I’ll be honest with you: while there are plenty of super-boujee cleansers, moisturisers and eye creams out there, you can usually get away with being thrifty when it comes to much of your skincare collection. With numerous results-driven drugstore brands and bargain dupes aplenty, it’s pretty easy to form a routine without spending too much cash.
But one area I recommend forking out a little extra on is serum, which acts as the ‘treatment’ phase of your regime. Want to know why I think this? I’ll explain…
What are face serums?
Let’s start with the basics.
A serum is a skincare product that is used in the treatment ‘step’ of your skincare routine – i.e. after cleansing your face and before moisturiser/SPF.
The unique properties of serums make them ideal to treat skin in a number of ways, as they contain much smaller molecules than other product types, so they can penetrate deeper down into skin.
For this reason, they are worth investing in, because they deliver actives into skin most effectively, and arguably make the most difference to its overall wellbeing (when, of course, combined with cleansing, moisturising, and using protective SPF).
What do face serums do?
As mentioned, serums deliver powerful actives (think vitamin C, retinol etc) deep into the skin. However, serums vary so much that it’s totally dependant on the type of product you’re using as to the results it will provide.
For example, vitamin C serums will brighten, protect from pollution, and target hyperpigmention, whereas hyaluronic acid serums will hydrate and plump. Anything with exfoliating AHAs or BHAs will help to tackle enlarged, clogged pores and prevent breakouts, while unveiling a beautiful glow.
There are so many other ingredients that often go into serums, but these are just a few examples.
Want to know the very best serums in my humble beauty editor opinion? Keep reading…
The best face serums in 2023
SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF Antioxidant Serum
Listen: this product is expensive, I get it. But let me tell you this: if I wasn’t a beauty editor, I would still be stocking up on it every couple of months like it was going out of fashion, and I rarely say that about a product I have access to through my job. It’s truly the best vitamin C serum out there, and although there are cheaper dupes aplenty that hold their own (La Roche Posay, I’m looking at you), nothing will ever beat the true genius of this beauty. It contains a potent blend of 2% Phloretin, 10% pure vitamin C (L-ascorbic Acid), and 0.5% Ferulic Acid, and tackles dullness and pigmentation while helping to protect skin from pollutants. This one is best for normal-combination-oily skin, whereas the brand’s C E Ferulic is ideal for dry-normal types.
The INKEY List Hyaluronic Acid Serum
From the wildly expensive to the pocket money-friendly, INKEY’s bestselling hyaluronic serum is proof you don’t have to take out a bank loan to treat skin. Every single person can benefit from hydrating hyaluronic acid in their skincare routine, and at the rate you’ll likely go through it, you can’t beat this bargain. It doesn’t feel sticky or tacky like many hyaluronic’s do, and it sinks into skin like a dream (top tip: apply it on a slightly damp face). Use this right after cleansing and before any other serums and moisturisers/SPFs.
Mineral 89 Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Serum
Another glorious high street hydrator you won’t want to miss, Vichy’s Mineral 89 is a firm favourite amongst those in-the-skincare-know – and once again, a winner for all skin types. The product carries a weighty concentration of 89% Vichy Thermal Mineralizing Water with Hyaluronic Acid, making it a total dream for dry or dehydrated complexions, as well as a useful daily maintenance step for all other skin types. It feels ultra-lightweight – like water – and absorbs nicely into dry or damp skin. Use it all year round for quenched skin that glows.
The Ordinary Aloe 2% + NAG 2% Solution
A new addition to the round-up, this serum by The Ordinary launched in Spring 2023, and with its super palatable price tag and brilliant formulation, it deserved a spot in the hall of fame. The serum contains aloe and N-acetyl glucosamine (NAG – a biotechnology-derived ingredient) to target the appearance of uneven skin tone and thus, improve post-acne marks and scarring. It also works to calm and soothe irritated skin, targeting inflammation and thus helping to prevent further breakouts.
Sunday Riley Good Genes Glycolic Acid Treatment
I’ll be honest: I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with this product, but not because it’s not excellent. You see, Sunday Riley used to offer its Lactic Acid version over here before switching it up to Glycolic due to changing European ingredient rules. While it’s still available to buy over in the U.S. (and will forever have my heart), I have had to begrudgingly learn to love this replacement – and love it I now do. Still one of the brand’s bestsellers, this is without a doubt the best exfoliating serum around – there, I said it. Use it twice weekly (once, if sensitive or dry), and build up your use slowly. It will slough away dead skin and make quick work of dullness, leaving the skin with an enviable, compliment-worthy glow.
Monday Muse The Juice
A newcomer to my favourite serums, this formula is like a who’s who of trendy, cool kid ingredients. We’ve got soothing Niacinamide, Centella Asiatica, Red Algae and Prebiotics for hydration, and the brand’s unique anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial ‘Clarifying Complex,’ which targets excess sebum and thus, blemishes. It has become a gold standard serum in the skincare world, seemingly addressing every skincare concern going – even the ones you haven’t thought of yet (we stan a product that anticipates our every need!). Use this with the brand’s gloriously good Cleanser for best results. My only quarrel with this product? The smell, which I am not super keen on. If you can get over that though, it’s worth every penny.
Tatcha The Dewy Skin Serum
I know, another big spender addition. But I wouldn’t pop this in unless I truly adored it and thought it was worth your time and money. If you want glowy skin that you’ll pick up all the compliments for, this is your one-way ticket, promise. While I recommend using it alongside the brand’s equally-as-beautiful Dewy Skin Cream, I’d recommend starting here if you only buy one thing. Why? Because as discussed earlier, serums have the ability to penetrate deeper into the skin with juicy, skin-loving actives. This bottle contains hyaluronic acid, squalane, and gentle AHAs to unveil a radiance you worthy of an Oscar’s red carpet appearance. It’s just seriously good, OK?