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What are face serums? 15 of the best facial serums

16 Sep 2021 • 9 min read


Skin serums are still a relatively new addition to the skincare world, so you’d be forgiven for not knowing exactly what they are.

What are face serums?

Although they often contain moisturising ingredients, serums aren’t interchangeable with moisturiser.

Instead, serums are a highly concentrated product full of active ingredients, which you should use after cleansing your face, but before applying moisturiser.

Serums are usually somewhere between gel and water in terms of texture, as they don’t rely on heavy creams and oils as fillers the way moisturisers do.

Also, the molecules of a serum are very small, which helps your skin absorb them deeply.

Think of it as an extra step in your usual routine, but one that can deliver potent skin-loving ingredients directly into your skin.

9 benefits of face serum

There are many benefits of adding a serum to your skincare regime. Here are 9 of the best benefits of serum for face skin.

  1. Backed by professionals

Unlike some faddy skincare trends, serums have the backing of dermatologists and skincare experts because of their effectiveness and ability to directly address different skincare needs.1

  1. Can delay signs of skin ageing

Serums contain specific ingredients to address your skin’s particular needs-

such as anti-ageing peptides if you’re worried about fine lines and other signs of premature ageing.

  1. Can brighten dull complexions

A face serum containing vitamin C can be effective for brightening a dull complexion. You may see it on product labels as ascorbic acid.

  1. A little serum goes a long way

Because of their high concentrations of active ingredients, you don’t need to apply much serum to get a big benefit.

  1. An alternative to physical exfoliation

Some skin serums contain acids like hyaluronic acid and salicylic acid, which exfoliate the skin on a cellular level, so you don’t have to scrub at your skin.

It’s particularly effective for dry skin and keratosis pilaris – aka chicken skin.

  1. Absorbs quickly into the skin

Serums are lighter than most moisturisers. Their thin consistency soaks into the skin easily, making them ideal to use before moisturisers.

  1. Ideal for sensitive skin

Serums can be ideal for sensitive skin as they have lighter formulas, complementing oily or spot-prone skin.

  1. High in antioxidants

Some of the most common ingredients in serums tend to be high in antioxidants, e.g. vitamin C, green tea extract, vitamin E and resveratrol.

Antioxidants may help protect your skin from the negative effects of free radicals and pollution.

  1. Feels light on your face

As thin serums are absorbed easily by the skin, they don’t have that heavy feeling that sometimes come with moisturisers.

5 of the best serum ingredients

It's important to know what ingredients are in your serum... it is going on your skin after all! 

  1. Vitamin C

Your skin is constantly exposed to free radicals from the environment (such as environmental pollution).

These free radicals cause skin oxidative stress, which leads to sensitivity, ageing and dullness.

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, capable of staving off free radicals and reducing the oxidative stress in your skin, which leads to a more even, brighter skin tone.

Handpicked content: Get glowing skin with vitamin C

  1. Vitamin E

Vitamin E has powerful moisturising and skin-protecting properties.

A vitamin E serum will infuse your skin with a huge boost of moisture and will be more effective at hydrating dry skin than a moisturiser alone.

Moisturisers tend to work by trapping moisture in the skin, but a vitamin E serum will actually restore moisture to the epidermal layers of your skin.

Try a vitamin E serum if you have acne scars, as it might help reduce the appearance of acne scarring.

Handpicked content: Why your body – and beauty – needs vitamin E

  1. Snail gel

This one might sound a little strange, but snail gel is actually very effective in skincare and is increasingly being included in many products.

Snail gel contains the active ingredient helix aspersa muller, which research is showing can be healing, soothing and anti-ageing. 

It’s thought to ease sensitivity and redness and leave skin smoother.

  1. Rose oil

Rose essential oil has been used for centuries in beauty and contains plenty of ingredients to calm stressed skin and add moisture.

It’s very hydrating thanks to its high composition of fatty acids and due to its antioxidant properties, rose oil offers your skin high protection against sensitivity and oxidative stress.2

Not only this, rose oil has a beautiful scent and inhaling it is proven to help soothe feelings of stress,3 which can adversely affect your skin.

Handpicked content: 5 reasons why you should be using rosehip oil

  1. Argan oil

This beauty multi-tasker is a fragrant oil that comes from the nut of the argan tree.

Organic argan oil is full of essential fatty acids, linoleic acids and antioxidants, as well as lots of vitamin E which explains its hydrating qualities.

If you have oily skin, don’t be afraid of argan oil as it can actually help balance an oily complexion.

When skin is sensitive or damaged, such as from over-cleansing, it can produce too much oil.

Argan oil can help fix this problem, as it may help to repair the skin’s natural protective barrier and help your skin to regain control of its oil production.

