One of the most vital skincare products in any routine is an anti-aging serum — one of the best serums you can invest in. Applied after cleansing and toning and before moisturizing, the best anti-aging serum is a step that should not be skipped or overlooked. Why? The best serum for aging skin has a molecular size that’s significantly smaller than a moisturizer or other skincare product formulations, meaning potent, results-driven ingredients can penetrate on a more profound and practical level.
Most face serums for anti-aging are multi-taskers, addressing more than one skin issue, including wrinkles (best serum for wrinkles, anyone?), discoloration, loss of tone, and poor texture. They also provide vital antioxidant protection against environmental stressors (pollution, sun) exacerbating the aging process.
With that said, this is the best face serum is one of the most effective anti-aging treatments, regardless of how old you are. After all, the best arsenal agaiinst age is prevention.
Even so, there’s a big difference between your average face serum for anti-aging and the best wrinkle serum. Not sure where to start? No worries. Here at The Derm Review, we’ve reviewed hundreds of products with a scientific lens to ensure you’re creating a skincare regimen that’s safe and effective. Ahead, 22 of the best anti-aging serums to help address environmental assault and the natural aging process.
Derm Reviewed & Approved
Carrot & Stick’s The Defence Serum blows the competition out of the water with its triple Vitamin C formula. Perfect for daytime use to defend against damage and aging.
If you’re concerned about the loss of firmness and elasticity, use Carrot & Stick The Concentrate at night.
A Summary of The Best Anti Aging Serums
|Best||Carrot & Stick Defence Serum|
|Full List||Carrot & Stick The Concentrate
ZO Skin Health Vitamin C Self Activating
Clinique Smart Custom-Repair Serum
Kiehl’s Hydro-Plumping Re-Texturizing Serum Concentrate
Dr. Dennis Gross C + Collagefn Brighten and Firm Vitamin C Serum
Sunday Riley A+ High Dose Retinoid Serum
What to Look for in the Best Anti-Aging Serum
Sure, you can consider celebrity endorsements, glowing editorial reviews, and dermatologist recommendations (which are not always approved, by the way). Still, when shopping for the best anti-aging serum, it’s always a good idea to do your homework. We’ve put together some easy tips to help you take the guesswork out of finding the best face serum to defy visible signs of aging effectively.
The Best Anti-Aging Serum Ingredients
The first step is to choose an anti-aging serum with a cocktail of the best evidence-based anti-aging ingredients on the market. When it comes to the best serums for anti-aging, Elle, our in-house biochemist, suggests:
Derived from vitamin A, retinol is the gold-standard ingredient for the best anti-aging serum. It encourages skin cell turnover, which means skin looks smoother and firmer.While most anti-aging skincare products work on a topical level at the epidermis, retinol works at a cellular level. This means it penetrates deep into the dermis, speeding up cell turnover and stimulating collagen production to help your body generate smoother, plumper, revitalized skin. Not only does retinol help new wrinkles from forming, but it also treats the ones you already have, making it a vital ingredient in the best serum for aging skin.
- Hyaluronic Acid
Hyaluronic acid is an aqueous substance that our bodies produce naturally to help maintain the skin’s moisture. While HA is found in our connective tissue, joints, and even eyes, we’re here to discuss hyaluronic acid concerning the skin.
We produce less of it as we age, resulting in increased dryness, fine lines, and wrinkles. For this reason, hyaluronic acid in skincare is incredibly beneficial. As it’s a humectant, it can hold over 1,000 times its weight in water, so it’s safe to say it’s a super-hydrator of epic proportions — and an excellent addition to the best wrinkle serum.
- Vitamin C
While several antioxidants have an anti-aging effect on the skin, vitamin C tops the list. It protects your skin from elements like the sun (though it is not a replacement for sunscreen), pollution, and cigarette smoke. Vitamin C also discourages melanin production in the skin, which helps with discoloration and increases radiance. It’s a popular ingredient in the best serum for aging skin.
Bakuchiol is touted as a gentle, vegan alternative to retinol products, helping reduce the signs of aging (fine lines, wrinkles, dullness) while supporting the treatment of acne and congested skin.
- Alpha Hydroxy Acids
Alpha hydroxy acids are water-soluble acids derived from fruits with high sugar content. AHAs are derived from fruit acids that dissolve dead skin cells and produce a peeling action that helps fade pigmentation and scarring, improves texture and tone, and softens fine lines and wrinkles.
