We know serums have been around for a while now, but which ones are the best? Despite the mass interest, there’s still a hint of confusion, cynicism, uncertainty—all of the above, really—over whether it is absolutely necessary to add a serum into our regimens. “Everyone knows that a serum is a skin booster, but because it’s more expensive, they think it’s not necessary,” explains Howard Murad, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Murad skincare. However, there’s more to serums than just giving the skin a quick pep talk. If you’re puzzled or just totally over the long-winded, science-packed explanations about why you need one, wonder no more.
Here are the essential things you need to know (without the bits you don’t).
What is a serum?
Just think of it as your hardest-working skincare product. “A serum contains more active ingredients than other products and is more of a targeted skincare treatment,” Murad says. “It helps repair and prevent existing and future damage, meaning it is more powerful than a moisturiser, which is designed to hydrate and protect the skin rather than treat a specific concern.” Although primarily for ageing, you can find one for other skin concerns too: “Use it to tackle things like blemishes, pigmentation and dry skin,” he adds.
Why do I need one?
It’s tricky because the skin needs hydration over anything. So why would you choose spending money on a serum over, or as well as, a moisturiser? Don’t worry, we hear you, but trust us when we say it’s worth it to use both. “What most people may not realise is that a serum also enhances the benefits of the other products you’re using, which means your whole regime is working harder,” Murad says.
Okay, I'm convinced. When do I start using it, and at what point in my regimen?
“You should really start thinking about the ageing process during your 20s,” Murad says. “Your choice of serum needs to reflect your skin concerns to help you see a difference in your skin and get the most out of your product,” he adds. “Apply it after cleansing and toning and just before your moisturiser.”
How do I know which one to go for?
It’s easy—think about what results you want to get from your serum, and check the label for the relevant ingredients. “For example, if you want radiant skin, look for a serum that contains vitamin C for brightness,” Murad says. (We love Murad Advanced Active Radiance Serum, £75.) “Or if you want to target blemishes, go for pore-clearing ingredients like salicylic acid and retinol to speed up cell renewal and improve skin texture.”
We’ve already sung the praises of the newest serum formulas to hit our desks, but below, we’ve pulled out our life-long favourite serums for each and every skin job.
There are so many hydrating ingredients at play here: first, angelica leaf extract is retaining existing moisture, while smart algae extracts are delivering extra doses. Oh, and there’s our old friend hyaluronic acid. But if you like your HA straight up, try one of these serums.
With tonnes of vitamin C, this serum gives tired, lazy skin a new lease on life. The extra shot of hyaluronic acid is just an added bonus. Sound good? These other vitamin C serums might be up your street too.
Containing 10% rhamose, a type of sugar that boosts collagen in the dermis, Vichy’s serum is great for eeking out fine lines and restoring lost volume.
When skin gets really dehydrated, you’ll want to ply it with a load of hydrating skin actives—but if you’re also battling with the added pressure of sensitivity, you’ll want something that’s kind to skin. Avène’s serum does both, containing a unique complex to protect skin’s water reservoirs without sending you into a flushed frenzy.
If little sun spots or hyperpigmentation have started to smatter your complexion, something like Oskia’s serum will be brilliant at balancing out the differences in skin tone. It contains 13 bio-available actives that minimise melanin transfer to the skin, reducing the visibility of discolouration.
At the heart of Pure’s formula lies mineral-rich seaweed to plump and firm skin that’s become a little lax.