A solid skin routine contains a few essentials: A great cleanser, a hydrating moisturizer, and, of course, a sunscreen. Those are the basics. The bare bones. The fundamentals, if you will. But then—then there’s the always-expanding world of the best face serums. The pool of products that can actually take your skin to the next level, address your concerns, and elevate your entire routine. “Serums absorb into the skin quickly and deeply and are able to effectively deliver active ingredients to the skin,” explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King. “The active ingredients contained in a serum are concentrated and the thin viscosity of the serum allows for skin penetration of optimum effectiveness in a shorter amount of time.”
Now, the active ingredients are going to vary—extensively. Some serums will be focused on hydration with hyaluronic acid, peptides, and ceramides at the forefront. Others will be laser-focused on specific skin concerns. Think: salicylic acid for acne; niacinamide for skin tone; vitamin C serums for an antioxidant boost. Even though serums can be game-changing, they can also be confusing. Which one is the best? How many should I use? Which one goes on first? To clear up any confusion and find out which serums reign supreme, keep scrolling to find the 35 best face serums, from brightening serums to antioxidant serums and everything in between, broken down by your specific skin concerns. Most of these have been hand-picked, tested, and approved by our team of editors, so consider these the best of the best.
What to Look For in a Face Serum
Well, it depends. “There are some ingredients that will be helpful for most skin types. For example, hyaluronic acid will hydrate the skin, niacinamide helps improve tone, texture, and moisture, and antioxidants help to protect the skin from damage from free radicals,” says Dr. King. You really can’t go wrong with any of the above. Other serums, however, are going to be much more treatment focused and designed with specific skin types in mind. “Serums for oily skin will have oil-absorbing ingredients like niacinamide, zinc, and lactic acid to minimize pore size and reduce sebum,” explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Karen Hammerman. “Serums for dry skin will have hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and panthenol which draw in moisture. Acne-prone skin serums have salicylic acid, an exfoliant to help unclog the pores, and azelaic acid which eliminates p. acnes bacteria.”
Dr. King adds that in addition to skin type, you may want to take specific concerns into consideration while choosing the best serum for you. “Someone wanting to address skin aging may want a serum that contains retinol; someone wanting to address sun damage by exfoliating may want a serum that contains lactic acid; someone wanting to address dark spots may want a serum that contains niacinamide, antioxidants, kojic acid, licorice root extract, or tranexamic acid,” she says.
- The Overall Best Face Serum: SkinMedica TNS+ Advanced Serum
- The Best Vitamin C Face Serum: Skinceuticals CE Ferulic
- The Best Acne-Fighting Face Serum: iS Clinical Active Serum
- The Best Hydrating Serum: Trish McEvoy Beauty Booster Serum
- The Best Retinol Serum: Sunday Riley A+ High Dose Retinoid Serum
Best Overall Face Serum
The Best Overall Face Serum
“This dermatologist favorite is formulated with a potent blend of growth factors to help smooth and reduce appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Tiffany Libby. While it is ideal for more mature skin types, I’m a firm believer that it’s a worthwhile addition for anyone’s skincare routine. With continued use, it’s brightened my overall complexion, created a firmer appearance, and given my skin a smoother, more even texture. Everything just looks better.
Pros: Anti-aging; Smoother; Brightening; Dermatologist-approved.
Cons: Takes a few weeks to see results.
Customer Review: "This serum is insanely good. It goes on smooth and makes my face feel so silky smooth. I have noticed my face looks more clear and rejuvenated." — Dermstore
Best Brightening Serums
Best Balancing Vitamin C Face Serum
"This serum is beloved by people of all skin types, and with good reason. It works wonders on my skin whether I'm experiencing dryness, breakouts, or hyperpigmentation—mostly due to its balanced formula of oil-diminishing niacinamide and hydrating panthenol. It also reduces the appearance of enlarged pores, eradicates blackheads, and decreases signs of aging, so you can feel more confident in your bare skin, no matter your complexion concern." — Gabrielle Ulubay, E-Commerce Writer
Pros: Adds glow; Hydrating; Fights hyperpigmentation; Reduces the look of large pores.
