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A serum plays an important role in a balanced skin care routine. It’s an opportunity to incorporate more active ingredients in your regimen, though a serum shouldn’t replace your moisturizer.

Commonly found in a tincture bottle, a serum has a gel-like or liquid consistency that can be layered with other skin care products. It’s best to use a serum after cleansing and toning but before moisturizing.

According to board certified dermatologist Jenny Liu, MD, FAAD, “Serums contain higher concentrations of active ingredients but don’t usually work as well as moisturizers to minimize water loss through skin. This is because they are often formulated as a liquid or light emulsion and don’t contain occlusives or emollients to hydrate and moisturize skin.”

Serums can be beneficial for targeting a variety of skin concerns and skin types. People who want to reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and other signs of aging may be interested in these anti-aging serums.

“A serum is simply the vehicle in which active ingredients in a product are delivered to the skin,” explains board certified dermatologist Adeline Kikam, DO, MS, FAAD.

“When compared to lotions, creams, and ointments, serums tend to be lighter, thus getting absorbed faster into skin. They are also lightweight and easier to layer or be mixed in with other skin care products,” Kikam adds.

Since serums have a higher concentration of active ingredients, the results tend to be faster when addressing signs of aging. Moisturizers and other skin care products may contain these same ingredients, but in smaller amounts.

Other skin care products also tend to focus on ingredients that retain moisture in the skin, while anti-aging serums are formulated to address specific concerns.

Some of the active ingredients that Kikam recommends for signs of aging include:

  • peptides
  • retinol
  • antioxidants, like vitamin C

She also recommends serums with sunscreen filters, since “sunscreen is the gold standard anti-aging ingredient in skin care.”

Other common active ingredients found in serums include:

  • hyaluronic acid
  • niacinamide
  • resveratrol
  • alpha arbutin
  • azelaic acid
  • exfoliants
  • vitamin E

To determine the best anti-aging serums, we consulted board certified dermatologists for their picks.

Products are vetted in-house at Healthline to ensure quality. We also ensure the companies behind these products are reputable.

The products below are shown to reduce signs of aging with specific ingredients, such as retinol and vitamin C. We also considered price and real customer reviews.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $30
  • $$ = $30–$60
  • $$$ = over $60

Best for skin barrier health

EltaMD Skin Recovery Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Size: 1 ounce
  • Main active ingredients: amino acids, antioxidants
  • Pro: helps repair skin barrier damage
  • Con: pump may be faulty, according to some reviews
  • What it’s for: calming irritation and reducing free radical damage

If you experience redness, flakiness, irritation, and sensitivity, you may have a damaged skin barrier.

This EltaMD serum is specifically designed to repair a damaged skin barrier, which ultimately supports the overall health and appearance of your skin.

When the skin barrier is healthy, skin is able to renew itself more effectively. A trio of amino acids work harmoniously to support optimal skin regeneration and healing. Antioxidants, like vitamin E, help diminish visible signs of aging by reducing free radical damage, a type of damage that breaks down collagen and results in wrinkled, sagging skin.

Best budget option

The Ordinary “Buffet”

  • Price: $
  • Size: 1 ounce
  • Main active ingredients: peptides, hyaluronic acid
  • Pro: contains potent amount of peptides
  • Con: texture can feel tacky on skin
  • What it’s for: targeting multiple signs of aging

This multi-peptide serum is a community favorite. It contains Matrixyl 3000 and Matrixyl Synthe-6 Peptide Complexes, which help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

If you’re looking for a potent serum, the concentration of the active ingredients in this formula is 25.1 percent.

At an affordable price, this is an anti-aging serum that anyone can incorporate into their skin care routine. It’s vegan, fragrance-free, and accessible. It also has thousands of positive reviews.

Though some users state that the texture leaves a sticky residue on their skin, this may be less noticeable when paired with a moisturizer.

Best for dark spots

Naturium Alpha Arbutin Serum 2%

  • Price: $
  • Size: 1 ounce
  • Main active ingredients: alpha arbutin, niacinamide
  • Pro: safe for all skin types and complexions
  • Con: might not be compatible with exfoliants
  • What it’s for: fading the appearance of dark spots

People with darker skin tones may have difficulty finding products that target dark spots and hyperpigmentation.