Handpicked content: Essential oils for your summer beauty routine

How to apply face serums

Where do face serums fit within the whole cleanse, tone and moisturise routine? Do they replace one of these steps or are they an extra step in themselves?

woman in bathroom applying face serum to face


Clean your face. 


Press a pea-sized amount of serum into your skin. If your skin’s sensitive, apply it 10 to 15 minutes after washing your face.


Apply your moisturiser. 


Use once or twice a day. 

What serum should I use?

Everyone’s skin is unique and has different needs, e.g., dry skin will have different requirements to oily skin, but don’t worry – there’s a serum for everyone out there!

We have listed our best serums below, categorised by various skin characteristics and goals, e.g., anti-ageing.

15 best serums for face

Here is a roundup of our best face serums we sell here at H&B.

  1. The best anti-ageing serum

Dr Organic Healthy Ageing Snail Gel Facial Serum

Key benefits

  • Contains nourishing Helix Aspersa Muller – a substance snails naturally produce to repair their own shell when it gets damaged
  • This serum can help our own facial skin feel smoother and energised
  • Helix Aspersa Muller is full of nutrients like hyaluronic acid, copper peptides, proteoglycans, glycoprotein, which can hydrate skin and help slow down signs of ageing
  • Suitable for vegetarians

What our customers think

Nicola – Great product – 5/5 stars

“I love this, I use it as a nighttime moisturiser as I can’t use creams at night as they are too much for my skin, nice and light I feel like my skin can breathe great results too.”

  1. The best night serum

VitaSkin Vitamin A Rejuvenating Night Serum

Key benefits

  • Packed with retinoids and carrot seed oil, which contain high levels of vitamin A and vitamin E
  • Promotes smoother, softer and visibly younger-looking skin
  • Leave it to soak in overnight and nourish the skin while you sleep
  • 99% natural and suitable for vegans

What our customers think

Sami – Vitamin A serum – 5/5 stars

“Very gentle and soft on the skin. It instantly makes you feel amazing and works.”

Niki2 – Love it – 5/5 stars

“I've been using the product for quite a few months now. I absolutely love it, it has done wonders for my complexion, my skin looks younger and the redness has gone.”

  1. The best value facial serum

Holland & Barrett Vitamin C + Hyaluronic Acid Serum

Key benefits

  • Contains vitamin C, which has incredible antioxidant properties for this skin and helps it to produce collagen.
  • Collagen is responsible for keeping our skin firm, elastic and more youthful-looking
  • Hyaluronic acid helps to brighten the skin, moisturise it and reduce redness
  • Suitable for vegans and vegetarians

What our customers think

Lassie – Great product – 5/5 stars

“Very pleased with product, can't believe how little you need to use, couple of drops is more than enough for whole face. After a week of use skin looks healthier, plumper & clearer.”

Beth – Great serum – 5/5 stars

“Best serum I've ever used. Gives radiant clear skin and helps imperfections and wrinkles.”

  1. The best serum for blemish prone skin 

Green People Oy! Clear Skin Purifying Serum

Key benefits

  • Clears spots quickly and balances the skin with tea tree extracts and back willow bark
  • Also contains yucca to cleanse and gently remove dead skin cells, as well as rosehip oil to promote a clear complexion
  • 89% certified organic and suitable for everyday use to target blemishes and smooth skin
  • Suitable for vegans and vegetarians

What our customers think

Mrs Prince – Surpassed my expectations! Super! – 5/5 stars

“Really great! I have used so very many prescribed acne treatments and only one worked semi well. This has been better than all of them and a natural based product makes it a win for me. It's light and not at all oily.

The one drawback is it is very easy to squeeze too much out, but this is not really an issue when it works so well. Really pleased!”

Jill – Young skin – 5/5 stars

“Brilliant non-chemical starter face product for my young daughter's skincare routine.”

  1. The best antioxidants serum

Antipodes Worship Antioxidant Serum

Key benefits

  • Formulated with antioxidant-rich ingredients like boysenberry, blackcurrant, kiwifruit, grape, coffee berry, acai extract and more
  • Certified organic by BioGro and certified vegan by the UK Vegetarian Society
  • Your skin’s daily shot of youth, suited to most skin conditions and helps to slow signs of ageing

What our customers think

Holll – Smells divine – 4/5 stars

“I can't see any difference in the appearance of my skin so far but it smells fruity and wonderful and feels nice on the skin.”

  1. The best hydrating serum

Oleus Hyaluronic Serum

Key benefits

  • Lightweight serum containing hyaluronic acid and panthenol (vitamin B5) to help the skin absorb and retain as much moisture as possible
  • Supports the skin’s natural barrier to leave you with firm, soft and youthful skin
  • Helps alleviate dry skin, reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, while giving the skin a healthy glow
  • Suitable for vegans and vegetarians

What our customers think

Donna MS – Good product! – 5/5 stars

“Good quality product, bought on offer, use a few times a week on my skincare regime. Very light, a little goes a good day. Good value for money and happy with the quality.”

