Because of their highly concentrated, active ingredient-rich formulas and small molecular makeup, which makes them better able to deeply penetrate skin, serums are among the most effective products you can put on your face if you're looking for results. For today's purposes, we'll be focusing on the best serums for hormonal acne, which is notoriously tricky to deal with at home — but, according to board-certified cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Michele Green, the right serum can help. “In terms of ingredients, products containing the following are great for acne-prone skin: alpha hydroxy acids [like glycolic acid], salicylic acid, retinol, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and dimethicone," Dr. Green tells Bustle.
Similarly, the wrong serums can make breakouts worse. “Some serums can be too oily – this can exacerbate acne and cause excessive buildup in the pores. Other serums may contain high amounts of acids or exfoliants which can simply irritate the skin more and worsen the condition, especially if your skin is sensitive," says Dr. Green. She advises patients with acne-prone skin to choose serums that are oil-free and non-comedogenic. When in doubt, consult with your dermatologist to determine which serum is best for your skin type. Your doctor might also suggest prescription strength topicals, oral antibiotics, Accutane, Spironolactone, or birth-control pills if your hormonal acne isn't responding to over-the-counter products.
To try treating your hormonal acne at home, though, start with one of the best serums featured ahead.
1. The Overall Best Serum For Hormonal Acne, According To The Doctor
"Sunday Riley Good Genes is one of my favorite serums for oily skin," says Dr. Green. And judging by this serum's cult-favorite following, she's not the only one. It uses a lactic acid-based formula to clarify and resurface skin, thus reducing bumps and unclogging pores, and resulting in a generally smoother, softer, clearer complexion. Because it's balanced out by gentle, soothing botanicals like arnica and prickly pear extract, it's a safe choice for just about any skin type, including sensitive.
2. Another (More Affordable) Doctor-Recommended Serum
Dr. Green also likes this serum from InstaNatural, because it contains niacinamide, "a powerful antioxidant derived from vitamin B3." She explains, "This ingredient fights acne by reducing inflammation and dark spots. With its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, niacinamide also helps to treat active breakouts," (though she notes it won't eliminate breakouts altogether — no product, or ingredient, can really claim to do that). This serum also contains moisturizing ingredients that promote brighter, plumper skin, including aloe leaf, olive oil, avocado oil, rosemary leaf, and hyaluronic acid. Pretty much everything you could want in a serum!
3. The Best Salicylic Acid Serum For Hormonal Acne
Rich in salicylic acid, which helps remove acne-causing bacteria and impurities from pores, the Mario Badescu Anti-Acne Serum also makes Dr. Green's list of favorite serums for people with hormonal acne.
4. Another Great Salicylic Acid Serum
Another great, slightly less expensive serum with salicylic acid, this formula is balanced out skin-soothers, antioxidants, and hydrators like lavender, chamomile, green tea, and aloe vera. It also contains tea tree and willow bark, two naturally derived acne-fighters, and complexion-brightening niacinamide. Expect less congested pores (and in turn, less breakouts), reduced redness and inflammation, and generally smoother, more even skin. Like all Derma-E products, this serum is vegan and cruelty-free.
5. The Best Acne-Fighting Toner & Serum In One
Get two products in one with this Bliss Clear Genius Clarifying Toner + Serum. Also vegan and cruelty-free, and enriched with brightening niacinamide and acne-fighting salicylic acid, this formula is enhanced by soothing cica, which will help with inflammation and redness, witch hazel to refine and deep-clean skin, and zinc PCA, which helps control excess oil production. It's a new product from the beloved spa brand, and Amazon reviewers are particularly thrilled by the unique, pump-top bottle, which cuts down on mess. One person commented, "The toner is thicker than expected, a combination of a clarifier and a softening serum. My skin actually felt velvety and silky, almost like satin. One of the absolute best products I have ever tried. Truly amazing."
6. The Best Retinol Serum For Hormonal Acne
Retinol's ability to increase skin cell turnover makes it a great ingredient for people with acne of all types. It not only helps unclog pores and shed dead skin, but because of its exfoliating powers, it can even help clear up unwanted marks leftover from past breakouts. And though retinol is known to be drying, especially when you first start using it, CeraVe's retinol serum is balanced out by barrier-strengthening ceramides and sodium hyaluronate, so this is a relatively gentle choice. It also contains niacinamide for even more complexion-clearing effects.
7. The Best Serum For Lightweight Hydration
Though the refreshing Hydro Boost Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Serum from Neutrogena doesn't contain any of the same acne-fighting ingredients as the other serums on this list, it's a fantastic serum for people with breakout-prone skin who are experiencing dryness from any other acne-fighting products or medications they might be using. The formula is oil-free and noncomedogenic, and works to provide lightweight hydration without clogging pores or leaving behind a greasy residue.
Dr. Michele Green, board-certified cosmetic dermatologist practicing in New York City.