The Best Face Serums for Your Skin Type, According to a DermatologistSeptember 22, 2023
Experts and skincare lovers alike know that the right serum can be a game-changer in your skincare routine. Serums can be used to magnify the effects of moisturizer (a.k.a., amplify hydration), mattify the appearance of the skin, boost radiance, clarify your complexion and more. Nearly every skin type can benefit from using a face serum in their routine, but if you’re unsure where to start, let our picks below be your guide.
If you’re not sure what your skin type is, take one of our skin type quizzes found here, to help you determine which serum is right for you. Whether you have sensitive, dull, dry or acne-prone skin, there’s a serum out there for you. Below, we’re giving you that insight and more with recommendations and tips from board-certified dermatologist Dr. Amy Lewis.
Is Serum Good for All Skin Types?
Serums are a form of skincare that can be added to any routine no matter what your skin type is. All skin types can benefit from the use of a serum since there are so many different formulations that can target specific skincare concerns. “Serums are used for hydration,to aid [or] maintain the skin barrier, or treat skin issues like acne or rosacea,” says Dr. Lewis. The type of serum that you may use should depend on the skin issue you’re trying to target. Think of serums as a treatment for the skin. “Some serums can reverse damage and help prevent free radicals that cause the signs of aging skin,” adds Dr. Lewis.
How to Apply Face Serums
Skincare rules can get confusing, but when it comes to application the general rule of thumb is to pay attention to the product’s consistency. “Apply the lightest, thinnest product first and the heaviest, and more dense products last, since thinner products can’t penetrate thicker products,”says Dr. Lewis. After cleansing the face and following up with a toner, let the skin dry before using a serum. You can layer different serums on top of each other or opt for a product that has a precise mix of multiple hero ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid and vitamin C.
The Best Face Serums for Dry Skin
“For dry skin, look for hyaluronic acid, glycerin ceramides, squalene, niacinamide, panthenol or heparan sulfate,” shares Dr. Lewis. A serum with one or more of these ingredients will help hydrate dry skin that has trouble producing and keeping moisture.
A mix of peptides, hyaluronic acid and cactus give dry skin a burst of hydration and a plumped-up appearance. It’s the perfect lightweight layer of hydration to prime your skin with before applying moisturizer.
Help tackle the look of fine lines and dryness with this serum, made with 1.5% hyaluronic acid. The addition of peptides and vitamin B5 also give skin a softer, more supple feel.
The Best Face Serums for Oily Skin
While your skin might look and feel oily, it can still benefit from a serum in your routine. According to the Cleveland Clinic, oily skin is prone to clogged pores and acne due to excess sebum (a.k.a.oil) production. That’s why Dr. Lewis recommends checking your product's formulation for one of these oily-skin favorite ingredients: salicylic acid, glycolic, mandelic or lactic acids, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid and ascorbic acid.
We recommend the Kiehl’s Ultra Pure High-Potency 5.0% Niacinamide Serum, which reduces extra shine without drying out the skin, thanks to the added niacinamide. The formula helps minimize redness and excess oil for a smoother, mattified complexion.
This serum combines the potent effects of a retinoid and salicylic acid, clearing up excess oil and preventing new blemishes from forming. Overtime, it also helps to reduce the appearance of pores, texture and redness.
This oil-free salicylic acid serum will help stop excess sebum and breakouts in their tracks. Ideal for oily and combination skin types, it helps to refine large pores and shine while simultaneously smoothing the look of fine lines and wrinkles.
The Best Face Serums for Sensitive Skin
You’ll likely know if you have sensitive skin. This skin type has trouble with skincare ingredients like pure vitamin C, retinol and other exfoliating acids and antioxidants that may lead to irritation and redness. Instead, Dr. Lewis recommends gentler ingredients like aloe, green tea, ceramides, cannabinoids and centella asiatica. The Cleveland Clinic suggests hyaluronic acid serums for sensitive skin types, as this acid strengthens the skin without causing irritation.
We love the Vichy Minéral 89 serum, which repairs the skin barrier while plumping skin with hydration. This product has been accepted by the National Eczema Association, making it a perfect skincare routine addition for those with sensitive skin.
This fragrance-free, pH-balanced serum belongs in the skincare kit of anyone with sensitive skin. Made with hypochlorous acid, it helps to soothe redness and maintain your skin’s natural moisture barrier. This pick has also been accepted by the National Eczema Association.
Calm your skin with this hydrating and plumping serum, enhanced by a proprietary cannabinoid complex. With a gentle dose of peptides and niacinamide, it helps keep skin soft, plump and irritation-free.
The Best Face Serums for Combination Skin
Combination skin is dry in some patches and oily in others. Usually, your T-zone will produce the most oil, while your cheeks and the perimeter of your face might be more dry. With this skin type, it’s important to look for gentle serums that can help balance oil production without stripping your skin of essential moisture.
If large pores are one of your top skincare concerns, look to this glycolic acid serum. In just one week, it promises to help reduce the look of pores without over-drying your skin (thanks to the addition of hydrating hyaluronic acid). Suited for all skin types, it will complement both the oily and dry areas of your face.
Dealing with discoloration and dark spots? This serum, powered by 10% niacinamide, will help even out the tone of your skin without drying it out. Hyaluronic acid helps to plump and add extra radiance.
