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Facial serums are skin care products that the skin can absorb rapidly. They are formulated to contain high doses of certain active ingredients, such as vitamin C and retinol. They are not moisturizers. Instead, they are an additional step in skin care routines selected to address specific skin concerns.

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

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While many 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 12 weeks, women showed statistically significant improvements in:

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 a product contains.

For example, according to an older study, green tea may be effective for treating acne, rosacea, and atopic dermatitis, among other conditions.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that persons with dry skin avoid using products containing fragrance, as these can be harsh for 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 products that are hypoallergenic.

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.

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:

Best for a vitamin C face serum: SkinCeuticals Silymarin CF

  • Skin type: oily and combination
  • Size: 30 milliliters (ml)
  • Pro: It is not oily or sticky and quickly absorbs into the skin.
  • Con: Some customers experienced acne breakouts and skin redness.
  • Price: $166

This oil-free vitamin C face serum is designed for people with oily or blemish-prone skin.

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

The ingredients include:

  • 15% L-ascorbic acid
  • 0.5% silymarin
  • 0.5% ferulic acid
  • 0.5% salicylic 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: Avene Cleanance Concentrate Blemish Control Serum

  • 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: $28

Made with Avene 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.

Avene claims that this product can be used 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.

Drunk Elephant claims it 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 should be applied in the morning.

Customers must mix a powder and liquid to create the fresh activated serum.

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

Best for an anti-aging 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 out 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: 60 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: $10.50

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.

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

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 an eco-conscious anti-aging face serum: 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 anti-aging 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 wrinkles: Skin Authority Wrinkle Reversing Serum

  • Skin type: acne-prone
  • Size: 15 ml
  • Pro: Customers state that this product may reduce cystic acne scarring.
  • Con: Some customers state that they did not notice a difference after using this product.
  • Price: $155

Skin Authority claims that this lightweight serum reduces the appearance of fine lines by plumping skin folds and smoothing skin texture.

It also states that:

  • The serum is cruelty-free.
  • The serum contains no dyes and no fragrance.
  • It uses sustainable packaging.

This serum is designed for use after morning cleansing.

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: $98

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

It is suitable for people with all skin types.

Moreover, SkinCeuticals states that it uses:

  • wind turbines
  • less shipping cartons

Best for dry skin: Bioderma Hydrabio Serum

  • Skin types: dry and sensitive
  • Size: 40 ml
  • Pro: Customers state that this product is lightweight and nongreasy and provides moisture.
  • Con: Some customers with sensitive skin state that the fragrance can be irritating.
  • Price: $27.99

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

People can use this serum in the morning and evening.

Also, Bioderma commits to:

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

Best for an eco-conscious face serum for sun damage: 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: $110

This serum is suitable for use by people of all skin types. Eminence claims that this face 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 states that it uses:

  • recyclable packaging
  • an eco-friendly software for less printing

Face serums are generally considered safe. They 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 made 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 who are 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 unhealthy levels 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 lessen.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends trying just one new product, like a facial serum, at a time. Starting several new products all at once, particularly anti-aging 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 here.

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

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.