Byrdie Researched & Approved
Beloved by Team Byrdie and our best overall pick, Skinceuticals C E Ferulic is a tried-and-true serum staple that uses a combination of powerful antioxidants to reduce the signs of free radical damage (like dark spots and fine lines). As a more budget-friendly alternative, we love the Olay Regenerist Regenerating Serum.
Serums play a pivotal role in any kind of anti-aging routine, perhaps second only to a daily sunscreen when it comes to absolute, must-have products. Why do you ask?
“Anti-aging serums are among the most effective, non-invasive ways to address signs of aging,” explains dermatologist Dr. Annie Gonzalez of Riverchase Dermatology. And that means not only combatting wrinkles and fine lines but also treating other issues such as hyperpigmentation, inflammation, dryness, and more, she adds.
Yes, you could use anti-aging cream for all of these things, but serums pack higher concentrations of active ingredients than moisturizers and lotions, says Dr. Gonzalez, not only making them more effective but also ensuring you get more bang for your buck. And while an anti-aging serum is a great way to treat existing complexion concerns, they’re also a choice preventative measure, points out dermatologist Dr. Ife J Rodney, founding director of Eternal Dermatology & Aesthetics.
The oxidative stress that comes from UV rays of the sun and the pollutants you come into contact with daily can do a number on your skin, and adding in antioxidant serums can be a step towards reducing skin damage long-term. Of course, the anti-aging OG of them all is vitamin A, an example of which is retinol. Not only does it increase cell turnover, but it also stimulates collagen production to boot.
TL; DR: Anyone and everyone can and should be using an anti-aging serum. To find the best for every skin type, skin concern, and budget, we put some of today’s top-rated serums to the test. Our testers used these serums for weeks at a time, rating each formula’s texture and feel ingredient list, and, of course, how well it improved any tell-tale signs of aging. Our team combined these results along with expert recommendations and our research to compile this list.
Keep reading for the best anti-aging serums that actually improve your skin.
Skinceuticals C E Ferulic
If we had a dollar for every time a dermatologist recommended this serum, well, let’s just say we’d be retired and rubbing elbows with Jeff Bezos. It’s a tried-and-true serum staple that’s worth every penny, thanks to a unique combination of powerful antioxidants that reduce the signs of free radical damage, such as fine lines and spots, says Dr. Gonzalez.
Vitamin C brightens skin and protects against oxidative stress, while vitamin E replenishes and protects the skin, she adds. Rounding out the formula is ferulic acid, a top antioxidant that helps fight against pollution-induced damage and ups the efficacy of vitamin C. FYI, it does have a bit of a funky smell (some have likened it to hot dog water), but you’ll quickly forget about that once you see just how well it works on skin.
Price at time of publish: $169
Benefits: Improves firmness and texture and neutralizes free radicals | Skin Type: All | Dosage: 4 to 5 drops | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
What Our Testers Say
"There’s a reason that beauty editors say this product smells like hot dog water—it really does. Yes, it smells quite funky, but (I promise) it’s not horrible! The scent subsides pretty quickly after it absorbs, but following this product with a nice-smelling serum or moisturizer also helps." —Jenna Igniri, Product Tester.
"What really sold me on this product is how it transformed my skin’s texture. It’s the smoothest and plumpest it’s ever been, and the dryness and dullness I battled all winter long have completely vanished."—Jenna Igniri, Product Tester.
Olay Regenerist Regenerating Serum
Soaks in quickly
Results aren't dramatic
Yes, you do get a ton of benefits with a serum, making it a good place to splurge. But, you don’t have to shell out the big bucks to find a standout option; this pick is proof positive of exactly that. The classic serum boasts a unique amino-peptide complex to deliver hydrating and firming ingredients deep into the skin, working to leave your complexion smoother and plumped in just four weeks. Also nice: It’s fragrance-free and has a lightweight gel texture that absorbs lightning fast.
Price at time of publish: $21
Benefits: Boosts elasticity and hydrates | Skin Type: Oily | Size: 1.7 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Drugstore, Runner-Up
Vichy LiftActiv Supreme Serum 10
Satiny feel on skin
“What makes this serum unique are its key ingredients: rhamnose, volcanic water, and hyaluronic acid,” says Dr. Gonzalez. “Rhamnose has been shown to boost skin rejuvenation, improving collagen production, elastin production, and cellular turnover. Volcanic water is packed with essential minerals that strengthen the skin barrier and protect it from UV rays and pollution, while hyaluronic acid hydrates and plumps skin,” she explains, noting that the formula is choice for smoothing, firming, and increasing radiance. What more could you ask for?