Abeer – Very good – 5/5 stars

“Very good and would definitely recommend to anyone.”

  1. The best collagen facial serum

VitaSkin Vitamin C Collagen Boosting Serum

Key benefits

  • Rich in vitamin C from a special blend of kiwi, sweet orange, sea buckthorn oils
  • Vitamin C is essential for the skin’s production of collagen, so this serum could help support your natural collagen synthesis
  • Hydrates and plumps the skin while giving it a healthy glow
  • Suitable for vegans and vegetarians

What our customers think

Shel Dun – VitaSkin Vitamin C Collagen Boosting Serum – 5/5 stars

“Excellent, reasonably priced product. I have been using this for a few months now before my night cream and I have noticed a difference in my lines, I think my skin looks more plumped up and the product disappears into the skin, it only needs a couple of minutes to soak in before I apply my night cream.”

SKSays – This really works! – 5/5 stars

“This is a wonderful little product. I've only been using it for four days now, but from day one, my skin feels smooth and replenished. I've been applying it once at night, alongside my usual cleanser and moisturiser. I'm really impressed, I wasn't expected to see such wonderful results so soon!”

  1. The best sensitive skin serum

Aromaworks Delicate Face Serums

Key benefits

  • Full of nourishing ingredients like neroli, helichrysum, sweet orange and jasmine oils
  • Formulated specially for soothing and nourishing sensitive skin
  • The gentle bio-active ingredients help to improve the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines

What our customers think

Ave Phoenix – Excellent – 4/5 stars

“The serum has a semi-frothy texture to it that reminds me of frosted ice cream and it does thaws on your skin with a most pleasant spa-like, relaxing fragrance. My skin is glowing. I'll definitely be stocking up on this one and other Aroma Works Serums.”

  1. The best serums for dry skin

Oleus Argan Oil

Key benefits

  • Contains 100% natural and pure cold-pressed lightweight argan oil that’s naturally high in vitamin E, which is known for its moisturising properties
  • Ideal for use all over the body, face, and hair, and can even be used with sensitive skin
  • Provides daily support for rough, dry hair and skin
  • Suitable for vegans and vegetarians

What our customers think

Manola – Great product! – 5/5 stars

“This is very good quality argan oil, I have problematic skin, breakouts, dryness and in my 50’s, you can cleanse and moisturise with this one simple oil, does not clog pores, it’s amazing.”

CANBERRA - Restoring oil easily absorbed great price… - 5/5 stars

“Lovely oil easily absorbed I use this after my serum before my SPF.”

  1. The best under eye serum

Q+A Caffeine Eye Serum

Key benefits

  • A combination of caffeine, probiotics, green tea and pomegranate to rejuvenate the skin under your eyes
  • De-puffs brightens dark circles and boosts circulations under the eyes
  • Reduces water retention and helps protect this highly delicate skin
  • Vegan friendly and fragrance-free

What our customers think

SOPHIA1010 – Deserves cult status – 5/5 stars

“This is this only beauty product I have found to date that really helps with puffy eyes. I'm glad I found this as is has been a real game changer. Deserves cult status!”

Lesley_C – Reducing dark shadows – 5/5 stars

“I really do think it has improved the dark areas under my eyes. Noticing they aren't so dark and heavy.”

  1. The best face serum bar

Ethique Saving Face Serum Bar

Key benefits

  • All the serum goodness without the plastic and water waste – each bar prevents 3 plastic bottles from being made and thrown away, and saves 0.4 litres of water
  • Promotes firm, hydrated skin and is perfect for normal-to-dry skin
  • Made with luxurious ingredients like pomegranate, rosehip, cupuacu, and shea oils
  • Suitable for vegans

What our customers think

Anonymous – I love this – 5/5 stars

“Great moisturiser if you have dry skin. Although it does seem a bit expensive at first, a little goes a long way so I'm pretty confident the one packet will last me 6 months minimum!!”

LA60 – The perfect serum – 5/5 stars

“This serum is perfect, particularly as a nighttime moisturiser. It has left my face feeling soft and hydrated and is very easy to apply. I love that it is plastic free.”

  1. The best CBD serum

Grounded CBD Hyaluronic Acid Facial Serum

Key benefits

  • Contains high-quality CBD extract with hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, hemp and sunflower oil to nourish the skin
  • Revives dull skin with vitamins and minerals, while helping to firm and tighten
  • Great for all skin types including sensitive skin

What our customers think

Hoopy – Amazing product – 5/5 stars

“I was a bit unsure but this product works, fine lines and wrinkles nearly gone. Can make skin a little dry I found but I still used an overnight cream once it had soaked in.”

