As much as I’ve made a conscious effort to include Serums from all price points, I always say this is an area where you spend most of your money as the lightweight texture helps deeper penetratation in skin, with potent active ingredients reaping you visible benefits. Having said that, some inexpensive options are also fantastic and should be given their well deserved credit. Lets crack on, sit back with glass of vino, coffee, or any beverage or snack or meal of your choice!
Generally you’d be looking for a good mixture of AHA with some moisturizing ingredients. AHA’s aid in resurfacing the skin to reveal fresher, brighter, even toned skin.
Sunday Riley Good Genes ($105) with 40% Unneutralized Lactic Acid, Lemongrass, Arnica, Licorice, Yeast is a bloody gorgeous resurfacing and radiance treatment. With slight lemony scent (attributed to Lemongrass) it instantly absorbs in the skin. I use this in very limited quantities. Use it, don’t abuse it.
Alpha H Gold Intensive Night Repair Serum ($68) having gone through multiple tubes of this myself, this product is one of my all time favs. Despite Alcohol Denat listed as the second ingredient it does not dry out my skin. Powerful punch of Glycolic Acid and Niacinamide (helps with pigmentation) excellent for resurfacing, boosting radiance and calming down any angry spots.
Skin Doctors Gamma Hydroxy Forte (AUD $60) housed in a glass jar, cream textured product packed with Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, Salicylic Acid, Retinol, Vitamin A Palmitate. Pleasantly scented and instantly absorbing formula, makes this is an excellent option for almost any skin concern (possibly not for sensitive skins).
Ren Radiance Perfection Serum ($55) This multi-active serum claims to leave skin looking more energized, radiant, even toned, plumped, and healthy. Over a period of time it claims to help reduce the appearance of sun damaged skin and hyperpigmentation, and help to boost hydration. I had deluxe sample of this, and whilst it is nice, the results didn’t sweep me off my feet.
Peter Thomas Roth Glycolic Acid 10% Hydrating Gel ($48) packed with Glycolic acid, Aloe Vera, Vitamin A, C and E making it a fabulous product. Alcohol Denat is on the list but it’s the last ingredient (sometimes used to stabilize Glycolic Acid). IMO quite an underrated product.
Derma E Overnight Peel ($19) is 100% vegan, cruelty-free, paraben-free, sulfate-free, mineral oil-free, lanolin-free, gluten free, GMO-free. Excellent for skin brightening, radiance, even tone (spots & scars) and texture. Needless to say it packs a wonderful inci list, packaging (plastic bottle), quantity (60ml), price point $19 with similar results to Good Genes.
Bravura London Lactic Acid 10% Peel Infused with Rose ($15) an AHA with a larger molecule (compared to Glycolic & Salicylic), enables more surface exfoliation and resurfacing action. Excellent for any acne scarring, sun spots, pigmentation, blotchiness, and boosting radiance. All skin types could use this including dry and dehydrated skins (also operates as humectant). I realize its named as a Peel, but its gentle on skin and can be used as serum as well (be guided by your skin’s tolerance). A simplified ingredient list makes it a friendlier option for people not so keen on dissecting inci lists (Purified Water, Rose Floral Water, Lactic Acid, Glycerin, Hydroxyethyl Cellulose, Sodium Hydroxide and Sodium Citrate).
Botanics All Bright Radiance Concentrate Serum ($14) is at an excellent price point for the ingredients it dishes up. Bilberry, Hibiscus, Sugar Cane, Citrus fruit extracts (Lemon), Orange flower extract. I have personally not used this serum, but my InstaSister @blogcreatifa loves it and I can see that on basis of the inci list.
OVERNIGHT RESURFACING TREATMENT
Concentrated forms of AHA’s and Retinol to resurface and revitalise the skin. Used strictly as a treatment, once or twice a week.
Sarah Chapman Skinesis Overnight Exfoliating Treatment ($90) for dull, uneven blotchy skin. A balanced cocktail of Lactic Acid, Willow Bark, Retinol, Exfolactive EL®, P Refinyl®, Glycorepair® which is gentle formualtion for the skin. Followed with a facial oil my skin appears plump and even toned the following morning.
