The 10 Best Face Serums of 2023

Whether you’re in search of a hydration boost or a brighter visage, there’s a bottle on this list to suit your needs

Best Overall SkinMedica TNS Advanced+ Serum


What We Love: This clinically-proven product delivers results in just two weeks.

What We Don’t Love: The packaging is deceptively bulky — though it looks like you’re getting a lot in each tube, there’s only one ounce in there.

We get it — most will balk at the steep price of this serum, but if you have the cash in your budget, consider taking the plunge. This is the next-generation, even-better iteration of SkinMedica’s legendary TNS formula. The signature ingredient? A blend of growth factors, proteins (usually human-derived, but replicated in a lab) that stimulate new cell production. In this case, that translates to stronger, thicker, and firmer skin that looks smoother, tighter, and lifted. The product also includes peptides, ingredients known for their firming abilities, and green microalgae, which works to support collagen and elastin in the skin.

SkinMedica is actually a brand owned by Allergan Aesthetics, the makers of Botox Cosmetic and Juvederm, meaning that serious science goes into the development of every product, which makes the formulas favorites of many derms and plastic surgeons nationwide (for example, Dr. Shamban is a fan of this product). All formulas are thoroughly tested to deliver results; TNS Advanced+ is shown to provide results in just two weeks, with peak results after 24 weeks. However, you may need more than one bottle to get that far into your course of treatment, which may be a hard sell at its current price. The bottle looks big, but it actually contains two different, half-ounce chambers of formula that are dispensed simultaneously with each pump.

Price at time of publish: $295

Key Ingredients: Growth factors, peptides, green microalgae|Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination, oily, sensitive, mature|Size: 1 oz|Best for: Aging skin

Best Splurge: SkinBetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream


What We Love: This retinol is on par with prescription-strength retinoids.

What We Don’t Love: The price is on the higher side.

Though the brand calls this a cream, it’s definitely more of a serum, especially considering you’d never use it without a moisturizer — it’s retinol, after all! We’re regular users of this product and love how effective it is: AlphaRet rarely sensitizes our skin yet provides results comparable to those with retinoids we’ve gotten from MDs. 

“This nighttime serum is formulated in a moisturizing base that provides all of the benefits of a retinol with virtually none of the irritation,” explains Dr. Hartman. “It is a great retinol option for those who have had difficulty tolerating other retinol and exfoliates in a gentle way.” 

The name “AlphaRet” comes from the formula’s signature combo of retinol and alpha-hydroxy acid glycolic, which work together to resurface skin while keeping skin nourished with ceramides and squalane. While the price is somewhat steep, keep in mind you can get this product in a larger size for a value price/

Price at time of publish: $135

Key Ingredients: Retinol, glycolic acid, ceramides|Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination, oily, mature|Size: 1 oz|Best for: Those looking for potent retinol to treat signs of aging

Best Budget: The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5


What We Love: The straightforward ingredients make it clear what you’ll be getting from this serum, and even at the jumbo size, the product is remarkably affordable.

What We Don’t Love: If you apply too much, it will leave a tacky residue on your face.

“Perfect product, perfect price,” declares Dr. Shamban, and we’re inclined to agree. The formula features a high concentration of hyaluronic acid to help quench the thirst of dry complexions, while vitamin B5 (also known as panthenol) delivers anti-inflammatory benefits and added moisture. For those who are skincare newbies, this product (like the rest of those from The Ordinary) are very easy to understand. It’s also quite affordable — even in this larger size — so you won’t be making a huge commitment when trying it out. Keep in mind, though, that a little bit of this syrupy serum goes a long way, with only a few drops needed to cover the entire face. If you fill your palm, expect the formula to take forever to dry and leave a sticky sensation in its wake.

Price at time of publish: $16

Key Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, vitamin B5|Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination, oily, sensitive, mature|Size: 2 oz|Best for: Skin that needs a moisture boost

Best Drugstore: Versed Press Restart Gentle Retinol Serum


What We Love: This mild formula is the perfect “starter retinol” for those looking to prevent signs of aging.

What We Don’t Love: Users of this formula cite frequent purging.

This elegant formula from budget-friendly brand Versed is very gentle, making it a great entrée into retinol for those who are just starting to see fine lines or are going the preventative route. It uses encapsulated retinol, a form of the ingredient that slowly dissolves into the skin to reduce irritation, plus plant-based retinol alternatives bakuchiol and arophira, which all work in harmony to help fight lines and wrinkles, brighten uneven tone, and keep pores clear. The serum is packaged in an airless pump, meaning that no contaminants can get inside to compromise the formula or make it break down faster than you can finish it. 

