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The best face serums of 2024, tried and tested

We evaluated dozens of facial serums to find the best formulas for tackling fine lines, dry skin, rough texture and more.

Glow Recipe, Vichy and Saint Jane face serums on a bright background.
The year's best serums include tried-and-true options from Vichy, Saint Jane and Glow Recipe. (Amazon, Sephora)

It pains me to say this, but there was a time when I didn't regularly use a face serum in my skin care routine. As a beauty writer and editor who's lucky enough to have the best face serums at her disposal, I can't believe I went so long without them. They're now one of my favorite products! Anti-aging serums hold a universe of beneficial ingredients in their little bottles, including ones that help fight blemishes and wrinkles, improve rough texture, firm skin, lighten dark spots and brighten dull complexions. The best serums are made with high concentrations of high-quality, effective ingredients, which means they often come with a high price tag.

The trick to finding the best facial serum for you is to identify which skin concerns you want to treat — dryness, dullness, fine lines or discoloration (pro tip: The best hyaluronic acid serums are always a good place to start for anyone, regardless of skin type). With an array of brands promising big results, the choice can be overwhelming, especially when you're trying to find one that fits your budget or makes a worth-it Friday paycheck splurge. That's why I'm here. I put my face to work, testing dozens upon dozens of face serums and sorting them by cost, effectiveness, ingredients and benefits. I noted which ones made my skin feel moisturized, improved its texture and generally made me look like a glowing angel baby — because that's the goal, right?

Keep reading to see which serums made the list, from my favorite vitamin C pick to the best luxury find. We'll also share expert tips on what you should look for in a serum depending on your skin type and how to incorporate them into your skin care routine.

Formulation: Gel | Size: 1.5 ounces | Skin types: Normal, dry, combination, oily | Key ingredients: Niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, star flower, sacred lotus

Of all the serums I've ever used, Saint Jane's Star Flower remains on my favorites list. So much so that whenever I see the bottle, I can't help but pump out a couple of drops and apply it right then and there. Micro pearls, which house all of the active ingredients, burst when you apply it to your skin, and it is like heaven

Not only is the formula deliciously hydrating, but it makes the pores on my nose and cheeks look smaller. For that reason, I love using this in the morning before sunscreen and makeup. The star flower not only sounds pretty, but it helps with redness, while sacred lotus helps diminish pores. My skin always looks more even when I use it regularly.

Pros
  • Good for fine lines and wrinkles
  • Calms redness and reduces the look of pores
  • Beautiful packaging
  • Lightweight formula
  • Cruelty-free
Cons
  • Pricey
  • Some users with dehydrated skin say they need a thicker serum
$95 at Sephora

Formulation: Gel | Size: 1.69 ounces | Skin types: All, especially dry and sensitive | Key ingredients: Vichy's Volcanic Water and hyaluronic acid

This drugstore favorite is suitable for all skin types, but mostly for those with dry, dehydrated skin. It was clinically tested by over 300 dermatologists who studied its effectiveness on 3,200 women. The results were impressive: 8 out of 10 women reported that their skin felt smoother immediately, then plumped and toned after one week, and more luminous after a month. 

The ingredients are pretty simple, at least compared with other serums on this list. It contains Vichy's special Volcanic Water, which is sourced from French volcanoes and contains 15 essential minerals that strengthen, protect and repair the skin barrier​.

Pros
  • Good for sensitive skin
  • Lightweight and hydrating
  • Approved by the National Eczema Association
  • Dermatologist-tested
  • Fragrance- and oil-free
  • No parabens, alcohol or silicone
Cons
  • Some users complain about stickiness after application
  • No additional ingredients for added benefits
$30 at Amazon
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$30 at Ulta Beauty$30 at CVS Pharmacy

Formulation: Cream | Size: 1 ounce | Skin types: All | Key ingredients: 20% L-ascorbic acid, squalane, green tea actives, tartaric acid

The beauty industry has made great strides in vitamin C technology, and there isn't a better example than Universal C Skin Refiner from BeautyStat, the skin care brand founded by renowned cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson. This award-winning serum contains 20% pure vitamin C, and it doesn't oxidize or turn brown (I'm still traumatized from the vitamin C's of my past). 

It has a slight tingling sensation, so I started low and slow with this, but then used it twice a day and saw a difference in my skin's texture in just a few days. After a month, you should start to see an improvement in fine lines and wrinkles. If you're looking for a new vitamin C serum, don't skip out on this one!

Pros
  • Reduces fine lines and wrinkles
  • Helps improve texture
  • Evens out skin tone
  • Stable vitamin C formula
  • Fragrance-free
Cons
  • Some users complain about the pump not working well
  • Users with sensitive skin may not like tingling sensation
$85 at Amazon

Formulation: Cream | Size: 0.5 ounce | Skin types: Normal, combination, oily, mature | Key ingredients: Vitamin C, niacinamide, squalane, white tea, pomegranate

Splurging on a skin care product should always be worth it. It has to work, of course, but for me, it should also be made with high-grade, efficacious ingredients that are sustainably sourced and packaged mindfully. (A co-sign from Zoë Kravitz and Tracee Ellis Ross never hurts either.) 