Kate Somerville RetAsphere™ Micro Peel Retinol Glycolic Treatment ($90) Love the pump action, opaque tube with zero exposure to air and light (my heart serenades the packaging). This overnight peel not only includes all lovely AHA’s (10% Glycolic Acid derived from Sugar Cane and Beets, Natural Lactose) but also a decent boost of Retinol. Also thrown in for good measure are Licorice root extract, Arbutin and Hyaluronic Acid, which lightens scars and plumps skin. This has not left my skin dry or flaky despite 10% Glycolic and Retinol. For me, a definite repurchase.
We’ve all heard horror stories about Retinol, here are some forms of Vitamin A (lowest strength to the strongest), Retinyl Palmitate, Retinyl Linoleate, Retinol, Retinaldehyde, Adapalene, Tretinoin, Isotretinoin, and Tazarotene.
Auspect Clinical Pro A Serum enriched with Fireweed extract, Retinol, Lactic Acid, Kakadu Plum (one of my fav Aussie ingredient) housed in an opaque twist up pump action bottle designed to address skin resurfacing, even tone and firmer skin. I’ve used it 5-7 times so far, and it left my skin firm, under control (as far as spots are concerned), even toned and overall skin appeared wonderful.
Dr Dennis Gross Ferulic Acid & Retinol Brightening Solution ($88) Repurchased this product for its effectiveness with acne scars (including any extraction scars), dark spots, and sun damage. Jam-packed with Ferulic Acid, Retinol, Licorice Root Extract, Bearberry Extract, Arbutin, Mulberry Leaf Extract, Willow Bark Extract, Salicylic Acid, Glycolic Acid, Mandelic Acid, Sodium Hyaluronate, among others.
Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM ($65) is the only Retinol solution I’ve come across with the least possible ingredient listing. Slightly silicony texture but absorbs beautifully in the skin. The retinol formulation is gentle on skin and doesn’t result in dryness or flakiness. Excellent for calming angry skin, and resurfacing skin tone and texture.
La Roche Posay Redermic R ($57) My first array in Retinol, and it was instant love. Enriched with Retinol and Retinyl Linoleate with a cream textured gel like consistency in a metal tube, with no exposure to air or light. Doesn’t dry out skin and gradually does its job. I’d say if you’re starting with retinols I think LRP option is a safe bet as it’s gentler on skin and comparatively lower price point.
Generally recommended, BHA’s (Salicylic Acid) helps deeper penetration in skin due to its molecular structure. Some prefer Benzoyl Peroxide however I find it too harsh on skin.
La Roche Posay Effaclar Serum Let me cut to the chase, I’ve used this serum and would not recommend solely due to the potency of Alcohol. Its listed second and when applied to the skin I feel alcohol burn my skin. My nose gets decent hit of alcohol and I’m high! Sensitive skinned don’t even look at it. Just NO. Having said that, all other Effaclar variants are a big YES from me!
La Roche Posay Effaclar Duo (CAD26) Personally I haven’t used USA version with Benzoyl Peroxide (BP) and I don’t intend on using it either (therefore I won’t go in detail with the USA version). I find BP extremely harsh on the skin. Obviously both versions have slightly different claims, so I’ll be focusing on French version which I have used multiple tubes.
Normally I use this as a spot treatment, however during the fabulous time of the month when I feel every centimeter of my face might break out I spread a very thin layer of this gel cream all over my face. Next morning my face appears a lot calmer and “seemingly under control”. I still might have that odd break out on my jaw where I apply as a spot treatment in conjunction with nourishing face oils (always follow with an oil, nourish your skin dont declare war). This has been an excellent spot treatment for me, has worked consistently. Considering its 40ml its travel friendly too, which means life saver for bacteria infested long haul flights.
La Roche Posay Effaclar K (spot treatment Effaclar AI) $31 Can be used as daily treatment, gentle on skin, helps refine the skin and address odd spots or very mild acne. Includes Salicylic Acid (1.5%) to refine skin texture, deal with break outs and unclog pores. Surprisingly, this product leaves my skin incredibly soft and moisturized, always keep this one stocked up. It has not disappointed me at all.
