Stylist’s beauty director Shannon has whittled down the thousands upon thousands of serum formulas out there to share her edit of the eight she truly swears by.
When it comes to skincare, serums are particularly tricky waters in which to venture. There are just so many out there, each claiming to do yet another wonderful thing to your complexion, whether that’s ward off breakouts, plump up cheeks, or make skin generally brighter.
And I must admit, I love a fancy new face serum as much as the next beauty director, which is why over the years, I have tried a lot. In fact, an embarrassing amount. Some have proven their worth, and I’ve repurchased again and again. Others, on the other hand, just haven’t cut the mustard, no matter how much face time I’ve given them.
The thing is, while new formulas enter my bathroom cabinet fairly regularly, I always find myself coming back to the same handful of formulas. Sometimes I use a different one every day of the week, depending on what my skin is shouting out at me. Other times, I stick solely to one of my chosen serums, and use it morning and evening until the pipette has gone dry.
Either way, the list that follows contains the serums that I would 100% vouch for: they contain truly powerful ingredients and always deliver on their often fairly wild promises. And one small side note before I delve in: serums should always be applied onto clean, dry (and if you use one) exfoliated skin, and sit under moisturiser, SPF or facial oil. Simple.
The best hydrating serum
By now, you’ll have no doubt heard about hyaluronic acid’s ability to hold onto precious moisture, which is why on days when my skin feels a bit tight and dehydrated, I reach for this stuff. It has the consistency of a gel and gives you that same bracing-yet-oddly-soothing sensation you get when you apply aftersun. And I find the mix of hyaluronic acid and glycerin is just the ticket to instantly revive my skin when it looks a bit tired. The dream.
The best retinol serum
This retinol serum is a new addition to my line-up, but I’m already through two bottles of the stuff and have been seriously impressed. As the name suggests, it contains retinol, which is the undisputed champion of levelling out skin texture and tone and bringing back lost bounce. Problem is, it can be fairly irritating to skin when you first start using it. That’s why this serum also contains vitamin B3 (aka niacinamide) to soothe and dial back any potential irritation. In fact, by using this retinol and layering it under a ceramide-rich cream, I’ve had literally no irritation whatsoever. And there’s also a dollop of hydrating glycerin there for good measure.
Shop La Roche-Posay Retinol B3 at Boots, £28.50
The best calming serum
I’m not sure what’s caused it, but recently my skin has been dotted with patches of eczema. They’re around my eyes, under my mouth and even in my hair line. It means I’ve been forced to dial things back tenfold when it comes to the skincare products I’m using, and I’ve swapped all my active ingredients for this simple serum. It contains centella asiatica, the key ingredient of cica creams, which works to soothe and heal areas of irritated skin, of which I have many.
The best barrier-repair serum
When I can tell that my barrier has been all but depleted, I always turn to this gentle serum. It’s main focus is on strengthening the skin, which is why I often use it alongside ingredients that are known to irritate, such as retinol and vitamin C. And it’s quick to work too: after just one or two uses, I can usually tell my skin is stronger, as evidenced in its reinstated glow and bounce.
The best brightening serum
I’m not sure there’s anyone who wouldn’t benefit from slipping a little vitamin C into their skincare routine. The ingredient is brilliant at brightening skin, especially areas of hyperpigmentation, but it’s also an antioxidant, which means it will bat off anything that dares to try and aggravate skin, like pollution and other environmental offenders. I adore the Skinceuticals CE Ferulic, an orange-tinged serum that works remarkably fast, but when I’m not feeling quite as flush, Garden of Wisdom’s version gives a substantial hit of the ingredient, while being much kinder on the wallet.
The best strengthening serum
I always recommend Shiseido’s cult serum to anyone looking to invest in a really hard working formula. A jack-of-all-trades, it promises to do everything from hydrate to brighten, and boost the efficacy of the skincare steps that follow. However, I’d say its main draw is the way it strengthens the skin. It contains antioxidants from mushroom extracts that defend against skin damage, but also hydrating ingredients that keep the skin barrier working. If you’re someone that suffers from sensitivity or you’ve noticed your skin is struggling to hold onto hydration, this is most definitely the serum for you.
The best probiotic serum
Probiotic skincare is based on the premise that the skin’s microbiome (the system of bacteria that lives on its surface) needs to remain balanced to support overall skin health, which in turn can help ward off dryness, sensitivity and even breakouts. Aurelia’s Probiotic Concentrate contains proteins and milk extracts that ‘feed’ the good bacteria on the skin. Of course, without a powerful microscope, it’s impossible to spot whether my six weeks of wear have helped those little guys flourish, but if what I can see in the mirror is anything to go by — a uniform sheet of plump, hydrated and dare I say it, glowing skin — then I would say it is.
The best serum for spot-prone skin
Every now and then, often around my period, I get a smattering of spots on my chin and forehead. Rather than try and scrub the acne away, I try my best to keep the skin hydrated and soothed by bringing Glossier’s Super Pure serum into my routine. It contains soothing niacinamide (which we spoke about above) to take down the redness, as well as zinc which levels out sebum levels. No, it doesn’t miraculously evaporate acne over night, but it does help skin recover much faster.
Shop Glossier Super Pure at Glossier, £24
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Images: Getty/courtesy of brands