Does your face need a real pick-me-up? If so, a good serum is what you’re looking for, and we’ve tested some of the most popular brands.
Serums contain a higher concentration of active ingredients than a moisturiser, and there are a wide range of different types – and price classes – to choose between. A serum is a kind of tiny superhero for your skin in handy bottle form. They also offer you a real opportunity to tailor-make your skincare.
Our tests are independently conducted and reflect the test editor's honest and objective opinions. Selection of products and test results are in no way influenced by manufacturers, retailers or other internal or external parties.
In our tests, serums were used daily for several weeks by people who are used to, and interested in, serums and skincare products in general. The products were used according to the instructions on the packaging in terms of when in the skincare routine they should be applied and the recommended time of day.
The test was based on the following parameters
The evaluation was based on the total overall experience of the serum. This was then weighed against the price of the product and a score allocated.
We tested a selection of the market's most popular serums. Compare prices of all listed serums on Pricerunner here.
Attractively packaged and incredibly good value serum that effectively moisturises the skin
Function: Moisture Price class: Budget Content: 30 ml
Hyaluronic acid is an ingredient found in almost every skincare product. Very few brands skip hyaluronic acid when they make a moisturising product, and with justification too – because hyaluronic acid is fantastic when it comes to moisturising more than just the skin surface.
Hyaluronic acid is a moisture-binding sugar that’s found naturally in the body, where it attracts and binds water. As the body ages, the natural levels of hyaluronic acid fall, and this is one of the reasons the skin loses its elasticity. But not all hyaluronic acids are equal. The size of the molecule is important – the smaller it is, the better it penetrates the skin.
Hyaluronic acid itself has very large molecules, but there are different types and therefore different sizes of hyaluronic acid, and it’s the smaller sizes that are most often used in serums, such as sodium hyaluronate and sodium hyaluronate crosspolymer, which is more deep acting.
In other words, this is a moisturising serum that contains such as sodium hyaluronate (deep acting) and sodium hyaluronate crosspolymer (deep acting and long-lasting), and there’s no doubt about it – this serum is a real bargain!
Serums that are as effectively moisturising as this rarely cost less than £60. But this one? About 7 quid! This is quite simply one of the most budget friendly but effective serums you can get your hands on.
The only disadvantage is that it leaves a slightly sticky finish, but when you continue your skincare routine (for example with another serum or a moisturiser), this stickiness rapidly disappears from the skin. And for this price, you can live with that. Because it moisturises well and makes the skin look a touch younger.
Expensive but pleasant serum for mature skin
Function: Anti-age Price: Premium Content: 30 ml
Babor is a brand that truly exudes luxury – which is clear both from the price tag and the contents themselves. And that’s a shame in some ways, because you really do often get what you pay for.
Babor’s ReVersive Pro Youth Serum is a product that gives mature skin a lustrous boost. The serum also uses peptides to increase the skin circulation. The effect is that the skin immediately feels smoother and more supple.
Yes, that's right. You feel that this serum has a smoothing effect right away. The skin also feels more elastic after just a couple of uses, which is very pleasing when you've spent as much on a serum as you have to with this one.
The packaging is black and equipped with a practical pump. The pump works very well, and you get just the right amount in your hand from one press. To begin with the scent is quite sharp and feminine and makes you think of an expensive hair salon. But it fades quickly, leaving a soft scent that’s very pleasant.
You get what you pay for! It’s impossible to forget that Babor ReVersive Pro Youth Serum is an expensive skincare product. If you have mature skin, a really generous budget and you're looking for a serum that produces an almost immediate smoothing effect, this is a product that’s worth considering. But if you’re after a budget buy, you should look elsewhere.
Good value serum that’s quickly absorbed by the skin and has a calming effect
Function: Moisture Price: Budget Content: 80 ml
If you only look at the price tag, it’s easy to wonder why this serum is counted as a budget product, but if you consider the size of the bottle you quickly realise that Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Serum comes in a generous size – you get a full 80 ml while most other serum bottles rarely contain more than 30 ml. This means that the price immediately becomes much better value.