The “gold standard” ingredient for lightening dark patches of skin, but it’s not suitable for people with a lot of melanin in their skin. Alpha arbutin is an alternative that’s safe for all complexions, since it’s not a skin-bleaching agent.

This serum contains 2 percent concentration of alpha arbutin and is formulated to help fade dark spots caused by environmental stressors and aging.

It also contains niacinamide, an antioxidant that helps regulate oil levels in the skin. But this ingredient can cause irritation in some.

When you incorporate this serum into your regimen, avoid using exfoliating ingredients in the same routine.

Best for oily skin

Peach & Lily Glass Skin Refining Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Size: 1.35 ounces
  • Main active ingredients: niacinamide, peptides
  • Pro: weightless formula absorbs quickly
  • Con: may cause a reaction, according to some reviews
  • What it’s for: improving overall skin health and appearance

This bestselling serum contains a cocktail of active ingredients, including niacinamide, peptides, hyaluronic acid, madecassoside, and peach extract.

With several active ingredients, this serum is multi-functional. It provides hydration, reduces inflammation, and increases collagen production to fill in fine lines and wrinkles.

The formula is cruelty-free and fragrance-free, making it suitable for vegans and people with sensitive skin.

However, some people may experience irritation or other reactions to niacinamide, so perform a patch test first before applying it all over your face.

Best for fine lines

Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment

  • Price: $$$
  • Size: 1 ounce
  • Main active ingredients: lactic acid, licorice extract
  • Pro: backed by clinical results
  • Con: pricey
  • What it’s for: exfoliating the outermost layer of skin

Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), a chemical exfoliant. While some people with sensitive skin may avoid chemical exfoliants, lactic acid is notoriously gentle.

Exfoliating is an important part of a skin care routine. It helps slough off dead skin cells and encourage the skin cell renewal process. People with very sensitive skin should perform a patch test, however.

The lactic acid in this serum improves skin texture and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It also hydrates skin and clarifies blemishes. While lactic acid smooths fine lines, licorice and lemongrass extracts help brighten areas of discoloration.

Best for dry skin

PCA SKIN Hyaluronic Acid Boosting Serum

  • Price: $$$
  • Size: 1 ounce
  • Main active ingredients: hyaluronic acid, niacinamide
  • Pro: encourages skin to produce its own hyaluronic acid
  • Con: bottle doesn’t last long
  • What it’s for: hydrating and smoothing the skin’s surface

Hydration is vital for an anti-aging skin care routine. When skin is dry, fine lines and wrinkles are more noticeable. Hyaluronic acid is a go-to ingredient for a boost of skin hydration, since it attracts and retains water in the skin.

Kikam recommends this hyaluronic acid serum. She notes that skin is more prone to dryness and dullness over time, since skin’s ability to retain moisture declines with age.

“This hyaluronic acid serum helps draw hydration into skin, improving tonicity, plumpness, and bounce. Its blend of niacinamide helps replenish skin’s protective barrier to retain moisture, target discoloration for a more radiant complexion, and regulate oil control,” Kikam says.

Best for sensitive skin

CeraVe Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Serum

  • Price: $
  • Size: 1 ounce
  • Main active ingredients: hyaluronic acid, vitamin B5, ceramides
  • Pro: helps restore skin barrier health
  • Con: formula prone to pilling, according to some reviews
  • What it’s for: hydrating dry skin and supporting skin barrier function

This affordable serum contains a mixture of active ingredients that are beneficial for anti-aging: hyaluronic acid for retaining moisture, vitamin B5 for soothing skin, and three ceramides for restoring the skin barrier.

It’s formulated without fragrance and other potential irritants, making it suitable for people with sensitive skin.

Unlike most serums that have a gel-like or liquid consistency, this serum has a creamy texture that sinks into the skin and pairs well with a moisturizer.

Best with retinol

Paula’s Choice CLINICAL 1% Retinol Treatment Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Size: 1 ounce
  • Main active ingredients: retinol, peptides, vitamin C, licorice extract
  • Pro: suitable for beginners
  • Con: may increase photosensitivity during the day
  • What it’s for: diminishing the appearance of wrinkles

“This rich serum combines a blend of highly effective ingredients, including retinol, vitamin C, and peptides, as well as licorice extract for the maximum blend of anti-aging benefits,” Kikam says.

