Don’t be misled by their petite bottle or silky, lightweight texture; face serums are true skincare powerhouses. Each is packed with a mighty dose of a key ingredient—such as salicylic acid, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, or vitamin C—that targets specific concerns and visibly transforms your skin.
From visibly brightening dull skin to combating the look of fine lines to creating a clearer-looking complexion, serums can deliver so much. They can even help minimize the appearance of large pores or create skin that looks more even and balanced.
Not sure how to choose skincare serums that work best for your needs? No sweat! We’ve created a breezy guide that’ll help you determine which face serums you should add to your regimen, like, yesterday.
Salicylic Acid Serum: Bye Bye Breakout
What IT Does: Visibly reduces breakouts and lingering dark marks from pimples
Pimples can strike at any time and we’re all prone to dealing with breakouts big and small. Still, they can be a real nuisance when it comes to getting glammed up or simply trying to live our best lives day to day. Cue salicylic acid serum, a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that does not hold back when it comes to visibly banishing blemishes.
So what does salicylic acid do, exactly? This oil-soluble ingredient exfoliates the skin’s surface to help tackle the appearance of active breakouts while also helping prevent new breakouts from sneaking up on you.
One of our best salicylic acid products is Bye Bye Breakout, a gentle serum for blemishes that’s suitable for all skin types. This game-changing blemish serum stands out in a crowd of others because of its unique formulation. It contains both 2% salicylic acid and 3% lactic acid, which join forces to help promote clearer skin at every stage of your breakout.
How to use IT: Apply your salicylic acid serum every day in the evenings after cleansing and before moisturizing. Make sure to use sunscreen in the morning. If you notice any irritation, use the blemish serum once every other day.
In clinical studies, Bye Bye Breakout visibly reduced breakouts in just three days* and faded the look of post-acne marks in eight weeks.**
Vitamin C Serum: Bye Bye Dullness
What IT Does: Brightens the look of dull skin for a radiant complexion.
Consider vitamin C serum the kryptonite to dull, tired-looking skin. As the shining star in Bye Bye Dullness, this antioxidant-rich ingredient is one of your skin’s best defenses against free radical damage. That means it can assist in combating premature signs of aging, including fine lines and wrinkles, age spots, and reduced firmness. Plus, a serum featuring concentrated amounts of vitamin C can lead to a more brilliant and radiant complexion.
Dullness in skin is caused by a variety of factors, ranging from pollution and UV damage to a natural decrease in your skin’s cell turnover. A serum with vitamin C and E combined—like Bye Bye Dullness— can work to boost your skin’s glow while helping to keep your skin in good condition.
How to use IT: While vitamin C serum can technically be used at night, it really works its antioxidant magic when applied in the morning. Ideally, you should use it in conjunction with an SPF 30 or higher.
To make the job easy, pair your vitamin C serum with the award-winning CC+ Cream with SPF 50+, which was rated the #1 SPF foundation in the United States.*** In addition to protecting your skin from the sun, this full-coverage foundation is packed with an anti-aging serum for a nourished complexion. Dating all the way back to the ‘90s, studies have shown that when used with SPF, the skincare benefits of both vitamins C and E are increased.I
Hyaluronic Acid Serum: Bye Bye Lines
What IT Does: Reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
For many, one of the first signs of aging skin is fine lines. These pesky wrinkles usually show up in areas that move the most on your face, including around your mouth, on your forehead, and near your eyes. Wearing SPF 30+ daily and sticking to your cleansing and moisturizing routine can really assist in preventing premature signs of aging.
You can also double down on the fine line fight via a potent serum formulated with hyaluronic acid and peptides. Fine lines and wrinkles are often more visible when the skin’s dehydrated. Hyaluronic acid is a humectant that attracts moisture to skin to minimize the appearance of fine lines and peptides support supple-feeling skin.
How to use IT: You can use this anti-aging serum during both your morning and evening skincare routines. It also pairs beautifully with all the other Bye Bye Serums, allowing you to layer the serums easily for extra impact.
Niacinamide Serum: Bye Bye Dark Spots
What IT Does: Visibly fades dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and discoloration.
