The Best Drugstore Serums That Won’t Break the Bank

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If there’s one step in your skincare routine you should never skip out on, it’s serum. Lightweight, easy to layer, and oh so potent, these super-concentrated skin saviors deliver actives to deep layers of the skin that traditional, heavier moisturizers and oils simply cannot. Serums can target the most specific and complex skin concerns, whether it’s fading hyperpigmentation and scarring, shrinking enlarged pores, or even turning back the hands of time. Whatever your concerns may be, there’s a serum for it—and trust me when I say it’ll probably be more effective than any cream or cleanser.

Because serums are formulated with such powerful actives, they can potentially cost you a pretty penny. However, a hefty price tag doesn’t necessarily mean that a product is more effective—there are plenty of affordable options that work just as hard for a fraction of the cost.

Below, we rounded up the very best drugstore serums the beauty aisle has to offer, no matter your skin type or skin concerns.

Best Overall: No7 Protect & Perfect Intense Advanced Serum

4.7
No7 Protect & Perfect Intense Advanced Serum

Ulta

What We Like
  • Hydrating formula

  • Helps firm skin

  • Leaves skin feeling soft and smooth

What We Don't Like
  • Contains parabens

Who else recommends it? Who What Wear and StyleCraze both picked the No7 Protect & Perfect Serum.

What do buyers say? 92% of 2,900+ Amazon reviewers rated this product 4 stars or above.

Simply put, this serum from No7 is legendary. Not only is it formulated with mega-hydrating hyaluronic acid, but it also includes the brand’s Matrixyl 3000+ anti-wrinkle peptide technology, which packs a serious anti-aging punch—so much so that it’s been clinically proven to work just as effectively as its luxury competition. In a consumer study, users claimed their skin looked more youthful after using it for just two weeks and had visibly reduced fine lines and wrinkles after four. This serum will also protect you from future signs of aging and environmental stressors, making it a solid option for all ages. 

Benefits: Hydrates, plumps, reduces appearance of fine lines and wrinkles | Skin Type: All | Dosage: Twice daily | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Budget: The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5

4.2
The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5

Amazon

What We Like
  • Hydrating ingredients

  • Absorbs quickly

  • Leaves skin feeling soft and smooth

What We Don't Like
  • Slightly off-putting scent

Chances are, you’re already familiar with The Ordinary and its wallet-friendly but quality assortment of serums, oils, and more. This best-selling serum from the brand is a fan favorite, offering deep hydration and skin barrier support thanks to hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5. Since it uses a combination of different hyaluronic acid molecules that vary in molecular weight, this lightweight gel reaches multiple layers of the skin. Sounds pretty high-tech for such a low price tag, right? Trust us when we say it’s an absolute must!

Benefits: Hydrates | Skin Type: All | Dosage: A few drops twice daily | Size: 1 / 2 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

the ordinary hyaluronic acid 2% + B5

 Byrdie / Olivia Hancock

What Our Testers Say

"Immediately after applying it to my skin, my skin felt like it had taken a bath in the most hydrating serum." — Olivia Hancock, Product Tester

Best for Dry Skin: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Serum

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Serum
What We Like
  • Gives skin a glow

  • Leaves skin feeling soft and smooth

  • Silky texture

What We Don't Like
  • May irritate acne-prone skin

A tall glass of water for extra-parched skin, Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost Hydrating Serum is formulated with hyaluronic acid to attract and lock in moisture while strengthening the skin's natural moisture barrier. This quenching formula is a favorite of Byrdie associate editor Holly Rhue because it leaves the skin deeply hydrated, supple, and glowy. Also nice: It’s oil-free and non-comedogenic, so you can rely on it to moisturize without ever clogging pores and causing a breakout.

Benefits: Hydrates, smooths | Skin Type: All | Dosage: An even layer once per day | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best for Oily Skin: Versed Just Breathe Clarifying Serum

Versed Just Breathe Clarifying Serum
What We Like
  • Calms redness

  • Packaging made from recycled materials

  • Helps fade dark spots

What We Don't Like
  • May irritate sensitive skin

The Just Breathe Clarifying Serum from Versed is a must for anyone suffering from oily, blemish-prone skin. The combined forces of willow bark extract, niacinamide, and zinc work nix breakout-inducing excess sebum, calm inflammation, and soothe redness and irritation. It’s also fragrance-free and clean, making it ideal for sensitive skin types, too.

