Facial serums are fast-absorbing skin care products containing high doses of active ingredients such as vitamin C and retinol. They can improve fine lines, acne, redness, and dry skin.

This article describes the benefits and safety of face serums and how to use them. It also explores some products people can add to their skin care routine.

A quick look at the best face serums

Are there benefits to using serums?

While many companies selling face serums make claims about their benefits, there is limited scientific evidence available to support these claims. The potential uses and benefits of a serum will depend on its ingredients and their concentration.

Many serums use active ingredients such as:

Common issues face serums claim to address include acne, rosacea, and signs of aging such as wrinkles.

One study of a facial serum targeting fine lines and wrinkles found that after 6 weeks, female participants showed statistically significant improvements in:

  • fine lines and wrinkles
  • firmness
  • dryness
  • texture
  • smoothness
  • plumping

A 2020 study also looked into the pro-aging support and brightening effects of a facial serum. The serum contained vitamin C, E, and raspberry leaf cell culture extract. The study involved 50 female volunteers aged 30–65. They used a face serum on half of their face for 2 months.

The authors found that the serum improved skin tone, elasticity, and radiance. They also saw improvements in the smoothness and scaliness of the participants’ skin, and there was a significant improvement in the appearance of wrinkles. However, the authors note some mild side effects, including tingling and skin tightness.

How to choose a serum

People may wish to consider several factors before choosing a face serum.

Skin concerns

No single skin care product can address all skin health needs. To pick out the best face serum, a person should first decide what skin concern they want to address, such as wrinkles or acne. Look for a face serum that is a good fit for individual concerns and needs, such as dryness and hyperpigmentation.

Skin type and ingredients

A person should choose a face serum that suits their skin type, such as oily, dry, combination, or aging. They can also check the ingredients.

For example, according to a 2020 study, topical green tea extract may effectively treat acne.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends that people with dry skin avoid using products containing fragrance, as these can irritate the skin.

Allergens

People should carefully read the product label to make sure a face serum does not contain an ingredient that may cause an allergic reaction.

People who have a known allergy or sensitivity may wish to purchase hypoallergenic products.

Ethical considerations

People may wish to consider whether a company has an eco-conscious manufacturing process.

Additionally, people may wish to purchase products from companies that do not test on animals.

How we chose

Medical News Today’s methodology

Medical News Today chooses products that meet the following criteria:

  • Price: MNT chooses products available for a wide range of budgets.
  • Ingredients: MNT chooses products that clearly list all ingredients.
  • Skin concerns: Where appropriate, MNT selects products that target a specific skin concern, such as dryness, oiliness, or aging.
  • Safety: MNT chooses products that contain ingredients safe for topical use.
  • Reputable: MNT selects products from businesses that adhere to industry best practices.
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20 of the best face serums

Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication.

Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.

Some of the best face serums on the market include the following 20 products.

Best for a vitamin C serum: SkinCeuticals Silymarin CF

SkinCeuticals Silymarin CF face serum over green background
  • Skin type: oily and combination
  • Size: 30 milliliters (mL)
  • Pro: It contains a range of acne-reducing ingredients.
  • Con: Some customers report breakouts after using the product.
  • Price: $182

This oil-free vitamin C face serum is designed for people with oily or blemish-prone skin. It is also suitable for those with aging skin.

SkinCeuticals claims this serum can reduce skin oiliness and wrinkles and improve skin texture.

The ingredients include:

Salicylic acid is a common topical treatment for acne, and ferulic acid can help the skin absorb L-ascorbic acid.

In addition, the company:

  • commits to a reduced use of shipping cartons
  • relies on medical-grade formulation standards
  • uses pharmaceutical-grade ingredients

Best for acne: Avène Cleanance Concentrate Blemish Control Serum

Avena Cleanance Concentrate Blemish Control Serum over green background
  • Skin type: oily
  • Size: 30 mL
  • Pro: It may help control acne flare-ups and irritation.
  • Con: Some customers note that this product may dry out the skin.
  • Price: $30

Made with Avène Thermal Spring Water, this water-gel serum is safe for adolescents and adults.

It is suitable for oily skin. A person should use it after cleansing in the morning and evening.

Avène claims that people can use this product safely alongside other acne treatments and can reduce the appearance of pores.