Peptides for the skin have numerous benefits, making them one of the most attractive anti-aging serum ingredients. Peptides are incorporated into skincare products like the best anti-aging serums because of their performance-specific effects, such as hydration, improved skin tone, and other anti-aging benefits, such as reducing age spots, fine lines, and wrinkles.
The Concentration of Ingredients in the Best Wrinkle Serum
Here’s the thing: Just because an anti-aging serum is formulated with the ingredients mentioned above doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to fight Father Time. It’s not only what’s in the serum that matters; it’s how much of it, too.
For example, a brand may claim its product is formulated with vitamin C — but maybe it’s only at a rate of 1%. If that’s the case, it’s not going to affect your skin. However, if it was at a rate of 15%, you’ve got yourself an effective anti-aging serum.
While some brands make it easy for you to determine the concentration of ingredients, many others make you work for it — but you don’t need to be a chemist. Follow these basic guidelines to help take the guesswork out of the process.
- Ingredient Order: The ingredients that make up most of the formula are at the top of the ingredient list, and the less active ones are towards the end. So, if you see the “supposed” active ingredients the brand is marketing towards the bottom of the ingredient label, it’s a potential red flag.Remember, the first ingredient on the list is typically the carrier that delivers the active ingredients into the skin — it’s typically water. Most anti-aging serums are made up of approximately 70% water.
- Concentration — But Not Always: One exception to this rule is that concentration isn’t always everything. Some active ingredients only need .5 to one percent to be the most effective, and because so little of the active ingredient is required, it goes at the end of the list. A few actives, like salicylic acid and retinol, work well even at low concentrations (<2%).
- How Active Ingredients are Listed: Fortunately, the FDA requires active ingredients designated as drug ingredients to be explicitly listed separately on product packaging. These labels are sometimes needed to include the strength of these ingredients.
- Ingredients 1% or Less May Be Listed in Any Order: Any ingredient used in a concentration of 1% or less, meaning it can be listed in random order. This can be tricky because you’re likely not knowing which of those ingredients start at the 1% mark (or less) on the list. Again, keep in mind that some actives can fall into this category, but it doesn’t mean they’re not effective.
- Keep an Eye Out for Filler Ingredients: Filler ingredients can trick into thinking a product is more natural or well-formulated than it is. Some brands promote copious extracts and botanicals, and while they’re both great ingredients, they’re often in such a low concentration and merely marketing-speak.
How it’s Packaged
Multiple studies suggest that consumers are drawn to colorful, fancy, or innovative cosmetic packaging. However, when choosing the best anti-aging serum, you shouldn’t base it on looks. Not only is it what’s inside that counts, but anti-aging products are made with ingredients that need to be protected to prevent oxidation and decreased efficiency.
- Packaging with non-airtight pumps is not a good choice — especially for ingredients like retinol, vitamin C, and peptides.
- Airless packaging is a packaging or dispensing system that doesn’t allow air to contact the product, thus maintaining its integrity and efficiency. It’s one of the latest user-friendly design methods brands are turning to. One of the latest reports from Global Market Outlook indicates airless packaging accounted for $4.3 billion of the market in 2017 and is expected to reach $7.7 billion by 2026
- When shopping for an anti-aging serum with antioxidants like vitamin C or retinol, avoid transparent glass or plastic bottles because they destroy the efficiency of the product. Formulations with these ingredients should be packaged in dark, opaque bottles (dark glass is a good choice) that block out UV light that can deactivate them.
- Buyer beware. If serums are yellow or brown, that might mean the manufacturers added a tint to hide oxidation.
- While it’s not uncommon to see anti-aging serums packaged in bottles with medicine droppers, they’re not ideal for supersensitive ingredients, like vitamin C. Brands often gravitate to droppers because they evoke the feeling of a professional treatment. The reality is, this application method causes the serum to expire more quickly.
- There are a lot of packaging innovations out there today that does a great job of preventing air and light from destroying the formula. If a brand is using one, they’ll likely let you know.
Are the Best Anti-Aging Serums More Expensive?