Benefits: Clears pores, calms skin | Skin Type: Oily, acne-prone | Dosage: 2-3 drops | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Brightening: Acure Brightening Glowing Serum

Acure Brightening Glowing Serum
What We Like
  • Contains antioxidants

  • Made with certified organic ingredients

  • Also removes makeup

What We Don't Like
  • Feels a little heavy

Looking to refresh dull, dry skin? This brightening serum from Acure is your ticket to an out-of-this-world glow sans irritation. Formulated with moisturizing argan oil and soothing borage oil, it’s deeply nourishing, albeit slightly heavier than the average serum. It also contains cranberry and pumpkin seed oil, which add some major antioxidant benefits. Best of all? It’s 100% vegan and cruelty-free, as well as cleanly formulated—meaning it’s totally free of parabens, sulfates, mineral oil, petrolatum, or formaldehyde.

Benefits: Gives skin a glow, hydrates | Skin Type: All | Dosage: 1-2 pumps | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best for Hyperpigmentation: Differin Dark Spot Correcting Serum

Differin Dark Spot Correcting Serum
What We Like
  • Effective formula

  • Goes on clear

  • Leaves skin feeling soft and smooth

What We Don't Like
  • Can be drying

When you need something strong to combat the effects of hyperpigmentation, whether from acne or sun damage, Differin’s Dark Spot Correcting Serum is a pretty potent option. It’s formulated with 2% hydroquinone, the most effective brightening agent you can buy without a prescription, which fades and corrects dark spots and scarring. This stuff may be powerful, but it’s also gentle enough for daily use and can be applied either AM or PM—plus, the addition of sea buckthorn berry oil and citric acid help to soothe and renew the skin.

Benefits: Fades dark spots | Skin Type: Sensitive | Dosage: Daily | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Anti-Aging: Olay Regenerist Regenerating Serum

4.7
Olay Regenerist Regenerating Serum

Courtesy of Target

What We Like
  • Good value

  • Lightweight

  • Visually plumps skin

What We Don't Like
  • May irritate acne-prone skin

The cult-favorite Regenerist Regenerating Serum from Olay is a true anti-aging powerhouse, firming and plumping the skin while fighting pesky lines and wrinkles. Thanks to its specially formulated Amino-Peptide Complex II, this lightweight gel-serum delivers moisturizing ingredients ten layers deep into the skin’s surface, regenerating surface cells while restoring skin elasticity from within. You’ll start to reap see powerful skin-refining benefits after just one use, but after four weeks, you can expect much smoother, firmer skin with a noticeably reduced appearance of lines, wrinkles, and other signs of aging.

Benefits: Hydrates, firms, reduces appearance of fine lines and wrinkles | Skin Type: Dry, mature | Dosage: Twice daily | Size: 0.5 / 1.7 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Hydrating: e.l.f. cosmetics Hydrating Serum

e.l.f. Hydrating Serum
What We Like
  • Contains antioxidants

  • Wears well under makeup

  • Inexpensive

What We Don't Like
  • Contains triethanolamine

Looking for a deeply moisturizing treatment without a heavy, oily feel? Look no further than e.l.f.’s Hydrating Serum, a nourishing yet lightweight facial serum infused with jojoba, aloe, vitamin E, grape, and shea butter that works to strengthen, soothe, and protect the skin. Wear it alone for quick-absorbing, light hydration, or layer under your daily moisturizer or oil for an added moisture boost.

Benefits: Hydrates, soothes | Skin Type: All | Dosage: A small amount twice daily | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Exfoliating: The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA

4.7
The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA

Courtesy of Ulta

What We Like
  • Inexpensive

  • Reduces discoloration

  • Smooths and clears the skin

What We Don't Like
  • May be too strong for some

Another fan favorite from The Ordinary, the exfoliating Lactic Acid 10% + HA serum treatment is the secret to radiant, glowing skin. Applied in the PM, this AHA formula—supported by hyaluronic acid and Tasmanian pepperberry—smoothes skin texture, evens out skin tone, reduces congestion, and fights signs of aging, all while you catch some Zs. Do keep in mind that this stuff is pretty potent. Because lactic acid is an AHA, be sure to load up on SPF and limit sun exposure while using this and for a week afterward. While AHAs are safe to use with other ingredients, experts recommend starting with one active ingredient at a time, to avoid irritation.