Cons: Some reviewers say the scent is too strong.
Customer Review: "This is one of the first Vitamin C’s I can use that doesn’t leave me red and irritated. Lightly hydrating also. I can see why the scent puts some people off but it’s very, very mild. I barely notice." — Sephora
The Best Vitamin C Serum
“Considered to be the gold standard vitamin C product, this serum combines vitamin C, ferulic acid, and vitamin E. Vitamin C is used to address hyperpigmentation and dullness,” says Dr. Hammerman. “Ferulic acid is an antioxidant from plants that works synergistically with vitamins C and E. This serum helps protect the skin from environmental damage and softens the appearance of fine lines.” The results are pretty unbelievable, which is why this little guy has achieved cult-favorite status. The catch? There’s a pretty strong smell.
Pros: Stabilized vitamin C; Brightening; Antioxidant Protection
Cons: Some reviewers said it has a strong smell.
Customer Review: "This is one of my new holy grail products. My skin glows after hauling this and it helps fade my dark spots faster. I will never not repurchase." — Dermstore
The Best Serum-Highlighter Hybrid
“During the pandemic I turned to Glow Recipe to combat the common conditions that stress can have on the skin. The Watermelon Glow AHA Night Treatment has since kept a permanent spot in my evening skincare regimen. As for the morning, I’ve started using the brand’s Watermelon Glow Niacinamide Dew Drops as a primer for those light makeup days. On makeup-free days I apply 2-3 pumps onto a freshly cleansed face to enjoy a subtle, moisturized, dewy look. I find Glow Recipe’s watermelon-based formulas are lightweight and multi-purposeful—yet powerful and effective, especially when it comes to minimizing pores. If you’re seeking a serum that is free of harsh chemicals (which I need because my little ones have sensitive skin and I never want to worry about kissing and cuddling them!), incorporate Glow Recipe into your regimen at least once a day. After a few weeks you should notice a general improvement in skin tone and texture.” — Tanya Benedicto Klich, Senior Editor of Money & Career
Pros: Glowy; Lightens hyperpigmentation
Cons: Some reviewers found the formula a little tacky.
Customer Review: "I have mainly normal sometimes dry skin, and this does WONDERS for my skin. I am always glowing and feel so smooth once it all dries down. Had a sample first and had to buy the large bottle. [I use it] practically everyday." — Sephora
The Best Mushroom Serum
"Mushroom-based skincare may sound, well, interesting, but it works—and it works well. The mushroom extract in this particular serum hydrates and reduces redness, which is ideal for my rosacea-prone skin. The vitamin C inclusion makes this a brightening powerhouse too, which is why it's an integral part of my morning skincare routine." — Samantha Holender, Beauty Editor
Pros: Vegan; Cruelty-Free; Brightening
Cons: Some say it's a little tacky
Customer Review: "I truly have been loving this hydrating serum, my skin has been looking healthier and it’s perfect for my sensitive/acne prone skin. I’d definitely recommend this product to anyone who is looking for a gorgeous glow, without clogging your pores." — Shroom Skincare
The Best Face Serum for Dark Spots
“For dark spots, I recommend this serum, which is formulated for melanin-rich skin. It contains pro-retinol to help reduce dark spots, as well as niacinamide, which helps to even skin tone and smooth skin texture,” explains Dr. King. “It also contains hexylresorcinol, which helps to brighten skin, as well as vitamin E.” While you might think that a serum with so many powerful actives would be drying, I promise this is just the opposite. It leaves skin supple and hydrated.
Pros: Brightens dark spots; Evens skin tone and texture
Cons: Some reviewers say it can feel oily.
