Serums are to skin care as Whole 30 recipes are to Pinterest boards. Vital, but also overwhelming to absorb all at once. 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: 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.”
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: Repairing Skin and Boosting Hydration
“I love SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum ($320) because of its combination of growth factors, peptides and antioxidants,” says 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: 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 New York dermatologist Sejal Shah, MD, 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: Brightening Dull Skin
“I think the one serum everyone should use is a vitamin C antioxidant serum,” explains Dr. Shah. “Vitamin C is one of the most potent antioxidants we have and has a number of skin benefits. Revision Vitamin C Lotion 30% ($115) 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.”
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.”
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