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- Best for dry, acne-prone skin
- Best for oily skin
- Best for combination skin
- Best for sensitive skin
- Best for aging skin
If you’re looking for a skin care product to add after your cleanser but before your moisturizer, a serum may be the best choice. Serums tend to have a liquid consistency and leave minimal residue, making them great for layering.
They contain more potent concentrations of active ingredients, like hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, niacinamide, and more.
“Serums are typically water-based or gel-like textured products packed with concentrated ingredients that target a specific concern,” explains Hope Mitchell, MD, a board certified dermatologist in Ohio.
Since serums target specific skin concerns, they can be easily tailored to your skin type. Keep reading to find the best face serums for every skin type.
According to board certified dermatologist Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, serums are thin-viscosity topical products that contain concentrated amounts of active ingredients.
A serum can treat skin issues, like discoloration, dullness, fine lines, or acne. The concept is that a serum contains a higher concentration of larger molecules for optimum effectiveness. It’s also lighter than a moisturizer and delivers active ingredients to the skin quickly, so it would go on before a moisturizer, after you’ve cleansed your skin.
Skin types generally fall into the following categories: oily, dry, normal, combination, and sensitive. Sometimes, skin can show signs of aging and look more mature.
Here are the symptoms of each type:
- Oily skin: This type of skin produces excess sebum that causes shininess and greasiness. Excess oil can oftentimes leave pores congested and clogged.
- Dry skin: This is skin that typically looks dull and may become rough, flaky, and scaly. It can also feel tight and may be prone to showing more visible fine lines.
- Normal skin: When your skin is normal, it’s neither dry nor oily — it’s balanced. Normal skin also doesn’t experience many breakouts, and it doesn’t react negatively to product changes or weather changes.
- Combination skin: This is when your skin has areas that are dry and areas that are oily. The T-zone is commonly oily, and the cheeks are typically either dry or normal.
- Sensitive skin: This is skin that’s more vulnerable to external irritants and may be triggered by certain ingredients, like dyes or fragrance, as well as environmental factors.
- Mature-looking skin: All skin types can show signs of aging, such as wrinkles, sagging, dark spots, dullness, and dehydration.
When it came to choosing the best face serums, we used criteria, like:
- Product vetting: Any product we recommend or brand we work with is thoroughly vetted by our team for medical credibility, good business practices, and social impact.
- Price: There are effective face serums at all price points. Since budgets can vary, our selection spans from affordable to premium prices to reflect that.
- Accessibility: Skin is the body’s largest organ, so skin care should be accessible for all. We chose products that are available at a variety of retailers or can be found easily online.
- Effectiveness: Serums tend to have higher concentrations of active ingredients, making them a go-to product for efficacy. We prioritized serums that are formulated to produce results.
- Ingredients: The products below all contain active ingredients that are highly recommended for various skin types and concerns.
- Customer reviews: Product descriptions, ingredient lists, and manufacturer claims are all helpful when selecting a skin care product, but nothing beats testimonials from real-life users. We read reviews for each product to understand customers’ firsthand experiences.
- $ = under $20
- $$ = $20–$50
- $$$ = over $50
Best for dry, acne-prone skin
Farmacy Honeymoon Glow AHA Resurfacing Night Serum
- Price: $$$
- Pros: dries quickly
- Cons: potent alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) may cause temporary stinging
- Best for: people who want to minimize the appearance of enlarged pores
This AHA night serum is a quick way to exfoliate and hydrate your skin at the same time. The exfoliating blend sloughs away dead skin cells and reduces the appearance of hyperpigmentation, pores, fine lines, and wrinkles.
It also contains hyaluronic acid, dry skin’s best friend. Hyaluronic acid draws water into the skin to hydrate from within and plump the skin.
Though the presence of honey means this product is not vegan, the honey soothes and moisturizes skin while providing antioxidant benefits.
People with sensitive skin should note that the levels of AHAs in this product may cause stinging and burning. Though these effects are usually temporary, skin may become visibly red and irritated with overuse.
Juice Beauty Blemish Clearing Serum
- Price: $$
- Pros: clears acne-prone skin while hydrating dry skin
- Cons: thick, heavy texture that doesn’t absorb immediately
- Best for: people with breakouts and clogged pores
Juice Beauty products are a favorite among clean beauty fans, thanks to the combination of natural and synthetic ingredients.