Benefits: Exfoliates, calms inflammation | Skin Type: All | Dosage: Once per day | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

the ordinary lactic acid 10% + HA

 Byrdie / Joline Buscemi

What Our Testers Say

"I’m happy to share that The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA actually made a big difference in my skin. After only a few uses, I noticed a difference in my post-acne pigmentation." — Joline Buscemi, Product Tester

Best With Vitamin C: Vichy LiftActiv Vitamin C Brightening Skin Corrector

Vichy LiftActiv Vitamin C Brightening Skin Corrector
What We Like
  • Not sticky

  • Gives skin a glow

  • Oil-free

What We Don't Like
  • Could be more hydrating

If your skin is dull, bumpy, sun-damaged, or could use a general boost in the radiance department, you should consider incorporating vitamin C into your routine. It works wonders for the skin, responsible for brightening dark spots and dullness, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and boosting its overall glow. This Vichy serum contains 15% of pure vitamin C—a pretty high percentage—plus hyaluronic acid to transform your complexion in as little as ten days. It certainly doesn’t hurt that this non-sticky formula is clean, containing only 11 different ingredients.

Benefits: Evens out skin tone, hydrates | Skin Type: Oily | Dosage: 4-5 drops once per day | Size: 0.3 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best With Hyaluronic Acid: L'Oréal Paris Revitalift 1.5% Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum

4
loreal-hyaluronic-acid-serum

Courtesy of Walmart

What We Like
  • Available in multiple sizes

  • Not sticky

  • Lightweight

What We Don't Like
  • Consistency is thin

As you may already know, hyaluronic acid is the key to truly hydrated skin down to a cellular level, which is why so many serums on the market today contain this beloved, skin-nourishing ingredient. A molecule that’s naturally found in the skin, topical application increases moisture levels instantly, leaving the skin supple and plump. That’s why we’re major fans of this serum from L’Oréal, which is formulated with 1.5% pure hyaluronic acid. In as little as a week, you can expect a major radiance boost, making this affordable option an absolute must.

Benefits: Hydrates, plumps, reduces appearance of fine lines and wrinkles | Skin Type: All | Dosage: 2-3 drops twice daily | Size: 0.5 / 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best With Retinol: RoC Retinol Correxion Smoothing Night Serum Capsules

RoC Retinol Correxion Smoothing Night Serum Capsules

Amazon

What We Like
  • A little goes a long way

  • Leaves skin feeling soft and smooth

  • Soothes sensitive skin

What We Don't Like
  • Can feel a little greasy

A favorite of Byrdie Editorial Director Faith Xue, this RoC serum offers the real deal results of a prescription retinoid without the irritation typically associated with it. Suitable for all skin types, you can expect some pretty dramatic results from this potent serum, with studies showing a visible reduction in lines and wrinkles in just one use and a total skin transformation in as little as four weeks. We also love that each dose is packaged in its own biodegradable capsule, guaranteeing ingredient freshness and potency. And for the price? You can't beat it.

Benefits: Hydrates, reduces appearance of fine lines and wrinkles | Skin Type: All | Dosage: One capsule nightly | Size: 30 count | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best for Breakouts: SheaMoisture African Black Soap Resurfacing Night Serum

SheaMoisture African Black Soap Resurfacing Night Serum
What We Like
  • Helps fade dark spots

  • Great scent

  • Leaves skin feeling soft and smooth

What We Don't Like
  • Can feel a little heavy

This new launch from SheaMoisture is the ultimate breakout fighter for acne-prone skin. Using a combination of AHAs and BHAs to resurface the skin overnight, it combats acne and improves the skin’s overall texture. Plus, we can’t help but love that it’s clean, formulated without parabens, phthalates, sulfates, and plenty of other not-so-nice skincare ingredients.