Customer Review: "I went through a bottle in a month and I definitely see that my skin is more toned and I see that my dark spots are lightening. feels like this product has a slight exfoliation property to it which is nice to reveal brighter skin. Currently on my 2nd bottle" — Target
The Best Eye Serum
Yes, serums for your eyes are very much a thing. This one from The Ordinary in particular, which is formulated with caffeine and green tea, is specifically designed to brighten dark under-eye circles and reduce puffiness. And trust me—it works much better than a lot of its pricier counterparts. While this eye serum can be used alone, it might be worthwhile to layer it underneath a more hydrating eye cream if you’re prone to dryness in the delicate under-eye area.
Pros: Decreases puffiness, Helps with dark circles
Cons: Not as hydrating as other serums on this list.
Customer Review: "I have used this product every day and every night for the past six months. In those 6 months my eyes have yet to be puffy or red in the mornings." — Sephora
Best Lightweight Vitamin C Face Serum
“I've tried a ton of vitamin C serums over the years. Either they made no difference at all or they were so strong, they made my skin break out in tiny rough bumps. So annoying! But then I came across this brightening serum from Origins that solved all of my previous woes. This lightweight serum has brightened my skin like crazy over the last couple of months and I've noticed my skin is smoother. It absorbs fairly quickly too, with the subtlest citrus smell. I genuinely look forward to putting this on every morning!” — Brooke Knappenberger, Editorial Fellow
Pros: Absorbs quickly; Editor-approved; Good for sensitive skin.
Cons: Some people find it heavily-scented.
Customer Review: "This serum has a calming and soothing effect. Scent is pleasant. All time favorite for sure. I buy this again and again." — Ulta
Best Vitamin C Serum for Sensitive Skin
“Vitamin C has always been pretty tricky for me. A lot of times, using it leads to rashes, breakouts, redness, and irritation. But this no-frills vitamin C formula from Naturium agrees with my skin so damn well. The formula has no smell, no stickiness, and no stinging. It just sinks right into my skin and gives me a great glow. Plus, I swear that it has caused a lot of my post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation to fade quicker than I ever thought possible”— Samantha Holender, Beauty Editor
Pros: Editor-approved; Good for sensitive skin; Fades dark spots; Unscented; Adds a glow;
Cons: Some reviewers found the texture a little oily.
Customer Review: "I love this product. it made my skin look less dull. it’s so smooth and silky my skin absolutely LOVED this. it felt rejuvenating! it even helped diminish the redness of my acne scars! i absolutely love this product." — Target
Best Hydrating and Brightening Face Serum
"This brand is known for their top-notch skincare, and this highly concentrated serum warrants its popularity. Aside from the brightening vitamins and minerals, you’ll also find omegas three, six, seven and nine that’s suitable for all skin types. Best of all, the echinacea encourages your skin to produce hyaluronic acid, which, admittedly, I can’t seem to get enough of even in the warmer months. Apply daily for best results." — Deena Campbell, Beauty Director
Pros: Editor-approved; Brightening; Hydrating; Good for all skin types.
Cons: Some reviewers found the texture too oily.
Customer Review: "Just buy this oil, it’s that good. For the longest time I was barely using this because of how expensive it was, I wanted to conserve it. Every time I use it I wake up with much improved skin and I’m now done with wasting my time on other products that don’t work as well." — Nordstrom
Best Single-Use Brightening Serum
"Science-backed, luxury skincare is my favorite type of skincare. This serum, formulated with malachite, bakuchiol, and glycolic acid, is in a league of its own. Its founder, Sir Fraser Stoddart, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist, combined those ingredients to intensify your natural glow and build resilience against stress, pollution, and free radicals. And each tiny packet includes just enough serum for each application, which also makes it the perfect travel companion." — Deena Campbell, Beauty Director
Pros: Editor-approved; Good for travel; Fights signs of aging; Protects against free-radicals; Cruelty-free formula;
Cons: Not good for sensitive skin.
