We fully admit we have a love affair with serums. A product that delivers the active ingredients we love deep down to the skin cells that need them in their most potent form? What's not to love? Yes, if we could, we'd layer serum after serum to our heart's content. But we don't have the time (or the funds) to feed a habit like that. We also know that more isn't always better. Better is better, so we've channeled our serum obsession into the research project we now bring to you. From acne to wrinkles and everything in between, we've broken down the best of the best options and sorted through which ones are right for your skin type.
Most serums can be used day and night, but to maximize your results, use an antioxidant serum in the morning. In the broadest sense, antioxidants are anti-inflammatories that aid in healing and provide protection against environmental and sun damage. As a general rule, the more antioxidants, the better the protection.
For All Skin Types: EGF, or epidermal growth factors, are so effective in repairing skin that they've won a Nobel Prize. The ingredient encourages cell renewal. BioEffect's EGF is particularly skilled at reducing pore size and restoring skin elasticity. Plus, the smooth, gel-like formula acts as the perfect pre-makeup base. You only need one small pump, and unless you're really dry, you can skip moisturizer.
For Normal, Dry, or Mature Skin: We could rave about this serum for days (and we have). Why? Simply because it works. Together, vitamins C and E and ferulic acid boost the power of each other (as antioxidants often do), making each one stronger and more effective. The potent combination fends off dark spots and moisture loss and amplifies the sun protection factor of your sunscreen fourfold. The formula can be a little rich for oily and acne-prone skin.
For All Skin Types: This anti-aging serum cools and refreshes skin on contact while the plant-based ingredients actually relax tense facial muscles (like Botox, but gentler and from nature) to diminish the appearance of lines all day long. The formula is enriched with moisturizers to smooth and plump skin. Best of all, there's a slight light-reflectiveness to the serum that impacts a soft, radiant glow.
Hydrating serums are a must for every woman. If you have dry skin, use one every day (morning and/or night). If you don't have dry skin, keep one on hand for emergency skin-parched situations. Key ingredients to look for? Number one: hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid holds 1000 times its weight in water, making it one of the most moisturizing compounds in the world.
For All Skin Types: Why have one form of hyaluronic acid when you could have five? Hylamide's serum features five different forms of hyaluronic acid, all at varying molecular weights to draw moisture into every layer of the skin, including the lowest, hardest-to-reach layers.
For Dry or Sensitive Skin: This all-natural, hydrating serum soothes redness and inflammation, thanks to the sea algae–and herb-derived antioxidants. It also works to enhance radiance and elasticity.
For All Skin Types: Hyaluronic acid draws in moisture while aloe leaf juice soothes and comforts skin in a highly concentrated serum that your skin literally drinks up immediately. Renée Rouleau also added vitamin C for brightening and a touch of salicylic acid to keep pores clear of dry, dead skin cells.
The bad news? Uneven skin tone is the number one indicator of age. The good news? When it comes to skin-brightening, the options are plentiful. From exfoliating acids like kojic and lactic to naturally occurring brighteners like vitamin C, licorice root, and arbutin, there's something to suit your every skin need.
For Acne-Prone, Mature, or Normal Skin: With lactic acid to speed up cell turnover and exfoliate away dullness and licorice root (an all-natural anti-inflammatory) to fight hyperpigmentation, this treatment will give you the radiant skin you've been missing.
For All Skin Types, Particularly Acne-Prone and Sensitive: With 82.6% natural ingredients and a soothing base of pure rosewater, this is the perfect choice for anyone looking for skin brightening but worried about irritation. It diminishes dark pigmentation and boosts radiance and clarity with white gardenia stem cell extract and other natural ingredients while niacinamide and amino acids calm skin to prevent new discoloration from forming.
For Normal, Mature, Dry, or Sensitive Skin: Vitamin C has been and will always be an all-star skin brightener. The only issue is it's unstable. Not so with Murad, which created a highly stable form that's 50 times more potent than previous generations. Vitamin C can be irritating to acneic skin, so if you're experiencing persistent breakouts trying one of the other vitamin C–free brightening serums.
