6 Hard-Working Serums Designed to Make Your Skin Look Its Absolute Best

The basic skincare regimen already moves the needle in terms of your skin’s health. A face wash keeps things clean, an exfoliator prevents clogged pores and dry skin, a moisturizer nourishes and prevents water loss, and an SPF shields against cell-damaging UV rays.

But by adding a serum into the mix (before that moisturizer layer), you can multiply the benefits of your skincare routine; think of this serum as a treatment of sorts. Depending on its ingredients, it might do one or more of the following: hydrate deeply, improve cellular turnover, exfoliate surface cells, reduce damage from environmental toxins, smooth complexion, and so forth. In my opinion, a serum is your ticket to truly elevating a routine from baseline to exceptional, and sometimes it takes just one product.

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However, there are two ways to approach this maximal minimalism with a serum: To have one single serum for morning and night, or to have two dedicated serums—one for each time of day. Read on to learn about both approaches, since your skin has different needs in the a.m vs. p.m. I also got some expertise on the matter, from board-certified dermatologist Kunal Malik of Spring Street Dermatology in New York City.

The Single-Serum Approach

If you go with the “one for all” route, Malik says that it’s important to choose a versatile product that has multiple benefits—“all the while ensuring that these ingredients play nice with each other and do not cross-react or promote skin irritation,” he says. “A good all-in-one serum provides hydration with ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides to lock in moisture and promote a healthy skin barrier.” He adds that niacinamide and antioxidants are also great to incorporate, the latter from stabilized sources since one of the most common antioxidant serum ingredients (Vitamin C) is notoriously difficult to pair with other ingredients.

The Best Day-and-Night Superserums

The Best Serums for Minimalist Skincare Routines to Use in 2024
The Best Serums for Minimalist Skincare Routines to Use in 2024

SkinMedica TNS Advanced Serum

Buy Now on AMazon: $230

Here is Malik’s go-to choice for a day-and-night multitasking serum, which harnesses the medley of growth factors, peptides, plus botanical and marine extracts. “This serum encourages skin cell renewal plus supports collagen and elastin production,” he says.

The Best Serums for Minimalist Skincare Routines to Use in 2024
The Best Serums for Minimalist Skincare Routines to Use in 2024

Eighth Day Regenerative Serum

Buy Now on Eighth Day Skin: $325

This plasma-packed potion is teeming with skin-firming peptides and amino acids; in fact, its Peptide-Rich Plasma is patent-pending and contains 24 synthetic ingredients with bioidentical counterparts. Its roster of remaining ingredients is a stellar one: hydrating hyaluronic acid, complexion-smoothing niacinamide, exfoliating AHAs, soothing honey, and calming flavonoids.

Daytime vs. Night Time Serums

Not to counter the whole “one serum to rule them all” angle, but one thing to know about any serum is the optimal deployment time—since our skin’s morning needs are much different from its evening needs.

Daytime Serums

“These should be focused on protecting the skin from daily elements like UV, pollution, and environmental oxidants in general,” says Malik. “Look for ingredients such as vitamins C/E, as well as hydration with ingredients like hyaluronic acid. Ideally, they should be lightweight and not increase sensitivity to the sun.”

Best Ingredients for Daytime Serums:

Hyaluronic acid: Here’s the easiest way to draw moisture into the skin, and to make everything more firm and plump in the process. “Hyaluronic acid is important in an a.m. serum to help counteract the natural water loss that happens to the skin overnight,” says Malik.

Niacinamide: AKA Vitamin b3, which gives the barrier a huge boost as both a defender against environmental factors, as well as water retention. “Niacinamide also regulates oil production and improves fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation,” adds Malik. 

Vitamin C: “This powerful antioxidant protects against environmental damage, promotes collagen production, and brightens the skin,” says Malik. However, Vitamin C doesn’t often “play well” with other ingredients, and can be difficult to keep stable and effective. So it’s hard to find a good “super serum” with Vitamin C as opposed to excellent standalone options. But an elite roster of brands has found a way—like the two below.