An uneven skin tone has a few different causes. For example, dark spots often pop up as we age, pimples can cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), and some skin disorders can create areas of discoloration.
To reduce the appearance of dark spots—including hyperpigmentation and lingering redness from pimples—look no further than your newest bestie: niacinamide. The headliner in Bye Bye Dark Spots (along with ethyl vitamin C) promotes a more even-looking complexion and improved skin clarity.
How to use IT: Use niacinamide serum in the morning and evening. In the morning, layer it with your vitamin C serum for a brightening boost. In the evening, layer it with salicylic acid serum for clearer-looking skin.
In addition to creating a more even-looking complexion, niacinamide has been praised for its skin-strengthening benefits. Scientific studies have found that there’s a noted improvement in the appearance of wrinkles, skin yellowing, and elasticity with consistent topical niacinamide use.II
In clinical studies, this concentrated serum lessened the appearance of dark spots and discoloration while visibly improving skin clarity.****
Glycolic Acid Serum: Bye Bye Pores
What IT Does: Visibly refines tone and texture and reduces the appearance of large pores
The road to smoother-looking skin begins with exfoliation. Glycolic acid—a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and a key ingredient in Bye Bye Pores—is arguably one of the most effective exfoliating ingredients in the skincare market.
According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), glycolic acid can help diminish the look of fine lines and visibly level-up your skin’s overall tone and texture.III It does so by buffing away dead skin cells that have overstayed their welcome.
One of the key benefits of sweeping away these dead skin cells is a reduction in the appearance of large pores. Packed with 10% glycolic acid, Bye Bye Pores visibly refines skin texture and minimizes the appearance of pores. When used consistently, the result is skin that looks and feels way more smooth and even.
How To Use IT: We recommend using glycolic acid serums in the evenings only, since AHAs can cause photosensitivity. Also, because AHAs are powerful exfoliators, you shouldn’t combine them with other active ingredients, including vitamin C, enzymes, and retinoids. Doing so could potentially cause skin irritation.
How Do I Use Serums if I Have Multiple Concerns?
If you have multiple skincare concerns, welcome to this not-so-exclusive club. Real talk: Lots of us are battling a few different skin issues at once. Maybe it’s dryness, fine lines, and age spots, or perhaps it’s acne, large pores, and hyperpigmentation. Either way, we’ve got you covered.
Write down all your concerns, then the ingredients/products that will help with each. From there, understand which ingredients should be alternated versus paired together.
For example, vitamin C and glycolic acid are two active ingredients that should be separated, so you could use one in the morning (ideally vitamin C) and the other in the evening (preferably glycolic acid). Or you might use your retinoid one evening (a la Hello Results Daily Retinol Cream), and then your glycolic acid serum the next evening.
When Should I Use Face Serums In My Skincare Routine?
Generally speaking, all serums should be applied after cleansing and toning, but before your moisturizer. If you’re ever unsure about the order of when to apply skincare products, the rule of thumb is to go from the lightest texture to the thickest.
Because face serums really zero in on specific skin concerns, they can be a worthy addition to anyone’s regimen. The key is to consistently apply the right serum, or serums, that will help you reach your specific skincare goals. Who would have thought a few drops a day could deliver such skin-changing results?
Learn more about how to layer face serums.
*Visible improvement began at Day 3 and improved throughout the 8-week clinical study.
**Based on an 8-week clinical study.
***The NPD Group/U.S. Prestige Beauty Total Measured Market, Makeup Product Sales, January-December 2021.
****Based on a 12-week consumer self-assessment.
I. D. Darr; S. Dunston; H. Faust; S. Pinnell. “Effectiveness of antioxidants (vitamin C and E) with and without sunscreens as topical photoprotectants.” Acta Dermato-Venereologica. 1996. 10.2340/0001555576264268
II. Donald L Bissett; John E Oblong; Cynthia A Berge. “Niacinamide: A B vitamin that improves aging facial skin appearance.” American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. 2005. 10.1111/j.1524-4725.2005.31732
III. Liedtka, Jane; Zhang, Ben; Wang, Jianyong; Tran, Doanh. “Glycolic Acid.” U.S. Food & Drug Administration. 2016. https://www.fda.gov/media/101373/download