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The Year of the Serum: Put Your Best Face Forward

When it comes to face serums, we know it can be confusing—there have never been so many options. Now’s the time to spring clean your cabinet of potions and lotions that at best, damage your wallet, and at worst, damage your skin or exacerbate pre-existing skin conditions like rosacea, if you choose the wrong formulation. We’re here to help cull through the hyperbole, with face serums targeted to your individual needs.



Serums are mainly different than lotions in that they don’t include moisturizing, occlusive and thickening ingredients. So what you have is a higher concentration of active ingredients, hence the sometimes hefty price tag.

Serums are usually applied after cleansing and toning and before moisturizer and sunscreen. They are an expedient way to kick-start a new regimen for optimally beautiful skin. Shopping with a specific mission is key: For example, some serums will make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so they’re better to wear at night or with a due diligence of SPF during the day. Directions are dependent on formulations, doctor recommendations and your skin’s needs.



Sure, sure, there are hundreds of supposedly greatest and latest ingredients promising to turn back the hands of time. But retinol, a derivative of vitamin A, is one that’s a tried-and-true wrinkle minimizer, backed by a wealth of scientific studies. Retin-A is related but requires a prescription. Peptides (short chains of amino acids) are fragments of proteins that can make your skin appear revitalized, firmer or smoother, depending on the formulation.

Roc Retinol Correxion Anti-Aging Deep Wrinkle Serum ($17.99, target.com)
Peter Thomas Roth Professional Strength 3% Retinoid High Potency Serum ($82, sephora.com)
Boots Protect & Perfect Intense Advanced Serum ($29.99, ulta.com)



Say bye to sad, sullen, dull skin. Exfoliating alpha hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid (made from sugar cane) and lactic acid (made from milk) help reveal brighter skin for a more even, youthful appearance. Vitamin C brightens skin and also helps reverse damage from free radicals often caused by pollution and UV rays, that lead to prematurely aging skin.


Skinceuticals C E Ferulic Serum, ($162, skinceuticals.com)
Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum or Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum ($80 and $90, drunkelephant.com)
Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment ($105, spacenk.com)
Murad Rapid Age Spot Correcting Serum ($75, murad.com)



You don’t have to be a teenager to have a breakout. Hormonal flare-ups can happen in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond. Stress and diet can also cause breakouts. Salicylic acid, glycolic acid and oil-absorbing zinc are commonly found in acne-fighting serums. Niacinamide, also known as vitamin B3, can minimize pore appearance. You’ll find acne-fighting benzoyl peroxide in more lotion-like textures such as La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Treatment ($36.95, laroche-posay.us).

Clinique’s Acne Solutions Acne + Line Correcting Serum  ($44.50, clinique.com)
Renée Rouleau’s Anti-Cyst Treatment ($45.50, reneerouleau.com)
BareMinerals Blemish Remedy Anti-Imperfection Serum ($42, sephora.com)
The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% ($5.90, sephora.com)



Essential fatty acids, ceramides (also fat/oil) and amino acids are ingredients often found in hydrating serums. Hyaluronic acid is touted for its rock-star ability to retain moisture. Those peptides can also help skin appear more hydrated. It’s best to consult with a dermatologist before using a serum, especially if you have a skin condition such as eczema or rosacea, so you don’t aggravate your skin and make the condition worse.

Elizabeth Arden Advanced Ceramide Capsules Daily Youth Restoring Serum ($78, elizabetharden.com)
Olay Regenerist Regenerating Lightweight Moisturization Face Serum ($19.19?, target.com)
Dr. Sturm Hyaluronic Serum ($300, net-a-porter.com)
Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate ($47, kiehls.com)
Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Recovery Complex II ($68, esteelauder.com)



Whereas “USDA Certified Organic” is a federally regulated seal, brands that claim to be “natural” or  “clean” aren’t legally bound by guidelines. However it usually means their products are formulated without ingredients many believe to be toxic or irritating such as parabens, petroleum, propylene, butylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfates, pesticides, phthalates, artificial dyes or synthetic fragrance. There are soooo many botanical ingredients out there and so little time to list them all—but a few include: grapes, rich in resveratrol antioxidants; extracts and oils from sunflower, pomegranate seed, olives, wild carrot seed, raspberry and green tea, all which contain antioxidants; aloe vera, which gets a shout-out for its soothing properties; bearberry leaf, daisy extract, licorice root, peony extract and soy for brightening; and evening primrose oil, and marula oil give you lots of good, fatty acids.

Vitners Daughter Active Botanical Serum ($185, vintnersdaughter.com)
Juice Beauty Soothing Serum  ($40, juicebeauty.com)
Odacite Wild Carrot Serum or Odacite Papaya Geranium Serum Concentrate ($55, $39 thedetoxmarket.com)
Tammy Fender Quintessential Serum ($175, tammyfender.com)


Introducing serums into your skincare routine takes you from undergrad to graduate student in Skincare University. As serums are often called the “superstar” of a brand’s product line, get ready to see your grade A complexion unfold, beautifully.


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