She adds, “It boosts collagen and elastin production to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, target dark spots on skin, improve redness, and calm inflamed skin with its antioxidant property.”

While 1 percent might not sound like a lot, a little retinol goes a long way. A lower concentration of retinol is also suitable for those who are new to the ingredient.

Since some people can react to products containing retinol, a patch test is recommended. There may also be a purging period when starting retinol products.

Best with vitamin C

Tatcha Violet-C Brightening Serum

  • Price: $$$
  • Size: 1 ounce
  • Main active ingredient: vitamin C
  • Pro: potent 20 percent concentration of vitamin C
  • Con: some reviewers experienced breakouts after using this product
  • What it’s for: brightening dark spots and exfoliating dead skin cells

A vitamin C serum is a staple in any skin care routine, including one targeted toward anti-aging. This powerful antioxidant has been shown to fight free radical damage. Since free radicals can speed up the aging process, a potent vitamin C serum is a must.

This serum contains 20 percent vitamin C concentration to brighten skin and encourage a healthy glow.

In addition to vitamin C, the serum also contains 10 percent AHA concentration derived from seven fruits: apple, grapefruit, orange, lemon, lime, hawthorn, and jujube. These AHAs slough away dead skin cells and help reduce the appearance of discoloration and dark spots.

Best exfoliant

Mad Hippie Advanced Skin Care Exfoliating Serum

  • Price: $
  • Size: 1.02 ounces
  • Main active ingredients: glycolic acid, lactic acid, apple stem cells
  • Pro: contains many active ingredients
  • Con: AHAs may cause irritation
  • What it’s for: exfoliating dull, uneven skin

With nine key ingredients — glycolic acid, lactic acid, apple stem cells, gigawhite, Matrixyl Synthe 6, sodium hyaluronate, white tea, goji berry, and ceramides — this serum does much more than just exfoliate the skin.

A 10 percent concentration of AHAs, made up of glycolic acid and lactic acid, slough away dead skin cells and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.

Other active ingredients work together to rejuvenate skin, target discoloration, nourish the skin, and aid in moisture retention.

Best with SPF

EleVen by Venus Williams Unrivaled Sun Serum SPF 35

  • Price: $$
  • Size: 1 ounce
  • Main active ingredients: zinc oxide, prickly pear stem extract
  • Pro: Reef-safe formula offers physical sun protection
  • Con: consistency is uneven, according to some reviews
  • What it’s for: providing sun protection without a white cast

This sun serum offers physical sun protection that doesn’t leave a white cast, making it suitable for all skin tones. It’s powered by 25 percent zinc oxide, a gentle alternative to chemical sunscreens.

Kikam recommends this serum because it can be layered with other products, and it protects against damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays, which break down collagen and elastin.

“It’s a huge plus when a daytime serum has sunscreen filters added to it, as the sun’s UV rays are most responsible for photoaging,” Kikam says. “Sunscreen prevents premature loss of collagen and elastin, which often leads to fine lines and wrinkles. It also prevents and reduces worsening dyspigmentation.”

Best night serum

Olay Regenerist Retinol24 Night Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Size: 1.3 ounces
  • Main active ingredients: retinol, niacinamide
  • Pro: improves signs of aging
  • Con: second ingredient is silicone
  • What it’s for: reducing the appearance of wrinkles

Clinically shown to reduce the appearance of wrinkles after 4 weeks, this night serum is an anti-aging powerhouse. Retinol works to improve fine lines, fade dark spots, and encourage firmness.

For those who are prone to irritation when using retinol, this serum is gentler on the skin. It also contains niacinamide for antioxidant protection against free radicals.

The second ingredient is dimethicone, which is used in some products to help fill in lines and pores. It can prevent water loss, because it forms a barrier around skin. But this could mean your moisturizer sits on top of the serum instead of getting absorbed.

Best cruelty-free option

Biossance Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum

  • Price: $$$
  • Size: 1 ounce
  • Main active ingredients: squalane, bakuchiol, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide
  • Pro: retinol alternative for people with sensitive skin
  • Con: may feel greasy to those with oily skin
  • What it’s for: improving skin firmness

Biossance is a cruelty-free and vegan skin care brand. The brand uses squalane across its product line, and it’s derived from plant sources instead of shark-derived squalene.

