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Cooler months are just around the corner (boo, hiss!), and the seasonal transition could mean itching, flaking, and inflamed skin. Sometimes your standard moisturizer just doesn’t cut it. Fear not thirsty epidermis, serums are here!
No matter what your skin type or budget, there’s a buffet of options to tempt and delight your complexion
The benefits go more than “skin deep,” so to speak. Any dermatologist will tell you that hydration is the foundation to a youthful and healthy complexion. Your skin is 64 percent water after all.
Keeping your skin well hydrated reduces the appearance of wrinkles and increases softness. (Think of the difference between a grape and a raisin!)
Your skin is also your body’s line of defense against all kinds of environmental aggressions, like pollution and UV rays, and it can’t protect you if it’s parched. Seriously dry skin that’s prone to cracking and blistering is also more susceptible to infections.
Adequate skin hydration isn’t just about chugging H2O. Sure drinking enough water each day is important, but there’s actually little evidence linking water consumption to a hydrated complexion.
Serums are a great way to double down on your moisture game. When shopping for a serum, keep an eye out for these key hydrating ingredients to make sure your getting the most bang for your buck.
Hyaluronic Acid, HA for short, is basically your skin’s BFF. It’s unique ability to retain water makes it a hydration hero.
Our bodies produce HA naturally to lubricate our joints, enhance our immune response to heal wounds, and more. However, almost half of a body’s HA lives in the skin, where it binds to water to maintain adequate skin hydration.
Pro tip: HA often goes by the name of sodium hyaluronate on ingredient lists.
Certain plant oils and extracts
Caprylic acid is another popular ingredient in hydrating serums, it has antimicrobial properties that fight acne. It’s typically derived from coconut or palm oil.
Like plant oils, ceramides are fats that help your skin form a barrier to retain moisture.
Squalene is a naturally occurring lipid that’s found in the skin. It decreases as you age and can lead to dry skin.
In order to be used in skin care products, squalane must be hydrogenated to make it more amenable to cosmetic usage, and thus squalene becomes squalane. In its shelf-stable form, this lipid can help skin retain its moisture.
Lecithin has been associated with all kinds of health benefits. When it comes to skin care, hydrogenated lecithin (derived from things like sunflower seeds or soybeans) is used as an emollient and works to restore skin hydration.
You’re likely to find glycerin in most hydrating serums. It’s widely used in all kinds of cosmetics, but when it comes to dry skin, it’s a humectant, which means it draws water from the environment and the deeper levels of your skin into the outer ones.
We have selected these products based on their crowd-pleasing reputations and key ingredients. We’ve made sure to include options from a range of price points, with different kinds of skin conditions in mind. After all, just because it’s thirsty doesn’t mean all dry skin is the same.
- $ = under $25
- $$ = $25–$55
- $$$ = over $60
CeraVe Skin Renewing Retinol Serum
For under $20, CeraVe Skin Renewing Retinol Serum, is quite the deal since you’re also getting the anti-aging benefits of retinol.
For those with skin sensitivity issues, you’ll be happy to learn that this product is non-comedogenic and fragrance-free. Don’t let the simple branding fool you either, CeraVe products are developed with dermatologists.
Key ingredients: hyaluronic acid, ceramides 1, 3 & 6-II, niacinamide (vitamin B3), glycerin
Olay Regenerist Fragrance-Free Regenerating Face Serum
The manufacturers of this drugstore find claim that the fragrance-free formulation also helps restore fine lines, wrinkles, and skin elasticity.
Key ingredients: niacinamide (vitamin B3), vitamin E
La Roche-Posay Hydraphase Intense Hyaluronic Acid Serum
If you’re looking to reap the benefits of HA without any parabens, look no further than Frenchie favorite La Roche-Posay and their Hydraphase Intense Hyaluronic Acid Serum.
Key ingredients: hyaluronic acid, antioxidants (arginine and serine)
The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5
The Ordinary has a reputation for being product-focused instead of packaging-focused, and at very budget-friendly prices. The manufacturer claims that B5 actually enhances skin surface hydration, supporting the effects of HA.
Key ingredients: hyaluronic acid, glycerin
Paula’s Choice BOOST Hyaluronic Acid Booster
Give your skin a leg up with Paula’s Choice BOOST Hyaluronic Acid Booster. This serum includes three key hydrating ingredients, plus it offers a moderate anti-aging (or as we like to say, pro-aging) affect for skin that’s just starting to lose its youthful luster.
Key ingredients: hyaluronic acid, cermadies, glycerin
Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate Face Oil
If you’re a fan of plant magic, consider plant-based brand Kiehl’s your go-to destination for all your skin care needs. Their Midnight Recovery Face Oil offers a blend of plant oils and extracts to hydrate and rejuvenate your skin while you snooze.
Key ingredients: Plant oils (including capric triglyceride, primrose, and lavender), squalane
Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment
While it comes with quite the sizable price tag, cult clean beauty brand Sunday Riley gives you nothing but the good stuff, meaning no sulfates, soy, gluten, phthalate, parabens, or fragrances, plus their products are vegan and cruelty-free.
The lactic acid allows this hydrating anti-aging serum to double as an exfoliant.
Key ingredients: squalane, plant oils (including capric triglyceride), plant extracts (including aloe and lemongrass)
Avène Hydrance Intense Serum
Avènes hypoallergenic, everything-free formula is a great option for those with sensitive skin. The brand attributes its hydrating power to a high concentration of Avène Thermal Spring Water and patented Cohederm™ complex.
Key ingredients: plant oils (capric triglyceride)
Caudalie Vinosource SOS Deep Hydration Serum
Caudalie is a cult French pharmacy brand that you can find in the United States (yay!). Designed to soothe severely dry and cracked skin, this serum is also a great option for those who live with eczema.
