Ask any dermatologist and they'll tell you that a serum is a really good thing to add to your skin-care routine. Lighter than moisturizers, they're packed with high concentrations of active ingredients, play nicely with your moisturizer and eye cream, and can treat every skin-care grievance imaginable (dryness, dark spots, wrinkles, etc.).
"Serums are the workhorse products that target specific skin concerns, such as redness, fine lines, hyperpigmentation, breakouts, and more," New York City dermatologist Dendy Engelman tells ishonest. "The difference in serums is all about the active ingredients, which address the issue you want to target." Such powers mean that serums usually come with a hefty price tag, but there are exceptions. Fortunately, potent formulas featuring ingredients like vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and retinol are readily available at your drugstore and beyond.
Below, we present 20 of our current favorites face serums that all clock in at $30 or less. No buyer's remorse here.
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum
The only thing we like more than inexpensive skin care is inexpensive skin care that works fast. The Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum says it will get the job done in just a week (and even if it doesn't, the smooth, gel-like texture is enough reason to use it). It contains retinol and a glucose complex that speeds up the fine line-smoothing effects.
The Inkey List Collagen Booster Firming Peptide Serum
The Inkey List has managed to launch affordable serums with every covetable key ingredient, including this peptide-packed formula. Collagen Booster Firming Peptide Serum includes the peptides Syn-Tacks and Matrixyl 3000, the latter of which, dermatologist Jeannette Graf has told ishonest, is among the peptides that have the most scientific support behind their purported ability to help stimulate collagen production and thus help firm and smooth skin.
Physicians Formula 24-Karat Gold Collagen Serum
Another way to try to boost collagen: applying collagen itself topically. In the case of Physicians Formula's 24-Karat Gold Collagen Serum, it features vegan collagen, which gets support from skin-plumping peptides. And while niacinamide helps promote an even complexion, actual gold is thrown in there for a surprisingly luxurious skin-care experience for a such a budget-friendly formula.
Innisfree Green Barley Daily Refining Serum
Green barley vinegar may not be a household name in terms of skin-care ingredients, but the alpha-hydroxy acids found within it are well known for their ability to help smooth skin. Innisfree promises that its Daily Refining Serum will exfoliate away flakiness, while glycerin keeps skin hydrated.
Urban Skin Rx Even Tone Super Glow Serum
Made to improve the appearance of dark spots caused by sun damage, Urban Skin Rx Even Tone Super Glow Serum relies on 2 percent kojic acid and an impressive 10 percent L-ascorbic acid — a favored form of vitamin C — to brighten skin. "Pure ascorbic acid has consistently been proven to be the most effective at penetrating the skin barrier," dermatologist Patricia Wexler has told ishonest.
Differin Dark Spot Correcting Serum
Another effective way to conquer discoloration without breaking the bank: Differin's Dark Spot Correcting Serum. Whether the dark spots you're dealing with are from acne, sun damage, or anything that can cause uneven tone, the active ingredient, 2 percent hydroquinone, is famous among dermatologists for its effectiveness. "Hydroquinone is the gold standard for hyperpigmentation, as it works on the cells that make melanin to block further production," dermatologist Roberta Del Campo has told ishonest. (It's worth noting, however, that hydroquinone has been banned in Europe over its skin-bleaching properties.)
Acure Seriously Soothing Blue Tansy Serum Stick
Serums may traditionally come in liquid form, but several brands have formulated travel-friendly serum sticks, like this ideal option for sensitive skin. The star ingredient in Acure's Seriously Soothing Blue Tansy Serum Stick is blue tansy oil, which, oddly enough, comes from a yellow flower. "Blue tansy can be used as an antibacterial agent and has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce redness and soothe irritated skin," dermatologist Annie Chiu has told ishonest.
E.L.F. Glow Up Primer Serum
This E.L.F. serum may be meant as a makeup primer, but you may very well be thrilled enough with how your skin looks and feels after applying it to just go barefaced. That's because Glow Up Primer Serum is a fantastic source of hyaluronic acid, to help skin look instantly and noticeably more hydrated. "Hyaluronic acid penetrates easily, which is why it works so well when applied topically," cosmetic chemist Sandra Bontempo has told ishonest.
