We all have our sudsy cleansers and gloppy moisturizers, but serums sometimes get the shaft when it comes to skincare regimens. That’s probably because they’re a puzzling piece of the routine, triggering questions like “what are they?” “why do they matter?” and “do I really need one?”
Think of serums as an opportunity to infuse even more goodness into your morning or nighttime ritual. They can be infused with vitamin C to brighten your complexion and ward off free radicals, or they can boast ingredients that give acne the boot or assist you in your anti-aging goals. Apply them after cleansing and toning and before your moisturizers and oils, and voila – you’ve leveled up your skincare game. We’ve rounded up 10 amazing serum options that each solve some of the most common skincare complaints. Pick and choose accordingly and don’t be afraid to use more than one. You could opt for pollution defense in the daytime with a vit C serum, and something more intense to get to work at nighttime.
1. For Hydration: No B.S. Skincare Pure Hyaluronic Serum, $45
For straight-up hydration, your best bet is to incorporate a serum into your skincare routine that’s made with hyaluronic acid. This ingredient can hold over 1,000 times its weight in water, which translates to plump, moisturized, youthful skin. The No B.S. version contains “100% pure, unadulterated hyaluronic acid” and is oil-free. We’re also big fans of The Inkey List’s Polyglutamic Acid, $15, which surpasses HA and can hold up to 5000 times its weight in water.
2. For Acne: Versed Just Breathe Clarifying Serum, $20
Versed is a new skincare brand available at Target that serves non-fussy products that actually deliver on their promises. The Just Breathe Clarifying Serum utilizes willow bark extract (a form of salicylic acid) to zap acne and reduce pore size, as well as zinc and niacinamide to nix oil production and bolster your skin’s barrier, which helps soothe and prevent inflammation.
3. For Pollution Defense: Algenist AA Barrier Serum, $85
Antioxidants help protect your skin from environmental nasties like city smog, UV rays, and free radicals. Phloretin and ergothioneine are the two antioxidant heroes in the Algenist’s newest serum, which are then paired with skin-bolstering niacinamide. The serum helps target dullness and uneven texture while improving the appearance of dark spots, and redness.
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4. For Firming: The Inkey List Collagen Booster Firming Peptide Serum, $11
If your goal is firmer skin, peptides and collagen are bae. The Inkey List – a “clean at Sephora” brand with wallet-friendly price tags – serves up both in their Collagen Booster Firming Peptide Serum.
For Fine Lines & Wrinkles: Peter Thomas Roth Pro Strength Retinoid Peptide Serum, $110
Retinol is another ingredient that helps improve tone and texture. In fact, it’s considered one of the best anti-aging ingredients on the market and has a ton of scientific research to back it up. Peter Thomas Roth just launched a retinoid peptide serum that boasts a 10% granactive retinoid and 5% hexapeptide complex. It’s splurge-y, but a game-changer. Find out how to use retinol in your routine here.
For Brightening: Ghost Democracy Lightbulb Vitamin C Serum, $34
You can better reach your glow goals by incorporating vitamin C into your regimen. Ghost Democracy’s Lightbulb Vitamin C Serum contains 18% vitamin C along with 1.9% vitamin E, .5% bakuchiol (a natural retinol alternative) and .5% bisabolol to help soothe inflammation. This ingredient-packed formula not only helps to brighten your skin and get rid of dullness, but it also enhances skin texture for smoother skin.
For Oil Control: The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%, $5.90
This inexpensive serum by The Ordinary puts sebum in its place with 1% zinc (an oil-zapping hero) and 10% niacinamide, which improves the skin’s barrier function and, in turn, helps improve skin texture and clarity. The superlight formula melts into skin and works flawlessly under makeup.
For a Great Makeup Primer: Peach & Lily Glass Skin Refining Serum, $39
This award-winning serum features a buffet of skin-nourishing ingredients that help create the “glass skin” look, including niacinamide, peach and japonica root extracts, peptides, and hyaluronic acid. You can use this silky formula at night, but it’s also great underneath makeup.
For Bright Eyes: Neutrogena Hydro Boost City Shield Eye Serum, $18
The skin under your eyes is thinner and more delicate than the rest of your face; it’s the main reason why this area gets dry/crepey and is prone to looking darker. That said, this area could benefit from some extra TLC. This vitamin E and hyaluronic acid serum by Neutrogena was formulated specifically for your delicate undereye skin and helps plump and brighten.
For Exfoliating: Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Resurfacing Night Serum, $90
No skincare routine is truly complete without a little exfoliating action, and Drunk Elephant’s cult-favorite Framboos Glycolic Resurfacing Night Serum is an excellent option. It utilizes both AHAs and BHAs, which buff away dead skin to reveal a healthy, glowing complexion underneath. This stuff is potent, so start using it gradually. A few times a week is all you need to reap the rewards of this potent serum.