Meet the single most important product in your skincare regime...
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 this little bottle of joy can do is unrivalled. Even the very best moisturiser can’t do what a powerful serum can.
However, serums can be quite tricky to get your head around. Cleansers cleanse; moisturisers moisturise, but serums? Not so obvious. 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. Here’s everything you need to know…
What is face serum?
Serums can be water-based or more of an oil. 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.
How often should 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 vitamin C, 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.’
Marie Claire’s edit of the best face serums on the market
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.
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.
This beauty editor favourite contains sea buckthorn and skin-repairing reishi, irritant-soothing chaga and cordyceps mushrooms, which are used in Chinese medicine to heal, promote longevity and improve health. The soft and smooth formula is easily absorbed into skin and over time reduces redness and gives skin a more even appearance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pro-Collagen Renewal Serum is infused with a cutting-edge blend of Padina Pavonica and Red Microalgae, along with Alfalfa and Stevia extracts that deliver retinol-like benefits without the irritation. Improving the look of lines, clarity, firmness, sun damage and visible pores. Gentle enough for daily use, your complexion will be left looking firmer and renewed.
Here's what The Inkey List does well. It creates really good, uncomplicated skincare at really affordable prices. They've created serums with every hero ingredient. If you know that you want to brighten and tighten the skin, you know this serum will do the job.
This incredibly smart serum has won 200 beauty awards, it has 42 patents worldwide, one bottle is sold every seven seconds and it is the product of 25 years of research. And it's just had a facelift. The newest version contains a technology that generates skin's immunity and ability to defend itself by improving the micro-circulation within the skin.
If your concern is a lack of firmness, then combining FaceGym's at-home facial workouts with this potent and highly active serum will improve things vastly. It calms stressed skin, it drains puffiness, stimulates collagen and elastin to redefine your natural contours.
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.
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.
In all honesty, you could get your hands on any Zelens serum and be happy. But this Power B serum is one of our favourites. It's great at controlling oil and calming particularly bad blemishes, as well helping to prevent future breakouts.
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.
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.’
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.
Containing bakuchiol, this makes for a good alternative to retinol. If you suffer from sensitivity, but still want to reap the benefits of a smoother complexion, this is the serum for you.
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.
The Ordinary still remains one of the most popular skincare brands on the planet. It's serums like this that keep it that way. Hardworking anti-ageing ingredients, like peptides, hyaluronic acid and Matrixyl 3000, for just over £10.