Asking derms to select their deserted-island, ultimate pick for a skin-care serum is not an easy task. But inquiring minds—and those on the quest for a glowing complexion—want to know. A whole lot of “I can only pick one!?” was shouted from the rooftops to come up with this comprehensive list of what 50 dermatologists use, recommend and, above all, deem as the “best.”
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One of Spokane, WA dermatologist Wm. Philip Werschler, MD’s favorite serums is Super Serum Advance + from iS Clinical ($148), which he attaches the adjective “amazing” to when describing. “I’ve been an advocate of daily antioxidant use since the first vitamin C serum came out several years ago. Super Serum Advance + has a proprietary formulation that enhances absorption of the vitamin C, and it also contains a bioidentical Copper tri-peptide growth factor, which we now know increases collagen production. This product helps fine lines and wrinkles as well as uneven skin tone and provides protection against environmental aggressors.”
New York dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD admits she feels like she’s kind of cheating since her choice has SO many actives and benefits, but she’s selecting Retinol Ceramide Capsules Line Erasing Night Serum (starting at $48) from Elizabeth Arden as her pick. “Vitamin A derivatives are a vital part of any anti-aging regimen because they address so many skin concerns—fine lines/wrinkles, skin texture, skin tone, dullness, sun damage. The common problem is that they are often difficult to tolerate and, therefore, many [people] avoid them because they don’t want the side effects of redness and peeling. These capsules are formulated with skin-identical ceramides, avocado, olive, and sunflower seed oils, which help support the skin’s barrier AND mitigate the potential inflammation that retinol can induce. As a bonus, the mono-dose vegetable capsule helps maintains the formula’s potency because it not being repetitively exposed to light and air.”
Greenwich, CT dermatologist Lynne Haven, MD says her personal favorite in the serum category is SkinMedica’s TNS Essential Serum ($281). “It’s a combination product that combines antioxidants, peptides and growth factors. It has multiple effective active ingredients and can be used twice a day under sunscreens or night cream.” Delray Beach, FL dermatologist Dr. Janet Allenby loves it too: “I see results with consistent usage and the data is unbeatable.” Washington, D.C. dermatologist Agnes Chang, MD even goes so far to say it’s a “fan favorite with patients,” pointing to her love for the double-duty, dual-chamber pump that has growth factors on one side and antioxidants in the other.
Senté gets two more derm nods—but this time it’s the brand’s Bio Complete Serum, which Tysons Corner, VA dermatologist Patricia Lucey, MD says has a very science-driven, slow-release retinol “to enhance tolerability and the glycosaminoglycan called heparin sulfate which helps to restore skin structure.” West Hollywood, CA dermatologist Nancy Samolitis, MD also loves it for the star ingredient. “It’s very tolerable retinol for anti-aging, plus the glycosaminoglycans support collagen.”
If New York dermatologist Michelle Henry, MD had to pick one serum, it would be the super luxe Clé de Peau Beauté Wrinkle Smoothing Serum Supreme ($310), mainly because it contains a highly stabilized retinol making it tolerable for many with sensitive skin. “I also find the texture dreamy,” she says.
“My favorite serum is the LovelySkin LUXE Cellular Anti-Aging Peptide Serum ($100) because it’s great for all skin types and contains an incredible array of actives, all at a reasonable pricepoint!” says Omaha, NE dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, MD. “It’s formulated with hyaluronic acid to plump lines and wrinkles, powerful peptides to target cellular damage caused by aging and environmental stress, as well as apple stem cells and Persian silk tree extract to protect skin cells and reduce signs of fatigue. The formula is lightweight and smooth, allowing it to be a perfect addition to any regimen.”
This will now start the SkinCeuticals section of the story: “My favorite serum is SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic Acid ($166),” says Mellville, NY dermatologist Kally Papantoniou, MD. “It brightens the complexion, combats photo-damage, and promotes smooth skin and reduces fine lines. I use three-to-four drops every morning.”
Fifteen (!) other derms we interviewed for this story agreed with her, and had a hard time not throwing in the number-two pick of the brand’s Phloretin CF as well. “They will pry Skinceuticals CE Ferulic from my cold, dead hands,” says Greensboro, NC dermatologist Christina Haverstock, MD. “I’ve tried every other vitamin C, and this stuff is just magic for my skin. Every day, all day since I’ve been using it, my patients ask what I use on my skin. If I had to let it all go but one, this is it.”
Greenwich, CT dermatologist Kim Nichols, MD also sings the praises of SkinCeuticals, but with a custom-tailored twist: “Applying my Dr. Nichols’ Custom DOSE serum is a must. It’s a two-in-one nighttime corrective product, (with retinol!) to help cellular turnover and even out skin tone. The effectiveness of the retinol in the product is unmatched as compared to other retinol products because of its purity. Additionally, the serum includes kojic acid, which is the ultimate discoloration minimizer and anti-ager and the reason I call it a two-in-one.”