Since it contains squalane oil, it may feel greasy to those with oily skin.

If you want the benefits of retinol without the irritation and purging, consider this serum. It contains bakuchiol, a plant seed extract that improves the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, discoloration, and sagging.

Best high-end product

SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment

  • Price: $$$
  • Size: 1 ounce
  • Main active ingredients: vitamin C, vitamin E, ferulic acid
  • Pro: patented formula brightens the complexion
  • Con: pricey
  • What it’s for: reducing free radical damage

It’s not often that skin care products are patented, but the formula in this serum is. It’s clinically proven to reduce oxidative damage from exposure to the sun’s UV rays, ozone, and diesel exhaust by up to 41 percent.

What sets this vitamin C serum apart from the sea of other options is the formula efficacy, which can remain effective for up to 72 hours.

Though pricey, there’s no other serum quite like this one.

Best for acne-prone skin

Caudalie Vinopure Skin Perfecting Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Size: 1 ounce
  • Main active ingredients: salicylic acid, niacinamide, grapeseed polyphenols
  • Pro: combats breakouts and improves texture
  • Con: can dry out the skin
  • What it’s for: minimizing the appearance of pores

Many exfoliating serums contain glycolic acid or lactic acid, but salicylic acid is especially beneficial for people with acne-prone skin.

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that reduces breakouts by chemically unclogging pores. It also improves skin texture and helps make pores appear smaller.

This serum is especially beneficial for people with oily or combination skin. Those with dry skin may find the formula too drying.

Since it has a lightweight texture, this serum can be paired with a hydrating moisturizer to offset dryness.

Best clean ingredients

Fleur & Bee Nectar of the C Vitamin C Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Size: 1 ounce
  • Main active ingredients: vitamin C, vitamin E, ferulic acid
  • Pro: naturally derived, clean ingredients
  • Con: contains essential oils, which can be irritating
  • What it’s for: brightening and evening skin tone

Certain skin care ingredients increase the risk of irritation, sensitivity, or negative health effects. Some people gravitate toward clean products as a result.

For those looking for a clean option, Fleur & Bee has a potent vitamin C serum formulated with 15 percent concentration. The vitamin E and ferulic acid boost the antioxidant properties.

The combination of active ingredients is an effective tool against hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and fine lines. The form of vitamin C used in this serum is more stable, so it minimizes the risk of irritation.

The rest of the ingredients are also gentler on skin, since they’re clean and natural. However, the small amounts of essential oils can be irritating.

Not all serums are formulated for signs of aging. To choose an anti-aging serum, consider the concerns that are important to you, and choose a serum that contains the appropriate ingredients for targeting those concerns.

“Serums formulated with vitamin C and other antioxidants help to fight free radical damage, improve skin texture, and even out skin tone,” Liu explains.

“Retinol helps with wrinkles and fine lines by increasing the production of collagen. Some serums contain a cocktail of ingredients like AHAs, niacinamide, peptides, etc. that all work together to improve the signs of aging,” Liu adds.

Also consider your current skin care routine. Certain ingredients do not mix well, such as retinol and glycolic acid. A retinol serum and exfoliating treatment should not be used in the same skin care routine, so use these products on alternating days.

Similarly, retinol might not pair well with vitamin C, so use your antioxidant serum in your morning routine and retinol serum in your evening routine.

You can also account for your skin type. Sensitive skin might not react well to certain active ingredients, like retinol, exfoliants, and niacinamide, so opt for a serum with gentle and soothing ingredients.

People with oily skin may prefer oil-free serums that are lightweight, while people with dry skin may benefit from heavier serums.

Anti-aging serums can help prevent and reverse signs of aging. Look for a serum with ingredients proven to reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and discoloration.

Ensure that the ingredients in a serum pair well with the other products in your skin care routine. Some serums can be layered with each other, while others should be used on alternating days.

Lacey Muinos is a health, wellness, and beauty writer based in Southern California. She holds a BA in English. Her work has appeared in digital publications like Livestrong, Verywell, Business Insider, Eat This Not That, and others. When she’s not writing, Lacey is likely pursuing her other interests: skin care, plant-based cooking, pilates, and traveling. You can keep up with her by visiting herwebsite or herblog.