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A serum may just be the hardest working product in your beauty arsenal. But do you know why? The silky solution delivers concentrated ingredients deep into the skin. And because of its ability to help potent active ingredients really sink in, serums are like warriors fighting specific skincare issues such as fine lines, dull skin, and dark spots.
“I like to recommend using an antioxidant based serum to protect skin against free radical and reactive oxygen damage, which can lead to premature skin aging and skin cancer,” says Dr. Sapna Palep of Spring Street Dermatology in New York City. Free radicals are unstable and highly reactive molecules that damage cells. “As we get older, we're more likely to lose our supply of antioxidants that can stave off fine lines and wrinkles.”
However, not all serums touting antioxidants are the same. It’s all about reading the labels and knowing what ingredients your concoction contains. The best antioxidants to try in a serum, and those with the most research backing it, explains Dr. Palep, are as follows: vitamin A often seen as retinol or retinoic acid (treats acne, stimulates collagen production); vitamin C or ascorbic acid (increases collagen production, lightens dark spots); vitamin E or tocopherol (repairs the skin, reduces sun damage); vitamin B3 or niacinamide (brightens and hydrates); green tea polyphenols (reduces inflammation, fights sun damage); resveratrol (reduces sun damage, repairs and protects skin); and curcumin (fights acne and sun damage).
“Other popular actives found in serums are hyaluronic acid, which is a humectant, something that draws in water and helps moisturize, and acids like lactic and salicylic acid which help exfoliate and clean out pores,” adds Dr. Dan Belkin of the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York.
Now that you know the key ingredients, it’s time to select the perfect mix for your skincare needs. Ahead, we rounded up eight top serums—from high tech to natural formulations—to get you started.
“My Rescue Serum is pure vitamin C, meant to literally save your skin from the ravages of the sun and pollution that cause cell mutation in the skin,” says celebrity facialist and skincare expert, Vargas. “When used daily, vitamin C can soften wrinkles, erase fine lines and make the skin softer while increasing the glow factor.” Her advice: “Apply one or two pumps to cleansed and dry skin on the face and neck.” The serum also contains vitamin E—which when paired with vitamin C is a mean one-two skincare punch—and squalane to moisturize.
To buy: $150, neimanmarcus.com
This award-winning serum combines the brightening agent vitamin C with vitamin E and ferulic acid for an antioxidant superhero that combats the effects of environmental damage caused by free radicals, e.g. lines, wrinkles and sunspots. “It’s great for mature skin,” says Palep. “It has a ton of clinical trials backing it up and has become dermatologist’s gold standard for an antioxidant serum.”
To buy: $166, dermstore.com
For those wanting a natural solution, this oil-based serum—a cult-favorite as soon as it hit beauty shelves in 2014—combines small doses of actives from 22 of the most powerful, nutrient-rich botanicals “to deeply affect skin elasticity, balance, radiance, and ultimately health,” says founder April Gargiulo. The award-winner’s soft floral scent is also divine.
To buy: $185, net-a-porter.com
Dr. Barbara Sturm
Celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and Gwyneth Paltrow swear by Dr. Barbara Sturm for their glow. Her Hyaluronic Serum, formulated with low and high-weighted hyaluronic molecules delivers intense hydration simultaneously to deeper skin layers and the skin’s surface. The results: firmer, healthier, and more radiant skin. Plus, purslane, an anti-aging superfood, kickstarts a natural reverse aging effect in our bodies.
To buy: $300, net-a-porter.com
Heraux came about as a happy accident. While researchers in Los Angeles were figuring out how to regenerate cartilage in joints they created HX-1, a molecule that protects stem cells—including those in the skin—from everyday stresses. These stresses include sun exposure, pollution, diet, and the emotional baggage that leads to aging. “The science behind Heraux Molecular Anti-inflammaging Serum makes sense,” says Dr. Palep. Clinical trials conducted by the brand prove that users who applied HX-1 showed up to 85% decrease in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkle depth. Other key antioxidant ingredients including vitamins C and E and red maple bark extract round out the innovative formula.
To buy: $250, herauxskin.com
One of the Swiss luxury skincare brand’s top five products, this serum attacks three main skin color issues (age spots, redness from irritation, and that dull gray tone from pollution) thanks to its unique formulation of high-tech actives like Diglucosyl gallic acid and vitamin c. And of course, the brand’s signature golden caviar extract boosts skin's elasticity.
To buy: $585, laprairie.com
For those that don’t love a heavy or oily product on their skin, the brand created this lightweight version of their Y Theorem Repair Serum. Conceived by a renowned plastic surgeon, you know this product will have some serious skin lifting benefits. Dr. Yannis Alexandrides created NAC Y2, a powerful antioxidant complex that strengthens the skin, reduces pigmentation, and overall helps users to look youthful without going under the knife.
To buy: $350, netaporter.com
For those of you freaked out by human growth factors, Icelandic skincare brand, BIOEFFECT, engineered a plant-based human replica of EGF (Epidermal Growth Factor) using barley plants. The result is a product that boosts collagen production and elastin for healthy, youthful skin.
To buy: $160, bioeffect.com