7 Cult-Favorite Facial Serums That Actually Do What They Say

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Once upon a time, skincare was simple; cleanse, tone, moisturize, and go. Today, not so much. In the past 10 years there’s been an explosion of new products in new categories — serums included — that it’s almost impossible to keep track of them all. The best face serums, many of which you may have never heard of, are designed to focus on one task or ingredient and, when applied to a clean face, deliver their powerful formulas directly to your skin for maximum effectiveness. Think of them like a daily vitamin, protein shake, or espresso shot for your skin — they're specific, powerful, and usually the best way to give your skin exactly what it needs.

Serums, which typically come in small glass bottles, have the consistency of a light gel, lotion, or oil, and are designed to be applied after cleansing and toning, but before any moisturizer, oil, or essence. They can also be layered, depending on your needs on a particular day. The best way to apply them is by gently tapping them into the skin and allowing them to absorb before moving on to the next steps in your routine.

So far, the most popular uses for serums are to clear acne with ingredients like salicylic acid and glycolic acids, to aid in deeply hydrating the skin with ingredients like hyaluronic acid and thermal water, and to tone, tighten and brighten with antioxidants, vitamin C, AHAs and BHAs. If you're feeling overwhelmed, don't be — the seven serums on this list are some of the best on the market.


A Heavy Dose of Hyaluronic Acid For Dull, Dry Skin

Mizon Original Skin Energy, Hyaluronic Acid 100, $10, Amazon

As part of a series of Mizon ampoules (which are essentially ‘super-charged’ serums with very potent active ingredients), Mizon’s Original Skin Energy, Hyaluronic Acid 100 serum is lightweight, silky, fast-absorbing, and contains a heavy concentration of — you guessed it — hyaluronic acid, a humectant which increases the amount of moisture your skin can hold. Ideal for thirsty, dry skin.


A Surface-Smoothing Serum For Oily Skin

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Facial Serum, $45, Amazon

Incorporate French skincare favorite La Roche-Posay's Effaclar Facial Serum into your daily skincare routine if you feel like your acne-prone or oily skin could benefit from a healthy dose of glycolic acid, AHAs and BHAs — chemical exfoliators that remove dead, dry skin for a smoother surface, radiance and all around clearer complexion.


An Everyday Renewing Serum For Sensitive Skin

Clinique Turnaround Revitalizing Serum, $38, Amazon

A sensitive-skin favorite, Clinique’s Turnaround Revitalizing Serum is an oil-free formula that gently exfoliates with PHAs (a peeling ingredient that is just as effective, but less irritating than AHAs and BHAs) to reveal healthy-looking, smooth skin. Gentle enough for morning and night, this serum is light, sinks in quickly, and is easy to apply and travel with because of its pump-style bottle.


A Certified Organic Serum Rich In Antioxidants For Glowing Skin

Acure Seriously Glowing Facial Serum, $12, Amazon

A USDA certified organic alternative, Acure’s Seriously Glowing Facial Serum is every bit as effective as any non-natural serum on the market. The formula contains argan oil, which hydrates and replenishes skin, borage oil, which soothes irritation and adds radiance, and cranberry extract, which protects the skin against environmental stressors. Cranberry is a highly effective antioxidant for skin because it's so easily absorbed. With this serum, a little goes a long way!


A Simple Acne-Fighting Serum With Salicylic Acid

Mario Badescu Anti-Acne Serum, $20, Amazon

To get ahead of potential breakouts and clear existing acne, reach for Mario Badescu’s Anti-Acne Serum. The lightweight gel mixture contains salicylic acid, which has serious antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and drying effects for active pimples, and de-clogs pores and reduces oils to prevent new ones. It also (gently) fades redness and discoloration. For an even more targeted treatment, use only on oily or breakout-prone areas like your T-zone or jawline.


A Powerful Radiance-Enhancing Serum With Vitamin C

Murad Advanced Active Radiance Serum, $90, Amazon

No list of face serums is complete without a Vitamin C-enriched formula —and Murad’s Advanced Active Radiance Serum is as good as it gets. This one delivers Vitamin C at 50 times the power of other topicals, which enhances the vitamin's ability to increase skin firmness, even out skin tone, and shield skin from the effects of environmental stressors like sun damage and pollution. Also included in the formula: hexapeptide-2, Indian fig, ectoin and green tea extract — all to boost clarity and support natural cell renewal for stronger, more radiant skin.


An Anti-Redness Serum With Calming Sulfur, Ginger, And Aloe

First Aid Beauty Anti-Redness Serum, $30, Amazon

Made with colloidal sulfur, aloe, and ginger that stops inflammatory triggers, First Aid Beauty Anti-Redness Serum is a must-add to your skincare routine if you need to soothe red, itchy, irritated, flaky and/or sensitive skin. It also contains restoring antioxidants like licorice root, feverfew, and white tea extract, so you don’t have to worry about future irritation.

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