It’s impossible to pick a single best face serum because no two guys have the exact same skin care needs—it makes sense that no two of us should have the exact same skincare regimen. Sure, there’s a reliable baseline regimen that should be in place for everyone, but we all need to build our own unique steps on top of that foundation—to target whichever unique hurdles our own skin faces (like acne, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, irritation, inflammation, rough texture, and so on).
Serums are one of the best ways to add some customization to your skincare routine. If you are acne-prone, for example, a good salicylic acid serum (applied 2-3x weekly) might help mitigate the matter. Someone with dry skin will benefit tremendously from a hyaluronic acid serum. Dull, tired skin can be reversed with Vitamin C serum applied each morning.
For those looking to try their hand at preventative care–minimizing fine lines and keeping skin nice and tight for many years to come–a retinol serum will keep everything lifted without a dose of anesthesia. Or maybe you simply need a skin reset–adding another product to the mix might sound counterproductive but securing yourself a serum whose star ingredient is niacinimide will help soothe irritated skin, reducing inflammation and redness so you can get back to feeling comfortable in your money maker.
Applied after you wash your face and before moisturizing, serums typically seep into the skin as opposed to resorting atop the outermost layer (like a moisturizer does). As such, they work on the skin from deep within, helping to play a long game with your skincare regimen. Serums are chock full of whichever nutrients are needed to target your skin conditions, and usually a drop or two goes a long way—so don’t be put off by 1-oz. vials that cost twice that of your moisturizer. After continued use (typically a few months), you should see drastic changes to your overall complexion.
Below are the 19 contenders for the title of best face serum, each with its own hero ingredient to target a specific skin concern.
Best Face Serums, at a Glance
- Best Starter Serum: The Ordinary hyaluronic acid 2% + B5 hydrating serum, $9
- Best Hydrating Serum: SkinCeuticals hyaluronic acid gel serum, $83
- Best Brightening Serum: Ursa Major Vitamin C serum, $54
- Best Pore-Clearing Serum: Typology salicylic acid and zinc serum, $28
- Best Texture-Smoothing Serum: Dr. Dennis Gross retinol ferulic serum, $76
- Best Firming Serum: Dr. Loretta retinol serum, $80
- Best Antioxidant Serum: Chantecaille bio lifting serum, $279
- Best Toning/Balancing Serum: Jaxon Lane super serum, $46
- Best SPF Serum: ZitSticka SPF 50 sunscreen serum, $40
- Best Cooling + Calming Serum: Dermalogica calming serum for sensitive skin, $63
- Best Eye Serum: Valmont V-Firm eye gel, $290
- Best Custom Serum: Function of Beauty custom facial serum, $50
Best Starter Serum
If you’re new to serums (or a skincare routine in general) then you might be a little apprehensive when it comes to dropping a wad of cash on a 30mL bottle. Not to fear, you can get stellar results for single digits. The Ordinary’s hydrating serum has a loyal fanbase thanks to its potent mix of hyaluronic acid and B5, combined to hydrate while increasing the skin’s ability to retain water, and a very attractive price tag.
Best Hydrating Serum
This gel serum uses everyone’s favorite hydrating ingredient, the ultra-absorbent hyaluronic acid, to attract moisture into the skin. It doubly hydrates with Vitamin B5, which also helps expedite the healing of any acne marks or blemish scars.
Best Brightening Serum
Use this Vitamin C serum every morning to harness its ascorbic acid and in turn promote brighter, more radiant complexion. It’s one of those products you didn’t know you were missing, until the compliments start rolling in.
Best Pore-Clearing Serum
This serum combines the pore-clearing powers of salicylic acid with the anti inflammatory qualities of zinc to help prevent and treat breakouts. People with acne-prone skin will appreciate a two or three-times weekly use of this, to help mitigate oil production and keep dead skin cells and bacteria out of your pores.
Best Texture-Smoothing Serum
The good doctor is at it again with this brand-new rejuvenating serum. He uses both retinol and its herbal, skin-smoothing counterpart, bakuchiol—in addition to hydrators like hyaluronic acid and squalane, plus antioxidant-rich ferulic acid. Apply it before bed to wake up with smoother, tauter, glowier complexion, and use it continually to firm fine lines and prevent breakouts. It’s smooth sailing ahead.
Best Firming Serum
This carefully balanced serum is foremost steered by retinol, to help reduce and thwart signs of aging (like wrinkles, rough texture, and dark spots). It adds various lipids to the mix—as in, some ceramides and soybean oil—to help counter any irritating side effects of said retinol, while also hydrating and firming dry or aging skin. It’s a terrific winter serum, for use opposite your seasonal warm-weather/humid-climate hyaluronic acid serum. (Since the latter should be avoided when the air is too dry.)
Best Antioxidant Serum
Every day your skin takes a beating from the elements –damaging UV rays, pollution, and your personalized concoction of sweat and grime. Antioxidants help protect the skin against these factors, soothing and brightening up your complexion in the process.
Best Toning / Balancing Serum
A Grooming Awards winner, this serum by Jaxon Lane combines niacinamide, tranexamic acid, and bakuchiol in a quick-drying base to minimize pores while smoothing out fine lines and rough texture. Super, indeed.
Best SPF Serum
if you aren’t using an SPF moisturizer, then apply this SPF serum daily beneath your standard-fare hydrator. It provides SPF 50 broad-spectrum coverage while absorbing quickly into the skin. It also uses vitamin C to brighten skin and ceramides to firm and plump. It’s terrific for acne-prone skin as well as a base SPF layer for makeup and concealer wearers.
Best Cooling + Calming Serum
Fueled by oats, botanical extracts, primrose oil, hyaluronic acid, collagen, and peptides, this serum nourishes and soothes easily or freshly irritated skin, and positions it for quick recovery. Use it after shaving, or following a day in the sun, or whenever your skin needs a splash of calm.
Best Eye Serum
The skin around your eyes is a little more delicate than the rest of your face (read: be extra gentle around these parts). To keep your eyes looking bright and alive you’ll want to pick up a hydrating eye serum, preferably one packed with collagen-boosting peptides to keep the skin extra tight. Valmont’s gel-like eye contour is a thicker consistency than most serums, perfect for those days when central heating is hellbent on sucking you dry.
Best Custom Serum
Function of Beauty customers complete a survey to determine which custom ingredients should be put into their unique serum recipe. So, not only do you get a product that targets more than one condition (since most of us want to prioritize multiple things with our skincare regimen), but FoB is also more affordable than most retail serums. It’s a great starting point for first-time serum users.