Though Press Restart is mild, it still triggers the skin purging that can come courtesy of retinol, which has made some testers abandon the formula early. This may be exacerbated by some of the nourishing ingredients in the serum, like shea butter. While we generally recommend pushing through a purge period, take this into consideration when adding the product to your cart.

Price at time of publish: $22

Key Ingredients: Encapsulated retinol, bakuchiol, chlorophyll|Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination, oily|Size: 1 oz|Best for: Reversing early signs of aging

Best Vitamin C: Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Vitamin-C Day Serum


What We Love: The high percentage of vitamin C makes this an effective formula for brightening skin.

What We Don’t Love: The two-part packaging can be difficult to work with.

Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant that protects the skin against environmental aggressors and helps target signs of aging. We love this formula because, in addition to being made up of 15% vitamin C, Drunk Elephant also added ingredients like fruit enzymes that firm and brighten the skin.

The two-part system ensures the vitamin C stays potent until you’re ready to use it. While the packaging is cute, it can be harder to tell if you still have product left once you get closer to the bottom of the bottle.

Price at time of publish: $78

Key Ingredients: Vitamin C, fruit enzymes, ferulic acid, vitamin E | Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination, oily | Size: 0.94 oz | Best for: Brightening skin and refining dull texture

Best for Rough Texture: BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner


What We Love: The texture of this formula feels like a primer, making it a great pre-makeup step.

What We Don’t Love: This is strong stuff, which means that not all skin types will be able to tolerate it.

Developed by seasoned, skillful cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson, this cult-favorite formula features a patented delivery system of a powerful concentration of vitamin C (a whopping 20 percent) to help brighten and firm up the skin while protecting it from free radicals. The velvety texture glides onto the skin like a makeup primer, filling in fine lines and enlarged pores while combating those very concerns with the added help of green tea extract and squalane. If you have sensitive skin, though, we recommend performing a patch test with this one — the ultra-strong dose of vitamin C may be a bit irritating at first.

Price at time of publish: $85

Key Ingredients: Vitamin C, green tea extract, squalane|Skin Type: Normal, combination, oily, mature|Size: 1 oz|Best for: Brightening and firming skin while smoothing uneven texture

Best for Wrinkles: PerriconeMD Essential Fx Acyl-Glutathione Deep Crease Serum


What We Love: This formula can address deeply-etched lines, which is a rarity.

What We Don’t Love: The price is steep; this is such a beloved formula that the brand has trouble keeping it in stock.

Short of getting Botox or filler (depending on your specific needs), it’s very hard to address deep lines and folds with products. Usually, once they’ve set in, you have to learn to accept them. However, this formula is one of the rare few we’ve seen that can help reduce the depth of deep, stubborn wrinkles — why which is fans call it “liquid Botox.” 

The secret to its success is acyl-glutathione, a proprietary blend of ingredients that includes potent antioxidant glutathione, a cocktail of three amino acids that helps strengthen and smooth skin. Exfoliant lactic acid plus multiple forms of vitamin F sourced from plants reinforce the benefits of glutathione, improving texture and nourishing. We’d be remiss not to mention the price, which is on the higher side (though admittedly cheaper than injectables). It’s also so popular that it sells out frequently, so it’s best to stock up when you can — especially during sales.

Price at time of publish: $179

Key Ingredients: Acyl-glutathione, lactic acid, vitamin F|Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination, sensitive, mature|Size: 1 oz|Best for: Very deep lines and wrinkles

Best Dry Skin: Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Skin Barrier Serum Toner


What We Love: It packs several skincare steps into one jumbo bottle.

What We Don’t Love: You can only get this formula in one size, and it’s not travel-friendly.

We were initially confused by the concept of a hybrid serum toner, but anything that helps us cut down on steps in our routine is a must-try. We immediately fell in love with the formula, which is so incredibly nourishing that we found ourselves forgoing moisturizer, even on cold, dry winter days. Simply splash some of the lotion-like formulae into your palm, then press it into your skin so the skin barrier-strengthening ceramides and hydrating vitamin B5 can get to work. It’s bound to quickly become a staple of your regimen, but only your at-home routine — the generously-sized packaging isn’t TSA approved.