EmVrdy – Lovely serum – 5/5 stars

“I love using CBD products for my oily skin anyway so very much enjoying this serum after switching to mainly CBD products this year.

Any acne sufferers out there it helped to calm mine so much and with scarring it helped. I can tell when I’ve not been using it for a few days as my skin tends to get irritated.

The serum is nice and moisturising so you don't need to use too much - works really well with glycolic pads - any brand is good.”

  1. The best anti-redness serum

Manuka Doctor Anti-Redness Protective Serum

Key benefits

  • Lightweight serum made with premium Manuka honey, chicory root, aloe vera, allantoin and hyaluronic acid
  • Helps to balance the skin’s ecosystem for a healthy-looking complexion with less visible redness
  • Can help soothe and calm the skin, while providing a shield against everyday damage from the environment
  • Suitable for vegetarians

What our customers think

Beth63 – Great anti-redness serum – 5/5 stars

“After using this serum day and night for approximately 1week, I have noticed the redness on both cheeks becoming less red and the circumference has also minimised. I am so pleased I bought this serum and will be purchasing more in the near future.”

Jonesy – Great product – 5/5 stars

“I have been using this product for just one month now. I get redness around the cheek areas and nose. Have noticed a great improvement using morning and night. Redness is greatly reduced, and skin is visibly clearer. Just ordered 2 more now so i do not run out.”

  1. The best face serum for oily skin

Aromaworks Balance Face Serum

Key benefits

  • Made with nourishing ingredients suitable for oily and combination skin
  • Contains helichrysum, mandarin, rose geranium, and green myrtle
  • Gentle bio-active ingredients clear oily, congested skin, while balancing skin tone

What our customers think

Ave Pheonix – 5 STARS SERUM – 5/5 stars

“Excellent for combination skin. My face is GLOWING. This serum moisturizes your skin without leaving oily residues. A little goes a long way.”

LindtLover – Wow! – 5/5 stars

“My first reaction: OMG it smells exactly like the very expensive one I was always using (different well known company). Even my husband said the same I smell like always :).

It's such a lovely oil. Light texture, doesn't leave oily or sticky layer. I'm 40, going through an early menopause.

My skin is oily with hormonal spots sometimes and dark spots. I'm using it under my night cream. I'm so in love with it. My skin looks so fresh and feels lovely soft.”

  1. The best lip serum

Dr Organic Virgin Coconut Oil Lip Serum

Key benefits

  • Rich in natural MCTs (medium chain triglycerides) to help moisturise lip skin
  • Contains organic virgin coconut oil to protect and hydrate dry lips
  • Ideal for daily use, with aloe vera juice, fruit extracts, cocoa butter, essential oils and vitamins

What our customers think

Tanzeem – Love it – 5/5 stars

“Brilliant. Been using this product for over a year or so. Only thing that works for chapped- dry lips. Literally got my whole family onto it. Shout out to my friend who suggested it.”

Claire – Lip balm – 5/5 stars

“I’ve tried so many lip balms and never found one as good as this.”

Is facial serum suitable for everyone?

Most of use could benefit from some sort of facial serum in our lives, for that extra bit of nourishment before applying moisturiser.

However, everyone’s skin is different, so you need to test each new facial serum before using it every day to see if it’s compatible with your skin.

One serum may work fantastically for one person’s skin while wreaking havoc on somebody else’s complexion.

2 potential side effects of face serum

  1. Slight irritation: the skin may feel itchy and tingly when you apply serum, especially those containing acid, but this should subside. Keep an eye on it and stop using and wash it off if it continues to irritate your skin.
  2. Redness: some face serums can cause temporary redness. Again, if it doesn’t subside, wash it off immediately and stop using it.

The final say

  • Face serums contain moisturising and nourishing ingredients to support healthy skin.
  • They are often thinner in consistency than moisturisers and should be used before you apply your regular moisturiser.
  • Serums are often more potent than other skin care products, so you only have to use a small amount.
  • Potential benefits include exfoliation, skin brightening, reduced skin ageing, soothing sensitive skin, and more.
  • Popular facial serum ingredients include vitamin C, vitamin E, snail gel, rose oil, argan oil and hyaluronic acid.
  • There’s a different serum for every skin type including dry, oily and everything inbetween
The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Last updated: 7 October 2021



Author: Manisha TaggarSenior Regulatory Affairs Associate

Joined Holland & Barrett: May 2019

BSc Hons in Pharmaceutical & Cosmetic Science

Manisha started her career at a Cosmetics distributor as a Regulatory Technologist followed by a Regulatory Affairs Officer, ensuring the regulatory compliance of cosmetic products from colour cosmetics to skincare.

After 3 and half years in this role, Manisha joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.

Manisha specialises in Cosmetic products, both own-label and branded lines, ensuring that these products and all relating marketing material comply to the EU Cosmetics Regulation.

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