When you use the serum, your skin immediately feels moisturised, and the light and calming formula makes it perfect for use both morning and evening. The product is quickly absorbed and doesn’t leave a film behind on the skin. Two pumps of the bottle provide enough for your face, neck and décolletage. The scent is mild and pleasant, which is usually the case with Klairs products.
Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Serum is suitable for all skin types. Regardless of whether you have dry or greasy skin, it will appreciate the bath of moisture this serum provides. And not only does your skin feel calmer and moisturised, it also feels more elastic. The serum also has a slightly plumping effect, making it ideal for skin with signs of ageing. Rich Moist Soothing Serum rapidly becomes a regular in your bathroom cabinet – a mild, kind and generous regular.
An oil serum for those who want moisture and glow
Function: Glow Price class: Medium Contents: 15 ml
Sunday Riley CEO Glow Vitamin C + Turmeric Face Oil is an oil serum that quickly moisturises and gives glow to your face. It's easy to get carried away with expressions like glow and lustre when writing about skin care, but perhaps harder to explain what’s actually meant by these terms. When we say that your skin glows, we mean that it looks more alive, a little less tired.
With the help of this oil serum, which really is absorbed incredibly fast, it’s almost as if your skin comes back to life after a long hibernation. This doesn’t happen overnight, but after a few weeks of use, the skin undeniably looks a bit less tired than before. The re-moisturising element is even faster, such that after the first application your skin feels less itchy and after a couple of days it feels much more supple and happier.
Although the scent is quite strong at first, this settles down quickly to give a discreet and spicy scent. Some people think it smells of turmeric, which can be explained by the fact that turmeric is actually a key ingredient. But don’t worry, the oil won’t colour your skin even though, in the marketing, it says that turmeric contributes to a more even skin tone (this wasn’t something we noticed, however).
Sunday Riley CEO Glow Vitamin C + Turmeric Face Oil works very well under either your day or night cream. This is an oil serum that makes your skin care routine feel like fun again, which is no bad thing. The only downside is that this serum is still not widely available, so it can be difficult to get hold of the product.
Serum with lots of ingredients that gives bright, lustrous skin
Function: Lustre Price: Premium Content: 30 ml
This powerful serum with vitamin C comes in an attractive brown glass bottle that makes you think of old-fashioned pharmacy shelves. And the bottle isn’t just brown to make it look more attractive. The dark colour also provides extra protection for the expensive ingredients inside it. Vitamin C is normally an ingredient with a short shelf-life, but this serum contains a stable vitamin C (ethylated L-ascorbic acid), which means the serum lasts longer than many other products containing vitamin C.
Medik8 Super C30+ Intense is a serum that doesn’t just even out your skin tone but also provides a fantastic lustre. And you don’t have to use it for many days before the lustre in your skin shines through even the densest base. This serum first heats up your skin a little, but only a little and only for a short time. It’s quickly absorbed, leaving the skin soft. You can both see and feel that the serum is working. After using the serum on the skin for a while, you feel that your skin looks fresher and has a more even skin tone.
Medik8 Super C30+ Intense contains not only vitamin C but also vitamin E. These two vitamins are good friends and reinforce each other. Both vitamins C and E are antioxidants, and together with ferulic acid, which this serum also contains, they help the skin to protect itself against free radicals. Ferulic acid also reinforces the effect of and stabilises vitamins C and E.
It’s clear that the ingredients in this serum have been carefully chosen, and it quickly becomes a favourite in our testers’ skin routines, despite the hefty price tag.
Intensely moisturising serum that feels calming on the skin and has a visible effect
Function: Moisture Price: Medium Content: 30 ml
Vespera Bionic Serum from Exuviance is a serum intended for all skin types and ages. It’s intensely moisturising, combats free radicals and is said to encourage skin renewal without stressing the skin. The serum’s ingredients include polyhydroxy acids, PHAs, which are acids with larger molecules than, for example, AHAs and BHAs. This makes them milder, so they suit sensitive skin better.
While the overall experience of this serum is very positive, because it gives a significant moisture boost to the skin and makes it look more alert too... It’s a bit sticky after application. When you use it in the evening that doesn’t particularly matter, but in the morning it’s a bit of a pain. The stickiness does disappear after a while, but if you're in a hurry or are an impatient type – or simply dislike a sticky feeling on your skin – it's not entirely pleasant.