Price at time of publish: $39

Key Ingredients: Ceramides, vitamin B5|Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination, oily, sensitive, mature|Size: 5.07 oz|Best for: Dry skin that struggles to retain moisture

Best Anti-Aging: Skinceuticals C E Ferulic


What We Love: This formula absorbs quickly to provide comprehensive protection against photoaging while treating past damage.

What We Don’t Love: It’s a little pricey, and somewhat sticky, and the smell leaves something to be desired.

It’s highly likely that you’ve heard of this serum before, if not tried it for yourself. That’s because the highly-lauded formula is a staple of beauty editors and dermatologists alike. “This is just a basic, three-ingredient winner — and always has been,” says Dr. Shamban. 

Those three ingredients are a cocktail of potent antioxidants: 15 percent l-ascorbic acid (the purest form of vitamin C), vitamin E, and ferulic acid. They work in tandem to defend skin from oxidative stress caused by exposure to sun and pollution while firming, brightening, and smoothing the complexion. 

The formula has a water-like texture that absorbs practically instantly — and the brand states that once your skin has soaked it up, the serum protects you for up to 72 hours. Though the price is a bit steep, its benefits are worth the investment. Just know that as iconic as this formula is, everyone agrees that the sensorial experience isn’t the best, with a sticky finish (common of vitamin C serums) and distinct smell.

Price at time of publish: $182

Key Ingredients: Vitamin C, vitamin E, ferulic acid|Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination, sensitive, mature|Size: 1 oz|Best for: All-in-one treatment of aging, including fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots

Best for Mature Skin: Paula’s Choice Phytoestrogen Elasticity Renewal Serum


What We Love: This formula was developed for estrogen-depleted skin, making it a great pick for perimenopausal and menopausal women.

What We Don’t Love: The smell is not particularly pleasant.

When one’s levels of estrogen decrease, signs of aging increase — namely skin laxity, thinning, and crepey texture. While some may turn to hormone therapy to treat these skincare concerns, this topical treatment from Paula’s Choice is a simpler and more affordable route. It uses soy-derived phytoestrogens equol, genistein, and daidzein to trick skin into sensing higher levels of estrogen in the body, helping it function in a healthier way and stimulating growth factors for suppler, firmer skin. 

While the smell is faint, it is on the fishy side. However, you can’t smell it once it’s absorbed.

Price at time of publish: $48

Key Ingredients: Daidzein, genistein, equol|Skin Type: Normal, dry, sensitive, mature|Size: 1 oz|Best for: Thin, aging skin with crepey texture

Best Hydrating: Laneige Water Bank Blue Hyaluronic Acid Serum


What We Love: This fast-absorbing gel formula is like a glass of water for thirsty skin.

What We Don’t Love: The fragrance is nice, but too strong for our tastes.

We were nervous when Laneige reformulated this product (the last one was fantastic!), but we needn’t have been, as this new iteration is just as excellent. The celeb-approved formula (Sydney Sweeney is a fan) is a thick gel that rapidly absorbs to infuse skin with micro-sized hyaluronic acid, which penetrates more deeply for increased moisture, plus firming peptides and green tea enzyme. We will note that not everyone loves the scent, which is pleasant, but strong and lingers on the skin well after application.

Price at time of publish: $45

Key Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, peptides, green tea enzyme|Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination, oily|Size: 1.6 oz|Best for: Dehydrated skin in need of a quick dose of moisture

Best for Acne: Bliss Clear Genius Clarifying Toner + Serum


What We Love: This product has packaging that makes it very easy to use, plus it’s well-priced.

What We Don’t Love: Unless your skin is extremely congested, we wouldn’t recommend using this potentially irritating every day.

During the height of the pandemic, we relied heavily on this affordable jelly-like serum to help stave off mask. The fresh feeling of the formula remains a welcome relief — as are its pore-clearing properties, which come courtesy of salicylic acid, niacinamide, and zinc PCA. 

The pump top is like one you’d see at a salon used for nail polish remover and a dream to use with a cotton pad (no messy droppers!). That packaging also makes this formula convenient to apply to body acne. However, if you have very sensitive skin, don’t overdo it with this product; though it contains soothing cica, the serum is still potent enough to irritate easily sensitized complexions.

