinol alternative that Olehenriksen claims produces similar effects, including curbing fine lines and wrinkles and smoothing out the skin.

Reviews are largely positive. People say it works — even under makeup — and that its effects are noticeable after just 2 weeks. People are way mixed on the scent, though.

A word of caution: This product contains artificial fragrances, which can cause skin irritation for some people. That also means it’s not safe for use during pregnancy.

Best dark spot remover serum

IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Dark Spots Concentrated Derma Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Benefits: reduces the look of dark spots
  • Standout ingredients: niacinamide and vitamin C
  • Size: 1 oz.
  • Skin type: normal, combo, oily, dry, sensitive

Say BYEEEE to dark spots and uneven skin tone with this dark spot serum from IT Cosmetics. According to IT, you may notice an improvement in your skin tone in just 8 weeks when consistently using this serum.

The duo of niacinamide and vitamin C helps with discoloration and brightens skin. The product is also dermatologist-tested and safe for people with sensitive skin. The brand recommends applying it in the a.m. and p.m. and using your fingertips to rub it in.

How do customers feel about this dark spot treatment? Most give it 5 stars and say it’s a great addition to a regular skin care routine. Many say they noticed discoloration like sunspots fading relatively quickly. One negative reviewer complains that the serum dried out their skin.

A word of caution: This product contains essential oils and artificial fragrances, which can cause skin irritation for some people. That also means it’s not safe for use during pregnancy.

You’ve probably noticed that most face serums come in little tiny bottles, usually no bigger than 1 oz. That’s because they’re highly concentrated and contain way higher amounts of their active ingredients than, say, a moisturizer.

While most serums hydrate, they also usually target some specific concern, says Chimento. Some common skin concerns are enlarged pores, acne, redness, dullness, and fine lines and wrinkles.

Do you need to use a serum? Nope. But they can be a nice addition to your skin care routine, depending on what other products you’re already using.

Here’s how to choose the best serum for your face:

Skin type and concern

What’s bothering you? Wrinkles? Acne? Dryness? Serums can help with many skin concerns, such as signs of aging, skin dullness, and enlarged pores. Some products are better suited for specific tasks than others, though.

Your skin type also matters. Someone with dry skin needs a lot more moisture than someone with combo or oily skin. Chimento recommends using blotting paper to figure out how much oil is present.

“If the sheet showed minimal to no oil, you most likely have dry skin,” she says. “If the sheet reveals oil from the forehead and nose areas, your skin is mostly likely normal or combination.”

And, if in doubt, check with a board certified derm to get the lowdown on your skin type and get more advice on how to treat specific concerns.

Chimento recommends using a multipurpose serum instead of different ones. “Layering on serum after serum becomes a practice of diminishing returns as it reduces the chances of each active ingredient being efficiently absorbed by the skin,” she says.

And if you definitely want to use multiple products, space out your use. Don’t immediately apply two new products to your face. If you have a reaction, says Chimento, you won’t be able to tell which serum caused the irritation.

Ingredients

If you’re on the hunt for an anti-aging serum, Chimento says to look for products that contain ingredients like caffeine, retinol, green tea, and hyaluronic acid. Retinol is also a go-to ingredient to support healthy skin aging.

For dry skin, look for hyaluronic acid and/or peptides. And for oily-skinned peeps? According to Chimento, people with oil skin should scan labels for vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, salicylic acid, niacinamide, and AHAs like lactic acid or glycolic acid.

For acne, salicylic acid is a MUST, she adds. It can help with inflammation and helps cleanse pores. Other ingredients for acne-prone skin include:

  • azelaic acid
  • antibacterial honey
  • willow bark
  • green tea extract

If redness is your main concern, there’s a whole slew of ingredients to try:

  • phytic acid
  • vitamin C
  • azelaic acid
  • glycolic acid
  • L-ascorbic acid
  • kojic acid

Price

While Chimento says she’s a big believer in affordable skin care, she also acknowledges that higher-priced products can definitely contain higher-quality ingredients.

“A more expensive serum is likely to use a higher quality version of [the active ingredient], so the formulation remains ‘active’ and does the job it was intended to,” she explains.

But if you don’t have a giant budget, you can try more affordable serums at the start of your skin care journey and determine whether you think they’re giving you the benefits you’re looking for. If they’re not, it might be worth splurging a bit more to see if quality is affecting how your skin is responding.

Not sure where to splurge? It might be a good idea to talk with a dermatologist to see if they recommend any specific ingredients for your skin. They can also offer tips on which ingredients are worth splurging on and which perform just fine at lower price points.

Reviews

What should you look for when scanning customer reviews of skin care products?

Chimento recommends looking at reviews from people with the same skin type and concerns as you. She also says it’s a good idea to peep 1-star ratings to check for consistent complaints that might raise a red flag about a product or brand.

You’ve got a brand new bottle of face serum. What’s next?

Here’s what Chimento recommends:

  1. Apply serum after you wash your face. Use only a tiny amount.
  2. Rub it into the skin on your face and neck with your fingertips.
  3. Wait until your skin absorbs the product — about 5 mins.
  4. Finish off with moisturizer. (Ideally, one that contains SPF!)
  5. Apply makeup (if the mood strikes).

You can use most serums daily, morning and night. Just make sure you’re definitely wearing SPF if your serum contains retinol or AHAs (like lactic acid or glycolic acid).

Though face serums aren’t an absolute must for your skin care routine, they’re an excellent way to give your face some TLC.

If you’re nervous about dropping cash on an expensive serum, try something on the cheaper side or opt for a trial size to make sure the formula feels good on your skin and doesn’t cause irritation.

Whether you’re looking to reduce wrinkles or calm down your angry red skin, there’s a serum out there that will make your skin look and feel good AF.