Yes, Affordable Facial Serums Do Exist—These 14 All-Stars Are Under $30

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

Serums are among the most hardworking beauty products out there. Formulated with a high concentration of powerful ingredients, the best serums target everything from acne to dryness to signs of aging. But those benefits often come at a price; it’s fair to say that on a list of the most expensive skincare products, serums usually sit somewhere close to the top. Not interested in taking out a loan for your face serum? We feel you.  

But just because you have yet to find an effective face serum you don’t have to cut back on your lifestyle for, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. That’s where we come in to help. There are plenty of budget-friendly serums out there that work just as well as any. In fact, we can vouch for the ones below, all of which come in at under $30. 

What to Look For in a Serum

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a simple but powerful ingredient and a great addition to serums for those with balanced skin types. (Those with extremely sensitive skin, however, should pass.) Vitamin C protects against free radical damage, evens skin tone, and promotes collagen production. It's an essential nutrient required for the growth and repair of skin, but we cannot produce it on our own, hence serums.

Hyaluronic Acid

If you're dry, improving skin hydration is achievable with the right serum. Enter, hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid not only helps to replenish and moisturize dry skin but also reduces the appearance of wrinkles and speeds wound healing. It's safe for almost all skin types (though we always recommend spot testing new products).

Salicylic Acid

Acne-prone friends, we have not forgotten about you. Salicylic acid helps exfoliate and clear skin without congestion, allowing the skin to look fresher and leaving it better protected against future breakouts. Other benefits include removing excess oil, preventing whiteheads and blackheads, and minimizing the appearance of pores.

Read on to discover our picks of the best facial serums under $30.

Best Overall: Olay Regenerist Regenerating Serum

4.7
Olay Regenerist Regenerating Serum

Courtesy of Target

What We Like
  • Visually plumps skin

  • Helps fill in fine lines

  • Absorbs quickly

What We Don't Like
  • Contains parabens

Who else recommends it? Harper's Bazaar also picked Olay Regenerist Regenerating Serum.

What do buyers say? 93% of 4,100+ Amazon reviewers rated this product 4 stars or above.

Not only is this formula affordable, but it also brings forth results fast—like, really fast. As soon as day one, expect to see visibly smoother skin, thanks to powerful anti-aging ingredients and skin-plumping Amino-Peptide Complex II. And the results just keep getting better and better; after four weeks, expect to see better-looking skin and visibly diminished fine lines and wrinkles, according to the brand.

Benefits: Smooths, plumps, hydrates | Skin Type: Dry, mature | Size: 1.7 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Exfoliating: The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA

4.7
The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA

Courtesy of Ulta

What We Like
  • Extremely affordable

  • Reduces discoloration

  • Smooths and clears the skin

What We Don't Like
  • May be too strong for some

Leave it to The Ordinary to create a serum (with a single-digit price tag) that doesn’t skimp on efficacy whatsoever. We’re big fans of the brand’s serum lot, but this one laced with high-strength lactic acid is a particular favorite. Because lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid, you can expect the formula to exfoliate away the dull, dry surface layer of skin to reveal new skin underneath. As a bonus, the inclusion of purified Tasmanian pepperberry is meant to help ensure that the skin stays radiant versus irritated or sensitive.

Benefits: Smooths, exfoliates | Skin Type: All | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

the ordinary lactic acid 10% + HA

 Byrdie / Joline Buscemi

What Our Testers Say

"The inexpensive bottle packs a punch and delivers smooth, clear skin without irritation." —Joline Buscemi, Product Tester

Best With Vitamin C: TruSkin Naturals Vitamin C Serum

4.2
TruSkin Vitamin C Serum for Face

Amazon

What We Like
  • Lightweight and fast-absorbing

  • Gentle, cooling formula

  • Smooths skin and boosts radiance

What We Don't Like
  • Slight tightening feeling upon application

If you don’t have a vitamin C serum in your beauty stash, now’s the time to change that with this affordable (and super beloved!) pick from TruSkin. Along with vitamin C, the formula contains hyaluronic acid and vitamin E, all of which are meant to work together to target signs of aging and boost skin radiance. But don’t just take our word for it; there are thousands of positive reviews available for you to scroll through, and the consensus is you should stop what you’re doing and add to the cart.

