Meet the single most important product in your skincare regime: the best face serum
A lot of people think that the cornerstone of a good skincare routine is the moisturiser. Wrong. The wunderkind of the skincare world is, in fact, the best face serum.
What these little bottles of joy can do is pretty much unrivalled in the skincare world. Even the very best moisturiser can’t do what a powerful serum can.
In short, serums treat. Everything from dehydration and wrinkles, to dullness and pigmentation. Skin experts agree it’s the single most important product in your skincare regime and the one you should invest the most money in. Let’s get into more of a deep dive of them.
What is face serum?
Serums can be water-based or have more of an oil feel. In terms of where they sit in your regime, they’re applied after your best toner and before moisturising.
Due to their high concentration and potency, serums are the most effective way of delivering active ingredients into the skin.
‘With a much lighter consistency than your face cream, serums are made up of tiny molecules that absorb into the skin on a deeper level,’ says consultant dermatologist Dr Justine Kluk.
Moisturiser is thicker and sits on the surface of your skin where, among other things, it seals in moisture and all the goodness from a serum into your skin.
When do you apply face serum?
Twice daily is the golden rule, but the serum you apply in the morning should differ from the one you use before bed. You’ll find some work best whilst you’re sleeping, like retinol serums, and others, like the best vitamin C serums, are ideal during the day.
‘During the day, the priority is protecting against inflammatory and oxidising elements,’ explains Dr Barbara Sturm. ‘This means anti-pollution protection, UV protection, and using a hyaluronic acid-based serum. At night, it’s essential to use active ingredients that assist the body’s repair processes while you sleep.’
How to choose the best face serum for your skin type
‘Make a list of goals for your skin; for example brightening or hydrating,’ says Kluk. ‘Focus on the top one or two priorities and select ingredients that tackle these first. You can always adjust them as your needs change.’
Ingredients like polyglutamic and the aforementioned hyaluronic acid are great at delivering hydration to all types of skin, while different exfoliating acids – the AHAs and BHAs – can help to brighten, improve skin texture, clear breakouts and even reduce the appearance of redness and pigmentation. Antioxidants are great at fending off environmental aggressors and boosting radiance, and retinol is the only proven ingredient to reduce wrinkles.
Be sure to always apply your hydrating acid serum first, then your treatment one second. Here’s our beauty editor-approved edit of the best face serums that money can buy.
Best bakuchiol face serum:
Still having a hard time pronouncing ‘bakuchiol’? You’re not alone. All you need to know is that this plant extract functions in the same way as retinol. It stimulates collagen production, improves skin elasticity and the look of wrinkles, but minus any unwanted side effects like irritated skin. In this powerhouse serum bakuchiol works alongside mid-strength retinol and collagen-boosting peptides to tighten and smooth, making it a serious contender in your anti-ageing arsenal.
Skin type: Mature or ageing skin
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: Combines the anti-ageing powers of retinol with plant-based bakuchiol for a two-pronged attack.
Best night serum:
The original. The classic. Here are a few facts about the serum that everybody loves. In one year, Estée Lauder sold over 5.7 million bottles of ANR globally. It reduces the appearance of the key signs of ageing, it hydrates and illuminates. It was the first skincare product to use hyaluronic acid, and the formula has been patented until 2033.
Skin type: Any, especially dry or dehydrated
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: You can't argue with the above (and a large chunk of the world's skincare fans).
Best for smoother skin:
You know that feeling when you touch your skin and it feels like there are tiny bits of sand just under the surface? When it feels rough to the touch? If that's you, use this every night for about a week to let the resurfacing acids buff away dead skin cells.
Skin type: Dull, uneven or congested
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: A n excellent cocktail of acids that helps to smooth and clear skin.
Best face serum for dry skin:
Another hydrating serum with a difference. This formula is made up of three peptides, hyaluronic acid, organic cactus and rambutan peel which work together to give you bouncy, plump and hydrated skin.
Skin type: Any, especially dehydrated or dry
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: Plumping and hydrating gorgeousness in a bottle.
Best anti-aging face serum:
With 20 potent plant extracts, this watery brown serum firms skin with continued use and satisfies thrill seekers by leaving skin immediately brighter and dewier.
Skin type: Mature and ageing
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: A cult classic that targets all of the visible signs of ageing.
Best serum for dull skin:
This newly reformulated version does the same incredible work at fighting signs of sun damage, brightening and generally decongesting the skin as the original. But by swapping out lactic acid in favour of glycolic acid, which penetrates deeper into the skin, the effects are more dramatic. If you were a regular user of the original, we recommend using it every other day to let your skin get used to it.
Skin type: Dull, dry
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: An excellent glycolic serum to slough off dead skin and boost radiance.
Best face serum For blemish-prone skin:
There is a shift away from ‘plus beauty’ – using everything on the bathroom shelf – to ‘minus’ beauty, AKA applying only what your skin craves right now. Caudalie has bottled all you need to fight spot-causing bacteria – grape polyphenols and purifying organic essential oils – in this non-greasy serum.
Skin type: Oily, blemish-prone
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: This range helped clear our fashion editor's breakouts, so we've seen what it can do!
Best hydrating face serum:
This is Japan's number one skincare range and demand for it over here was so high that people were buying it from international websites and paying astronomical shipping fees. Finally it's available over here and it's a corker of a hydrating serum. It has three molecular weights of hyaluronic acid, which means the larger ones target the skin surface, the medium in the superficial layers and the lowest weight penetrate deeper. If you have dehydrated skin, this will transform.