Naples, FL dermatologist Anne Marie Tremaine, MD coins the entire SkinCeuticals line as her “one-stop shop” for amazing serums. “They’ve been previously mentioned [in the above] but, since I have melasma, my go to dark-spot correcting serum is the brand’s Discoloration Defense ($98). It can and should be used in conjunction with vitamin C serum. It contains tranexamic acid, kojic acid, niacinamide, and HEPES.” Glenn Dale, MD dermatologist Valerie D. Callender, MD also says this one is tops in her book because of its ability to target skin discoloration.
Fresno, CA dermatologist Kathleen Behr, MD loves Alastin Restorative Skin Complex ($195) and she’s not alone. Miami dermatologist Janelle Vega, MD says she likes it because it “boosts collagen and elastin as well ‘cleans up’ old sun damage.” And New York dermatologist Ritu Saini, MD marks it as a favorite for “its antioxidants that fight sun-damage and stimulate collagen and elastin.”
For Smyrna, TN dermatologist Dr. Megan Morrison it’s Epionce Intense Defense Serum ($109) making the must list.
Columbus, OH dermatologist Larisa Ravitskiy, MD selects Jan Marini Regeneration Booster ($215) as her pick because, as she says, it “has everything you need for glowing skin!”
“My current favorite is SkinBetter Science Alto Defense Serum ($145),” says Columbus, GA dermatologist Tanda Lane, MD. “It not only contains antioxidants, but extracts from licorice root, green tea, mushroom, grapes, olive, turmeric, cacao and other naturally occurring anti-aging ingredients as well. These combinations along with the hydrating ceramide base make it a must-have for me.” Laguna Hills, CA dermatologist Jennifer Channual, MD echoes that statement: “For acne-prone skin, vitamin C serums can frequently cause flares. A great alternative is SkinBetter Alto Defense Serum, which contains 19 antioxidants in an acne-friendly formulation.”
Ontario, Canada dermatologist Dusan Sajic, MD points out that vitamin C is very unstable and unable to penetrate the skin unless properly formulated and tested to do so—something she took into account when making her selection. “Very few companies actually do the proper testing to ensure that this is the case. For me. my favorite is GrenzCine by Vivier. It contains both vitamin C and skin-firming and wrinkle-erasing amino-peptides. Those who use it absolutely love it.”
It’s Root of Skin MD Facial Serum ($180) for New Orleans dermatologist Skylar Souyoul, MD. “It contains growth factors, hyaluronic acid, and antioxidants to help reverse the signs of aging. It can be used in all skin types, even sensitive skin. You can use it in addition to a retinoid, or instead of a retinoid in patients that cannot tolerate retinoids secondary to irritation.”
She refers to it as a “sleeper serum” but for Oklahoma City dermatologist Kimberly Jerdan, MD, the award for best serum goes to PCA Skin C&E Strength ($97). “It mixes the benefits of vitamins C and E to combat antioxidant damage and strengthen skin. Compliance can be an issue with serums, since many people don’t like the sticky feel or shiny look. I’ve found more compliance with the matte appearance of this product—especially with males who are looking to enhance their skin regimen without a glean.”
“I recommend Melatonik Serum by ISDIN ($160),” says Harrison, NY dermatologist Jennifer S. Kitchin, MD. “It contains melatonin, bakuchiol, and vitamin C. Love this product!” Pittsburgh dermatologist Dr. Ashley Kittridge seconds that: “ISDIN Melatonik has rapidly become my favorite serum. It is a three-in-one that contains bakuchiol, vitamin c and melatonin. These ingredients act as antioxidants and anti-agers!”
To treat a little of everything, New York dermatologist Peter Chien, MD recommends CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum ($25). “The price is right, too.”
Sarasota, FL dermatologist Julie Templet, MD and Blacksburg, VA dermatologist Dr. Aleksandra Brown both praise Obagi-C Rx Clarifying Serum with 4% hydroquinone for its powerful antioxidants.
Lower Gwynedd, PA dermatologist Margo Weishar, MD says she’s “going out on a limb with this one,” but she likes Maya Chia Serum with Astaxanthin ($86) because it has “500 times the antioxidant power when compared to vitamin C and feels awesome” on her dry skin.
“The best serum I have ever used on myself or others is DefenAge 8 in 1 BioSerum ($220),” says Lincolnshire, IL dermatologist Amy Forman Taub, MD. “It has a unique mechanism of action, using defensins—which are natural molecules that are released by the body when the skin is damaged—to activate dormant stem cells to create a newer and thicker epidermis. This makes the skin brighter and clearer and reduces wrinkles and pores. A very rigorous double-blind study was performed [she was the principal investigator], showing statistically significant changes in the active serum vs the placebo serum for superficial and deep wrinkles, pigment, and pores. It is unique and most patients using it state that they do see a real difference in their skin at two-to-six weeks.”