It is also:

  • hydrotherapy-certified
  • compliant with environmental management standards

Best for sun damage: Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum

  • Skin type: combination, sensitive, and dry
  • Size: 28 mL
  • Pro: It may improve skin brightness and tone.
  • Con: Some customers state that this product has a sticky texture and may clog pores.
  • Price: $78

This antioxidant face serum is free of fragrances and oils and is certified cruelty-free. It contains vitamin C, L-ascorbic acid, 0.5% ferulic acid, and 1% vitamin E.

Customers must mix a powder and liquid to create the fresh activated serum. The company claims this maximizes the product’s potency.

Drunk Elephant claims this serum can reduce the signs of sun damage and aging while hydrating the skin. It stays active on the skin for up to 72 hours and a person should apply it in the morning.

Additionally, Drunk Elephant uses recyclable packaging, and the product is cruelty-free and free of parabens.

Best for an pro-aging support face serum: Klur Stellar Restoration

  • Skin type: blemish-prone and uneven
  • Size: 30 mL
  • Pro: It may reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
  • Con: It is one of the more expensive options available.
  • Price: $110

This face serum contains aloe, vitamin A, niacinamide, vitamin C, vitamin E, tea tree oil, and other vitamins and herbal ingredients.

Its label also indicates that it is:

  • paraben-free
  • fragrance-free
  • cruelty-free
  • dye-free

Klur states that this serum may even skin texture, calm inflammation, and increase skin clarity.

People should use it at night and no more than 3 times per week.

Best for a retinoid face serum: The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion

  • Skin type: normal, oily, combination, dry, and sensitive
  • Size: 30 mL
  • Pro: It is lightweight and may help reduce dark circles and improve skin tone.
  • Con: Some customers note that this product may dry out the skin.
  • Price: $11.70

According to The Ordinary, this serum uses forms of retinoid actives that may reduce the signs of aging better than other retinoid products without causing irritation.

Retinoids can help reduce the signs of aging by smoothing the skin, evening the skin tone, and gradually reducing fine lines.

The company recommends people patch test the serum before using it on facial skin. People should not use it in combination with other retinoid products.

A person should use it only in the evening after cleansing and refrigerate after opening.

This serum is:

  • vegan
  • free from oil, silicones, nuts, and gluten.
  • cruelty-free

It is a very affordable option for those working with a smaller budget.

Best for rosacea and redness: REN Clean Skincare Evercalm Redness Relief Serum

  • Skin type: normal, dry, combination, and oily
  • Size: 30 mL
  • Pro: Some customers state that this product reduced redness within 20 minutes.
  • Con: Some customers state that they experienced a burning sensation after applying it.
  • Price: $60

This cruelty-free skin serum contains milk protein, seaweed extract, and arnica. REN claims it may calm and soothe the skin while reducing redness and irritation.

The company states that:

  • The product is vegan.
  • It does not contain gluten.
  • Some of its packaging is recyclable.

A person should use it before moisturizing in the morning, at night, or both.

Best for antioxidants: True Botanicals Chebula Active Immunity Serum

  • Skin type: oily, combination, dry, and normal
  • Size: 30 mL
  • Pro: It may retain moisture and improve skin texture.
  • Con: Some customers note that they experienced itching after using this product.
  • Price: $90

True Botanicals claims that this pro-aging support serum may reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

It uses natural antioxidants such as chebula, elderberry, ginger, and echinacea to help strengthen the skin’s immunity to signs of aging.

Additionally, the company claims that it:

  • uses certified organic and wild-harvested ingredients
  • holds the Made Safe seal, which indicates it does not contain toxic chemicals that can harm the environment and people’s health

After morning and evening cleansing, users can apply a half or full dropper to their faces.

Best for a brightening face serum: Peach & Lily Purifying White Waterful Serum

  • Skin type: dry, normal, and oily
  • Size: 50 mL
  • Pro: Customers state that this product can reduce redness and absorbs quickly.
  • Con: Some customers experienced acne after using this product.
  • Price: $39

Peach & Lily claims that this serum can brighten the skin and reduce the appearance of dark spots.

It contains various ingredients from botanical sources, including green tea extracts, mushrooms, and arbutin. It also contains niacinamide.

The product label indicates that it is:

  • spa-grade
  • toxin-free
  • free of harsh chemicals, dyes, or alcohol

It is suitable for all skin types.