If you ignore the stickiness, this is a really good serum. The skin feels smooth and looks healthy. Like with many moisturising serums, the skin looks plumper and also has a good dose of lustre. In fact the difference is so great that other people remark upon it after using this serum for a while. It gets extra points for feeling really calming on the skin.
Quickly absorbed serum that effectively calms sensitive skin
Function: Calming Price: Premium Content: 30 ml
Comfort Zone Remedy Serum is a completely unscented and light but still creamy serum – or emulsion, as it’s also called. If your skin is prone to redness, reacts strongly to fluctuating weather conditions or perhaps gets hot after an active face mask, this is definitely a serum you need to try. As soon as you've applied Remedy Serum, it’s as if a calming wave has washed over your face. The serum has a wonderfully cooling effect and leaves your cheeks so smooth it’s hard not keep stroking your face at regular intervals. The product is absorbed quickly and doesn’t leave a sticky film behind. If your skin was hot or irritated before, this feeling disappears quickly and instead of tight your face feels very calm and happy. The packaging is attractively stylish in a light lavender pink colour, and you get the right quantity easily with the pump. But hold tight to the bottle, because if you drop it onto a tiled floor it’ll probably smash. Comfort Zone Remedy Serum will be a perfect match for anyone with sensitive skin that’s prone to redness.
Attractively packaged serum that thoroughly moisturises the skin and gives a fantastic result
Function: Moisture Price: Premium Content: 25 ml
As the name implies, Skin Regimen 1.85 HA Booster is a booster serum. You can use it after your normal serum for an extra dose of what your skin most wants. In this case that’s moisture, something that most skin types can never get enough of.
This is a great serum that really penetrates your skin with moisture. It contains micro-, macro- and cross-linked hyaluronic acids, which will have their own special properties and abilities. Micro-hyaluronic acid stimulates production of new hyaluronic acid (which is found naturally in the body), macro-hyaluronic acid moisturises on the surface, and cross-linked hyaluronic acid gives a more long-term effect. And you can tell – your skin gratefully absorbs the serum and you're quickly rewarded with skin that looks both more elastic and clearer.
There’s actually only one downside with Skin Regimen 1.85 HA Booster, and that’s the price. Serums are often expensive, but this bottle contains less than most others, which means the price tag is even heftier. Particularly when there are such good budget alternatives to choose from, even if they may not be so attractive to look at.
Attractively packaged serum with moisturising effect and clear list of ingredients
Function: Multi Price: Medium
Beauté Pacifique Submersive Serum Paradoxe has perhaps one of the most attractive bottles of any serum, and the ingredients should be effective – so our expectations were high were we tested it. This oil serum is what's known as a multi serum, which means it has a number of functions. It contains procyanidin and reseveratrol, which are antioxidants extracted from grape seeds, and is intended to reduce the signs of ageing and even out your skin tone.
Because the serum is oil-based, it feels more difficult to use in the daytime than at night. After application, your skin feels just a little bit too slippery for your make-up to adhere correctly. At the same time, although it feels good when applied to dry and thirsty skin, it doesn’t really seem to do more than that. You certainly end up with soft and moisturised skin, but there’s no indication that it evens out your skin tone or reduces the signs of ageing. The list of ingredients is admirably short, and even if you aren’t an expert, it’s easy to understand. If you want an oil-based serum that provides a lot of moisture, Beauté Pacifique Submersive Serum Paradoxe isn’t a bad choice, but if you’re looking for more of a change in your skin's appearance, there are other, more effective serums you can choose.
Smooth and cooling serum that's quickly absorbed and makes the skin smooth and soft
Function: Moisture Price: Premium Content: 30 ml
Verso Hydration Serum is a real moisturising serum that contains plenty of niacinamide, which moisturises, reinforces the skin’s protective barrier, reduces fine lines and makes large pores look smaller.