While it’s true that serums for anti-aging tend to be one of the more expensive products in your skincare routine due to their supposed high concentration of ingredients, it’s a misconception that a more expensive serum always works better. It all comes down to quality ingredients, effective concentration, and the science behind it — one of our areas of expertise here at the Derm Review.
Best Anti-Aging Serums
BEST: Carrot & Stick Defence Serum
Packed with antioxidants, this revitalizing serum helps promote collagen production and visibly brightens skin. Three distinct vitamin C derivatives work together to fight visible free radical damage and enhance cellular longevity. Regular use transforms dull, uneven-looking skin into clear, radiant beauty.
Carrot & Stick The Concentrate
This bi-phase serum combines anti-aging ingredients with moisture-rich natural oils in one replenishing and nourishing formula. Plant-derived collagen boosts structure and antioxidant-rich extracts help combat the effects of environmental stress for a smooth, luminous complexion.
Formulyst Anti-Aging Concentrate
Formulated with ProBioBalance and a powerful Peptide Complex, Formulyst’s fast-acting multitasker of a super serum for aging skin harnesses the natural skincare benefits of Shea Butter, Green Tea & Vitamins C+E to visibly promote the five signs of youth – radiance, elasticity, firmness, skin tone, and smoothness.
Tula Skincare Hello Radiance Illuminating Serum
This popular anti-aging serum gives the skin a noticeable from-within glow every day. It’s formulated with light-reflecting pearlescence to instantly illuminate the skin, while Japanese mandarin brightens lackluster skin over time. Additionally, rice peptides firm the skin, and prebiotic and probiotic extracts balance and nourish.
First Aid Beauty Retinol Serum .25% Pure Concentrate
When it comes to retinol, everyone has to start somewhere. This formula is perfect for newbies and those with sensitive skin. It contains a mere .25% strength of retinol, skin-plumping peptides, and First Aid Beauty’s proprietary “Skin Saver Complex” (hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, colloidal oatmeal, ceramides, allantoin, and vitamins C and E.) The result? Nourished skin alleviated from any irritation that’s traditionally linked to retinol.
ZO Skin Health Vitamin C Self Activating
This anti-aging serum from ZO Skin Health combines 10% ascorbic acid (pure vitamin C) with tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate (a stable vitamin C derivative). This anti-aging serum also includes vitamin E, which can become more powerful when combined with vitamin C. For this reason, vitamins C and E are referred to as “network antioxidants” to brighten, hydrate, and firm the skin.
Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Serum
First introduced in 1982, Advanced Night Repair Serum was the first anti-aging night serum in the industry. Today, nearly eight bottles are sold every minute. Thanks to humectants, emollients, probiotics, soothing botanicals, and a peptide, this anti-aging formula is said to address signs of aging caused by the environmental assaults of modern life — like pollution, blue light, and environmental toxins.
Clinique Smart Custom-Repair Serum
If you feel as though your skin is changing from one day to the next, you’ll love this high-tech serum that adjusts to suit the needs of anyone who wears it. It targets, treats, and prevents specific skin issues, whether that’s loss of elasticity, fine lines, and wrinkles, dryness, dullness, breakouts, and hyperpigmentation — basically anything that can pop up in your 40s. The secret sauce is a blend of brightening botanicals, vitamin C, peptides, and salicylic acid.
Kiehl’s Hydro-Plumping Re-Texturizing Serum Concentrate
This unique anti-aging serum features Japanese shiso, which prevents the degradation of hyaluronic acid — another ingredient in this formula — to deeply hydrate while improving the skin’s elasticity. Glycerin and an epidermal hydration filler encourage the skin’s natural production of hyaluronic acid to enhance dullness while smoothing the appearance of fine lines and an uneven texture.
Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Serum
This power-packed anti-aging serum is formulated with two forms of retinol—one that works quickly and another that’s time-released—to soften fine lines and wrinkles and even out the skin tone while stimulating collagen production. A retinol booster enhances the results, while hyaluronic acid minimizes dryness and promotes a from-within glow.
Dr. Dennis Gross C + Collagen Brighten and Firm Vitamin C Serum
While technically, vitamin C is vital for collagen synthesis, this serum takes it to another level with the addition of collagen amino acids. There’s also lactic and mandelic (a form of alpha hydroxy acid) acids to dissolve dead skin cells and a proprietary Energy Complex (CoQ10, superoxide dismutase, carnitine, and niacinamide) to boost radiance, improve firmness, and diminish the appearance of pigmentation spots over time.