Best for dark spots: SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense

  • Skin type: dry, normal, oily, and combination
  • Size: 30 mL
  • Pro: Customers state that this product can reduce dark spots and brighten the skin.
  • Con: Some customers say this product did not reduce dark spots.
  • Price: $108

SkinCeuticals claims that this serum may reduce the appearance of dark spots and improve skin tone.

Ingredients include:

  • 3% tranexamic acid
  • 1% kojic acid
  • 5% niacinamide
  • 5% HEPES

SkinCeuticals claims that HEPES breaks the bonds between dead skin cells to encourage exfoliation.

The company states it is suitable for all skin types. 

Moreover, SkinCeuticals states that its formula is free of:

  • parabens
  • fragrance
  • silicone
  • hydroquinone

Best for dry skin: Bioderma Hydrabio Serum

  • Skin types: dry and sensitive
  • Size: 40 mL
  • Pro: Customers state that this product is lightweight, nongreasy, and provides moisture.
  • Con: Some customers with sensitive skin state that the fragrance can be irritating.
  • Price: from $33.99

Bioderma claims that this face serum may increase the skin’s ability to retain moisture. The company made this product specifically for people with dry skin. It is noncomedogenic, meaning it will not block pores.

Its active ingredients include two patented complexes: a water and lipid complex called Aquagenium to enhance hydration and a D.A.F. complex that increases the skin’s tolerance to external stressors.

People can use this serum in the morning and evening.

Also, Bioderma commits to:

  • a limited use of overpackaging
  • using cardboard boxes that come from sustainably managed forests with the FSC label

Best potent vitamin C formula: Eminence Citrus & Kale Potent C+E Serum

  • Skin type: all
  • Size: 30 mL
  • Pro: Customers state that this product can reduce hyperpigmentation and redness.
  • Con: Some customers state that this product irritated sensitive skin.
  • Price: $118

Eminence Organics state this face serum is suitable for all skin types. The company claims that this serum helps reduce the appearance of sun-induced skin damage.

Its active ingredients include vitamin C and other antioxidants, which work together to brighten the skin and improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

The formulation is also:

  • cruelty-free
  • natural
  • organic

Eminence Organics also uses recyclable packaging and eco-friendly software to reduce printing.

Best for uneven skin texture: The INKEY List Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Serum

  • Skin type: dry
  • Size: 30 mL
  • Pro: Customers state that the serum leaves skin feeling hydrated and fresh and is easy to apply.
  • Con: Some customers claim it dried their skin and caused it to peel, while saw no improvement in skin texture.
  • Price: around $9.99

The company states that this serum is lightweight, and the skin can absorb it easily. It also writes the serum works in multiple layers of the skin to thoroughly hydrate it.

It is suitable for people who have fine lines and wrinkles and for dry skin prone to acne and blemishes.

This product contains 2% hyaluronic acid to hydrate the skin and Matrixyl 3000 peptide, which the company claims smooths fine lines.

A person should use this serum in the morning and evening after cleansing their face.

Best vegan serum: Paula’s Choice Omega+ Complex Serum

  • Skin type: dry, combination, and normal skin
  • Size: 30 mL
  • Pro: Customers say that this serum hydrates the skin throughout the seasons.
  • Con: Other customers found it dried out mature skin and the scent was overpowering.
  • Price: $42

The manufacturers state that this lightweight serum works well for fine lines, wrinkles, and dry or dull skin.

It contains hyaluronic acid, shea butter, and omega-3, 6, and 9 and aims to thoroughly moisturize the skin.

This formulation is also:

  • gluten-free
  • cruelty-free
  • fragrance-free
  • vegan friendly

Best fragrance-free serum: EltaMD Skin Recovery Serum

  • Skin type: all, including acne-prone
  • Size: 30 mL
  • Pro: Customers state this serum is lightweight, nonsticky, and works well for acne.
  • Con: Some customers say the serum is drying and causes skin irritation.
  • Price: $63

EltaMD claims this serum soothes, restores, and repairs skin barrier damage. It can also calm redness and improve skin hydration.

The company uses the following ingredients in this serum:

  • AAcomplex: This is a combination of three amino acids which EltaMD state can help repair the skin barrier and minimize the risk of irritation.
  • Tocopherol: This is an antioxidant that the company says can reduce free radicals to minimize the signs of aging.
  • Sodium hyaluronate: EltaMD writes this is a more easily absorbed version of hyaluronic acid.
  • Panthenol (vitamin B5): The company claims this ingredient is anti-inflammatory and soothes irritated sensitive skin.