The Best Serums for Minimalist Skincare Routines to Use in 2024
The Best Serums for Minimalist Skincare Routines to Use in 2024

Doctor Rogers Day Preventative Treatment

Buy Now on Amazon: $118

This daytime treatment combines stabilized Vitamin C, paired with the niacinamide and Vitamin E (both of which play quite nice with the powerful antioxidant C). It has the microbiome-balancing Lactobacillus, plus leaves skin softer to the touch with nourishing squalane.

The Best Serums for Minimalist Skincare Routines to Use in 2024
The Best Serums for Minimalist Skincare Routines to Use in 2024

Ursa Major Mountain Glow Golden Serum

Buy Now on Amazon: $84

I love reading the ingredients list of all Ursa Major products; everything is so thoughtfully sourced and included in each recipe. This serum gives you a radiant glow thanks to extract of aspen bark and stabilized Vitamin C. Those are but two of its key 44 clean and natural-forward ingredients, which also includes moss stem cells, fern phytosterols, and lichen extract. The result is a superserum that provides smoother, clearer, brighter, stronger skin—plus a dozen other wonderful “-er” adjectives.

Nighttime Serums

“These should contain active ingredients targeting skin repair and rejuvenation to help with cell turnover, inducing collagen production, reducing fine lines and wrinkles and improving skin tone and texture,” Malik adds. “They can be richer in texture compared to daytime serums.”
Best Ingredients for Nighttime Serums:

Peptides: These are commonly called “the building blocks” of skin. “Peptides aid collagen and elastin production, to help plump and address fine lines,” says Malik.

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs): Like lactic acid, glycolic acid, and mandelic acid, these chemical exfoliants target surface skin cells to prevent blemishes and maintain clear, smooth complexion. “AHAs also plump and hydrate for an overall renewed and balanced skin tone,” Malik adds. “But they must be used carefully with retinoids so as to not over-exfoliate or cause excess irritation.”

Retinol: A super ingredient in its own right, this Vitamin A derivative is an anti-aging workhorse. Consider all of its functions, as outlined by Dr. Malik: “Retinol helps to smooth out uneven skin texture, helps keep clogged pores and blemishes under control, treats and prevents fine lines, plus induces skin collagen production and skin cell turnover.” In general, a retinol serum (or cream) should probably stand on its own and not be paired with other treatments, especially exfoliating ones like AHAs, says Malik. (As for me personally, I’m partial to a retinol prescription [tretinoin] paired with a reparative, non-abrasive serum and cushioning night cream applied over top.)

The Best Serums for Minimalist Skincare Routines to Use in 2024
The Best Serums for Minimalist Skincare Routines to Use in 2024

Dr. Dennis Gross Advanced Retinol + Ferulic Texture Renewal Serum

Dr. Dennis Gross Advanced Retinol + Ferulic Texture Renewal Serum

Buy Now on Amazon: $76

Dr. Malik and I share an affinity for this bedtime serum from Dr. Dennis Gross, which blends retinol with its naturally sourced counterpart, bakuchiol, as well as antioxidant-dense rambutan and ferulic acid. “It will reduce the look of blemishes and visibly smooth fine lines,” Malik says, adding that this serum also uses squalane and hyaluronic acid to help prevent water loss and boost hydration for the long night’s slumber. You’ll wake up looking better rested, promise.

The Best Serums for Minimalist Skincare Routines to Use in 2024
The Best Serums for Minimalist Skincare Routines to Use in 2024

The Grey Recovery Face Serum

Buy Now on Neiman Marcus: $110

From collagen-boosting peptides and antioxidant-rich sea extracts, to skin-plumping hyaluronic acid and fortifying niacinamide, The Grey’s serum is a brilliant first layer in your nighttime skincare routine. You could get lots of daytime mileage from it, too, but something this precious deserves to be savored, so make the most with an evening application.

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