Kate Somerville +Retinol Vitamin C Serum
It’s not too often that you see a serum incorporating retinol and vitamin C because they thrive in two different pH environments. However, Kate Somerville has managed to formulate a serum that harnesses both of these power-packed ingredients. It works while you sleep to brighten, tone, and revive a dull, uneven skin tone. Clinical studies indicate that 97% of users noticed improved fine lines and wrinkles after just one use. After one week, 93% saw an improvement in skin elasticity, and 90% said their skin tone looked brighter.
Strivectin Advanced Hydration Lactic Acid Nightly Retexturing Serum
As the name suggests, this formula is one of the best serums for targeting dry, lackluster skin because it exfoliates one of the keys to achieving a supple, plump complexion. Alpha-hydroxy acids, vegan lactic acid, blue cypress oil, and an advanced youth-boosting Nonapeptide boost the skin’s natural moisturizing factors while improving skin tone and texture.
Lancôme Advanced Génifique Anti-Aging Face Serum
Lancome’s supercharged serum is packed with ingredients to keep skin hydrated and increase cell turnover and is designed for older skin. One of its key ingredients is Bifida ferment lysate, a bacteria that is similar to a probiotic for the skin and helps boost the skin’s moisture barrier. Hyaluronic acid also adds moisture to the skin, while a dose of vitamin C helps it look brighter. There’s no need to worry about whether you’re applying the right amount; the dropper is self-loading.
Sunday Riley A+ High Dose Retinoid Serum
Full disclosure: This is not a retinol serum for rookie retinol users. This professional strength formula consists of a 5% retinoid ester blend, 1% liposomal-encapsulated retinol, and blue-green algae to provide antioxidant protection. The addition of encapsulated CoQ10 works to improve damaged or aging skin; and if you’re worried about irritation due to the strength, cactus extract, Hawaiian white honey, bisabolol, and ginger calm and soothe.
Best Anti-Aging Serum: The Bottom Line
Overall, the best anti-aging serum is Carrot & Stick: The Defence Serum.
Applied after cleansing and toning and before moisturizing, one of the most vital skincare products in your daily routine should be a serum — especially if it’s an anti-aging formula. Whether you’re just starting to notice the first signs of aging or you’re looking to embark on an effective skincare routine later in life, consider the best anti-aging serum as an anchor.
Be mindful of the best active ingredients — including concentration level — packaging, the application process, and the realization that you’re not going to see results overnight — especially without consistent use.
Remember, you don’t always need to spend a lot of money to see results. Focus on quality ingredients — including concentration level — packaging, and science.
You’re investing in the best anti-aging serum, so you want to get the most out of it, right?
Cleanse Thoroughly: While it should go without saying, start with a clean canvas before applying your serum. After washing your face, rinse with tepid — not hot or cold water. Hot water could inhibit the absorption of the serum, while cold water will close pores, making it more difficult to penetrate.If you don’t typically wash your face in the morning (and assuming you don’t sleep with your makeup on), at least make sure you’re sweeping a cotton pad saturated with micellar water, essence, or toner suitable for your skin type.
The Damp Skin Debate: Many experts say that applying an anti-aging serum to damp skin can increase its efficiency up to ten times. While this is true, this rule does not apply to all ingredients like actives such as vitamin C, retinol, and exfoliating acids — all of which can be found in many anti-aging formulas.
Less is More: Since anti-aging serums are super concentrated, you only need a few drops — no more than the total size of one pea — for your entire face and neck. Any more product and it’s a waste of your money. Press the serum into your skin with an open palm to release active ingredients.
Wait to Moisturize: Yes, you need a serum and a moisturizer, but wait until your serum fully absorbs (about two to three minutes) before moisturizing. A well-formulated serum will absorb quickly into your skin. If it leaves an oily or sticky residue, it’s not doing its job.
“Hyaluronic Acid: a Key Molecule in Skin Aging,” US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health.
“The Effect of Cosmetics Packaging Design on Consumers’ Purchase Decisions,” Research Gate.
“Global Airless Packaging Market Outlook 2017-2026,” Businesswire.
“Effect of Vitamin C and its Derivatives on Collagen Synthesis,” US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health.