Price at time of publish: $18

Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid, niacinamide, zinc PCA|Skin Type: Normal, combination, oily|Size: 4.3 oz|Best for: Breakouts, oil control, and enlarged pores

Best Brightening : Charlotte Tilbury Charlotte’s Magic Serum Crystal Elixir


What We Love: This formula feels great and gives skin an instant luminous glow.

What We Don’t Love: Ironically, it doesn’t layer well with makeup.

When this serum first came out a few years ago, we were skeptical — after all, Charlotte Tilbury was known exclusively for makeup at that point — but when we finished the whole bottle, we knew we had a winner on our hands. Vitamin C and niacinamide help illuminate skin, while polyglutamic acid and glycerin flood skin with moisture.

We also have no doubt that the additions of quartz, ruby, and amethyst powders (plus actual gold!) make skin glow on contact. The only gripe is that this formula must be applied very carefully and sparingly when being layered with other products, especially under makeup, as beauty tools can cause the serum to clump up and pill.

Price at time of publish: $85

Key Ingredients: Vitamin C, polyglutamic acid, niacinamide|Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination, oily, sensitive, mature|Size: 1 oz|Best for: Hydrating and brightening skin

Best Exfoliating: Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One AHA Lactic Acid Treatment


What We Love: This celebrity-favorite serum addresses major anti-aging concerns, exfoliates, and brightens the skin’s tone.

What We Don’t Love: It can sting sensitive skin.

We tried this serum years ago and have loved it ever since for its amazing anti-aging benefits. No wonder it has celebrities like Oprah, Drew Barrymore, Helen Mirren, and Jourdan Dunn as fans. In addition to the usual targeting of fine lines, wrinkles, and dull skin, this anti-aging face serum also exfoliates the skin for a smoother complexion and targets dark circles, helping you achieve a more bright-eyed and bushy tail effect.

Price at time of publish: $85

Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, licorice, lemongrass and prickly pear extracts | Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination, oily | Size: 1.7 oz | Best for: Fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots

What to Keep in Mind

Skincare Concern

When shopping for a serum, the most important thing is to consider your goals for your skin. Your goals — not the goals everyone’s speaking to on TikTok. “Following serum trends or choosing a serum based on an influencer recommendation is not always going to work for your specific skin needs,” says Dr. Hartman. While everyone can benefit from adding hydration into their routine via a hyaluronic acid serum or protecting against free radical damage with an antioxidant serum (it’ll support your sunscreen, and most will be adaptable for all skin types, notes Dr. Shamban), everything else should be selected for your needs.

Think about how your skin performs on a monthly basis as well as how it is overall. “Some skin concerns are temporary, based on factors like seasonality, time of the month, lifestyle, nutrition, stress, and other factors, so as our skin changes, our need for boosting does too,” says Dr. Shamban. 

Other needs are more inherent to your skin type — such as reactivity, acne, and dryness — or more specific concerns, such as melasma and hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and wrinkles. You want to find a serum that serves your current needs, skin type, condition, and your age. Sounds like a mighty task, but it’s possible.

Active Ingredients

The active ingredients to look for in a serum should always be ones that address your unique concerns — except for hyaluronic acid (for hydration) and antioxidants, which everyone can and should use.

Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that is critical for defending skin against free radicals. “When applied topically, vitamin C reduces damage to our cells by neutralizing free radicals, which are highly reactive and harmful molecules formed by exposure to environmental stressors, such as pollution and UV light,” says Dr. Hartman. The ingredient also inhibits melanin production, so it’ll help fade dark spots and hyperpigmentation, evening out the complexion. 

Another ingredient that many people — though not all — can benefit from is retinol. “My opinion is that with the exception of people with rosacea or overly sensitive skin, everyone should be using a retinol,” says Dr. Hartman. “It’s arguably the most important step that you can take for overall skin health and anti-aging after sun protection factor.” Aside from SPF, it’s probably the most studied ingredient in skincare, and is the only one that’s clinically proven to treat signs of aging. Retinol does everything from regulate cell turnover, promote exfoliation, and even tone to prevent acne, control oil, and unclog pores (and much more).

Next are the ingredients to select based on your skin needs and goals. If you have oily, acne-prone skin, you’ll want to use products that work to keep pores clear, balance sebum production, and prevent future blemishes. “Serums are beneficial to help at the surface level, but also get to the root of the problem — in the pore, where the sebum is produced,” says Dr. Shamban. She recommends blends of ingredients like glycolic acid (alpha-hydroxy acid), salicylic acid (beta-hydroxy acid), zinc, and tea tree oil. “Combinations here help to prevent buildup of dead skin cells, balance oils. and even help fade scars while minimizing redness, inflammation, and irritation,” she says.

