First things first: A serum is essentially a lightweight moisturizer with super-potent active ingredients that are small in size. This allows serums to penetrate deeply into the skin so that ingredients are delivered straight to their target, explains New York City dermatologist, Neil Sadick, M.D. Most serums are created to combat free radicals for anti-aging benefits, and to also provide an extra layer of moisturization, he adds.
If you’re oily to normal, you may find that applying serum alone after cleansing is all you need. However, most people need more hydration, so it’s common to immediately follow with a moisturizer and eye cream after applying serum, says New York City dermatologist, Marina Peredo, M.D., founder of Skinfluence. Apply serum on your face and neck, too—after all, you’ll want your neck to match your face in a few years!
You can apply serum in the morning or the evening, or both—it’s entirely up to your preference. Since serums can give your skin a firmer, smoother texture and help your pores appear smaller, they can be especially helpful for priming the face for makeup. Take note: If you use retinol or a prescription retinoid at night, Sadick warns to skip the serum, as the two don’t mix and will irritate skin.
With that in mind, here are the best anti-aging serums for you, based on your skin type:
If you have dry skin, make sure to layer over your serum with moisturizing cream. Key ingredients you’ll want in a serum include hyaluronic acid, silk proteins, and ceramides for moisture. Vitamin E is excellent for smoothing dry skin and fine lines, and fruit extracts can help with gentle exfoliation to combat dullness and make skin more luminous, says Sadick.
Sadick recommends: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Serum ($20, walgreens.com)
You’ll want hydroxy acids in a serum that targets the signs of aging like fine lines, wrinkles, discoloration, and pore size. Newer star ingredients include Aminofill and gluconolactone that can help volumize, renew, and smooth skin, says Sadick. Hyaluronic acid has a plumping effect on skin, which will improve the look of lines upon application.
Sadick recommends: NeoStrata Skin Active Tri-Therapy Lifting Serum ($100, neostrata.com)
Serums are a godsend for acne-prone types, who often do very well with the lighter texture. Opt for hyaluronic acid for safe moisturization that won’t clog pores. Also look for salicylic acid or fruit acids together with vitamin C to reduce the redness and inflammation that comes with acne, as well as to help with lingering discoloration, says Sadick.
Sadick recommends: Clinique Acne Solutions Acne + Line Correcting Serum ($38, nordstrom.com)
If you have areas of both dryness and oiliness, an oil-based serum containing pomegranate or citrus oils along with hyaluronic acid will help provide lightweight hydration that will quench the dry areas without overwhelming shiny ones. And glycolic acid for light exfoliation will help balance your whole face.
Sadick recommends: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Serum ($45, amazon.com)
It’s very likely that serum may act as your perfect light moisturizer and final step. Look for hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and marine proteins to moisturize and minimize pores—which can appear larger in oily skin types. Vitamin C can also help with anti-aging and protection from free radicals, says Sadick.
Sadick recommends: Origins Original Skin Renewal Serum With Willowherb ($40, macys.com)
Lucky you! Without having to balance dryness and oiliness, normal skin types usually want to prevent aging, increase hydration, and even out tone. For smoothing texture, marine collagen and hyaluronic acid work great, while vitamin C is great for evening out any pigmentation patches or spots, says Sadick.
Sadick recommends: Clarins Hydra-Essential Bi-Phase Serum ($59, nordstrom.com)