I'm obsessed with Retrouvé’s entire skin care line, but this lightweight serum stands out. It's particularly nice for boosting a dull complexion — it makes my skin look brighter instantly — and I love the light, natural fragrance. The family-owned brand (founded by Kiehl's heiress Jami Morse Heidegger and her husband, Klaus Heidegger) also uses ingredients harvested directly from the family farm in Malibu, Calif., which sounds like a dream, honestly.

Pros
  • Improves dull complexion
  • Has antioxidant- and vitamin-rich ingredients
  • Cruelty-free and certified vegan
  • Free from synthetic fragrances, sulfates, parabens, petrolatum, mineral oil
  • Made in the U.S.
  • Triple airless packaging system to prevent oxidation
Cons
  • Expensive, especially considering the size
  • Has a light, natural fragrance that some users may not like
$170 at Amazon

Formulation: Cream/gel | Size: 1 ounce | Skin types: All | Key ingredients: Growth factors, peptides, marine extract, French flax seed

SkinMedica's TNS Advanced+ Serum is known as a holy grail product for aging skin. It's been a game changer in my routine ever since I turned 40. It has a dual chamber that simultaneously dispenses two formulas that blend to support collagen and elastin levels in the skin. The first chamber has the TNS-MR formula, which contains a growth factor blend for healthy skin function and nourishing peptides, while the second chamber contains marine extract, microalgae and French flax seed for supporting skin renewal and repairing skin functions. 

This serum is easy to use compared with other products that promise the same benefits (I didn't experience any stinging, like with actives). I used it twice a day and noticed my acne scars getting lighter and rough texture improving after a couple of weeks.

Pros
  • Fragrance-free
  • Smooths deep wrinkles and fine lines
  • Helps with sagging skin
  • Fast results starting in just 2 weeks
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Some users have complained about issues with the pump/chambers
$295 at Amazon
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$567 at Dermstore

This is far from the most potent product on our list, but it still has skin-nourishing merits. If you're in the market for a moderately priced serum that addresses signs of aging and uses only natural ingredients, this one is for you. Polyglutamic acid, ceramides, quinoa extract and silver ear mushroom aim to improve wrinkles and reduce the appearance of sagging skin and large pores.

$27 at Amazon
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$33 at Ulta Beauty$26 at Vitacost

Glow Recipe's fruit-infused serums are always on my favorites list, but the Strawberry BHA Pore-Smooth Blur Drops impressed me on the first try. A few drops of the serum were dispensed from its cute, travel-friendly packaging and my pores were instantly blurred (without silicone!). It doesn't really provide hydration, which is why it doesn't make our main list — it's not a substitute for my go-to day serum/primer. Still, I can see myself packing this cutie for summer travels.

$32 at Sephora

What are the benefits of a face serum?

Face serums are a vital step in many a skin care routine. But the old me (who didn't use face serums) thought a simple moisturizer was fine. According to Dr. Angela Lamb, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City, face serums are lightweight products that contain high concentrations of active ingredients targeting specific skin concerns. "Benefits of a face serum include delivering potent ingredients deeper into the skin, addressing specific concerns such as fine lines, wrinkles, dullness or hyperpigmentation, and providing hydration and nourishment," she says. If only I had understood this sooner.

If you usually apply a face serum as the second or third step in your routine, you're doing it right. (It's my second step if I'm feeling a little lazy, but if I use an essence, it ends up being my third.) "You can apply a face serum after cleansing and toning your skin, but before applying moisturizer," Lamb says. "This allows the active ingredients in the serum to penetrate the skin more effectively."

As we've learned, not all skin care products are equal, and some ingredients are better suited for certain skin types than others. When it comes to dry skin, Lamb says to look for face serums that contain hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, argan oil or rosehip oil. For oily skin, she says "lightweight serums with ingredients like niacinamide or salicylic acid to control oil production and minimize pores" are your best bet.

Fragrance-free, hypoallergenic formulas are best for sensitive skin types. As for mature skin, Lamb says "serums containing retinol, peptides or antioxidants like vitamin C to target signs of aging" are most beneficial.

I switch face serums depending on the time of day. For example, I’ll use a vitamin C serum in the morning, and a more hydrating serum, or one with acids, at night. But it's not a hard-and-fast rule. "You don't necessarily need to use a different face serum for a.m. and p.m., but some serums may contain ingredients like retinol that are best used at night due to increased sensitivity to sunlight," Lamb says.

Angela Lamb, MD, board-certified dermatologist and director of Westside Mount Sinai Dermatology in New York City