Price at time of publish: $45
Benefits: Reduces fine lines and wrinkles, boosts collagen production, and improves firmness and elasticity | Skin Type: Dry | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
What Our Testers Say
"The serum sells for around $45 for the 1-ounce bottle. This is about in the middle when compared to similar serums that contain HA." — Joline Buscemi, Product Tester.
Best With Vitamin C
BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner
Attacks aging at its core
Visible brightening and firming
We’re big fans of this skincare line—created by a cosmetic chemist, it utilizes only the most effective ingredients and formulations. Case in point: All of the products center around vitamin C, another anti-aging superstar that’s not only an effective antioxidant but also choice for boosting radiance and collagen production. This serum contains a whopping 20% of a powerful and stable version of the vitamin, which is infamous for being easily inactivated by things such as sun and air. Per all of those vitamin C benefits, it firms, boosts radiance, and smooths your complexion with every use.
Price at time of publish: $85
Benefits: Boosts radiance, refines skin texture, boosts collagen production, and improves firmness | Skin Type: Oily, acne-prone | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
What Our Testers Say
"I loved that Universal C’s gel-cream formula is dispensed through a pump nozzle, allowing for a mess-free application process. The pump disperses all the product you’ll need in just two pumps, so you can be sure none of it goes to waste." — Jenna Igniri, Product Tester.
Best for Fine Lines
Kiehl's Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate
Smooths skin's texture
High quality ingredients
Remains effective in skin for 6 days
May cause irritation on sensitive skin
As we said, vitamin C is a top anti-aging ingredient, and here you get a 10% concentration of the good stuff. It works to boost collagen production and ultimately helps knock out lines and wrinkles, while hyaluronic acid in the formula attracts moisture to and plumps skin, also making it appear smoother.
Price at time of publish: $130
Benefits: Evens out skin texture, reduces fine lines and wrinkles, boost collagen production, and hydrates | Skin Type: Balanced | Size: 1.7 fluid ounces, 2.5 fluid ounces, 3.4 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum
Supply lasts a long time
Made in the U.S.
Takes time for effect to show
“This sophisticated blend of glycolic, tartaric, citric, and salicylic acids delivers chemical exfoliation without dryness or sensitization, curbs excess oil, and reveals visible clarity and luminosity,” says Dr. Rodney of one of her picks. The combo of alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids is effective for all skin types, and also has the added benefit of helping ensure that any products you use afterward penetrate better. It is better to use at night, layered underneath a plain moisturizer or mixed with a few drops of the brand’s Virgin Marula Face Oil for extra hydration.
Price at time of publish: $134
Benefits: Exfoliates and resurfaces skin | Skin Type: All | Size: 1 fluid ounce, 1.7 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
What Our Editors Say
"The acid combination in this serum delivers outstanding results. I'm less oily around my nose and forehead which also results in less congestion and fewer blackheads. I also have noticed a softening of the fine lines between my brows since starting to use this serum. As a bonus, its non-sticky skin-feel makes it a winner in my book." — Jill Di Donato, Senior Commerce Editor.
SkinMedica HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator
Very smooth in feel and application
Works well under makeup
Apply even a small amount of this hydrating serum, and your complexion with instantly look and feel smoother and plumper. It relies on five different ingredients (including, of course, hyaluronic acid) to hydrate skin both immediately and for up to eight hours afterward. Moisturizing enough to use on its own during hot summer days or if your skin skews towards oily, it’s still lightweight enough to layer under moisturizer. It’s also the ideal prep step pre-makeup, thanks to a smooth and silky finish.
Price at time of publish: $166
Benefits: Reduces fine lines and wrinkles, moisturizes, and boosts collagen production | Skin Type: Dry | Size: 2 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
For the best results, apply a serum when your skin is still slightly damp, post-washing.