Best Vitamin C Serum For Hyperpigmentation
"This Vitamin C serum has made a huge difference in lessening my hyperpigmentation and making my skin feel smooth and supple. In addition to Vitamin C (of course), this serum contains bakuchiol, a retinol alternative that smooths skin, promotes cell regeneration, and combats lines and wrinkles without any of retinol’s harsh side effects. The formula also incorporates soothing ingredients like Vitamin E and bisabolol, which ease redness and inflammation. After just a few weeks of consistent use, multiple friends have commented on my newly glowy complexion.” — Gabrielle Ulubay, E-Commerce Writer
Pros: Adds glow; Lightweight formula; Good for reactive skin; Fights hyperpigmentation;
Cons: Some reviewers found the formula too greasy.
Customer Review: "Texture is like a lightweight oil, but it doesn’t make skin oily or greasy. Great texture and you only need a little bit!" — Verishop
Best Hydrating Serums
The Best Lightweight Hydrating Face Serum
Marie Claire's E-Commerce team is obsessed with this serum from COSRX. "Packed with collagen and hypoallergenic, this product almost instantly enhances my skin's glow without making my face feel greasy," says E-Commerce Writer Gabrielle Ulubay. The formula also lasts for ages, and is suitable for use on my combination and oily skin—even mid-breakouts." E-Commerce Editor Julia Marzovilla also swears by this lightweight formula for her dry, dehydrated skin. "There's not many products that I can use both and night, but this is one of them. It makes every product I layer on top look better," she says.
Pros: Lightweight formula; Sinks in quickly; Good for dry skin; Good for combination skin; Editor-approved;
Cons: Some reviewers with sensitive skin said it breaks them out.
Customer Review: "This is honestly best product I have ever gotten ! Has helped me so much with my dry skin over this winter. I'm still using now even though it's spring. I think it's great for year round. It drys nicely and feels great." — Ulta
The Best Face Serum for a Dewy Glow
“It contains glycerin, lactic acid, hyaluronic acid, and polyglutamic acid—all humectants that help create an immediate plumping effect that makes the skin look younger and smoother. Hyaluronic acid gets absorbed deeper than polyglutamic acid because polyglutamic acid has a larger molecule size—so the result is hydration at different levels,” says Dr. King. “And it also contains shea oil, which helps to lock in moisture, but it doesn't overall feel oily. It has a very subtle iridescence, not enough to look shiny or glittery, but enough to make the skin look luminous.”
Pros: Multi-benefit; Glowy finish; Plumping
Cons: Some reviewers say it made them break out.
Customer Review: "I absolutely love this product! I have normal/dry skin and after I put this on it gives me such a beautiful glow. My skin feels nice and hydrated. As well as soft and smooth before my makeup application! I love love this product!" — Sephora
The Best Luxe Face Serum
Cult-favorite and holy grail accurately describe this highly effective serum, which is ideal for irritated skin. It leverages the brand’s infamous Miracle Broth, which puts the skin in a state ripe for repair, with an antioxidant-rich compound and soothing agents. In return, the skin is more hydrated, more balanced, and generally calmer and happier. It’s recommended to use this product twice a day, but the results are pretty fast-acting. If you don’t plan on keeping this as an integral part of your routine, toss it in a few weeks before a big event.
Pros: Hydrating; Anti-Aging; Calming; Dermatologist-approved.
Cons: Some reviewers found the texture was too slippy.
Customer Review: "There aren’t many products I would endorse as a must have but this serum is the real deal. I’m justifying the price by saying, it’s a wonderful moisturizer, so I use less of the moisturizing creme. velvety soft finish means no need for primer. Plus the reduction in fine lines used over a two month period means no fillers. Love this product!!" — Sephora
The Best Hydrating Serum
I’ve tried a lot of serums in my day, but I continuously find myself going back to this Trish McEvoy one. I shout its praises from the rooftops and am a firm believer in its fast-acting abilities. In just two weeks time, my skin feels more hydrated and looks plumper, more radiant, and overwhelmingly better. A quick scan of the ingredient list and it becomes clear why. This water-like, lightweight serum contains the obvious hyaluronic acid, in addition to a slew of peptides, and a handful of antioxidants.
Pros: Hydrating; Plumping; Nourishing; Good for mature skin; Adds radiance; Absorbs quickly.
Cons: Formula only last a few weeks.