This is a milky and slightly thicker serum that comes in a frosted glass bottle with a pipette. An attractive bottle plays an important part in the overall experience when you invest in skincare products, and Verso really deliver with this one. This is a bottle you’ll be happy to have standing on your bathroom shelf, and will make your skincare routine feel just as luxurious as it should.
The serum has a fresh scent, but it’s a little stronger than many other serums. Whether this is a positive or negative thing is a matter of taste, but our testers didn’t find the scent to be disturbing. The pipette works well, although a pump would have been more practical (but would also have made the bottle less aesthetically appealing).
The product is a bit thicker than water, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that it might feel sticky on your face. But in fact it feels smooth and cooling when you apply it and your skin absorbs it all, which means it works really well both in the morning and at night.
The result is skin that feels flexible and soft and not at all tight. And this smooth texture makes Verso Hydration Serum a pleasure to use.
Gel-based serum that works best on normal skin
If you have sensitive skin, you have to be careful in your search for a serum. Many active ingredients can have an irritating effect – and if there’s one thing serums are usually full of, it’s powerful ingredients. Clinique’s Moisture Surge Hydrating Supercharged Concentrate is a serum that primarily focuses on moisturising the skin, which makes it a mild and gentle product.
The formula is gel-based and you pump it out from a see-through bottle. Generally speaking, skincare products don’t last as well in clear bottles as they do in dark ones – and consequently you should make sure you don’t leave the bottle in daylight on a regular basis.
When you apply it to the skin, the gel has a cooling effect and doesn’t feel at all irritating. It doesn’t sting or irritate even really dry winter skin. However, if your skin is really dry, it doesn’t feel like this serum is really sufficient to give your face enough moisture. But if you have greasier skin or the weather is warm and sweaty, Clinique Moisture Surge Hydrating Supercharged Concentrate feels just right.
If you have slightly dry to normal or oily skin, this gel serum works well and feels nice on your skin. If your skin is really dry, however, it leaves something to be desired when it comes to moisturisation.
A moisturising serum that takes a little while to give results
N.C.P Essentials Hydro Active Serum is a serum for the face that’s intended to give a moisture boost with ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and collamung oil, which is an extract from the mung bean.
The formula of this serum is a gel-like liquid. The bottle has a pipette to help you get the right amount, which is also a hygienic option.
The serum is pleasant and cooling on the skin, and is absorbed very quickly. It doesn’t produce any immediate results, but the skin feels less sensitive. But if you use N.C.P Essentials Hydro Active Serum every day, your skin will definitely feel less tight and look significantly less dry after about a week.
Actress Noomi Rapace is one of the people behind the Swedish brand N.C.P Essentials. Even though the skincare products are unscented, the brand also offers N.C.P Olfactives – a perfume series where you can use layering to blend your own unique scent. And N.C.P Essentials works the same way – you choose the products from the range that will work best for your skin type and lifestyle.
This serum definitely provides moisture, and as serums go it’s not too expensive. But there are actually cheaper products that do the job at least as well. Then again, will they be as attractive on your bathroom shelf as N.C.P Essentials serum?
It’s often possible to use several different serums at the same time, which means you can treat several different problem areas at once. Serums contain ingredients with small molecules. This may sound like something out of a boring chemistry lesson, but the size of the molecules is actually crucial in deciding whether or not a product can penetrate your skin and work at depth.
If you suffer from dry skin, it’s a good idea to look for a serum containing something like hyaluronic acid (a moisture-binding sugar that occurs naturally in the body, where it attracts and binds water).
If you’re instead looking to reduce the signs of ageing, niacinamide or retinol – or why not both – maybe worth investing in.
Greasy skin? And don’t forget that greasy skin needs moisture too, so hyaluronic acid is never wrong. But look out for products with niacinamide, AHA, BHA and retinol as well.
Serums are generally expensive, but at the same time they’re very economical – just a few drops go a long way and a bottle normally lasts for several months. Regardless of whether you like classic brands or are tempted by K-beauty, there’s a whole world of serums to discover.
But don’t forget to use sunscreen. It’s always important to use products with a high sun protection factor (SPF) to protect your skin against the sun’s rays, and if you use a serum with active ingredients you have to be even more careful not to skimp on protection – regardless of the season.