If firmness is your aim, you need to add one anti-ager to your game plan: peptides. Peptides stimulate elastin and collagen production. And as you know, collagen and elastin production slows dramatically as we age.
For All Skin Types: This "booster" can be used alone or added to any serum to give it an extra dose of skin firming. The entire Intraceuticals line is based on hyaluronic acid, so just a few drops of this serum will not only firm your skin but also hydrate and plump it.
For All Skin Types: Caudalie built its line around stabilized vine resveratrol, a breakthrough in firming and plumping. The vine resveratrol and micro-hyaluronic acid formula are enriched with peptides for added lift and contour benefits.
For All Skin Types: For skin that needs a boost, this is the pick. It lifts and firms (thanks to native peptides, aka the natural, topical alternative to Botox), plumps and moisturizes (thanks to hyaluronic acid), and stimulates cell renewal for healthy, glowing skin (thanks to a whole lot of peptides).
For Mature, Dry, or Normal Skin: This serum is powerful, and it targets the full range of aging concerns. Most importantly, the active delivery system finds the cells in need and delivers them anti-wrinkle peptides—that's how improvement in fine lines is able to be seen after just two weeks (we can personally attest). It also works to improve hydration and gently exfoliates to refine pores and imperfections.
Smooth, even skin texture is one of the hardest things to fake. Luckily, whether it's acne or aging interfering with your skin texture, exfoliating alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) can help.
For All Skin Types, Particularly Mature: EGFs are a game changer for aging skin. This serum (which contains only nine potent ingredients—no fillers, because EGF acts as both the active ingredient and the carrier ingredient) is super hydrating, so much so the brand recommends skipping moisturizer (and we do). But most importantly, it actives cell regeneration, reducing fine lines and wrinkles (noticeably, in just 60 days, as their studies show) and bringing skin back to its healthiest state. Expect less pigmentation, uneven tone, and dark circles too. And you only need two little drops per night.
For Oliy or Acne-Prone Skin: BHAs (like salicylic acid) are great for keeping pores clear and skin breakout-free. Renée Rouleau's serum uses a time-released blend of 3% salicylic, 4% lactic, and 4% glycolic acid to keep clogged pores and acne-causing bacteria at bay while evening out skin tone and texture.
For All Skin Types: Glycolic acid is one of those do-it-all ingredients—it hydrates, brightens, and exfoliates. With 4% glycolic acid and soothing aloe vera, this serum refines fine lines and wrinkles and minimizes the appearance of pores without irritation.
At night, there's one ingredient that should be a part of every good skincare regimen: retinol. Retinol is the most studied anti-aging ingredient to date. It's no surprise that it's the top skincare recommendation out of every dermatologist and esthetician's mouth. It speeds up cell turnover, increases collagen production, and does so much more. That's why people turn to the miracle ingredient for everything from anti-aging to acne treatment.
For All Skin Types, Particularly Normal and Oily: Think retinol is too irritating for your skin? Think again. You can now find nano-encapsulated retinol that delivers all the same skin-perfecting benefits without the potential side effects. Kate Somerville paired the innovative ingredient with oxygen and hyaluronic acid for maximum firming, hydrating, and resurfacing power.
For All Skin Types: Verso's claim to fame is retinol 8—a stabilized vitamin A complex that's eight times more effective than standard retinol of the same dosage. That may invoke visions of redness and flaking, but never fear. Retinol 8 was developed to minimize irritation. In fact, it dramatically decreases the UV sensitivity usually associated with retinol, so you can wear this retinol serum night and day.
For All Skin Types, Particularly Normal, Dry and Sensitive: Think of this oil-based serum as a luxurious evening treat. It nourishes and promotes cell metabolism with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients to rehydrate skin and fight fine lines and wrinkles.
For Dry, Normal, Mature, and Sensitive Skin: Yes, it exists—the perfect combination of your (and every skin expert's) two favorite things: retinol and oil. Ren's treatment contains 100% naturally derived vitamin A and a variety of antioxidants (like vitamin E and omegas-6 and -7) to promote healthy skin renewal.
This post was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.