Customer Review: "This serum is probably the best investment ever. I travel often which is harsh on the skin. After two weeks my skin was softer, smoother, and more radiant. Highly recommend." — Nordstrom
Best Hyaluronic Acid Face Serum
“Simply put, this is one of my all-time favorite steps in my routine. You know when you apply something and you notice a difference immediately? That’s how using this serum from COSRX went. My skin is dry and dehydrated to a fault—a fact I’ve waxed poetic about on many occasions on this site—and this makes it feel normal again. I apply it every night and again in the morning if I know I’m going to have a heavier makeup day. It’s one of those simple, accessible, non-confusing serums that just does what it says it will do on the tin, and you can’t beat that.” — Julia Marzovilla, E-Commerce Editor
Pros: Good for dry skin; Lightweight; Deeply hydrating; Good for use day and night; Good for reactive skin.
Cons: Dropper does not get all the product out at the bottom.
Customer Review: "Hydrated my skin without breaking me out. I was using this twice daily but I've scaled back to nightly use almost every night and I think that's better for my skin. I felt dewy but not like oily which was great" — Ulta
Best Bi-Phase Hydrating Face Serum
“This is one of those fun little serums where you shake the two separated levels into one juicy-skin-guaranteeing concoction. It’s chock-full of lots of good-for-skin hydrating ingredients like squalene, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid to boot. This is another serum where I noticed an immediate change. My skin was dewier-looking instantly, and I loved it so much that I just ran out of my third (!) bottle. I try so many new products all the time, but this is one of the ones that hangs around. If my skin is freaking out, this calms it. If it’s feeling dry, this is an instant fix. If I want a glowy base under my makeup for that lit-from-within, well–hydrated, glass-skin finish, this is the one I use.” — Julia Marzovilla, E-Commerce Editor
Pros: Hydrating; Editor-approved; Brightening; Calming; Formula lasts a long time.
Cons: Formula takes a minute to set in.
Customer Review: "On my second bottle now and I love this stuff. Gives the right amount of moisture without clogging my pores. Dry spots are gone without the worry of getting more acne! Also every time the shake up effect of the bottle never gets old." — Squigs
Best Hydrating Serum for Sensitive Skin
“I have all the skin issues: Rosacea-prone, rash-prone, irritation-prone. You name it, I have it. All of that indicates that my skin barrier is compromised, but I swear this serum is single handedly responsible for doing a major repair. Formulated with seven different molecular weights of hyaluronic acid and a ceramide complex, the silky serum has given my skin unmatched hydration. Within just a few weeks of using this morning and night, my skin stopped burning, tingling, and itching. Now? I'm on bottle number two.” — Samantha Holender, Beauty Editor
Pros: Good for rosacea; Good for sensitive skin; Good for repairing the moisture barrier in your skin; Lightweight;
Cons: Can take a few weeks to show results.
Best Calming Face Serum
“My skin is the epitome of sensitive—so much so that I used to joke that if someone even looked at me the wrong way, my cheeks would instantly flush red in a massive discolored blotch. Fragrances and harsh ingredients are my worst enemy, and I'm prone to uncomfortably hot patches of redness—you name it, and with my volatile skin, I've dealt with it. Paula's Choice Repairing Serum, however, is my secret weapon to all of these concerns and more. With its formula of ceramides and antioxidant-enriched plant extracts, the product soothes my angry skin without fail.” — Emma Childs, Style Editor
Pros: Good for sensitive skin; Good for soothing redness; Protects the skin barrier;
Cons: Some reviewers found the texture a little sticky.
Customer Review: "This is hands down one of the best skincare products I have ever tried, and I can tell a huge difference in my skin after using it. I have very sensitive skin and this helps tremendously with moisturizing and reducing redness. I have been using it for over a year now and always keep an extra bottle on hand to ensure I never run out." — Paula's Choice
Best Beauty Director-Approved Hydrating Face Serum
"Think of this lightweight and fast-absorbing serum as a tall glass of water for your skin. It offers supercharged moisture because of the fatty acids and sodium PCA that enhance your skin's natural ability to retain moisture, ultimately increasing hydration levels." — Deena Campbell, Beauty Director
Pros: Editor-approved; Fast-absorbing; Helps your skin retain moisture.