If you’re looking to tackle discoloration or a dull skin tone, look for ingredients like alpha-hydroxy acids (glycolic acid and lactic acids are good ones), niacinamide, or kojic acid. “Sometimes these serums are positioned as exfoliating serums,” says Dr. Shamban. “They lift away the dead layer of dull and dehydrated skin to reveal brighter, fresh skin.” Aforementioned retinol and vitamin C also go a long way to treat this concern. Happily, these ingredients also treat signs of aging — it really all comes down to the blend in your particular serum and the concentrations in the product.


In many cases, the texture of a serum is more of a personal preference, with no one being necessarily better than another. That said, some skin types do better with certain textures — for example, oily complexions may prefer watery formulas, gels, or gel lotions to help keep skin hydrated while preventing pore congestion, says Dr. Shamban, while dry or sensitive skin may respond better to lipid-based serums.

What matters most when considering texture is whether or not you plan on layering multiple serum formulas. “A thin, milky formula tends to have a runnier consistency than a lightweight gel, so you’d want to apply the thinner formula first,” explains Dr. Hartman. 

While serums tend to be lighter in weight than face oils, some oily serums do exist, and those will not penetrate as deeply into the skin as a water-based serum. Therefore, you’ll want to apply this one last in your multi-serum routine.

Your Questioned, Answered

Do face serums really work?

In a word, yes, so long as you’re using them properly and selecting the right formulas. “The active ingredients in serums tend to be composed of smaller molecules that can be better absorbed into the skin, going deeper into the skin for maximum efficacy,” says Dr. Hartman. Then, your moisturizing creams serve as a barrier, sealing in the nutrients from your serum and adding their own benefits. 

“Serums are the insurance policy,” says Dr. Shamban. “You have a lock on the door (your moisturizer) but you also have an alarm system (serum) to ensure that you are getting the extra level of protection, correction, or hydration your skin needs at any given time.” Given that, you should always apply serums directly to clean skin or to freshly-toned skin, depending on your routine. If you apply serums over moisturizer, they won’t be able to penetrate the cream and thus won’t be effective. 

You also need to use ingredients and products that are proven to work. Once you know which ingredients are best for your skin, consider their concentration in a formula. “The percentage of active ingredients matters quite a bit,” says Dr. Hartman. “You want to be in the sweet spot between having enough of an active ingredient for it to be effective, but not too much that it would be irritating.” 

He recommends seeking out concentrations of 10 to 20 percent of vitamin C, 10 to 15 percent for AHAs, and .05 to 2.5 percent for BHAs. Adds Dr. Shamban, “Always look for credible brands that are science-based and preferably at least have a clinical trial to back any key claims.”

How do you apply a serum to your face?

Serum should be applied consistently, AM and PM, to achieve the best results. They should also always be applied to clean skin. “You want the best absorption so serums are most effective immediately after cleansing, before moisturizing, and sunscreen (in the morning), says Dr. Shamban. 

To apply, Dr. Hartman recommends using a pea-sized amount of serum, dropping it into your palm before dabbing small dots of serum across your face with a clean fingertip. “Rub it in with upward motions and let it dry on your face for a few minutes before applying another skincare product,” he says. 

If the formula is a humectant, like hyaluronic acid, apply it to a damp face so the active ingredient has moisture to grab onto and draw into your skin. However, if it’s a vitamin C, Dr. Shamban says that the face should be completely dry, as the ingredient is notoriously unstable and could degrade if exposed to water, or even another skincare formula. “It should dry with a waiting period of two or three minutes before your layer of sunscreen or moisturizer.”

If you want to go the extra mile when applying your serum, use a derma roller, gua sha, or (even better) something with an energy source, like a microcurrent tool, to help the formula penetrate deeply into your skin. That said, massaging your serum with your hands is plenty effective.

How many serums should I use?

Less is more, says Dr. Hartman. “Most people would be fine with using one serum in the morning and another serum at night, but if you really want to use more than one, layer two serums max on your face.” 

You can also rotate an alternate formula in and out of your routine if your skin needs something different on a particular day. Just don’t feel the need to stack several serums into your morning and evening routines. “​​You don’t want to add so many active ingredients to your face that you risk irritation,” warns Dr. Hartman. 

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