Below, an expert’s guide to the best face serums for modern skin concerns:
“Hydration is the key to healthy skin, no matter what skin type or conditions you have,” says Dale. “Our body needs water, but because our skin is the last organ to reap the benefits of the water we drink, we have to apply it topically.” Dr. Gohara points out that once we reach our 40s, we start to lose hydration, making this a simple step that can make a significant difference in skin. “Due to serums’ ability to penetrate the skin and hydrate at a deeper level, they are often more effectively hydrating than some of the richest creams when used layered together,” she says. Winky Lux’s clean Orchid Gelée Serum relies on a special orchid extract for intense moisture, Sacred Nature’s Youth Serum forgoes synthetic hyaluronic acid for tamarind (a plant-based alternative), and SerumKind’s Chaga Charging Drop infuses Siberian chaga mushrooms for deep hydration.
Your skin does some of its most important work while you rest, which means that night serums can provide valuable assistance during its busiest hours. “The skin regenerates itself at night, so when the proverbial factory is open is the time to use actives that will do work to increase collagen and eradicate free radicals,” says Dr. Gohara. “Beauty sleep means beauty sleep.” She likes Omorovicza’s Midnight Renewal Serum for its star ingredients like retinol to build up collagen, plus microalgae to decrease inflammation. With an innovative water-to-oil texture, McLeod-Valentine recommends Chanel Sublimage L’Extrait de Nuit for its “sophisticated cocktail delivering collagen-boosting actives to the skin with the use of stem cell technology.”
Even with new innovations in pregnancy-safe serums, experts agree that you should still check with your doctor before starting any new product. “That being said, Vitamin C and other antioxidants and peptides are what you should be looking for when shopping for pregnancy serums,” says Dr. Gohara, who suggests avoiding retinoids and beta hydroxy acids as a rule. McLeod-Valentine also suggests checking ingredient lists on your current routine as well. “If you use products with hydroquinone to treat pigmentation this will have to stop, as your body absorbs a large percentage of the ingredient,” he says. “The Mutha No.1 serum is the perfect combination of hydrators, actives, antioxidants and skin nourishers to leave skin conditioned, balanced, restored and protected!” True Botanicals includes chebula in its new serum, a powerful ayurvedic antioxidant, to address multiple concerns like fine lines, skin tone, roughness, firming, and brightening. It’s also Made Safe certified, aka free of toxic chemicals and endocrine disruptors.
Blue Light Serums
There’s still research rolling in on blue light, though from what experts can see, there’s a chance that rays emitted from screens and certain light bulbs can photoage the skin, meaning it can break down collagen and create pigmentation. “There are two types of blue light: Blue light that comes from the environment, and blue light that comes from our screens. Both can be combated with serums that are high in antioxidants,” says Valledor. “Blue light has been pegged to break down collagen, so stem cells and ingredients that increase collagen production are good to incorporate.” Using a blue light-specific SPF is helpful, as well as layering serums that contain protective ingredients. “The Good Habit product is fantastic. It protects against blue light but also is extremely hydrating leaving the skin with radiance and glow,” says Dr. Gohara. “It helps to enhance the skin barrier, leaving irritants less likely to inflame the skin.”
“Calming serums are designed to do just as the name suggests: calm the skin,” says Dr. Few. “For consumers with sensitive, dry skin, a calming serum is an amazing addition to their daily skincare regimen. The ingredients in a calming serum work to reduce redness and strengthen the skin’s naturally protective layers.” McLeod-Valentine likes The Organic Pharmacy Skin Rescue Serum, which he considers “a perfect soothing serum using tamanu and chamomile and hyaluronic acid,” as well as Naturopathica Marshmallow & Ceramide Sensitivity Soothing Serum for its lightweight, milky formula. The CBD in Brown Girl Jane’s Glow Serum works as an anti-inflammatory to soothe skin. Dale suggests looking for familiar remedies: “If you have really sensitive skin that tends to be a bit reactive, you want to look for soothing ingredients like aloe, arnica, calendula, colloidal oatmeal. These are ingredients that help reduce redness and inflammation.”
“Firming Serums are some of the most popular on the market,” says McLeod-Valentine. “The primary purpose is to restore lost collagen and elastin through the aging process.” As skin ages, its levels of collagen and elasticity drop while cell turnover slows down. “This is where your firming serums come in,” says Dale. “You want ingredients that are going to speed up your cell turnover (aka trick your skin), stimulate collagen production and hydrate your skin.” She suggests looking out for ingredients that have an impact over the long term like retinol, peptides, AHAs & BHAs, and antioxidants. Even in the short term, Dermalogica’s Neck Fit Contour Serum uses signature Flex Lift Contour Technology for an “invisible mesh” effect that visibly tightens, while La Prairie’s Skin Caviar Liquid Lift offers a milky emulsion that instantly tenses skin.
For resurfacing serums, modern formulas make an effort to protect skin rather than strip it. “Resurfacing serums are great when used in moderation,” says Velledor. “Look for gentle chemical exfoliant ingredients like AHAs.” McLeod-Valentine believes that all skin types can benefit from resurfacing serums, “especially skin that is over the age of 30, prone to congestion, suffers from sun damage, hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles,” though he warns not to mix them with physical exfoliants, and not to scrub your skin. “For clients looking to resurface their skin, or those who are wanting to prep their skin for future Vitamin A use, I always recommend the Victoria Beckham X Augustinus Bader Cell Rejuvenating Power Serum,” he says. “Its smart TFC8 complex gently and efficiently speeds up cell turnover without irritation.”
“Everyone has the ability to keep their skin youthful and mobile with supportive care in the form of high quality products that protect and repair the skin,” says Dr. Few. Scarred skin can benefit from growth factors found in Symbiome’s The Answer Reparative Serum, which includes stem cells and regenerative peptides. Dr. Gohara likes the antioxidants in bareMinerals SkinLongevity Long Life Herb Serum as well as the formula, which she says “blends well, is easy to layer, and absorbs quickly yet leaves the skin dewy and very soft, all while being reasonably priced!” Her home remedy includes more of what comes for free: “Our skin naturally regenerates itself! Sleep well for healthy skin,” she suggests. “Disruptions in sleep can create spikes in cortisol, a proinflammatory hormone.”
The skin’s natural barrier is a force in itself, and smart serums protect it for a reason. “As we age, we lose ceramides, the building blocks of our skin barrier, starting as early as 20,” Dr. Gohara says. “Typology’s Lipid-Restoring Ceramide 1% has biosimilar ingredients which are ingredients similar to our natural skin composition—very efficacious!” SelfMade’s serum is formulated with plant-derived squalane to enhance skin barrier integrity, and marine plant extract to enhance moisture barrier function. “Our Secure Attachment Comfort Serum+ has been clinically proven to improve moisture barrier over time,” says Lee. She suggests avoiding alcohol as an ingredient altogether, as it “tends to be in products that ‘flash off,’ quick dry, or are cooling—it strips off your natural moisture barrier.”
“Acne is not something that comes from dirt, so do not scrub your skin!” Dr. Gohara insists. “Acne comes from increased oil production and hormonal triggers which create the accumulation of bacteria and inflammation. Scrubbing and irritating, over-drying ingredients just stoke the fire.” She likes Avène’s Cleanance Concentrate Blemish Control Serum for its hydrating glycerin and thermal spring water that “helps to quell inflammation so the skin barrier has a chance to heal.”