The Juice Beauty Blemish Clearing Serum can be used in either morning or evening routines for people who want to clear and hydrate their skin at the same time.
While acne-prone skin is often associated with oily skin, people with dry skin also experience breakouts. This serum contains the beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) salicylic acid and naturally derived willow bark to unclog pores.
The base consists of an organic juice blend that, along with green tea and white tea, hydrates the skin and offers antioxidant properties.
The INKEY List Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Serum
- Price: $
- Pros: supports natural collagen production
- Cons: small bottle doesn’t last long
- Best for: people with skin dryness or dullness and an uneven skin texture
This bottle is small but mighty. The ingredients list is short compared with most facial serums, but it includes two key players: hyaluronic acid and Matrixyl 3000. The latter is made of peptides that support the skin’s natural collagen and can give a plumping effect.
People with dry, acne-prone skin may experience dullness and uneven skin texture. While ingredients, like vitamin C and chemical exfoliants, may seem like the obvious go-to, people with dry skin shouldn’t forget proper hydration.
The hyaluronic acid in this serum prevents moisture loss. When skin is properly hydrated, it’s less likely to look visibly parched.
While this serum boasts impressive benefits, the bottle is noticeably smaller than many other serums.
First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair® Hydrating Serum
- Price: $$
- Pros: gel is lightweight and nongreasy
- Cons: may not be moisturizing enough for very dry skin
- Best for: people with dry skin who want water-based products
Acne is typically associated with oily skin, but those with dry skin can deal with breakouts too. This First Aid Beauty serum checks a lot of boxes that people with oily skin tend to look for: water-based, lightweight, nongreasy, and fragrance-free. These qualities in a serum can also be helpful for those who want to hydrate the skin without clogging pores.
It contains hyaluronic acid to attract and bind moisture and collagen to support skin. Colloidal oatmeal soothes redness that often accompanies acne while licorice root brightens and protects against free radicals that can worsen skin issues. This serum is a cocktail for targeting dryness, acne, redness, and the visible signs of aging.
Best for oily skin
The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
- Price: $
- Pros: potent high-strength formula
- Cons: some people don’t react well to niacinamide
- Best for: people who want to balance oil production
While people with dry skin flock to hyaluronic acid, people with oily skin often flock to niacinamide. This niacinamide and zinc serum by The Ordinary may have a place in every oily skin care routine.
However, people with sensitive skin might not react well to niacinamide. If you have sensitive skin, start with a lower concentration before trying this product, which has a 10 percent concentration.
Both key active ingredients in this serum were carefully selected. Niacinamide is an antioxidant that’s also known as vitamin B3. Zinc is a less common skin care ingredient, but an important one for those who want to regulate excess sebum levels.
This product brightens and decongests skin, making it a formidable for dull skin.
Caudalie Vinopure Natural Salicylic Acid Pore Minimizing Serum
- Price: $$
- Pros: lightweight serum doesn’t feel heavy on oily skin
- Cons: some users experienced more breakouts
- Best for: people looking for vegan skin care products
While you may think of salicylic acid as an ingredient for facial cleansers and washes, it also has a place in serums and treatments for acne.
This breakout-busting ingredient targets acne by purging excess oil, treating blackheads, and clarifying clogged pores.
While this product is designed to minimize pores and reduce breakouts, some reviewers say they experienced more breakouts when using this serum.
SkinCeuticals Retexturing Activator
- Price: $$$
- Pros: oil-free ingredients
- Cons: pricey
- Best for: people with all skin types who want to balance moisture levels
There’s a lot of confusion surrounding the difference between moisture and hydration when it comes to skin care. Moisture refers to skin’s oil levels, and hydration refers to the water content in skin.
This SkinCeuticals serum balances moisture levels, making it suitable for people with oily skin who have excess oil and sebum.
It’s made with oil-free ingredients, which is a plus for people with very oily skin. It also contains hyaluronic acid, which is an ingredient commonly used to hydrate dry skin.
However, oily skin may be a result of dehydration, so even people with excess sebum should incorporate hydrating serums like this into their skin care routine.
Peach & Lily Glass Skin Refining Serum
- Price: $$
- Pros: clean ingredients
- Cons: niacinamide can be irritating
- Best for: people with photo-damaged skin
“Glass skin” is a term coined in the K-Beauty community to describe skin that is visibly healthy. It appears poreless, radiant, and seemingly translucent like glass. If you’ve ever wanted to experience this yourself, the Peach & Lily Glass Skin Refining Serum may be able to help.