This formulation is also free of parabens, due, oil, and fragrance. It is also vegan, noncomedogenic, and pH balanced.

Best for skin inflammation: Dermalogica UltraCalming Serum Concentrate

  • Skin type: all
  • Size: 38 mL
  • Pro: Customers claim the serum moisturizes and calms irritated, dry skin.
  • Con: Some customers state that the product increases skin irritation and causes burning and itching.
  • Price: $66

Dermalogica claims this skin serum calms sensitive skin, prevents flare-ups, and defends the skin against irritants. As well as helping with sensitive skin conditions, it claims this serum works well for dry and dehydrated skin.

This formulation contains:

This product is also free from sulfates, parabens, and gluten. The company does not test this product on animals, and it is suitable for vegans. However, it is unsuitable for people with an allergy to sunflower seed.

Dermalogica claims the product packaging is recyclable and comes from Forest Stewardship Council certified responsibly managed forests.

Best for redness relief: Glow Recipe Avocado Soothing Skin Barrier Serum

  • Skin type: normal, dry, combination, and oily
  • Size: 30 mL
  • Pro: Customers state that the serum soothes irritated, red skin, and hydrates and soothes dry skin.
  • Con: Some customers found it increased skin redness and irritation.
  • Price: $44

This lightweight serum aims to moisturize dry skin, soothe irritated skin, and firm mature skin. Glow Recipe claims this product is dermatologist-tested and clinically proven to reduce redness over time.

This product contains:

  • avocado to calm the skin
  • ceramide-5
  • rice milk
  • allantoin to reduce redness and soothe irritated skin

This formulation is also free from fragrances and parabens. The company does not test on animals, and the serum is suitable for vegans.

This serum comes in recyclable packaging.

Best for beginner retinol users: FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum

  • Skin type: dry, normal, combination, and oily
  • Size: 30 mL
  • Pro: Customers say the serum shrinks pores from acne scars and visibly improves deep forehead lines.
  • Con: Some customers reported the serum was irritating, too sticky, and did not absorb well.
  • Price: $58

First Aid Beauty (FAB) claims that this 0.25% pure concentrate retinol serum is suitable for people with uneven skin tone, fine lines, and wrinkles. It may also increase firmness and elasticity.

The company states that a consumer study showed the product was gentle and non-irritating after the skin had gotten used to it. This may make this retinol serum a good option for first time users. However, the company does not provide access to this study.

This serum contains:

  • retinol to give the skin a more youthful appearance
  • peptides to help smooth the skin

It also contains FAB’s skin saver complex, which comprises:

  • hyaluronic acid
  • colloidal oatmeal
  • allantoin
  • aloe vera
  • ceramides
  • vitamins C and E

FAB claims that all these ingredients help to soothe, nourish, protect, and boost the overall health of mature skin.

This product is also cruelty-, fragrance-, and additive-free and safe for sensitive skin.

Best exfoliating serum: Sunday Riley Good Genes Lactic Acid Treatment Serum

  • Skin type: normal, dry, oily, combination, sensitive
  • Size: 15, 30, 50, and 100 mL
  • Pro: Customers report seeing a difference in dark sports, scarring, skin texture and smoothness after 4 weeks of using the product daily.
  • Con: Other customers report that the serum was ineffective and left their skin feeling oily.
  • Price: from $43–205

Sunday Riley claims that this lactic acid serum has been clinically tested and improves the appearance of lines and wrinkles in 3 minutes. The serum aims to brighten the appearance of dark spots and discoloration and exfoliate the surface of the skin.

People may wish to apply the serum before a moisturizer or use it as a leave-on treatment. People may also wish to apply the serum as a mask and leave it on the skin for 15 minutes before rinsing.

This serum contains:

  • purified lactic acid to hydrate and exfoliate dry, dead skin
  • licorice to brighten the skin
  • lemongrass to tighten the skin and leave it feeling refreshed
  • arnica and prickly pear extract to soothe the skin and reduce discomfort
  • aloe vera to moisturize the skin without greasiness

The formula is free from sulfates, parabens, phthalates, and fragrance. It is suitable for vegans.

Comparison

The table below compares all of the face serums in this article.