Best Night Serum
ISDIN Isdinceutics Melatonik Restorative Night Serum
Stimulates antioxidant defenses
Speeds up cellular rejuvenation
Doesn't absorb as well as other serums
Load up on this serum come bedtime. “It’s a favorite of mine because it contains bakuchiol, a natural, plant-based alternative to retinol that speeds up cellular rejuvenation—without that irritation that sometimes occurs with retinol,” explains Dr. Rodney. It also contains an antioxidant dynamic duo—melatonin and vitamin C—making it the ideal multi-purpose formula, she adds. Use it overnight to help undo any free radical damage incurred during the day.
Price at time of publish: $165
Benefits: Repairs skin, reduces fine lines and wrinkles, improves firmness, and neutralizes free radicals | Skin Type: Dry | Dosage: 3 to 4 drops | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Tata Harper Skincare Rejuvenating Serum
Peptide-powered to target aging
Smell may be too strong for some
Clean beauty queens will appreciate that this formula relies on all kinds of natural, plant-based ingredients to turn back the clock. “With repeated use, this powerful, all-natural serum boosts moisture for firmer plumper skin,” says Dr. Gonzalez, who is a fan. “It also helps temporarily relax the look of fine lines and wrinkles, thanks to peptides sourced from Spanish lavender,” she adds. Other natural youth-boosting ingredients include vitamin A from rosehip seed oil and vitamin C from date palm extract. Even the subtle fragrance is natural, derived from jasmine oil.
Price at time of publish: $146 for 1 oz
Benefits: Reduces fine lines and wrinkles and hydrates | Skin Type: Dry, combination | Dosage: 1 to 2 pumps | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Natural, Runner-Up
One Love Organics Botanical A Bio-Retinol Night Serum
Plant-based alternative to retinol
May cause irritation on sensitive skin
Clean beauty queens will appreciate that this formula relies on all kinds of natural, plant-based ingredients to turn back the clock. Namely, there are three different natural acids (lactic, phytic, and salicylic) for gentle exfoliation, a bio-retinol for line-smoothing purposes, and purple clay, rich in magnesium to help promote a smoother skin texture. FYI, this may be natural but it is potent, so it’s best to start by using it only every other night, and only using it four nights per week, max.
Price at time of publish: $78
Benefits: Boosts skin cell turnover, gently exfoliates, and smooths skin texture | Skin Type: Balanced | Dosage: 2 to 4 drops, four times per week, max | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best With Retinol
Dr. Dennis Gross Advanced Retinol + Ferulic Texture Serum
Renews the skin texture
Works quickly with visible effectiveness
Tackles hormonal acne
Needs less breakable packaging
There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it—in the world of anti-aging ingredients, retinol reigns supreme. The vitamin-A derivative touts a long and proven track record of delivering all kinds of youth-boosting benefits. The only problem? That potency comes with a high likelihood of side effects… but that’s not the case with this serum. Even our super sensitive skin—which historically does NOT do well with retinol—has absolutely no issue with this formula. Instead, it leaves our complexion smoother and clearer, thanks to a pairing of retinol and ferulic acid, a potent antioxidant. Plus, it works quickly; we see changes after just a week of regular use.
Price at time of publish: $76
Benefits: Boosts skin cell turnover, offers antioxidant protection, and minimizes the look of pores and uneven texture | Skin Type: All | Dosage: 8 to 10 drops, twice daily | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Acne-Prone Skin
Dermalogica AGE Bright Clearing Serum
Exfoliates and quickens cell renewal
Works with skin's natural microbiome
May make skin a bit rough
For those dealing with the misfortune of battling both breakouts and wrinkles (adult acne is a very real thing, people), this serum is choice. It’s ideal for acne-prone skin because it contains salicylic acid, which penetrates oil glands to help clear up clogged pores. And on the anti-aging side of things, it contains niacinamide and a proprietary brightening complex.
Price at time of publish: $69
Benefits: Exfoliates and smooths fines lines | Skin Type: Acne-prone | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Serum
Gentle enough for sensitive skin
Strengthens and balances
Not as good at absorbing into skin
The namesake ingredient in this formula is the colloquial term for an ingredient known as Centella Asiatica (Tiger Grass), well-known for its astounding skin-soothing and wound healing properties. To that point, this is ideal for red, irritated, or generally stressed-out skin. (And while it’s not something the brand calls out, in our experience, the subtle green tint of serums like this one also helps to instantly camouflage redness, too.) There’s also anti-inflammatory niacinamide in the mix, plus a proprietary blend of ingredients that help keep the skin’s microbiome balanced and better able to block out potential irritants.