It’s suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin, but it’s best for those who lean on the oily side. Thanks to niacinamide, the antioxidant helps smooth out pores, brightens skin, and helps fade dark spots from photoaging. It’s also powered by hyaluronic acid for hydration and peach extract to nourish skin with fatty acids that encourage firmness.
Best for combination skin
Glow Recipe Avocado Ceramide Redness Relief Serum
- Price: $$
- Pros: soothes redness and irritation
- Cons: liquid formula runs out quickly
- Best for: people who want to strengthen their skin barrier
Glow Recipe products are all the rage right now. You may have seen this brand on social media, as it’s sometimes promoted by influencers and beauty gurus.
People rave about the brand’s pleasant scents, effective formulations, and satisfying textures. This product is no exception.
Antioxidant-rich avocado and redness-reducing ceramides are the heroes of this serum. Ceramides are naturally found in skin cells, and skin care products containing them can support skin barrier health.
Tata Harper Resurfacing AHA + BHA Serum
- Price: $$$
- Pros: brightens dull skin and improves texture
- Cons: AHAs and BHAs may be too strong for some people
- Best for: people with combination to oily skin
If your combination skin is on the oily side, this resurfacing serum by Tata Harper may be right for you.
It contains seven AHAs and BHAs: lactic acid, glycolic acid, citric acid, malic acid, tartaric acid, white willow bark, and meadowsweet. Together, these ingredients remove dead skin cells to reveal a layer of glowing skin underneath.
This serum is also suitable for people looking for anti-aging benefits. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that brightens skin, protects against free radical damage, and targets dark circles.
Paula’s Choice Omega+ Complex Serum
- Price: $$
- Pros: award-winning formula
- Cons: smell may be overpowering
- Best for: people with combination skin looking for vegan products
This fragrance-free serum is lightweight, hydrating, and cruelty-free. If your combination skin leans on the dry side, this serum may be for you.
It’s packed with hydrating ingredients, like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids.
Though skin is made up of lipids, there are not many skin care products that contain fatty acids. These omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids rapidly replenish skin and help it retain hydration. The serum nourishes and hydrates dry and dull skin.
However, some users say this serum has an overpowering smell and the formula induces breakouts.
Skinfix Barrier+ Triple Lipid-Hyaluronate Serum
- Price: $$
- Pros: doesn’t clog pores
- Cons: user reviews say the product isn’t long-lasting
- Best for: people who want to reduce fine lines and wrinkles
A good serum shouldn’t clog your pores and should layer well with other skin care products. According to user reviews, this serum meets both criteria. This Skinfix serum is highly rated because of its lightweight but hydrating texture. It has the consistency loved by those with oily skin but the effectiveness needed to soften dry skin.
As the name suggests, it’s packed with a blend of lipids (aka fatty ingredients that support the natural fatty acids in the skin). It also contains peony root extract to support skin barrier health, which is vital for overall skin health and can improve areas of excessive dryness and oiliness.
Some users didn’t like the packaging, however. Skinfix claims its packaging is planet-friendly, but it’s received criticism for using too much plastic.
Best for sensitive skin
Mad Hippie Vitamin A Serum
- Price: $$
- Pros: cruelty-free and vegan
- Cons: contains essential oils, which are irritating to some people
- Best for: people who want to improve the appearance of sun-damaged, aging skin
Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A, and it can be irritating to some people. However, this vitamin A serum is safe for people with sensitive skin.
Aloe vera helps make up the base of the serum and forms a thin protective layer over the skin, while oats soothe it.
The anti-aging benefits of this serum can be attributed to bioavailable vitamin A and hyaluronic acid. Vitamin A targets discoloration from sun-damaged skin and reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
While this natural product is suitable for people with sensitive skin, a patch test is recommended. Some users have experienced mild burning sensations after using this product.
Krave Beauty Great Barrier Relief
- Price: $$
- Pros: formulated to strengthen the skin barrier
- Cons: not widely available
- Best for: people with compromised skin
There are many serums for sensitive skin on the market, but the Krave Beauty Great Barrier Relief product is truly unique. It has a thicker and creamier consistency than most serums, which tend to have a liquid or gel-like texture.
