Deciphering all the products in the skincare section at a beauty store can be as difficult as learning a foreign language. Between all the cleansers, masks, toners, serums, lotions, and potions, how are we supposed to decide which ones we need, and of those essentials, which options are best? Indeed, developing a comprehensive, personalized skincare routine is intimidating, especially if it's unfamiliar territory.
As we start thinking about more specialized products that target certain concerns, it is easy to become overwhelmed. So, to start, we decided to unpack one of the most essential and elusive items: serums that ward off signs of aging and promote a youthful glow.
To learn more about the basics and to ease the selection process, we reached out to dermatologist Ronald Moy, MD, a partner at Moy-Fincher-Chipps Facial Plastics & Dermatology. Read through Moy's step-by-step lesson in everything you should know about serums as well as his anti-aging advice below. Then, scroll on for the 12 best anti-aging serums and decide which to add to your skincare lineup based on specific needs and price point.
Meet the Expert
Understanding the Basics
While most of us know we need to pile on some sort of moisturizer after washing our faces, serum seems a bit more obscure. If there's no immediate impact on our skin, what's the price tag for?
In reality, serum is much different from a moisturizer—and it's just as important a step in your skincare routine. Moy sets the record straight, explaining that "Serum is a clear, non-greasy formula designed so the active ingredients penetrate deeply into your skin, while a moisturizer is typically a greasy formula designed to moisturize the top layer of the skin." Even though serum does provide moisturizing benefits, you still should use a moisturizer on top so the long-term benefits are at their most effective.
The costs of effective anti-aging creams and serums are usually less than $150. As long as they have ingredients that help repair damage and boost the skin's regenerative process, it's worth the extra buck.
Regular Serum vs. Anti-Aging Serum
Serums, in general, are great for targeting specific concerns, but it depends on which active ingredients your skin needs to look and feel healthier. For example, you may want to fight acne, while someone else may be looking for one with inflammatory benefits. As for anti-aging serums, they work on a cellular level to repair the DNA damage that occurs from sunlight, pollution, and even blue light from computers and phones, according to Moy.
These particular serums help boost the skin's ability to repair itself while protecting it, so you can see long-term results rather than just the immediate payoff. "Anti-aging means that you're choosing to use ingredients that help repair different types of damage that have been shown to accelerate the signs aging," Moy says. "From sun damage to thinning skin, it's so important to be preventative with your skincare."
When Should You Start?
If you're wondering when you can start benefiting from an anti-aging serum, there is no rule of thumb. "The biggest anti-aging culprit is the sun, so you should really start using serums or moisturizers that have anti-aging properties when sun damage occurs at any age," Moy says. You can start using it as early as you want in order to take preventative measures or you can start using it later in the game to reduce the appearance of fine lines and thinning and to restore a youthful glow. As long as you choose one that has DNA-repairing enzymes, you'll be on the right track.
And on that note, check out Moy's recommendations, as well as 10 more top-sellers below to decide which of the best anti-aging serums you want to integrate into your skincare routine.
Vintner's Daughter Active Botanical Serum
With 22 active ingredients, this serum pretty much does it all, from fighting signs of aging to clearing up blemishes and creating a more even tone by promoting cellular turnover and undoing the damage caused by free radicals.
Zelens Youth Concentrate Supreme Age-Defying Serum
When it comes to high-end, powerful skincare products that don't require a prescription, it's hard to beat Zelens. Everything in the line was developed by Dr. Marko Lens, who studied based on a Nobel-prize winning discovery of the role of telomeres in controlling skin’s aging process. A complex of eight peptides and encapsulated retinol works to help increase the life and vitality of skin cells and to significantly reduce all visible signs of aging.
La Roche-Posay Anti-Aging Serum
If you're wondering if there's a solid anti-aging serum option at your local drugstore, here's your answer (it's good news). Available at most drugstores, La Roche-Posay has been approved by dermatologists and sits within a more comfortable price range than other effective anti-aging serums.
While not a serum per se, this lactic acid formula from Sunday Riley is an incredible addition to your skincare routine since it exfoliates dead skin cells to make room for your fresher, younger-looking skin to find its way to the surface. This leave-on treatment goes under your moisturizer like a serum would and plumps the skin to reduce fine lines and create more radiance.
Yarosh DB, Rosenthal A, Moy R. Six Critical Questions for DNA Repair Enzymes in Skincare Products: A Review in Dialog. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2019;12:617-624.
Buckingham EM, Klingelhutz AJ. The Role of Telomeres in the Ageing of Human Skin: Telomeres and Skin Ageing. Experimental Dermatology. 2011;20(4):297-302. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0625.2010.01242.x