This serum-oli hybrid helps smooth, firm and brighten your skin using a 15-greens superfood complex, vitamin C and pomegranate stem cells. In addition to brightening up your skin, it has a unique, jelly-like consistency that feels luxurious everytime you apply.
The Best Face Serums for Acne-Prone Skin
Salicylic acid and acne are no strangers to each other in skincare treatment. A 2020 study proved that salicylic acid — in addition to retinoids and benzoyl peroxide — can reduce acne lesions and blemishes when used in a skincare routine.
If you’re prone to acne or dealing with a flare-up, try the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment. It’s formulated with salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lipo-hydroxy acid and niacinamide for a balanced mix of exfoliating and renewing skincare ingredients. After continuous use of the product, you’ll notice a visible reduction of post-acne marks well as pimples, whiteheads and blackheads.
If you have acne-prone skin, you're probably pretty familiar with pimple patches. While we love them for their ability to reduce the size of blemishes, we sometimes don’t want them to be super visible, especially under makeup. Enter the Kiehl’s Truly Targeted Acne-Clearing Pimple Patch with Salicylic Acid, an invisible, salicylic acid-infused serum that helps create a barrier over your breakout while layering seamlessly under makeup.
Help resurface your skin and fight breakouts with this exfoliating serum. Made with a combination of salicylic and glycolic acids, it helps to clear your complexion and visibly improve texture.
This serum is formulated with retinal, which is the most potent retinoid you can get without a derm’s prescription. It helps to smooth and even out your skin while reducing the look of wrinkles in just one week — after four weeks, you’ll see an uptick in your skin’s brightness, too,
The Best Face Serums for Dull Skin
If you look in the mirror and notice lackluster skin, then you might need a boost of radiance. Try reaching for a potent serum with vitamin C, which has been proven in a National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) study to brighten and smooth skin.
We recommend the Skinceuticals C E Ferulic With 15% L-Ascorbic Acid, which is packed full of antioxidants (including vitamin C) to protect against environmental damages that may dull skin. As a bonus, skin will start to appear firmer, with fewer fine lines and wrinkles, with regular use of this serum.
Salicylic acid and vitamins C and E band together to perk up dull skin while fighting breakouts. Over time, the formula helps to reduce the look of pores, fine lines and uneven texture.
This ultra-gentle serum is great for those who might be sensitive to vitamin C. The brightening formula contains ceramides, hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5 to soothe and hydrate your skin, and it’s free of potentially irritating fragrance.
Glycolic acid helps give your skin a glow and smooths uneven texture. In just four weeks, this serum will also help lessen the appearance of pores.
The Best Face Serums for Normal Skin
Think of normal skin as the Goldilocks of skin types — it’s not too sensitive, not too oily or too dry. Normal skin types also only experience occasional breakouts. Sometimes, your skin will be normal for a time before leaning more on the oily or dry side, based on factors such as the weather, stress and hormonal fluctuations. Most serums will work for this skin type, so look for one that addresses your most common skincare concerns, whether that be dark spots, hormonal breakouts or occasional dryness.
A retinol serum is a must-have for all skin types, but if you’re just starting out with the ingredient, it’s important to look for a formula that’s gentle and balanced with hydrating ingredients. This one, with nourishing ceramides and a peptide, is easy to tolerate on all skin types and helps to visibly reduce wrinkles.
Hyaluronic acid is another skincare essential for all skin types. This ultra-gentle formula leaves skin plump and hydrated, with a boost of antioxidants thanks to added vitamin C.
Unlike most serums, this one comes in a balmy stick form that you can glide right over freshly cleansed skin. Inside the formula, you’ll find brightening powerhouse ingredients such as vitamin C, niacinamide and bakuchiol, a plant-based alternative to retinol.
The Best Face Serums for Mature Skin
Mature skin types may want to opt for a potent serum with some form of retinol. Retinol is a buzzword in skincare that gets thrown around a lot for its “anti-aging” abilities. To confirm, there is no such thing as anti-aging, but there is a way to reduce the appearance of the signs of aging (i.e. fine lines, wrinkles, etc.). A study published to the NCBI found that topical retinoids and retinol can assist mature skin that loses elasticity with age.
For an over-the-counter solution, try a potent serum like the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives Night Serum 0.3% Pure Retinol, which visibly smooths uneven textures and deep lines. It also contains glycerin to help counteract irritation and dryness.
Formulated specifically for peri- and post-menopausal skin, this oil-in-serum formula will help plump, reduce the look of wrinkles and help restore your skin’s radiance. Made with five key ingredients — proxylane, cassia extract, vitamins, omegas and volcanic water — it helps tackle multiple signs of aging in as little as eight weeks.
Treat yourself to this luxurious serum, which helps speed up cell turnover for smoother, more radiant-looking skin. The glimmering gold formula is packed with grand rose extracts, vitamin E and a gentle exfoliating complex that helps showcase your skin’s glow.
This serum combines the anti-aging benefits of retinol with niacinamide, ceramides and hyaluronic acid to help keep your moisture barrier strong and well-supported. It smooths the look of fine lines and wrinkles while keeping your skin hydrated.
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