Skin typeSizePriceBest for
SkinCeuticals Silymarin CFoily, combination30 mL$182vitamin C
Avèneoily30 mL$30acne
Drunk Elephantcombination, sensitive, dry 28 mL$78sun damage
Klurblemish-prone, uneven30 mL$110pro-aging support
The Ordinarynormal, oily, combination, dry, sensitive30 mL $11.70retinoid
RENnormal, dry, combination, oily 30 mL$60rosacea and redness
True Botanicalsoily, combination, dry, normal 30 mL$90antioxidants
Peach & Lilydry, normal, and oily50 mL$39brightening
SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defensedry, normal, oily, combination30 mL $108dark spots
Biodermadry, sensitive 40 mL from $33.99dry skin
Eminence Organicsall 30 mL $118potent vitamin C serum
The INKEY Listnormal, dry, combination, oily30 mL $9.99uneven skin texture
Paula’s Choicedry, combination, normal 30 mL$42vegan serum
EltaMDall and acne-prone30 mL$63fragrance-free
Dermalogicaall and sensitive38 mL $66skin inflammation
Glow Recipenormal, dry, combination, oily 30 mL$44redness relief
FAB Skin Labdry, normal, combination, oily30 mL $58beginner retinol users
Sunday Rileynormal, dry, oily, combination, sensitive15, 30, 50, 100 mLfrom $43–205exfoliating

Safety

Face serums are generally safe and are available without a prescription. However, because face serums deliver concentrated doses of active ingredients such as vitamin C or hyaluronic acid, people should exercise caution when trying them for the first time.

Pregnant people should be careful when selecting skin care products. Using products with concentrated forms of vitamin A, such as retinol, can harm a developing fetus. Pregnant people should avoid skin care products that contain retinoids or other harmful ingredients.

People already using prescription or high dosage skin care products should check with a healthcare professional before using a face serum to ensure they are not taking in unsafe amounts of powerful ingredients, such as retinoids.

When introducing a new active ingredient to the skin, there is a possibility of side effects, such as:

  • irritation
  • dryness
  • redness
  • itching

If a person experiences these symptoms, they should reduce the frequency and dosage of the serum or stop using it altogether if symptoms do not improve.

How to use

The AAD recommends trying one new product, like a facial serum, at a time. Starting several new products at once, particularly aging support products, can irritate the skin and make it difficult to determine which products are beneficial.

It is also helpful to perform a patch test for a week before using a new product on facial skin. A patch test involves applying small amounts of the new product on the inner forearm for a few days to check for reactions.

A skin serum will not be effective if it is not used properly. The best time to apply face serum is after cleaning the skin and before applying moisturizer.

Face serums are concentrated, so people should only use a small amount to cover the facial skin.

Learn more about skin care routines.

Frequently asked questions about face serums

Below are some frequently asked questions about face serums.

What is a face serum?

Face serums are lightweight products that people apply to their faces.

These products are usually in the form of a liquid or gel and absorb quickly into the skin. Face serums may help moisturize the skin and address skin concerns such as signs of aging, acne, and uneven skin tone.

How often should I use a face serum?

People should follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how often to use a face serum.

Most companies recommend applying the product after cleansing and before moisturizing the skin, up to twice per day.

Do face serums work?

Face serums may work for one person but not another. Some products may take several weeks before a person notices any results.

According to the AAD, individuals should perform a patch test before using a product regularly. The organization recommends applying a small amount to the forearm twice daily for 5 days and only applying the product to the face if a person does not experience any redness or itching.

Which face serum is best?

The best face serum will differ from person to person. The serum that works best will depend on a person’s skin type, the goals they have, and the ingredients the formula contains.

People should choose a serum that best meets their skin concerns, type, age, and allergies.

If a person has acne, they may wish to try serums with salicylic acid. If a person wants to exfoliate the skin and reduce fine lines, a retinol serum may be effective.

Which serums should be used daily?

Most face serums are safe and gentle enough to use daily unless the manufacturer states otherwise.

However, first time users should apply a facial serum with caution. Facial serums deliver concentrated active ingredients that may initially cause irritation. If side effects continue, they should reduce their frequency of use or stop using the product.

Additionally, people taking prescription drugs or high dose skin care products should consult a healthcare professional before using a facial serum.

Summary

Face serums are concentrated skin care products that deliver high doses of active ingredients for rapid absorption into the skin. Different serums may address different skin concerns, including acne, redness, and signs of aging.

They are generally considered safe, but pregnant people or those already using high dose skin care products should review ingredients carefully before use. A person should patch test new face serums to test for skin reactions before use.