Key ingredients: hyaluronic acid, squalane, glycerin
REN Clean Skincare Evercalm™ Anti-Redness Serum
Naturally fragranced and cruelty free, REN Clean Skincare Evercalm™ Anti-Redness Serum was designed to soothe and hydrate sensitive skin.
Key ingredients: plant oils (including caprylic/capric triglyceride and sunflower seed)
Kiehl’s Hydro-Plumping Re-Texturizing Serum Concentrate
Kiehl’s Hydro-Plumping Re-Texturizing Serum Concentrate can be used morning and night. This skin minimalist’s favorite is also gentle enough to use on the delicate skin around the eye area.
Key ingredients: glycerin, plant extracts (shiso leaf)
Pai Sea Aster & Wild Oat Instant Calm Redness Serum
Pai is an ethical beauty brand that designs products especially for sensitive skin. It’s always good to read the label first, but if you’re worried about avoiding certain chemical ingredients, this brand might be your go-to splurge (because it’s not exactly cheap).
Key ingredients: glycerin, hyaluronic acid, plant oils (including capric triglyceride, sunflower seed, and paramela), vitamin A
Murad Sensitive Skin Soothing Serum
The HA in Murad Sensitive Skin Soothing Serum offers gold-star hydration, while chamomile and arnica work to soothe irritated and itchy skin. Plus, it’s formulated without any parabens, gluten, sulfates, phthalates, or animal-derived ingredients.
Key ingredients: hyaluronic acid, plant extracts, lecithin, glycerin
e.l.f. Hydrating Serum
For the extremely generous price, e.l.f. Hydrating Serum offers more than one key hydration ingredient with a vegan, cruelty-free formulation that’s manufactured without parabens, sulfates, or phthalates.
Key ingredients: plant extracts (aloe), plant oils (shea and jojoba), vitamin E
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Serum
Get all the hydration-boosting benefits of HA with an oil-free and non-comedogenic formulation. Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Serum offers a no-fuss solution to dry, sensitive skin at a friendly price.
Key ingredients: hyaluronic acid, glycerin
Vichy Aqualia Thermal Hydrating Face Serum with Hyaluronic Acid
Vichy Aqualia Thermal Hydrating Face Serum with Hyaluronic Acid promises 48-hours of hydration with a 97 percent natural-origin formula that contains HA. Even better, it’s silicone, paraben, and mineral oil-free.
Key ingredients: hyaluronic acid, glycerin
The Ordinary Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12%
This vitamin C serum uses a vitamin C derivative that’s more stable in water, giving this serum, by budget-friendly brand The Ordinary, a pleasant texture. This serum works double duty as a hydrator and skin brightener.
Key ingredients: vitamin C (in the form of Ascorbyl Glucoside, a vitamin C derivative)
Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos™ Glycolic Resurfacing Night Serum
Drunk Elephant’s T.L.C. Framboos gets its age-defying powers from a combination of glycolic plus tartaric, lactic, and citric acids. This blend works to exfoliate the skin for a brighter, more youthful complexion, while the rest of the formula works to keep the skin hydrated.
Key ingredients: glycerin, plant extracts (including aloe barbadensis leaf juice and horse chestnut)
U Beauty Resurfacing Serum
U Beauty’s Resurfacing Serum hits almost every hydrating key ingredient on the list, with the addition of retinol and other ingredients to fight fine lines and wrinkles.
Key ingredients: vitamin C, antioxidants including vitamin E, hyaluronic acid, glycerin
Paula’s Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster
The niacinamide in this hydrating serum doubles as a pore minimizer, making it ideal for acne-prone skin; however, the manufacturer claims that it’s lightweight formulation is suitable for all skin types.
Key ingredients: glycerin, niacinamide (vitamin B3)
Is Clinical Pro-Heal Serum Advance+ Serum
According to the manufacturer, the olive leaf extract in their Pro-Heal Serum Advance+ Serum supports acne-prone skin, while improving moisture.
Key ingredients: vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid), vitamin E, plant extracts (olive leaf), antioxidants (bioflavonoids), glycerin
Sunday Riley UFO Acne Treatment Face Oil
One of the stand-out bonuses of Sunday Riley’s UFO Acne Treatment Face Oil, is that it can also be used on your back and neck.
This dry oil combines hydrating key ingredients with acne-fighting ones like salicylic acid and black cumin seed oil to help handle blemishes without compromising on moisture.
Key ingredients: plant oils (including apricot kernel, cucumber, pomegranate seed, and capric triglyceride)
The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
Seeing as how vitamin C serums can be quite spendy, it’s nice to be able to rely on The Ordinary to offer an effective, wallet-conscious option.
Key ingredients: squalane, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid
DERMA E Vitamin C Concentrated Serum
Rounding out the budget-friendly vitamin C serums is one from conscious brand DERMA-E. Designed for sensitive skin types, its fast absorbing formula is made with a stabilized form of vitamin C.
Key ingredients: vitamin C, vitamin E, plant extracts (including aloe), hyaluronic acid
Drunk Elephant C-Firma™ Vitamin C Day Serum
Apart from the fun brand name, this vitamin C serum comes packed with other key hydrating ingredients that work together to brighten and tighten the skin, as it improves the signs of photoaging.
Key ingredients: vitamin C, vitamin E, plant extracts (including pomegranate)
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic® with 15% L-Ascorbic Acid
Formulated for normal and dry skin types, this hydrating vitamin C serum also protects against the age effects of sun damage. Make sure to wear this serum during the day, as instructed by the manufacturer.
Key ingredients: vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid), vitamin E, hyaluronic acid