In Testing, Six Skin Serums That Really Work

These six address fine lines, clogged pores, and even protect against the damage of local pollution.

In Testing, Six Skin Serums That Really Work
Illustration: Jaci Kessler Lubliner

(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- By now you should know what a facial serum is.

Even if you don’t believe in the ­nutrient-packed potions, the half-­trillon-dollar skin-care industry has spent years marketing them to those seeking extra help fighting everything from aging to acne. According to beauty consumer data site, 76% of beauty consumers say serum is a regular part of their face-care routine (up from 68% in 2016), and 68% say it’s an essential part (up from 55%).

Applied to the face and neck after washing and before moisturizing, serums are often silky or gel-like and contain high doses of ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, retinol (vitamin A), and other vitamins. They’re “potent skin-care products,” says Massachusetts dermatologist Dr. Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip. “They are usually comprised of very small molecules that can penetrate the skin and contain high concentrations of their active ingredients.”

The latest high-performing serums are loaded with trendy retinol alternatives, like plant-based bakuchiol, and innovations such as b-silk protein to preserve the skin’s barrier. We assembled a 17-person panel to test the market’s latest offerings; here are the most powerful performers.

BeautyCounter Countertime Mineral Boost Hydrating Essence
This fresh and fruity essence—a premoisturizer that’s lighter than a traditional serum—absorbs rapidly without leaving a sticky film. Its bakuchiol perks up lifeless skin just as quickly. $59 for 5 oz.;

Acaderma Invisible Shield Defense Serum
This lightweight treatment uses sesame, peony, and summer snowflake extract to prevent damage caused by pollution and free radicals, and possibly even harm from the blue light of a phone. Once-a-day use resulted in brighter, clearer skin. $80 for 1 oz.;

Monastery Aloe Hyaluronic Moisture Boost
San Francisco aesthetician Athena Hewett has blended botanicals for her clients for years, and now they’re available to the masses. This hyaluronic acid and aloe combo plumps and calms the most sensitive skin. $79 for 2.03 oz.;

Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Pore Perfecting & Refining Serum
With eight different acids, retinol, and witch hazel, this powerhouse is like Drano for the skin—it unclogs pores and dissolves waxy plugs. After three days of use, skin was dewy and smooth without irritation. $65 for 1 oz.;

Eighteen B Firm + Replenish Serum
This geeky biotech brand claims that its b-silk protein, which is fermented in a lab from yeast, sugar, and salt, has restorative properties. Promising to lift, smooth, and firm normal, dry, and combination skin types, it lives up to its word. $105 for 1 oz.;

Care Tireless Retinoid Night Serum
Made with Granactive retinoid, a retinol gentle enough for daily use on most skin types, it smoothed and tightened skin and even softened wrinkles in the delicate eye area. But it can heighten photosensitivity, so load up on sun­screen or avoid using it in the summer. $45 for 1 oz.;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Gaddy at, Chris Rovzar

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