Bravura London Salicylic Acid Peel 2% ($14) I realize this product is marketed as a Peel, but at 2% Salicylic and a pH level of 4 it works incredibly well on spots as a serum or spot treatment. The texture is a colourless runny liquid and if followed with decent facial oil or moisturizer you will notice a difference in skin texture (overnight!). Even the underlying congestion is addressed with this bad boy. Simple concoction of 7 ingredients (Distilled Water, Salicylic acid, Propylene Glycol, Hexylene Glycol, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Hydroxide).
Santa Maria Novella Fluido Pelle Impura Del Viso I’ve been through 3 bottles of this about 4 or so years ago. I didn’t repurchase because I couldn’t source it in Australia. Very light gel fluid which is instantly absorbed in skin. Incorporates a blend of Sage, Calendula, Echinacea and Burdock extract.
Look out for products chockfull with Niacinamide (Vitamin B3). It’s the powerhouse ingredient and certainly not cheap. Friggin fabulous for spots, red blotchiness, pigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles. Other ‘natural’ ingredients to look out for are: Licorice, Arbutin (natural derivative of hydroquinone derived from plants, including Bearberry, Blueberry, and Cranberry), and Kojic Acid.
Auspect Clinical Pro B Extreme Serum boosted with 8% Niacinamide (listed as second ingredient), Vitamin B, Lactic Acid, Peptides, Yeast (wonderful humectant), among other ingredients it claims to protect natural skin barrier leaving it healthy, hydrated and balanced – I’ve tried 4-5 times (so far I LOVE it), will report back in a month.
La Roche Posay PigmentClar ($53) I really like this serum, enriched with Niacinamide, Sodium hyaluronate, Ginkgo biloba extract (sacred tree in Chinese culture), and Salicylic acid. Tiny addition of BHA – Salicylic acid helps with ongoing battle with spots whilst the higher concentration ingredients do they’re advertised job.
Olay ProX Spot Fading Treatment ($45) Having Niacinamide listed as the second ingredient, pretty awesome work on behalf of Olay (as drugstore option). I didn’t have overnight dramatic results, but over a period of time it certainly helped my skin.
Very important ingredient to inhibit the oxidation of free radicals. Hundreds of Antioxidants exist in the market today, some buzz words you need to look out for, Green Tea, Resveratrol, Vitamin C, E, Idebenone, Alpha Lipoic Acid, Retinol, Squalene, Coenzyme Q-10, Caffeine.
Aesop B Triple C Facial Balancing Gel ($120) By far the weirdest texture (like honey), absorbs in about 30 or so seconds and leaves skin glowing. Although in the same category there are other cost effective options. Enriched with Aloe Leaf Juice, stabilized form of Vitamin C (Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate), Witch Hazel water, Vitamin B5, Lactic Acid, essential oils (lavender, chamomile, camellia, matricaria, parsley).
Grown Alchemist Antioxidant+ Detox Serum ($49) in a dark brown glass bottle with a pump. Many complain the texture of this serum is very watery/liquidy, personally I don’t see that as a deal breaker at all. Skin appears visibly healthy, although I tend to layer with another treatment like serum. It’s a great option for oily skins as a day or night serum. Fueled with Aloe Vera Extract, plant derived antioxidants, Vitamin B5, Nicinamide, Peptides, and Lactic Acid.
Sukin Facial Recovery Serum ($19) Now this one has a watery texture too BUT the texture is like milk gone bad diluted in water. SO before you think smell is rotten, NO. It’s actually quite a pleasant smelling serum. Claims to have natural actives of Kale, Spirulina, Chlorella, Parsley, Acai fruit extract, Grape seed oil, Avocado and Vitamin E. In plain words, I find it very hydrating for skin and a perfect makeup base. Again downside, only available in Australia. Sorry People!
VITAMIN C SERUMS
Buzz word be Ascorbic Acid (L-Ascorbic Acid) which is great for brown spots and aids skin with luminosity. Other forms of Vitamin C are Retinyl Ascorbate, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, Ethyl Ascorbic Acid.