Benefits: Smooths, fades dark spots | Skin Type: All | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

truskin vitamin c serum

 Byrdie / Jenna Igneri

What Our Testers Say

"Over the course of three weeks, it smoothed out my skin’s texture while leaving it more radiant and glowy." —Jenna Igneri, Product Tester

For the best line of protection against premature aging, try applying a vitamin C serum in tandem with broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher daily. 

Best With Retinol: The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion

 Courtesy of The Ordinary 

What We Like
  • Extremely affordable

  • Effective formula

  • Calms redness

What We Don't Like
  • Texture is a little thick

Retinol is a powerful ingredient known to help improve the appearance of acne, wrinkles, dullness, uneven texture, and more. And while its strength is one of the reasons it’s used so often in skincare, there can sometimes be too much of a good thing to the point that it becomes a bad thing, especially if your skin is left feeling irritated and raw. That’s why this serum is a great pick for anyone looking to test the retinol waters; it’s formulated with a retinoid active that is less likely to irritate the skin as it acts to visibly reduce signs of aging, according to the brand.

Benefits: Smooths, helps fill in fine lines and wrinkles | Skin Type: All | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best With Hyaluronic Acid: Vichy Laboratoires MINÉRAL 89 Hyaluronic Acid Face Moisturizer

4.9
Vichy Mineral 89 Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Serum

Amazon

What We Like
  • Hydrates and plumps skin

  • Light, silky texture

  • Available in multiple sizes

What We Don't Like
  • Slight tightening feeling upon application

Got dry skin? Amp up your skin’s hydration levels with this Vichy serum. Hyaluronic acid, an ingredient known to hold up to 1000x its weight in water, is the major player in this serum capable of replenishing even the driest of skins. And because well-hydrated skin looks plumper and more youthful, there’s really no downside to using this serum, especially when it’s priced so well. The texture is super light and silky, and it dries quickly without leaving behind a sticky residue, so much so that you might forget you’re wearing anything on your face at all.

Benefits: Smooths, plumps, hydrates | Skin Type: Oily, combination | Size: 1 / 1.7 / 2.5 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Mario Badescu Skin Care Anti Acne Serum

Mario Badescu Skin Care Anti Acne Serum

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Exfoliates

  • Clears pores

  • Helps treat and prevent breakouts

What We Don't Like
  • Contains parabens

Lightweight and fast-absorbing, this serum is made with salicylic acid. A known acne-fighter, salicylic acid helps exfoliate and clear up skin congestion. With less of a pile-up of dead skin cells and pore-clogging sebum on the surface, the skin looks fresher and is better protected against future breakouts.

Benefits: Exfoliates, helps clear acne | Skin Type: Oily, acne-prone | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best for Oily Skin: Evolve Beauty Rainforest Rescue Blemish Serum

Evolve Beauty Rainforest Rescue Blemish Serum
What We Like
  • Clears pores

  • Mattifies oily skin

  • Feels refreshing on the skin

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

This all-natural serum works to decrease sebum production, which is why we love it for oily skin. When your skin overproduces sebum, it can not only look shinier but also more congested. With the help of an Amazonian blend of acai and copaiba along with exfoliating willow bark, this serum promises to help balance out the skin and leave behind a clear, matte finish.