Burt's Bees Renewal Intensive Firming Serum
We thought there was nothing we could love more than the Burt's Bees Beeswax Lip Balm — that is, until we came across the Burt's Bees Renewal Intensive Firming Serum. Ingredients, such as white hibiscus, apple, and watermelon, are the key players for firming and hydrating skin, but it's worth using for the delicious, subtly fruity scent alone.
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Serum
"Hyaluronic acid can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water, meaning that it does wonders in hydrating the skin," Engelman tells ishonest. "When applied, it creates a barrier for the skin, locking in moisture and improving texture." The Neutrogena Hydro Boost Serum is made with the hydrating ingredient to keep you moisturized all day long.
The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
If you've got acne-prone skin, then look for a clarifying serum that will gently ward off or treat breakouts without over-drying your complexion. The Ordinary's niacinamide- and zinc-laced serum disappears into skin, and over time, helps keep your face clear — and with minimal wallet damage.
Aveeno Positively Radiant MaxGlow Serum + Primer
You've got the best of both worlds when it comes to Aveeno's two-in-one Positively Radiant MaxGlow Serum + Primer, which was made to deliver nutrients to the skin while wearing well under makeup. "This serum combines skin- brightening soy complex with hydrating kiwi extract to even and plump the skin," explains Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Serum
Retinol, a vitamin-A derivative found in RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Serum, is a skin-care superhero thanks to its proven efficacy at speeding cell turnover and stimulating collagen. (Translation: smoother, brighter skin.) "Decades of clinical data and research support the efficacy of retinol as a powerhouse ingredient," Engelman says. "It helps regulate healthy skin turnover, boosts collagen production, and has great anti-inflammatory properties, which is why it's as effective at treating acne as it is at treating wrinkles and other signs of aging."
L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives Vitamin C Concentrate
"Vitamin C is the most potent antioxidant we have available to both protect the skin from free-radical damage and brighten dark spots," Zeichner tells ishonest. L'Oréal's Revitalift Derm Intensives Vitamin C Concentrate is packed with the stuff to get your complexion looking brighter and smoother in a matter of weeks.
Pixi Skintreats Overnight Glow Serum
Ramp up your nighttime skin-care routine with this Target find by Pixi, purveyors of the drugstore-famous Glow Tonic. The Pixi Skintreats Overnight Glow Serum's exfoliating formula contains a 10 percent concentration of glycolic acid to slough off dead skin cells, while aloe vera, cucumber and vitamins A, C & E nourish and minimize irritation.
CeraVe Skin Renewing Retinol Cream Serum
Fans of CeraVe likely love the brand's range of no-nonsense, deeply hydrating products that just work. That said, special PSA for stans with dry, mature skin types: The CeraVe Skin Renewing Retinol Cream Serum is packed with ceramides and retinol to nourish the skin barrier, while minimizing the appearance of fine lines. Consider it your winter drugstore go-to.
No7 Beautiful Skin Pore Minimising Serum
Here's the bad news: You can't actually change the size of your pores. Here's the good news: You can make them look smaller, especially by using the No7 Beautiful Skin Pore Minimising Serum. Willow bark extract (the precursor to salicylic acid), reduces oil and keeps pores clear so they don't become annoyingly prominent. Make it part of your morning routine — it layers nicely under makeup.
Art Naturals Enhanced Vitamin C Serum
For an added layer of defense against the sun, dermatologists recommend layering an antioxidant serum under your sunscreen every morning. But it's hard to find one that won't break the bank, which makes the Art Naturals Enhanced Vitamin C Serum — made with vitamins C and E and ferulic acid — especially noteworthy. The addition of hyaluronic acid makes this pleasantly moisturizing, yet it absorbs quickly enough that you can use it even on the busiest of mornings without having to wait for it to soak in.
Olay Regenerist Regenerating Serum
The luxe, silky texture of the Olay Regenerist Regenerating Serum is completely unexpected of its under-$30 price tag, but hey — we're definitely not complaining. Infused with Olay's proprietary Amino-Peptide Complex II, it's best-selling serum penetrates deep within the skin's layers to offer long- lasting moisture, not to mention glow for days.
No7 Early Defence Glow Activating Serum
Another derm favorite? British brand No7's Early Defence Glow Activating Serum, another popular (and affordable!) pick. "A combination of antioxidants and peptides [in the serum] protect the skin from environmental damage and stimulate collagen to strengthen the skin," explains Zeichner.
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