Auspect Clinical Pro C Serum claims to have a stable, oil soluble form of Vitamin C (Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate) with vitamin E and peptides. I’ve used this only for a week, will post an update in a month.
Hylamide C25 ($33) claims to have concentrated and completely stable 25% Vitamin C (Ethyl Ascorbic Acid) booster offers a fast-tracked approach to a visibly radiant, healthy skin tone. Housed in a transparent glass bottle with a pipette, an oily texture and at a wonderful price point, worth a try.
Ingredients to keep an eye out for are Hyaluronic Acid (an incredibly hydrating ingredient that holds up to 1,000 times its weight in water) along with some humectants (Glycerin, Vitamin E, Sodium Hyaluronate (salt of Hyaluronic acid with smaller molecular size allowing deeper penetrability), Yeast extracts) and oils (Jojoba).
Black Chicken Remedies Love Your Face Serum ($79) – Since I don’t own this product or haven’t tried it, its only smart to link straight to Lady Hirons who has used this product and has a detailed review.
Pestle & Mortar Hyaluronic Serum ($70) I have not personally used this serum however if you would like to consider it there are plenty of reviews out there.
Dr Weil Mega Mushroom Serum ($53-30ml) is fortified with Sea Buckthorn plus skin-repairing Reishi, irritant-soothing Chaga and Cordyceps mushrooms, long used in Chinese medicine to heal, promote longevity and improve health. I do love the smell and runny texture of this serum which is housed in dark plastic bottle with pump. The result is beautiful, resilient, and plump skin.
Caudalie Vinosource SOS Thirst Quenching Serum ($49) claims to capture and continually diffuse water deep within the skin to restore its moisture balance and leave skin feeling soft and supple – yet to try, will report back in a month or so.
Clinique Moisture Surge ($39) is much raved about, a sample broke me out so I wouldn’t personally recommend based on my experience however some people swear by it. Therefore it is an option you could look into for yourself.
Vichy Aqualia Thermal Serum ($36) is synonymous with Sali Hughes. It claims with the advanced Dynamic Hydration technology it helps to distribute & lock water in all facial zones, preserving the freshness of beauty. Formulated with Hyaluronic Acid and Aquabioryl™ known to replenish the hydration with water and form a protective film. Contains fortifying and soothing Vichy Thermal Spa Water. Paraben-free. I’ve personally not used this so cannot comment, but again something for you to look into and consider.
Bioderma Hydrabio ($35) developed in the Bioderma Research laboratories, the Aquagenium® biological patent found in Hydrabio Légère retrains the skin to activate its natural moisturising capacities by stimulating the production of aquaporins, water channels in the skin, and retain the water it needs to be balanced. Its a gorgeous light gel textured serum, instantly absorbed in the skin. The skin feels like it binged on million litres/gallons of water!!! I’ve used this for couple of years and love the serum and moisturizer (legere/light version).
The Body Shop Vitamin E Overnight Serum in Oil ($27) – My most recommended and repurchased serum in oil. Still nothing beats this with the highest concentration of Wheatgerm oil (fabulous source of Vitamin E) which is fabulous for replenishing and recharging skin barrier. Not overly heavy or sticky just a wonderful easily absorbed, pleasantly scented formula at mere $27. Win! The skin is properly hydrated and looks well rested.
Juju AquaMoist Hyaluronic Acid Essence ($25) enriched with “Pure H100” essence preserves the moisturizing effect with hyaluronic acid that also builds up the moisture barrier to hydrate within your skin. In my opinion, it a souped up version of Hydraluron (availibility is limited in Western world).
Reviva Labs Hyaluronic Acid Serum ($21) has compounded a higher level of premium Hyaluronic Acid into a precious fluid that can help raise your skin’s moisture level to tone-down lines. I think, its a nice gel texture serum at an inexpensive price point, but we have better options to consider.
Hylamide Hydration Booster ($20) – Hyper-strength rehydration serum with 5 forms of hyaluronic compounds with varying molecular weights to target visible skin rehydration at multiple levels. Not used myself but I know fellow IG’er @tophcam loves this serum.