Price at time of publish: $37
Benefits: Soothes skin, promotes a healthy microbiome | Skin Type: All | Size: 1.01 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Lancôme Rénergie H.C.F. Triple Serum
Unique packaging and delivery system
Has a sticky, glue-like texture
Yes, this pick is pricey, but it’s also packed (and we mean packed) with effective, active ingredients. We’re talking super moisturizing hyaluronic acid, ferulic acid for a powerful punch of antioxidant protection, and a combo of radiance-boosting vitamin C and niacinamide. But what’s perhaps most noteworthy is the unique packaging and delivery system; each of those three ingredients is housed in separate chambers and only gets mixed once you dispense the product, maximizing both their potency and stability.
Price at time of publish: $140
Benefits: Hydrates, boosts radiance, targets volume loss | Skin Type: All | Dosage: 2 to 4 drops, four times per week, max | Size: 1.7 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
If you’re in the anti-aging game, a serum is an absolute must. The SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic is a true classic, beloved by dermatologists and Byrdie editors alike for its potent combo of protective antioxidants. It’s well worth the price tag, but you can also find great options for less. The Olay Regenerist Regenerating Serum is a proof positive, packed with a wrinkle-fighting amino-peptide complex to help smooth lines, as is the Vichy LiftActiv Supreme Serum 10, which earns big points with derms for its unique combo of smoothing, firming, and radiance-boosting ingredients. And if you’re looking for a clean option, be sure to check out the Tata Harper Skincare Rejuvenating Serum, which relies on naturally-derived youth-boosters, such as rosehip seed oil.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Annie Gonzalez, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology in Miami, Florida. She specializes in both general and cosmetic dermatology and has written various articles in dermatology journals.
- Dr. Ife J. Rodney, MD, FAAD, is the founding director of Eternal Dermatology + Aesthetics in Fulton, MD. She is a board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist and has extensive experience in cosmetic, surgical, and medical dermatology, including a focus on skin rejuvenation and anti-aging.
What to Look for in an Anti-Aging Serum
No matter whether your anti-aging goals are preventative or treatment-focused, choosing a serum that contains antioxidants is one of the best ways to get the most bang for your buck. They’re a universally great choice for all skin types and complexion concerns, offering protection against skin-damaging free radicals. Plus, there are a plethora of great ones to choose from, including (but not limited to) vitamin C, vitamin E, ferulic acid, green tea, and more.
Retinol is the undisputed anti-aging champ, the vitamin A-derivative works both on the surface of the skin, promoting a more even skin tone and texture, and on the deeper layers, stimulating collagen production to help combat lines and wrinkles.
This humectant is a great way to add (lightweight) hydration, as it attracts and traps water in the skin. The added benefit? It also makes for an instantaneous plumping effect that makes your complexion appear smoother.
Do anti-aging serums work?
When it comes to finding an effective anti-aging serum, you’ll want to make sure it has at least one of a few key ingredients proven to work. According to a biology professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara, the ingredients you should look for are vitamin C, vitamin A (retinol), AHAs and BHAs, sunscreen, and epidermal growth factor—though note that that last one’s safety is debated, so consult a dermatologist if you’re interested but uncertain.
When should you use anti-aging serums?
You can start to integrate anti-aging serums into your routine before you even see much damage and when to use them depends on the active ingredient. Vitamin C serums are good for the daytime because they neutralize free radicals and can counteract uneven skin tone that comes from sun damage. On the other hand, retinol is best used at night to smooth fine lines and increase cellular turnover while you rest. Any serums using AHAs and BHAs are also best for nighttime use, and be sure to use SPF during the day no matter what your routine looks like, as sun damage is the leading cause of aging and many of these products increase your skin’s sensitivity to it.
How do you apply anti-aging serums?
Apply anti-aging serums after cleansing and toning and before moisturizing. Be sure you’re aware of what active ingredients are in all your products, so you don’t mix any that may cause your skin to react badly when applied together.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. A skincare enthusiast, an anti-aging serum was one of the first products she ever started using regularly when she started working in the beauty industry. Fun fact: It was the SkinCeuticals one featured on this list, one she still uses to this day.
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