The star ingredient of this serum is tamanu oil, which is present in 10 percent concentration. Tamanu oil has been used traditionally to heal wounds and cure some skin conditions.
Since it’s derived from nuts, people with nut allergies should perform a patch test before using it. Tamanu oil also has a strong, polarizing smell.
Sensitive skin may react to certain ingredients, but this serum is free of animal by-products, colorants, fragrance, and essential oils to give sensitive skin the best chance of calming down.
Dermalogica Ultracalming Serum Concentrate
- Price: $$$
- Pros: soothes inflammation
- Cons: reviews describe consistency as greasy
- Best for: people with inflamed skin
Sensitive skin and inflammation go hand in hand. Some active ingredients are effective at reducing inflammation and calming irritated skin, including oat kernel extract and evening primrose oil, both of which are present in this concentrated serum.
While some reviewers describe this serum as a must-buy, others can’t get past the greasy consistency. This serum may be best for sensitive skin that tends to be dry rather than oily.
EltaMD Skin Recovery Face Serum
- Price: $$$
- Pros: truly unscented
- Cons: pump may be faulty, according to user reviews
- Best for: people who want to repair damaged skin
Many brands claim to formulate noncomedogenic products that are safe for sensitive skin, but EltaMD takes those claims seriously. The EltaMD Skin Recovery Face Serum is noncomedogenic, fragrance-free, oil-free, and paraben-free. It doesn’t even contain natural fragrances, so it truly has no scent.
If you have sensitive skin, supporting your skin barrier health may help. Sensitivity may be a result of underlying skin damage. This serum helps repair skin damage with a blend of amino acids that support skin immunity. Hydrated skin is healthy skin, so hyaluronic acid attracts water while amino acids help retain it. It also contains antioxidants to fight off free radical damage.
Best for aging skin
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment
- Price: $$$
- Pros: patented formula mentioned extensively in peer-reviewed scientific journals
- Cons: pricey
- Best for: people concerned with dehydration and discoloration
This antioxidant serum by SkinCeuticals is a beauty favorite. It’s not only backed by thousands of reviews and skin care influencers, but also by science. The formula is patented, which means the composition is public.
The three key ingredients and their concentrations are 15 percent L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C), 1 percent alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E), and 0.5 percent ferulic acid.
Due to the high price, this serum isn’t accessible for everyone. If that’s the case, opt for a more affordable vitamin C serum and pair it with a broad-spectrum sunscreen to target fine lines and wrinkles and protect against sun damage.
Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment
- Price: $$$
- Pros: large bottle is long-lasting
- Cons: formula can be drying
- Best for: people who want to lighten dark spots
This serum is a potent source of lactic acid, a gentle chemical exfoliant that smooths uneven texture, clarifies blemishes, and improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Like other chemical exfoliants, lactic acid exfoliates the outermost layers of skin, revealing a layer of smooth, glowing skin from underneath.
Other anti-aging all-stars in this serum include licorice and lemongrass, which have brightening properties that lighten dark spots due to sun exposure and aging. They can also improve skin discoloration and hyperpigmentation.
This serum can also be beneficial for people with oily and acne-prone skin, since it targets pores. The formula can be drying, according to some user reviews, so people with dry skin should follow up with a hydrating moisturizer.
The INKEY List Retinol Anti-Aging Serum
- Price: $
- Pros: stable and slow-releasing formula
- Cons: may exacerbate breakouts
- Best for: people looking to target fine lines and wrinkles
People looking for affordable skin care products may gravitate toward The INKEY List, but this retinol serum isn’t just for those on a budget.
The simple ingredients list is led by two types of retinol: RetiStar stabilized retinol 1 percent and Granactive retinoid 0.5 percent. Together, they reduce the look of fine lines and wrinkles in people with aging skin.
In addition to retinol, this serum has an impressive lineup of other ingredients, including hyaluronic acid, squalane, and peptides.
While retinol products can help with acne and breakouts, some reviewers say they experienced the opposite. Some reviews mention this product is too hydrating for acne-prone skin, ultimately leading to more breakouts.
Biossance Squalane + Copper Peptide Rapid Plumping Serum
- Price: $$$
- Pros: 1.7-ounce bottle is larger than others
- Cons: texture may be unpleasant
- Best for: people who want to increase skin firmness
Fine lines and wrinkles are more noticeable when skin is dry, so plumping ingredients can help fill them in. This Biossance serum contains the brand’s star ingredient — sugarcane-derived squalane — that moisturizes skin so fine lines aren’t as noticeable. Coupled with one of the best ingredients for its plumping effects (hyaluronic acid), wrinkles don’t stand a chance.