Benefits: Helps clear acne, reduces excess oil | Skin Type: Oily, acne-prone | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best for Dry Skin: Pixi Beauty Hydrating Milky Serum

Pixi Hydrating Milky Serum

 Courtesy of Pixi

What We Like
  • Visually plumps skin

  • Hydrating formula

  • Helps with dry patches

What We Don't Like
  • Packaging could be improved

Whether you naturally have dry skin or it's the dead of winter and your skin is as dry as the Sahara as a result, this serum will jumpstart your journey back to supple and plump skin. It boasts serious hydrating power, thanks to the inclusion of rose flower extract, jojoba oil, aloe vera, and glycerin.

Benefits: Smooths, plumps, hydrates | Skin Type: Dry | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Brightening: Sweet Chef Ginger + Vitamin C Serum

Sweet Chef Ginger Vitamin C Serum Shot

 Courtesy of Target

What We Like
  • Gives skin a glow

  • Good value

  • Won't irritate sensitive skin

What We Don't Like
  • Could be more hydrating

With ingredients that sound like they belong in your juice more so than your face serum, we love everything about it. Packed with antioxidant-rich ginger and vitamin C, expect this serum to give you a glow like never before. Since it’s made without dyes, parabens, oils, or fragrances, it’s a suitable pick for sensitive, dry, oily, and normal skin types alike.

Benefits: Helps fade dark spots, boosts radiance | Skin Type: All | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best for Wrinkles: RoC Skincare Retinol Correxion Anti-Aging Deep Wrinkle Serum

RoC Skincare Retinol Correxion Anti-Aging Deep Wrinkle Serum

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Not greasy

  • Gives fast results

  • Helps fill in fine lines

What We Don't Like
  • Contains parabens

This anti-aging serum uses retinol, the tried-and-true multitasking ingredient. The silky formula absorbs quickly and, over time, firms up skin and promises to help reduce signs of photodamage, crow's feet, and other signs of aging.

Benefits: Helps fill in fine lines and wrinkles, hydrates | Skin Type: Dry, mature | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

If you're new to retinol, start with a lower concentration and slowly work your way up as your skin builds a tolerance. Make sure to always wear a broad-spectrum SPF during daytime hours, and limit your retinol use to the evening hours to prevent sun sensitivity. 

Best for Dark Spots: Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop

4.9
Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin C Drop

 Courtesy of Sokoglam

What We Like
  • Helps fade dark spots

  • Boosts radiance

  • Helps firm texture

What We Don't Like
  • Can take time to absorb

Lighten dark spots, even skin tone, and prevent pigmentation with the help of this vitamin C serum. This serum from K-Beauty brand Klairs is vegan, fragrance-free, and features a 5% vitamin C concentration, and it is gentle enough to use on sensitive skin.

Benefits: Helps fade dark spots, boosts radiance | Skin Type: All | Size: 1.2 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Under Makeup: Glossier Super Bounce

4.5
glossier super bounce

Courtesy of Glossier 

What We Like
  • Visually plumps skin

  • Very hydrating

  • Smooths and primes skin for makeup

What We Don't Like
  • Not ideal for acne-prone skin

A product that needs no introduction, Super Bounce is a hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5 serum that acts as a perfect primer for a dewy makeup look. Whether you're using foundation and heavier makeup, or are going for a no-makeup makeup look, this is an excellent base to build on because it leaves the skin soft, smooth, and plumped with moisture.

Benefits: Hydrates, smooths | Skin Type: Dry | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best for Nightime: Honest Beauty Beauty Sleep Resurfacing Serum

beauty sleep
What We Like
  • Exfoliates skin

  • Hydrating

  • Eco-conscious packaging

What We Don't Like
  • Scent may not be for some

Exfoliate your skin overnight and wake up looking refreshed with this resurfacing serum from Honest Beauty. A blend of glycolic, lactic, citric, malic, and tartaric acids combine to exfoliate the skin while hyaluronic acid provides the hydration and nourishment you need for natural-looking skin. This serum is made with vegan ingredients and promises to give you smooth, glowing skin without any irritation.

