A serum is a concentrated liquid treatment that delivers topical ingredients to the skin in order to target concerns like wrinkles, discoloration and uneven texture.

Serums are typically thinner than a moisturizer, but thicker than a toner or essence. The silky formulas can penetrate deep into the skin to effectively deliver active ingredients. This is why face serums are great for incorporating into your routine to address skin concerns such as signs of aging, dehydration, dullness and enlarged pores. 

How to Use a Serum

Serums should be applied after a cleanser, toner and essence, and before a moisturizer or face oil. Depending on the formula, serums can be used daily, both morning and night (always follow the directions on the package). To apply, gently pat the product on damp skin. 

For more application techniques and to learn how to use more than one serum in your routine, check our guide to layering serums here

Common Types of Serums

Anti-Aging Serums

Anti-aging serums help slow down the aging process and work to minimize the appearance of existing fine lines and wrinkles. Look for ingredients like retinol (a form of vitamin A), hyaluronic acid, peptides and vitamin C. 

Editor’s Pick: L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives Night Serum, 0.3% Retinol

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Antioxidant Serums

Antioxidants can help neutralize free radicals, which can cause skin damage in the form of a weakened moisture barrier and visible signs of aging like fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots and loss of elasticity. Look for ingredients like vitamins A, C, E and niacinamide. 

Editor’s Pick: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic 

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Hydrating Serums

A hydrating serum is a great way to add a moisture boost into your routine or, depending on your skin, to use in place of a moisturizer. Look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin and panthenol (vitamin B5).

Editor’s Pick: Vichy Minéral 89

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Brightening & Tone-Correcting Serums

A tone-correcting serum can help target forms of hyperpigmentation like dark spots and improve a dull complexion for an overall more radiant appearance. Look for ingredients like vitamin C, niacinamide, kojic acid and glycolic acid. 

Editor’s Pick: Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Corrector

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Resurfacing Serums

Resurfacing serums increase cell turnover and remove dead surface skin cells with an exfoliating serum. The result is a smoother, more even and brighter complexion. Look for ingredients like glycolic acid, lactic acid, lipo-hydroxy-acid and salicylic acid. 

Editor’s Pick: La Roche-Posay Glycolic B5 10% Pure Glycolic Acid Serum

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Pore-Refining Serums

A pore-refining serum can help minimize the appearance of enlarged pores and boost cell turnover to prevent blackheads and acne blemishes from forming. Look for ingredients like salicylic acid, niacinamide and vitamin A.

Editor’s Pick: Garnier Green Labs Canna-B Pore Perfecting Serum Cream

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