The 20 Best Face Serums of 2022

Let’s expand your skincare routine, shall we?

woman with glowing skin
(Image credit: Rosdiana Ciaravolo/Getty)

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 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 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. 

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. 

How to Layer Serums

Hands down, this is one of the most asked questions in the beauty world. Thankfully, the answer is pretty simple. “Skincare products should be applied thickest to thinnest,” explains Dr. Hammerman. So you’ll cleanse, apply your serum(s)—a watery hyaluronic acid serum would go on before a more creamy lactic acid serum—and then lock it in with a moisturizer. So long as you follow that rule, all the active ingredients should be able to penetrate the skin. 

How Many Serums Should I Use?

There’s no hard and fast number to stick to, but it’s probably smart to keep things on the tamer side. “It is okay to use a few serums at a time and I would not say that there is a number as to how many serums you can use, but it is important not to overdo it,” says Dr. Hammerman. “This can happen with serums containing alpha hydroxy acids like lactic acid and glycolic acid and also with retinol serums. Too much of these ingredients can cause irritation, redness, burning, and breakouts.” 

You also might have to contend with pilling, a.k.a. little balls of product that roll off the surface of the skin, if you use too many layers of product. “Pilling is one of my pet peeves because it makes me feel like I'm wasting valuable skincare products,” says Dr. King. “Some serums can be layered, but I personally think it's simpler to find one that addresses your concerns.” 

The Best Face Serums

Meet the Dermatologists