Benefits: Exfoliates, boosts radiance | Skin Type: Oily | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Natural: Burt's Bees Renewal Intensive Firming Serum

Burt's Bees Renewal Intensive Firming Serum

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Gentle on sensitive skin

  • Helps fill in fine lines

  • Helps firm texture

What We Don't Like
  • Doesn't go on clear

Boost your skin elasticity and firmness with this firming serum from Burt’s Bees. Made from 98.6% natural ingredients, this formula features bakuchiol, a gentler retinol alternative. You may see a reduction in the appearance of fine lines and reveal an even skin tone.

Benefits: Helps fill in fine lines and wrinkles, firms skin | Skin Type: All | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

FAQ
  • What is face serum?

    "Serums are typically lightweight formulations that deliver actives," Corey L. Hartman, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist, told us. "They are usually thin and absorbent, leaving little, if anything, remaining on the surface of the skin." And because they don't have a strict definition, a serum may technically be a lotion, gel, or oil.

  • What is the difference between a facial serum and moisturizer?

    "Serums are intended to penetrate deeply into the skin to deliver targeted active ingredients, whereas moisturizers help to fortify the surface of the skin, bind skin cells together more effectively, and work at the surface of the skin to increase hydration," Dr. Hartman told us.

  • Can you layer serum with other products?

    Yes. When it comes to layering skincare products, order matters. "In general, skincare products are layered from thinnest to thickest with the thinnest products being applied to the skin first," Dr. Hartman told us. "Serums are intended to deliver active ingredients deep into the skin and the moisturizer forms a seal to make the serums more efficacious." To effectively layer your serum and moisturizer, first rub the serum onto your face and neck. Then, wait for 30 to 60 seconds before applying your moisturizer on top.

How We Researched & Tested

To compile this list, our team of editors and contributors spent hours researching the best products on the market in this category, evaluating their key features—like ingredients, shade range, or design—in addition to reviews from customers and other trusted sources. Our team also incorporated their own personal experiences testing products in their own lives. We then used these insights from our research and testing to assign a star rating from one to five (five being the best; one being the worst) to certain products on the list.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Pullar JM, Carr AC, Vissers MCM. The roles of vitamin c in skin healthNutrients. 2017;9(8):866.

  2. Papakonstantinou E, Roth M, Karakiulakis G. Hyaluronic acid: a key molecule in skin agingDermatoendocrinol. 2012;4(3):253-258. doi:10.4161/derm.21923

  3. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/exd.13934

  4. These 21 Serums Are So Good You'll Forget You're Even Aging. Harper's Bazaar. https://www.harpersbazaar.com/beauty/skin-care/g21950157/best-serums/

  5. Tang SC, Yang JH. Dual effects of alpha-hydroxy acids on the skinMolecules. 2018;23(4):863. doi:10.3390/molecules23040863

  6. Zasada M, Budzisz E. Retinoids: active molecules influencing skin structure formation in cosmetic and dermatological treatmentsPostepy Dermatol Alergol. 2019;36(4):392-397. doi:10.5114/ada.2019.87443

  7. John HE, Price RD. Perspectives in the selection of hyaluronic acid fillers for facial wrinkles and aging skinPatient Prefer Adherence. 2009;3:225-230. doi:10.2147/ppa.s3183

  8. Lu J, Cong T, Wen X, et al. Salicylic acid treats acne vulgaris by suppressing AMPK/SREBP1 pathway in sebocytesExp Dermatol. 2019;28(7):786-794. doi:10.1111/exd.13934

  9. Hon KL, Kung JSC, Ng WGG, Leung TF. Emollient treatment of atopic dermatitis: latest evidence and clinical considerationsDrugs Context. 2018;7:212530. doi:10.7573/dic.212530

  10. Cleveland Clinic. Skin care basics and tips.

  11. Dhaliwal S, Rybak I, Ellis SR, et al. Prospective, randomized, double-blind assessment of topical bakuchiol and retinol for facial photoageingBr J Dermatol. 2019;180(2):289-296. doi:10.1111/bjd.16918

Related Stories