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If there’s one step in your skincare routine you should never skip out on, it’s serum. Lightweight, easy to layer, and oh so potent, these super-concentrated skin saviors deliver actives to deep layers of the skin that traditional, heavier moisturizers and oils simply cannot. Serums can target the most specific and complex skin concerns, whether it’s fading hyperpigmentation and scarring, shrinking enlarged pores, or even turning back the hands of time. Whatever your concerns may be, there’s a serum for it—and trust me when I say it’ll probably be more effective than any cream or cleanser.
Because serums are formulated with such powerful actives, they can potentially cost you a pretty penny. However, a hefty price tag doesn’t necessarily mean that a product is more effective—there are plenty of affordable options that work just as hard for a fraction of the cost.
Below, we rounded up the very best drugstore serums the beauty aisle has to offer, no matter your skin type or skin concerns.
Simply put, this serum from No7 is legendary. Not only is it formulated with mega-hydrating hyaluronic acid, but it also includes the brand’s Matrixyl 3000+ anti-wrinkle peptide technology, which packs a serious anti-aging punch—so much so that it’s been clinically proven to work just as effectively as its luxury competition. In a consumer study, users claimed their skin looked more youthful after using it for just two weeks and had visibly reduced fine lines and wrinkles after four. This serum will also protect you from future signs of aging and environmental stressors, making it a solid option for all ages.
Chances are, you’re already familiar with The Ordinary and its wallet-friendly but quality assortment of serums, oils, and more. This best-selling serum from the brand is a fan favorite, offering deep hydration and skin barrier support thanks to hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5. Since it uses a combination of different hyaluronic acid molecules that vary in molecular weight, this lightweight gel reaches multiple layers of the skin. Sounds pretty high-tech for such a low price tag, right? Trust us when we say it’s an absolute must!
A tall glass of water for extra-parched skin, Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost Hydrating Serum is formulated with hyaluronic acid to attract and lock in moisture while strengthening the skin's natural moisture barrier. This quenching formula is a favorite of Byrdie associate editor Holly Rhue because it leaves the skin deeply hydrated, supple, and glowy. Also nice: It’s oil-free and non-comedogenic, so you can rely on it to moisturize without ever clogging pores and causing a breakout.
The Just Breathe Clarifying Serum from Versed is a must for anyone suffering from oily, blemish-prone skin. The combined forces of willow bark extract, niacinamide, and zinc work nix breakout-inducing excess sebum, calm inflammation, and soothe redness and irritation. It’s also fragrance-free and clean, making it ideal for sensitive skin types, too.
Looking to refresh dull, dry skin? This brightening serum from Acure is your ticket to an out-of-this-world glow sans irritation. Formulated with moisturizing argan oil and soothing borage oil, it’s deeply nourishing, albeit slightly heavier than the average serum. It also contains cranberry and pumpkin seed oil, which add some major antioxidant benefits. Best of all? It’s 100% vegan and cruelty-free, as well as cleanly formulated—meaning it’s totally free of parabens, sulfates, mineral oil, petrolatum, or formaldehyde.
When you need something strong to combat the effects of hyperpigmentation, whether from acne or sun damage, Differin’s Dark Spot Correcting Serum is a pretty potent option. It’s formulated with 2% hydroquinone, the most effective brightening agent you can buy without a prescription, which fades and corrects dark spots and scarring. This stuff may be powerful, but it’s also gentle enough for daily use and can be applied either AM or PM—plus, the addition of sea buckthorn berry oil and citric acid help to soothe and renew the skin.
The cult-favorite Regenerist Regenerating Serum from Olay is a true anti-aging powerhouse, firming and plumping the skin while fighting pesky lines and wrinkles. Thanks to its specially formulated Amino-Peptide Complex II, this lightweight gel-serum delivers moisturizing ingredients ten layers deep into the skin’s surface, regenerating surface cells while restoring skin elasticity from within. You’ll start to reap see powerful skin-refining benefits after just one use, but after four weeks, you can expect much smoother, firmer skin with a noticeably reduced appearance of lines, wrinkles, and other signs of aging.