Indeed Labs Hydraluron Moisture Serum ($18) – I’ve been hooked to this guy for least 4 years (to my memory), been through multiple tubes. The most effective formula (I’ve come across), although it needs to be layered under an oil or moisturizer. Obviously formulated with Sodium Hyaluronate and Red Marine Algae helps provide and seal in maximum hydration.
Indeed Labs Hydraluron Moisture Jelly ($18) – Recommended to pair with Hydraluron serum, I found this jelly on its own sufficient for my skin. Claimed to use a combination of 5 ingredients to help provide instant and sustained moisture to skin. Suspended in a hyaluronic acid matrix this refreshing jelly features PatcH20, a micro network complex that helps to lock in moisture leaving looking skin soft, supple and glowing. If I had to choose between Moisture Jelly and Serum, it would have to be the serum for me.
The Body Shop Nutriganics Smoothing Serum (Discontinued) This pre-moisturiser hydrates, helping to smooth and plump the skin. I Love this, and I’ve been through 2 bottles except now it is discontinued.
ALL ROUNDER SERUMS
Good balanced mix of humectants, skin hydrating ingredients, skin plumpers, antioxidants, and treatment potions.
Anne Semonin Active Serum (30ml, $145) If you compare full ingredient listing of Anne Semonin Serum and EL Advanced Night Repair, based solely on inci list you’d see why you’re paying such a steep price. This serum is mega power house of hydration and plumping action (with expensive ingredients). Fueled by Red Micro Algae, extracts of Evening Primrose, Irish Moss, Myrrrh, Bitter Vetch, Azelaic acid (wonderful for dark spots), Lysine (an amino acid to aid with fine lines).
Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair II (30ml, $62) enriched with good Bacteria (Bifida Ferment Lysate, Lactobacillus Ferment), Vitamins (B5, C, E), Antioxidants (Kola Seed Extract, Chamomile), Hydrolyzed Algin (enzyme from seaweed), Caffeine, Squalane (strong antioxidant properties, helps fortify the skin barrier and improve skin hydration.), Sodium Hyaluronate, Yeast Extract. It has some colours (Red 4, Yellow 5) added towards end of the listing, which is unnecessary but doesn’t compromise the efficacy. One way to describe this serum is, Good Skin in a Bottle.
Dr Lewinns Reversaderm Tri-Collagen Accelerating Serum (AUD$70) housed in a white opaque glass bottle, creamy textured serum with some seriously fabulous ingredients like Irish Moss, Sodium Hyaluronate, Grape Seed Oil, Vitamin C, Oligopeptide-24, Resveratrol Ferment Extract, Glycolic Acid, Vitamin E, French Saffron Extract. Sadly availability is limited to Australia and New Zealand region. I absolutely enjoyed using this serum as it instantly absorbed in the skin and it appeared healthy, plump and well rested.
Trilogy CoQ10 Booster Oil Serum ($44) is technically (as per texture) a face oil. Enhanced with Macadamia, Blueberry, Tamanu, Black Cumin, Chia, Jojoba and Pomegranate oils, this leaves the skin so incredibly glowing, plump and refreshed the following morning. Its great value for money given the ingredient line up is excellent.
ANTI AGING SERUMS
For me this is a hard category to truly test product claims, considering I’m only using these as a preventative measure. I don’t have wrinkles or lines on my face (YET) but I could only talk in terms of its “all rounder” properties.
Apivita Natural Serum Line Reducer ($40) I find this serum incredibly hydrating and moisturizing to the skin considering it has a decent boost of humectants and antioxidants.
Coup d’Eclat Ampoules give a serious firming action on your face, I don’t have wrinkles yet but when I apply this ampoule I feel my face has tightened and dont feel any saggy bits.
Nutox Serum Concentrate I absolutely adore the scent and love it for hydrating properties.
Hylamide Sub-Q Anti Aging I’ve yet to try will report back in a couple of months.
If you’ve used any of these serums, I’d love to hear from you about your opinions and experiences. I intend on keeping this as a continually evolving post as I try various serums. All updates, edits will be made here, making it The Serum Reference Point.