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“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 inflammation, hyperpigmentation, 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.
TL; DR: Anyone and everyone can and should be using an anti-aging serum. Here are 15 of the best anti-aging serums.
Best Overall: 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 protects the skin, she adds. Rounding out the formula is ferulic acid, a top antioxidant that helps fight against pollution-induced damage, and also ups the efficacy of the 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.
Best Drugstore: Olay Regenerist Regenerating Serum
Yes, you do get a lot of bang for your buck 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 cult-classic 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.
Runner-Up, Best Drugstore: Vichy Liftactiv Supreme Serum 10
“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?
Best With Vitamin C: BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner Serum
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 a choice skin-brightener and collagen-booster. 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, brightens, and smooths your complexion with every use.
Best With Retinol: Senté Bio Complete Serum
There’s 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. “This formula combines time-released retinol with moisturizing hyaluronic acid, making it gentle and tolerable for all skin types, even sensitive,” says Dr. Rodney.
Best for Fine Lines: Kiehl’s Powerful-Strength Line Reducing Concentrate
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.
Runner-Up, Best for Fine-Lines: Paula’s Choice Intensive Wrinkle-Repair Retinol Serum
Here’s another great retinol-based option. It’s the star of the show in this serum, one of Dr. Gonzalez’s favorites, where it also has the added benefit of being combined with potent antioxidants (vitamins C and E) and hydrating squalene, all of which join forces to knock out fine lines and wrinkles—as well as leave skin looking generally healthy and more youthful.
Best for Acne-Prone Skin: La Roche-Posay Pure Vitamin C Face Serum
For those dealing with the misfortune 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, notes Dr. Rodney. And on the anti-aging side of things, it contains a 10% concentration of that youth-boosting vitamin C.
Best Exfoliator: Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Resurfacing Night Serum
“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 definitely 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.
Best Soothing: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Stress Rescue Super Serum
When your skin is stressed, irritated, or generally acting up, Dr. Rodney recommends reaching for this serum. Niacinamide is the key player, working to actively soothe inflammation, she says. (It also improves the function of the skin barrier, an essential step in reducing sensitivity.) On top of that, the formula also contains different antioxidants and adaptogens that further work to reduce redness and generally calm your complexion.
Best Hydrating: SkinMedica HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator
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 perfect prep step pre-makeup, thanks to a smooth and silky finish.
For the best results, apply it when your skin is still slightly damp post-washing.
Best Splurge: Dr. Barbara Sturm Super Anti-Aging Serum
We know, this is crazy expensive, but Byrdie Senior Editor Hallie Gould vouches for the results. From the eponymous line of one of Hollywood’s top skin therapists, it’s loaded (and we mean loaded) with rare antioxidants such as purslane and skullcap to protect skin from damaging free radicals. But the benefits don’t stop there; the formula also contains two different types of hyaluronic acid, long-chain and short-chain, to deliver both immediate and long-term hydration.
Runner-Up, Best Splurge: Caudalie Premier Cru Anti-Aging Serum
Dr. Gonzalez recommends this pick, which uses three patented-ingredients to leave skin brighter, firmer, and younger-looking. Resveratrol works to visibly lift and plump up the skin, while Viniferine and grape seed polyphenols protect against environmental factors, she explains. She also lauds it for using niacinamide to even out skin tone, and the hydrating and anti-inflammatory benefits as well. In short, it’s a great multi-tasker that’s well-worth the price tag.
Best Night Serum: ISDIN Melatonik Overnight Recovery Serum
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.
Best Natural: Tata Harper Rejuvenating Serum
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.
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 good serum is one of her desert-island skincare products; she’s personally used (or is currently using) many of the ones featured on this list.
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.