There is a lot of nuance in skincare routines. The product types you reach for and ingredients you need are completely dependent on your specific skin type and your personal skin needs. However, there is one category of product that universally works and is beneficial for everyone: face serums. “Irrespective of your age, skin type or concern, serums are a great addition to your skincare routine,” says Dr Sonia Khorana, a GP specialising in dermatology.
Why are face serums so important in a skincare regime?
“Serums are designed to deliver high concentrations of active ingredients to the skin making them a great, and effective, tool for targeting specific skincare concerns,” explains Dr Sonia. And there’s one for everyone; because they are so targeted, it’s worth having a couple of different types to address the different concerns and issues you may have. However, that also means it's important to find face serums that are affordable because you may want to layer two or three together. Keep scrolling to discover our pick of the best budget-friendly face serums.
Best face serums: ingredients to look out for
Dr Sonia shares the best ingredients to look for depending on your skin goal.
For anti-ageing: “While I don’t like the term anti-ageing, if you’re looking for a serum that’s going to help you tackle fine lines, wrinkles and pigmentation then look for serums containing retinoids, tea polyphenols, niacinamide, collagen peptides and epidermal growth factors. These are beneficial for all skin types.”
For brightness: “Vitamin C is used for brightness and also helps protect against free radical damage. We are exposed to free radicals on a regular basis and antioxidant serums are ideal so look for that as it may also contain vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid or other forms).”
For healing and repairing the skin: “Antioxidant serums will protect your skin from free radicals you’re exposed to on a daily basis and can also heal and repair the skin. Look for vitamin C, E, resveratrol, pycnogenol, niacinamide and melatonin.”
For hydrating: “If you have dry skin then you will benefit from a hydrating serum, but to be honest all skin types and all ages - old and young - can use them too. The key ingredients you’re looking for a re hyaluronic acid, peptides and ceramides.”
For acne: “These may contain a BHA-like salicylic acid and are particularly suited to oily/combination, congested or acne prone skin.”
For pigmentation: ”These can contain phytic acid, vitamin C, arbutin, kojic acid, azelaic acid, AHAs – they can help brighten skin but also aid in pigment suppression. Suited to all skin types that suffer from these issues, but I would be mindful about not overusing/over exfoliating."
For dry skin: “Look for peptides, niacinamide, ceramides, and hyaluronic acid.”
How to use a face serum
The rule of thumb when it comes to knowing which order to apply your skincare after cleansing is to start with the most watery or lightest consistency and work up towards the thickest and heaviest texture.
With that in mind, serums are best applied straight after cleansing your face morning and night. And whilst they do pack a hefty skincare punch, depending on your skin type you may need to layer other products on top. “A skin serum is not a moisturiser, like a lotion or cream - they are concentrated formulations that are designed to sink into the skin quickly and deliver a good dose of ingredients that can address common skin complaints,” says Dr Sonia. Meaning drier skins may still need a hydrating cream on top as well as your daily SPF of course.
Best face serums
Here are 11 of our favourite serums, all of which cost no more than 20 of your English pounds.
Think of collagen as scaffolding for your skin; keeping everything where it should be. Sadly our levels of collagen drop as we age, and that’s where peptides come in as they help synthesise the production of collagen in the skin. No surprise then this serum is packed with peptides to give you as much pep as possible. It also contains magnesium, which works to make your skin look more alive and zingy. Apply a few drops day and night after cleansing and before your regular moisturiser.
If you are guilty of having over-loaded your skin with too many aggressive ingredients, or your skin is simply having a bit of a freak-out moment, this is when you need this serum. It contains a unique ceramide complex that strengthens the skin barrier - aka the top layer of your skin. The stronger your skin barrier, the less irritation, sensitivity and redness you get. However, it also contains niacinamide that reduces existing inflammation and gives skin its glow back, as well as moisture-boosting hyaluronic acid. The gel-like consistency sinks in quickly with zero stickiness and can be used day, night or whenever your skin feels like it needs some extra TLC.
When it comes to products that target a specific concern and don’t require you to take a second mortgage to afford it, The Inkey List is leading the way. And this intensive tranexamic acid overnight treatment is one of their best. Once you’ve got to grips with how to pronounce it (it’s tran-x-am-ik BTW) then all you need to know is this powerhouse of an ingredient helps reduce the appearance of existing pigmentation and the more you use it, the clearer and more even your skin will look. It has a very pleasing gel-cream texture and is unscented so whilst it’s a no-frills product, it is effective and affordable, and you can’t ask more than that.
While this is most definitely a serum, it has more of a moisturiser type consistency as it's a combination of oil and water, the dynamic duo that keeps our skin moisturised and hydrated. Serums are normally quite watery and fluid, which means they are trickier to apply evenly all over and for dry skin it is essential you are coating every area. This slightly thicker, creamy serum ensures you get it on and get it on well. As with all Cerave products, it majors on ceramides, lipids that help support our skin barrier and prevent moisture loss. The other very clever thing about this product is that it contains a special type of hyaluronic acid that keeps releasing hydration as you wear it, meaning you should avoid that midday skin tightness feeling.
This vitamin C serum created by beauty expert, Sali Hughes with Revolution skincare has been designed to brighten - it’s what vitamin C does best - protect the skin with lots of antioxidants as well as delivering hydration with hyaluronic acid. She describes the whole range as the perfect white T-shirt of skincare – reliable and effective and we concur.
You know when you find such an amazing skincare product you buy the next bottle before the last one has finished so you’re never without it? This serum is that product for many members of the GTG team. Why? It’s super hydrating - it contains three sizes of hyaluronic acid to get moisture into as many levels of skin as poss - it leaves the skin feeling and looking instantly velvety smooth making it the perfect base for make-up and seems to give it an instant look of healthiness.
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This silky SPF serum makes wearing sun protection on a daily basis so much easier - no aggressive rubbing is required, as it sinks in instantly. It has brilliant broad-spectrum sun protection as well as hydrating ingredients so skin feels quenched. And when we say it creates the most brilliant glow, we mean it.
Of course you can apply your regular serum under and around your eye area, however if you want a dedicated product or are looking to tackle dark circles and puffiness, this is what you need. It combines caffeine, which behaves with the same vigour on your skin as your morning coffee does with your energy levels and is a must for reducing puffiness and any darkness. It has been tag-teamed with EGCG (it’s full name is Epigallocatechin Gallatyl Glucoside) which is a rich antioxidant that reduces inflammation and protects the delicate eye area from future damage.
A tanning serum is not only a super easy way to incorporate tanning into your regime but feels so much lighter on the skin compared to creams and mousses. This gorgeous oily serum slowly develops into a golden glow as you wear it. You can either apply it directly onto the skin or add a few drops to your regular serum or cream to transform it into a gradual tanner and because the colour develops over a few hours you can pop it on in the morning or evening.
Knowing what to put on reactive skin can feel like a minefield, but Aveeno is stalwarts at knowing how to soothe sensitivity. This serum, like most of their products, contains colloidal oats to take the sting out of sore skin but also helps strengthen the skin barrier to reduce future sensitivity. As you would expect, it is fragrance-free, doesn’t block pores and is everything that delicate skin needs.
Niacinamide and oily skin are a match made in skincare heaven thanks to it’s ability to regulate sebum production, keep shine at bay and reduce the appearance of pores. And this gorgeous serum is packed full of it. It’s a gentle enough ingredient to be used day and night and in conjunction with any other skincare you already love to use.