Serums are a vital part of any skin-care routine. But with so many new formulas launching by the day, it can be overwhelming to narrow down which your skin needs. To make the serum-selection process easier, we tapped top dermatologists, facial plastic surgeons and plastic surgeons and asked them which bottle is 100-percent worth adding to our carts. Their skin-transforming answers, below.
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Best For: Serious Anti-Aging Without a Prescription
If you’re after the results a prescription retinol can deliver but your skin is a bit too sensitive, listen up. “AlphaRet by skinbetter science ($130) contains a novel retinoid bound to a lactic acid molecule, which means you get the skin radiance and renewal effect with more moisturization and less irritation,” says San Francisco dermatologist Amelia Hausauer, MD. “It’s a great option for those who are too sensitive for prescription formulations but still want a heavy-hitter.”
Best For: Overall Skin Health and Balance
“My absolute favorite is the new Phyto Multi-Concentrate Serum from Rejuvené ($63),” says Chico, CA dermatologist Kafele T. Hodari, MD. “It is a silky smooth anti-inflammatory serum that helps with a variety of skin conditions like redness, dryness or lackluster complexion. I apply it to slightly damp skin daily and it keeps my skin looking bright and fresh all day and all night long.”
Best For: Plumper Skin From the Source
“HA Immerse by Alastin ($110) is a brand new product that not only hydrates with long chain hyaluronic acid (the kind that is naturally found in skin) but also encourages the production of your own HA for both immediate and long-term effects,” says Dr. Hausauer. “I prefer to layer this under a thicker moisturizer so it locks in and provides maximal plumping and pliability.”
Best for: Brightening Dull Skin
“I think the one serum everyone should use is a vitamin C antioxidant serum,” explains New York dermatologist Sejal Shah, MD. “Vitamin C is one of the most potent antioxidants we have and has a number of skin benefits. Revision Vitamin C Lotion 30% ($128) is one of the strongest concentrations of vitamin C available. Combined with a number of other antioxidants, as well as squalene to moisturize the skin, it protects the skin against free radicals, improves fine lines and wrinkles, and moisturizes the skin.”
New York plastic surgeon B. Aviva Preminger, MD also calls this formula her favorite. “It really helps to brighten and achieve a more even skin tone and youthful appearance,” she says.
Best for: Preventing and Fading Hyperpigmentation
“SkinCeuticals Serum 20 AOX+ ($125) transforms the skin by providing exceptional environmental protection and anti-aging benefits,” says Miami dermatologist Annie Gonzalez, MD, noting its formula comprises 20-percent vitamin C. “Due to the high concentration of antioxidants, this serum counteracts free-radical damage that leads to atmospheric skin aging from UVA/UVB rays,” she says. “Additionally, it reduces the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines,and large pores. This serum is made for all skin types and is paraben, fragrance, alcohol, and dye-free.”
Best for: A Younger-Looking Neck
“We have been seeing great results with SkinMedica’s Neck Correct Cream ($135),” says Westborough, MA facial plastic surgeon Min S. Ahn, MD. “Specifically designed for the delicate skin of the neck and décolletage, this serum helps to minimize the appearance of lines and wrinkles and crepey skin, all while improving the overall skin texture and tone. Our patients are really happy with the results!”
Best for: Repairing Skin and Boosting Hydration
“My hands-down ultimate skin-serum pick has to be Skinmedica‘s TNS Advanced Serum,” says Greenwich, CT, dermatologist Lynne Haven, MD. “It is a cosmetically elegant serum which includes state-of-the-art ingredients including antioxidants, growth factors and peptides.”
Englewood, NJ plastic surgeon Shwetambara Parakh, MD is also a huge fan of the serum and uses it in her own regimen. “It is an all-in-one blend of growth factors, peptides and antioxidants—perfect for simplifying the skin-care routine of a busy, on-the-go person like me.”
“I love SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum ($320) because of its combination of growth factors, peptides and antioxidants,” agrees Chicago plastic surgeon Niki Christopoulos, MD. “It’s really done wonders for improving fine lines and wrinkles thanks to hyaluronic acid.” Fresno, CA dermatologist Kathleen Behr, MD, agrees, contending she’s been using it personally for more than 17 years. “I try other serums, but keep returning to my TNS.” Another long-time user: Grand Rapids, MI plastic surgeon Bradley Bengtson, MD. “I’ve used it since it launched. As a guy, it’s really difficult to start a new pattern and spend the time to put five or six products on my face daily, so I love TNS. It’s a one shot deal and works.”
Best for: Preventing and Clearing Breakouts
“Dermaclear by DermaQuest ($67)is a powerhouse serum that lightens, brightens and tightens the skin,” says facial plastic surgeon Sachin S. Parikh, MD. “It also helps dissolve oils in the skin, helps prevent future breakouts if used daily and evens skin tone,” he adds, naming some key ingredients such as glycolic, salicylic, azelaic and lactic acids, “plus niacinamide and glycosaminoglycans.”
Best for: An Instant Glow and Long-Term Anti-Aging Results
“My all time favorite is Alastin Restorative Skin Complex ($195),” says Chicago dermatologist Rachel Pritzker, MD. “It helps the skin rid itself of the old damaged ‘junk’ while building back up the collagen and elastic tissue with the Tri-Hex technology. But the cherry on top seems to be the luminosity I get pretty quickly as it plumps the skin while it takes time for the other factors to work.”
“It’s a worthwhile purchase because it helps to promote new skin elastin and collagen, reduces appearance of fine lines and helps to even skin tone, all through potent antioxidants and peptides,” explains New York dermatologist Ritu Saini, MD. “After sunscreen, it’s a one stop shop for topical anti aging.” West Palm Beach, FL dermatologist Kenneth Beer, MD agrees, adding that its formula helps restore elastin and collagen while boasting a high concentration of antioxidants.