Skin type: Any, especially dry or dehydrated
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: A Japanese skincare staple.
Best for hydration:
Keeping your skin hydrated is one of the easier things to do when armed with a good hyaluronic acid. We really recommend using Vichy's Minéral 89 serum straight after cleansing, morning and evening, and then applying a more active serum. Double seruming is the new double cleansing.
Skin type: Any, especially dry or dehydrated
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: One of the market's best-sellers and like a tall glass of water for thirsty skin.
Best for sensitive skin and redness:
We've never tried a better serum for calming irritated and angry skin. Those with sensitive skin will absolutely love its soothing effects. It's also brilliant on sunburn or skin that's reacted badly to a punchy product, like a peel or retinol.
Skin type: Sensitive
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: A super calming potion that works wonders on any inflammation.
Best face serum for glowy skin:
This golden elixir boosts luminosity, whilst hydrating and protecting against oxidative stress. There's a soft focus finish to it, which helps blur imperfections and blemishes too. Top tip: use it on top of make-up to add a touch of highlight.
Skin type: Dull, dry
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: Gives a glow like no other.
Best face serum for oily skin:
In all honesty, you could get your hands on any Zelens serum and be happy, but the Power B serum is one of our favourites. It's great at controlling oil and calming particularly severe blemishes, as well helping to prevent future breakouts.
Skin type: Blemish-prone, oily
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: Brilliant at clarifying and reducing excessive oil production.
Best tanning serum for face:
If you want to fake a natural glow, but don't want it to look like you're faking it, then this is the ideal addition to your routine. It hydrates beautifully, thanks to the added hyaluronic acid complex. And it add just the right amount of warmth to you skin, without that orange tinge.
Skin type: Any
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: A healthy glow in a bottle.
Best night face serum:
This nightly serum contains the antioxidant purslane to help repair environmental damage, cotton thistle to counteract dryness, beta-glucans to reduce redness and a high dose of hyaluronic acid, which, Sturm says, ‘works throughout the night to replenish moisture reservoirs in multiple skin layers.’
Skin type: Mature, dry, dehydrated
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: Dr Barbara Sturm's products are legendary.
Best vitamin C serum:
If you're trying to tackle hyperpigmentation, then this is worth the investment. It contains 10% vitamin C, which brightens the skin and phloretin which helps even out skin tone.
Skin type: Any, especially dull or uneven in tone.
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: SkinCeuticals' vitamin C serums are the stuff of legend, and this one just cinches the top spot in our hearts.
Best for skin health:
This is so much more than a hyaluronic acid serum. It is the result of 30 years of research and it has six patents. Utilising the power of the Life Plankton probiotic, it is a powerful healing serum that is proven to stabilise skin, helping it becoming stronger, healthier and firmer in just 8 days.
Skin type: Any, especially dehydrated
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: Really works magic on skin.
Best retinol serum:
Shani Darden is the woman responsible for Rosie Huntington-Whitely and Emily Ratajkokski's glowing skin. So imagine her expertise bottled. This 2.2% encapsulated retinol is super gentle and smoothes skin texture, reducing the appearances of blemishes and dark spots. There's also 2% lactic acid - a gentle exfoliator that nibbles away at dead skin cells.
Skin type: Dry, mature, ageing
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: The ultimate anti-ageing exfoliator.
Best face serum for uneven skin tone:
Medik8's latest product boasts brightening and resurfacing abilities. That's down to the inclusion of oxyresveratrol. Ideal if you're after a serum to tackle your age spots, hyperpigmentation or uneven skin tone.
Skin type: Dull, uneven in tone and texture
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: Packs a real brightening punch.
Best overnight retexturing face serum:
Ole Henriksen promises you'll wake up in Dewtopia after using this potent night serum. Inside there's a mixture of 10% AHAs and 10% PHAs, which together deliver an overnight result of a brighter and smoother complexion. As it's so punchy, start using it every other night, then build up to nightly.
Skin type: Dull, dry, uneven
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: Your one-way ticket to dewy and radiant skin.
Best hyaluronic acid serum:
We love doubling up on serums. First a hydrating serum, then a targeted treatment one. This is such a good hydrator, we recommend everyone use it as their first serum step.
Skin type: Any, especially dry and dehydrated
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: A straightforward hydrating formula.
Best for sensitive skin:
Sometimes what your skin needs is a little bit of comfort. Maybe it's because you've overdone it on other powerful skincare. Whatever the reason, Kate Somerville's super calming serum floods your skin with fatty acids and ceramides to help rebuild your skin barrier.
Skin type: Sensitive and sore
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: It genuinely does soothe skin and eradicate redness like no other.
Best luxury face serum:
Augustinus Bader has just launched this serum and it has fast become one of our favourites. Much like the other products in the line, the serum contains the brand's TFC8® technology, which encourages the skin to heal itself. It's also got vitamin C and resveratrol inside so it's got the added brightening and free radical protection elements too. We've been waiting for this serum and it doesn't disappoint.
Skin type: Dull, dry, mature
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: Incredibly techy skincare.
Best natural face serum:
When this serum first hit the market, it caused quite the stir and with good reason. Formulated using 22 nutrient-rich botanicals and oils, this face oil can be used on all sin types and tackles all manner of skin concerns. It's rich enough that you can use it alone, but in winter we'd double up with your moisturiser.
Skin type: Dry
Why it gets the Marie Claire seal of approval: Super nourishing and loaded with skin-loving plant extracts.