Serums are among the most hardworking beauty products out there. Formulated with a high concentration of powerful ingredients, the best serums target everything from acne to dryness to signs of aging. But those benefits often come at a price; itâ€™s fair to say that on a list of the most expensive skincare products, serums usually sit somewhere close to the top. Not interested in taking out a loan for your face serum? We feel you.
But just because you have yet to find an effective face serum you donâ€™t have to cut back on your lifestyle for, doesnâ€™t mean they donâ€™t exist. Thatâ€™s where we come in to help. There are plenty of budget-friendly serums out there that work just as well as any. In fact, we can vouch for the ones below, all of which come in at under $30.
What to Look For in a Serum
Vitamin C is a simple but powerful ingredient and a great addition to serums for those with balanced skin types. (Those with extremely sensitive skin, however, should pass.) Vitamin C protects against free radical damage, evens skin tone, and promotes collagen production. It's an essential nutrient required for the growth and repair of skin, but we cannot produce it on our own, hence serums.
If you're dry, improving skin hydration is achievable with the right serum. Enter, hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid not only helps to replenish and moisturize dry skin but also reduces the appearance of wrinkles and speeds wound healing. It's safe for almost all skin types (though we always recommend spot testing new products).
Acne-prone friends, we have not forgotten about you. Salicylic acid helps exfoliate and clear skin without congestion, allowing the skin to look fresher and leaving it better protected against future breakouts. Other benefits include removing excess oil, preventing whiteheads and blackheads, and minimizing the appearance of pores.
Read on to discover our picks of the best facial serums under $30.
Best Overall: Olay Regenerist Regenerating Serum
Not only is this formula affordable, but it also brings forth results fastâ€”like, really fast. As soon as day one, expect to see visibly smoother skin, thanks to powerful anti-aging ingredients and skin-plumping Amino-Peptide Complex II. And the results just keep getting better and better; after four weeks, expect to see better-looking skin and visibly diminished fine lines and wrinkles, according to the brand.
Best Exfoliating: The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA
Leave it to The Ordinary to create a serum (with a single-digit price tag) that doesnâ€™t skimp on efficacy whatsoever. Weâ€™re big fans of the brandâ€™s serum lot, but this one laced with high-strength lactic acid is a particular favorite. Because lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid, you can expect the formula to exfoliate away the dull, dry surface layer of skin to reveal new skin underneath. As a bonus, the inclusion of purified Tasmanian pepperberry is meant to help ensure that the skin stays radiant versus irritated or sensitive.
What Our Testers Say
"The inexpensive bottle packs a punch and delivers smooth, clear skin without irritation." â€”Joline Buscemi, Product Tester
Best With Vitamin C: TruSkin Naturals Vitamin C Serum
What Our Testers Say
"Over the course of three weeks, it smoothed out my skinâ€™s texture while leaving it more radiant and glowy." â€”Jenna Igneri, Product Tester
For the best line of protection against premature aging, try applying a vitamin C serum in tandem with broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher daily.
Best With Hyaluronic Acid: Vichy Laboratoires MINÃ‰RAL 89 Hyaluronic Acid Face Moisturizer
Got dry skin? Amp up your skinâ€™s hydration levels with this Vichy serum. Hyaluronic acid, an ingredient known to hold up to 1000x its weight in water, is the major player in this serum capable of replenishing even the driest of skins. And because well-hydrated skin looks plumper and more youthful, thereâ€™s really no downside to using this serum, especially when itâ€™s priced so well. The texture is super light and silky, and it dries quickly without leaving behind a sticky residue, so much so that you might forget youâ€™re wearing anything on your face at all.
Best With Retinol: The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion
Retinol is a powerful ingredient known to help improve the appearance of acne, wrinkles, dullness, uneven texture, and more. And while its strength is one of the reasons itâ€™s used so often in skincare, there can sometimes be too much of a good thing to the point that it becomes a bad thing, especially if your skin is left feeling irritated and raw. Thatâ€™s why this serum is a great pick for anyone looking to test the retinol waters; itâ€™s formulated with a retinoid active that is less likely to irritate the skin as it acts to visibly reduce signs of aging, according to the brand.
Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Mario Badescu Skin Care Anti Acne Serum
Lightweight and fast-absorbing, this serum is made with salicylic acid. A known acne-fighter, salicylic acid helps exfoliate and clear up skin congestion. With less of a pile-up of dead skin cells and pore-clogging sebum on the surface, the skin looks fresher and is better protected against future breakouts.
Best for Oily Skin: Evolve Beauty Rainforest Rescue Blemish Serum
This all-natural serum works to decrease sebum production, which is why we love it for oily skin. When your skin overproduces sebum, it can not only look shinier but also more congested. With the help of an Amazonian blend of acai and copaiba along with exfoliating willow bark, this serum promises to help balance out the skin and leave behind a clear, matte finish.
Best for Dry Skin: Pixi Beauty Hydrating Milky Serum
Whether you naturally have dry skin or it's the dead of winter and your skin is as dry as the Sahara as a result, this serum will jumpstart your journey back to supple and plump skin. It boasts serious hydrating power, thanks to the inclusion of rose flower extract, jojoba oil, aloe vera, and glycerin.
Best Brightening: Sweet Chef Ginger + Vitamin C Serum
With ingredients that sound like they belong in your juice more so than your face serum, we love everything about it. Packed with antioxidant-rich ginger and vitamin C, expect this serum to give you a glow like never before. Since itâ€™s made without dyes, parabens, oils, or fragrances, itâ€™s a suitable pick for sensitive, dry, oily, and normal skin types alike.
Best for Wrinkles: RoC Skincare Retinol Correxion Anti-Aging Deep Wrinkle Serum
This anti-aging serum uses retinol, the tried-and-true multitasking ingredient. The silky formula absorbs quickly and, over time, firms up skin and promises to help reduce signs of photodamage, crow's feet, and other signs of aging.
If you're new to retinol, start with a lower concentration and slowly work your way up as your skin builds a tolerance. Make sure to always wear a broad- spectrum SPF during daytime hours, and limit your retinol use to the evening hours to prevent sun sensitivity.
Best for Dark Spots: Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop
Lighten dark spots, even skin tone, and prevent pigmentation with the help of this vitamin C serum. This serum from K-Beauty brand Klairs is vegan, fragrance- free, and features a 5% vitamin C concentration, and it is gentle enough to use on sensitive skin.
Best Under Makeup: Glossier Super Bounce
A product that needs no introduction, Super Bounce is a hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5 serum that acts as a perfect primer for a dewy makeup look. Whether you're using foundation and heavier makeup, or are going for a no-makeup makeup look, this is an excellent base to build on because it leaves the skin soft, smooth, and plumped with moisture.
Best for Nightime: Honest Beauty Beauty Sleep Resurfacing Serum
Exfoliate your skin overnight and wake up looking refreshed with this resurfacing serum from Honest Beauty. A blend of glycolic, lactic, citric, malic, and tartaric acids combine to exfoliate the skin while hyaluronic acid provides the hydration and nourishment you need for natural-looking skin. This serum is made with vegan ingredients and promises to give you smooth, glowing skin without any irritation.
Best Natural: Burt's Bees Renewal Intensive Firming Serum
Boost your skin elasticity and firmness with this firming serum from Burtâ€™s Bees. Made from 98.6% natural ingredients, this formula features bakuchiol, a gentler retinol alternative. You may see a reduction in the appearance of fine lines and reveal an even skin tone.
"Serums are typically lightweight formulations that deliver actives," Corey L. Hartman, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist, told us. "They are usually thin and absorbent, leaving little, if anything, remaining on the surface of the skin." And because they don't have a strict definition, a serum may technically be a lotion, gel, or oil.
"Serums are intended to penetrate deeply into the skin to deliver targeted active ingredients, whereas moisturizers help to fortify the surface of the skin, bind skin cells together more effectively, and work at the surface of the skin to increase hydration," Dr. Hartman told us.
Yes. When it comes to layering skincare products, order matters. "In general, skincare products are layered from thinnest to thickest with the thinnest products being applied to the skin first," Dr. Hartman told us. "Serums are intended to deliver active ingredients deep into the skin and the moisturizer forms a seal to make the serums more efficacious." To effectively layer your serum and moisturizer, first rub the serum onto your face and neck. Then, wait for 30 to 60 seconds before applying your moisturizer on top.
Pullar JM, Carr AC, Vissers MCM. The roles of vitamin c in skin health. Nutrients. 2017;9(8): 866.
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