The serum itself has a natural blue hue thanks to vegan copper peptides, which support skin’s collagen to yield bouncier, firmer skin. It also increases firmness with paracress extract, a type of flower that can be used to tighten collagen fibers.
While it’s described as having a lightweight consistency, some did not enjoy the texture, describing it as leaving a slimy and sticky film.
Choosing the right serum for your skin shouldn’t be a chore. However, with so many options on the market, narrowing down the selection can be overwhelming.
Mitchell recommends thinking about what you’re missing in your current regimen, whether it’s exfoliating, brightening, hydrating, anti-aging, and so on.
Start by taking a look at your skin and evaluate its needs and your skin goals. Product labels can be very helpful when determining whether a serum is suitable for your skin type.
Skin type should be also taken into consideration. According to Mitchell, the following skin types may respond best to specific active ingredients:
- Dry skin: hyaluronic acid
- Oily skin: niacinamide, salicylic acid
- Sensitive skin: calendula, green tea
- Aging skin: vitamin C, glycolic acid, retinoids
Is vitamin C serum necessary?
Of the most popular types of serums, vitamin C is at the top. It’s a powerhouse antioxidant with a variety of benefits, including anti-aging, brightening, and hydrating benefits. Skin care isn’t one-size-fits-all, but vitamin C is an ingredient that fits into a variety of skin care regimens.
If you’re looking to spruce up your simple skin care routine with a serum, vitamin C is easy to incorporate, highly effective, and suitable for most skin types.
However, vitamin C shouldn’t be paired with retinoids, acids, and benzoyl peroxide. If you wish to use these ingredients and vitamin C, use them at different times. For example, your morning routine can contain vitamin C, and your evening routine can contain retinol.
Do I need both a serum and moisturizer?
Serums and moisturizers may contain similar active ingredients, but they have different purposes. Their consistencies are also different, so they’re applied at different points in your skin care routine.
Serums are liquid tinctures that contain potent amounts of active ingredients. The purpose of a serum is to target skin issues, like acne, hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and dullness. A serum is applied before a moisturizer.
Moisturizers have thicker consistencies — they tend to be creamier and richer — which is why they’re applied toward the end of a skin care routine. Creams and lotions are examples of moisturizers. Both creams and lotions moisturize skin and provide a barrier around to lock in moisture.
Both serums and moisturizers are important, but a moisturizer is more essential if you’re trying to simplify your skin care routine. A basic skin care routine should consist of a cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen. Incorporating a serum is optional for those who want to target specific skin care concerns.
Do face serums really work?
Not all serums are equal, but a good serum can be highly effective when used properly. Due to the high concentration of active ingredients, serums have high levels of efficacy.
They are easily absorbed into the skin, since they’re usually water-based and can travel deeper into the water-based layers of skin. For this reason, they’re especially effective at targeting visible signs of aging.
To get the most out of your serum, apply your skin care products from the thinnest to thickest consistency. Always seal it in with a moisturizer, so the water-based ingredients don’t evaporate. Evaporation could leave your skin drier than before you applied the product.
Can serums be layered?
Since they’re so lightweight, serums can be layered. Some serums, such as hyaluronic acid and vitamin C, pair together nicely. If you want to layer your face serums, make sure the ingredients are compatible and wait about one minute between each skin care product.
However, using too many skin care products might not help you reach your goals faster. Using too many products and active ingredients can result in irritation and breakouts.
Your skin care products of choice may vary depending on your skin type and concerns. Though everyone’s skin is unique, all skin types share some common ground: Caring for your skin should involve a balance of hydrating, exfoliating, and anti-aging ingredients.
Look at your existing skin care routine and see what’s missing. That should help you determine the best face serum for your skin type and concerns.
Lacey Muinos is a health, wellness, and beauty writer based in Southern California. She holds a BA in English. Her work has appeared in digital publications like Livestrong, Verywell, Business Insider, Eat This Not That, and others. When she’s not writing, Lacey is likely pursuing her other interests: skin care, plant-based cooking, pilates, and traveling. You can keep up with her by visiting herwebsite or herblog.
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