Benefits: Resurfaces, gives skin a glow | Skin Type: All | Dosage: 1-2 drops nightly | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Smoothing: CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum

CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum

Courtesy of CeraVe

What We Like
  • Soothes sensitive skin

  • Absorbs quickly

  • Helps fade dark spots

What We Don't Like
  • Can be a little drying

If you’re dealing with rough and bumpy skin texture, whether it be from acne scarring or extra-dry skin, CeraVe’s Revitalizing Retinol Serum will totally renew your complexion. Formulated with encapsulated retinol, it helps to resurface the outermost layer of the skin without any of the irritation or negative side effects typically associated with retinol use. Additionally, ceramides 1, 3, and 6-II restore the skin’s delicate barrier while licorice root extract minimizes pores and acne scars. Finally, niacinamide helps to calm and soothe the skin. It's also fragrance-free, non-comedogenic, and allergy-tested, so even those with more sensitive complexions can reap its benefits.

Benefits: Smooths, evens out skin tone | Skin Type: Oily, acne-prone | Dosage: An even layer daily | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best for Large Pores: Melé Smooth Pore Minimizing Serum

Melé Smooth Pore Minimizing Serum
What We Like
  • Blurs pores

  • Controls oil and shine

  • Wears well under makeup

What We Don't Like
  • Contains fragrance

If large pores are plaguing your complexion, look no further than this pore-minimizing serum by Melé, a new skincare brand created with dermatologists of color formulated specially for melanin-rich skin. Not only does it visibly blur the appearance of pores, but tripeptides and rosehip extract reduce pore size and rebalance the skin’s oil levels, ensuring you stay shine-free all day long. It may only be a month old, but rave reviews are already in: This stuff really works. Not to mention, it’s clean and formulated without parabens, phthalates, alcohol, or mineral oil, which is a major plus.

Benefits: Smooths, minimizes appearance of pores | Skin Type: Oily | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

What to Look For in Drugstore Serums

Skin Type

Before choosing a drugstore serum, it is wise to recognize your skin type. Dry skin will require different formulations than oily or acne-prone skin. Aging skin can benefit from products that specifically address fine lines, elasticity, and dullness concerns. 

Choose a drugstore serum labeled for your skin type and look for ingredients that address your specific skin concerns. For acne-prone skin, look for non-comedogenic products that moisturize without clogging pores, such as hyaluronic acid-based serums. 

Those with dry skin can look for serums that contain rich oils and moisturizers and retinol, antioxidants, and peptides.

Benefits

Aside from products that are labeled for your specific skin type, look for serums that go beyond to provide additional skin-loving benefits for all skin types. Hyaluronic acid will attract and retain moisture in your skin, antioxidants will help repair sun and pollution damage, and beta hydroxy acids and alpha hydroxy acids will help resurface and exfoliate your skin for a renewed glow.

Potent Ingredients

Serums are designed for potency and effectiveness. Look for drugstore serums that pack a punch with high-quality ingredients in amounts that work. Look for the percentages of desired ingredients on product labels.

FAQ
  • Which drugstore serum is the best?

    The No7 Protect & Perfect Intense Advanced Serum is our top pick for the best drugstore serum. It contains moisture-loving hyaluronic acid plus a peptide complex unique to the brand that fights wrinkles and other signs of aging. It is clinically proven to be effective without breaking the bank.

  • Can I use face serum daily?

    You can use face serum daily and should be if you want the best results. As with any skincare product, consistent use is best. However, if your drugstore serum contains very potent ingredients and aggravates your skin if it is sensitive, you may wish to use a specific serum less frequently, such as two to three times per week. Examples include AHAs, BHAs, and retinol.

  • Do I need both serum and moisturizer?

    You can use both serum and moisturizer. Some skin types may not need both, but moisturizers are still wise since they can protect the skin’s barrier, helping seal in the moisture obtained from serums.

  • What does a face serum do?

    Face serums provide multiple benefits depending on the ones you choose. Often they provide nourishing oils and moisture-loving ingredients such as hyaluronic acid. They typically contain other potent ingredients that treat skin concerns like acne, dryness, aging, or dullness.

How We Researched & Tested

To compile this list, our team of editors and contributors spent hours researching the best products on the market in this category, evaluating their key features—like ingredients, shade range, or design—in addition to reviews from customers and other trusted sources. Our team also incorporated their own personal experiences testing products in their own lives. We then used these insights from our research and testing to assign a star rating from one to five (five being the best; one being the worst) to certain products on the list.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. 17 face serums that do the most but don't cost more than $40. Who What Wear. https://www.whowhatwear.com/best-drugstore-face-serums

  2. The 15 best drugstore facial serums you must try out in 2022. StyleCraze. https://www.stylecraze.com/articles/best-drugstore-face-serum

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