Looking for a deeply moisturizing treatment without a heavy, oily feel? Look no further than e.l.f.’s Hydrating Serum, a nourishing yet lightweight facial serum infused with jojoba, aloe, vitamin E, grape, and shea butter that works to strengthen, soothe, and protect the skin. Wear it alone for quick-absorbing, light hydration, or layer under your daily moisturizer or oil for an added moisture boost.
Another fan favorite from The Ordinary, the exfoliating Lactic Acid 10% + HA serum treatment is the secret to radiant, glowing skin. Applied in the PM, this AHA formula—supported by hyaluronic acid and Tasmanian pepperberry—smoothes skin texture, evens out skin tone, reduces congestion, and fights signs of aging, all while you catch some Zs. Do keep in mind that this stuff is pretty potent. Because lactic acid is an AHA, be sure to load up on SPF and limit sun exposure while using this and for a week afterward. You should also avoid using it with any other direct acids, retinoids, vitamin C, peptides, and the brand’s EUK 134 .1%.
If your skin is dull, bumpy, sun-damaged, or could use a general boost in the radiance department, you should consider incorporating vitamin C into your routine. It works wonders for the skin, responsible for brightening dark spots and dullness, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and boosting its overall glow. This Vichy serum contains 15% of pure vitamin C—a pretty high percentage—plus hyaluronic acid to transform your complexion in as little as ten days. It certainly doesn’t hurt that this non-sticky formula is clean, containing only 11 different ingredients.
As you may already know, hyaluronic acid is the key to truly hydrated skin down to a cellular level, which is why so many serums on the market today contain this beloved, skin-nourishing ingredient. A molecule that’s naturally found in the skin, topical application increases moisture levels instantly, leaving the skin supple and plump. That’s why we’re major fans of this serum from L’Oréal, which is formulated with 1.5% pure hyaluronic acid. In as little as a week, you can expect a major radiance boost, making this affordable option an absolute must.
A favorite of Byrdie Editorial Director Faith Xue, this RoC serum offers the real deal results of a prescription retinoid without the irritation typically associated with it. Suitable for all skin types, you can expect some pretty dramatic results from this potent serum, with studies showing a visible reduction in lines and wrinkles in just one use and a total skin transformation in as little as four weeks. We also love that each dose is packaged in its own biodegradable capsule, guaranteeing ingredient freshness and potency. And for the price? You can't beat it.
This new launch from SheaMoisture is the ultimate breakout fighter for acne-prone skin. Using a combination of AHAs and BHAs to resurface the skin overnight, it combats acne and improves the skin’s overall texture. Plus, we can’t help but love that it’s clean, formulated without parabens, phthalates, sulfates, and plenty of other not-so-nice skincare ingredients.
If you’re dealing with rough and bumpy skin texture, whether it be from acne scarring or extra-dry skin, CeraVe’s Revitalizing Retinol Serum will totally renew your complexion. Formulated with encapsulated retinol, it helps to resurface the outermost layer of the skin without any of the irritation or negative side effects typically associated with retinol use. Additionally, ceramides 1, 3, and 6-II restore the skin’s delicate barrier while licorice root extract minimizes pores and acne scars. Finally, niacinamide helps to calm and soothe the skin. It's also fragrance-free, non-comedogenic, and allergy-tested, so even those with more sensitive complexions can reap its benefits.
If large pores are plaguing your complexion, look no further than this pore-minimizing serum by Melé, a new skincare brand created with dermatologists of color formulated specially for melanin-rich skin. Not only does it visibly blur the appearance of pores, but tripeptides and rosehip extract reduce pore size and rebalance the skin’s oil levels, ensuring you stay shine-free all day long. It may only be a month old, but rave reviews are already in: This stuff really works. Not to mention, it’s clean and formulated without parabens, phthalates, alcohol, or mineral oil, which is a major plus.