Best for: A Complete Overhaul—Fast
Davie, FL dermatologist Marianna Blyumin-Karasik, MD counts Biopelle Tensage Intensive Serum 50 ($195) as her secret weapon when it comes to seeing brightening and smoothing results fast. “It is a powerhouse of SCA (snail growth factors, high concentration 50) that help to smooth skin, improving texture, fine lines and wrinkles. It is also full of humectants that improve luminosity and peptides that plump the skin, and it has antioxidants such as vitamin C and E that protect and brighten the skin,” she explains.
Our favorite benefit of the serum, however? Its ability to “vitalize the skin in one week,” according to Dr. Blyumin-Karasik. “It’s a great way to recharge the skin’s batteries quarterly or prior to a special occasion and then maintain daily with Biopelle Tensage Daily Serum.”
Best for: Keeping Dark Spots in Check Year-Round
“Even Tone Correcting Serum by SkinBetter Science ($140) can be used all year long to help keep the melanin sites suppressed—the key to keeping pigment in control,” explains Dr. Parikh. “It helps to brighten the skin without using hydroquinone, which needs to be cycled off, especially during spring and summer months. The serum works even better if paired with a retinol or retinol-A derivative.”
Best for: A Lightweight Dose of Antioxidants
“Over the ages, I still use SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic ($166) in the morning,” says Dr. Pritzker. “It makes me glow and I feel protected with its antioxidant power. I feel that you have to be careful with antioxidants and vitamin C because if not made well, then it’s not effective and it’s just on the label for show.” Another plus, according to Dr. Parikh: “It gives the skin a porcelain glow.”
Delray Beach, FL dermatologist Francesca Lewis, MD also calls this serum her favorite, noting “it has been demonstrated to reverse and prevent signs of aging from sun exposure and make our sunscreen even work more effectively.”
Two more members of this potent potion’s fan club: Fort Lauderdale dermatologist Dr. Matthew Elias and Saddle Brooke, NJ dermatologist Fredric Haberman, MD. “[The serum] contains L-Ascorbic acid in a dark bottle, which keeps it stable compared to most other vitamin-C serums which lack the necessary stability,” notes Dr. Haberman.
Best for: Shielding Against Damage and Inflammation
“A serum I’ve really enjoyed is SkinBetter Science Alto Defense Serum ($145),” says Norwalk, CT dermatologist Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD. “It is an antioxidant powerhouse containing 19 different antioxidants to provide broad-spectrum coverage that helps protect and repair against environmental, free-radical and oxidative stresses.”
Dr. Pritzker is also a big fan of this serum, noting that many of her patients are on the product to protect against environmental factors. Another major win from the serum: “My rosacea patients love it for a calming, anti-inflammatory and anti-redness effect over time.”
Best for: Sensitive Skin in Need of a Glow
Bloomfield Hills, MI dermatologist Linda C. Honet, MD names Restorsea PRO Intensive Treatment 10X ($195) as one of her favorite serums because of its ability to “bring luminous skin to the surface without the side effects of dryness, flaking and peeling.” The secret? Its potent Aquabeautine XL technology, “a proprietary enzyme extracted from salmon eggs, a veritable byproduct of hatching baby salmon,” says Dr. Honet. “I have found that all skin types tolerate Restorsea PRO very well. Even my sensitive-skin patients love it.”
Best for: Estrogen-Deficient Skin
“I love the Emepelle Serum ($175) because it contains MEP, a non-hormonal ingredient that stimulates estrogen receptors to replenish collagen and moisture levels in estrogen deficient skin. MEP is an exciting new ingredient and there’s nothing like it available right now,” says New York dermatologist Diane Berson, MD. “The serum is lightweight, fast-absorbing and applies well under makeup.” Other potent ingredients include antioxidants, peptides and hydrators.
Best for: Before and After a Procedure
“Alastin Regenerating Skin Nectar ($195) is usually recommended for pre- and post- facial procedures, but it’s also great on its own as a serum,” says Dr. Christopoulos, adding that the brand’s proprietary TriHex Technology not only supports the skin’s healing process but helps stimulate new collagen over time.
Best for: Immediate and Long-Term Hydration
“SkinMedica HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator ($178) uses five different molecules of hyaluronic acid to make skin extra skin and hydrated,” says Rochester, NY dermatologist Lesley Loss, MD. “There’s no such thing as winter skin with this serum,” she adds. Facial plastic surgeon Jennifer Levine, MD agrees, adding that it’s her go-to for plumper skin. “It gives such a dewy glow and has made a real difference in my skin,” she says.
Best for: An All-Around More Youthful Glow
According to Dr. Shah, Drunk Elephant C-Firma Serum ($80) is a must for tackling multiple skin concerns—namely boosting your skin’s radiance—at once. “It combines 15 percent vitamin C with ferulic acid and vitamin C, as well as hyaluronic acid to hydrate and plump, peptides, and fruit enzymes. It protects skin against free radicals, improves fine lines and wrinkles, and moisturizes the skin. The fruit enzymes remove dead skin cells and further improve texture and pores.”
Best for: Helping Your Filler Last
“Hyaluronic acid is the hero ingredient in skin care right now. Whether it’s used in skin care products or in the office by your doctor, hyaluronic acid acts like a sponge that pulls hydration into the skin to offer both moisturizing and plumping benefits and improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” explains New York dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. Whenever your doctor uses a hyaluronic acid filler like Restylane, make sure to use a serum that includes hyaluronic acid at home to help maintain improvements between visits. Neutrogena Hydro Boost Serum ($20) is an affordable option that does the job well.”