Cons: Some reviewers found the texture too slippery.
Customer Review: "This has got to be one of my favorite products I have ever used. It will be forever a staple. It is super light and leaves my skin silky smooth." — Dermstore
Best Retinol Serums
The Best Retinol Serum
I’ve gone on and on and on about the importance of using a retinoid. The anti-aging benefits! The acne prevention! The even skin tone! If you’re looking for an over-the-counter option that delivers on its promises, try this Sunday Riley option. It features a blend of different retinoids and retinol alternatives to speed up cellular turnover and keep pores clear of acne-causing gunk. Then, because retinol can be drying, the serum is buffered with a range of soothing and calming ingredients such as ginger and cactus extract.
Pros: Smoothing; Brightening; Anti-aging; Good for acne
Cons: Has a smell; Might be drying
Customer Review: "I use this nightly! It works great and smells great, too. It does everything a retinol is supposed to, without being too drying, and making my face red. Excellent product!" — Dermstore
Best Retinol for Sensitive Skin
“My skin does not react well to acids and retinols, but this one is one of the only ones that doesn't leave my skin looking irritated. It’s all in the name: It’s a gentle exfoliator that sloughs away dead skin. I use it twice a week and I’ve found that it’s the perfect product rotation to leave my dry skin looking invigorated. If you have sensitive skin or skin that reacts easily, this is the best retinol serum for you.” — Julia Marzovilla, E-Commerce Editor
Pros: Good for dry skin; Good for sensitive skin; Good for retinol beginners; Lightweight; Editor-approved.
Cons: Some reviewers found the smell too strong.
Customer Review: "This is the perfect retinol product if you are just starting your retinol journey or if you have quite sensitive skin. I have been using it consistently for 3 months and noticed results after the first few uses. My skin texture became a lot smoother, the appearance of pores have become less noticeable and the stubborn little bumps on my forehead went away. The serum is super lightweight, absorbs quickly and leaves no residue. I have not experienced any irritation or redness with my sensitive dry skin. Super gentle yet hydrating, would definitely recommend to anyone with sensitive skin/new to retinol." — Walmart
Best No-Fuss Retinol Face Serum
"I love The Ordinary for bringing to the world hardworking ingredients at an accessible price point. No bells, no whistles—just retinol, doing its thing in serum form. This affordable retinol serum is easy to apply as part of your skincare routine, and it does the work—just make sure (as with every retinol serum) to give your skin time to adjust to it. Oh, and use SPF! (The Ordinary makes one of those too.)" — Jenny Hollander, Director of Content Strategy
Pros: Editor-approved; Fast-acting; Hydrating; Good for retinol beginners.
Cons: Some reviewers found the scent too strong.
Customer Review: "I like the texture of this retinoid. It is not very strong, it's a good product for beginners and people with sensitive skin. I use when I'm traveling, it's a good compromise, so I still using a retinol product but nothing strong or sensitizing" — Sephora
Best Anti-Aging Serums
The Best Neck Serum
Some words of wisdom: Don’t forget to treat your neck. That skin is much more fragile and thin than the skin on your face, and as a result, is going to be one of the first places you’ll spot signs of aging. To counteract the effects of time (and gravity), incorporate this powerful and wildly effective serum into your daily routine. Powered by firming peptides, a tightening complex, and a CoQ10 delivery system, this luxe serum will tighten, lift, and boost collagen around the neck area. The results are wild—but you will have to wait eight weeks to see the full effect.
Pros: Lifting; Firming; Hydrating
Cons: Some reviewers report pilling.
Customer Review: "I love the smooth texture and gentle fragrance of this step in my nighttime self-care routine. The brush is incredibly soft - always sweep in an upward motion! More and more concern about protecting the dec & neck, and this is a great product from a great brand for that concern." — Blue Mercury
The Best Face Serum for Firming