Best face serum UK reviews and tests

Best face serum: We’ve tested 55+ of the best serums for face and neck

7th August 2023 | Author: Victoria Woollaston-Webber

Discover which serum best suits your skin with our pick of the best face serums and essences that offer the most hydration and protection


Click the links below to jump to the relevant section:

Best face serum list

Best face serum reviews

How we test face serums

Scoring Methodology 

Best serum spreadsheet

Our cabinets and dressing tables are teeming with skincare. Some are relatively straightforward. Moisturisers, toners, and cleansers all do what they say on the tin but the ‘new kids on the block’ are the best face serums, and their role isn’t quite so clear-cut.

As you can read more about in our science of serums article, face serums target specific skin concerns, whether it’s dehydration, ageing, dull skin, or more. They’re typically packed full of a high concentration of potent ingredients that penetrate deeper into the skin than moisturiser to get to the root of the problem.

When seeking out the best face serum, it’s crucial you know exactly what you want to achieve and choose a serum that contains ingredients that target those goals specifically.

We recently started a series on TikTok in which we’re testing the hydration levels of different skincare products in a bid to find the best serums and essences, as well as the best moisturisers in the UK.

We’re tracking the scores for each on a spreadsheet which you can find here, or by clicking the button below.

We’ve started listing the best serums that have been tested as part of this series, as well as the serums that we’ve used in real life that we highly recommend. For the purposes of these tests, we’re putting essences and serums together. This is because they largely do the same thing and a lot of the differences are marketing terms.

Serums, typically, have more concentrated or specific ingredients though so if you’re looking for a product for a particular skincare problem, a serum is usually the better way to go.

If you’re interested to learn more about how we test serums, jump straight to that section, and if you want to take part in our skincare reviews and get free samples, join our mamabella Reader Review panel.


Best face serums: Top 10

This list is due to change and evolve as more tests are completed. These are the best serums and essences as of August 2023. You can see the current leaderboard for the best moisturisers and best toners here.

  1. Fenty Skin Fat Water Toner Serum
  2. Elizavecca Milky Piggy Hyaluronic Acid Pure
  3. Good Molecules Hyaluronic Acid Serum
  4. Hada Labo Anti-Ageing Hydrator
  5. Cos de Baha Hyaluronic Acid
  6. Essence Hello, Good Stuff! Glow Serum Primer
  7. The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 Serum
  8. Beauty of Joseon Glow Serum
  9. COSRX Hyaluronic Acid Power Essence
  10. Hada Labo 5HA Intense Lotion

You can find the rest of the top 20 best serums by clicking here, or scrolling down.


Best serum reviews

We’ll be adding to this best serum list as the tests continue and as the scores and leaderboard change. If you have any specific requests then please drop us a comment, or via TikTok.

1. Fenty Skin Fat Water Toner Face Serum

£27 |  Buy now (UK) | Buy now (US) 

View the full TikTok test here

Fenty Skin Fat Water Toner reviewFenty Skin

Technically this group test isn’t for toners, however, Fenty Skin claims its Fat Water toner doubles up as a face serum so we’re treating it as such.

In fact, a serum that offers additional benefits (like toning) is a bonus.

In our best serum test, Fat Water increased the hydration of our skin by 10. 7 percentage points, which is a staggering increase of 41.5% overall.

Until this test, the previous highest hydration came from the COSRX’s Snail Mucin Essence, at 32.2%.

The fact that Fenty’s toner/serum added 10% on top of that is quite frankly astonishing.

Not to mention the fact that the entire Fenty Skin range is vegan-friendly and cruelty-free.

It’s not perfect.

We find it a nightmare to squeeze out of the tube. You have to twist the lid and turn the tube upside down, and the serum comes out of a small hole in the top. Yet the hole is so small, you either get too little, or you squeeze the tube and get too much!

Plus the lid has a habit of twisting closed easily, meaning you can’t get any out.

It’s also not the cheapest serum we’ve tested, which will likely put it out of many people’s reach.

The plus side is that you’re effectively getting two products for the price of one and if our test is anything to go by, you’re getting a whole lot of hydration and impact for your money.

READ NEXT: Fenty Skin UK: Rihanna looks to add Fenty Hair to her growing beauty empire

Buy from Boots UK | Buy from Fenty US

2. Elizavecca Milky Piggy Hyaluronic Acid Pure

£22.99 | Buy now (UK) | Buy now (US)

View the full TikTok test here

Elizavecca Milky Piggy Hyaluronic Acid reviewmamabella | mamabella

In our pursuit of products that bring maximum results with minimal ingredients (and thus minimal chance of irritation or other skin problems), the Elizavecca Milky Piggy Hyaluronic Acid Pure serum takes the crown.

As its name suggests, it contains just one ingredient – hyaluronic acid. This is a wonder ingredient found naturally in the skin, meaning that it suits all skin types.

The ingredient, and thus this serum’s power, comes from the fact it’s able to hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water making it ideal for dry and dehydrated skin, but also good for oily and combination skin.

It’s a common myth that oily skin needs to be dried out as much as possible. Oily skin still needs hydration, but the hydration needs to come from ingredients and products that don’t feel heavy on the skin and won’t clog pores.

In our hydration tests, this serum increased the hydration levels of our skin by 9.7 points (32.9%) after five minutes. This jump did drop slightly after an hour – by 4.4 points – but this gave a total rise of 5.3 points (18%) which is higher than average.

This, combined with the fact it’s relatively affordable (per 30ml) and scored the maximum points for its formulation, sees Elizavecca’s hyaluronic acid serum jump straight into second place in our best face serum list.

Texture-wise, the Elizavecca Milky Piggy Hyaluronic Acid Pure face serum is super lightweight and feels cooling on the skin. It’s a little sticky – because hyaluronic acid naturally is – but it absorbs easily into the skin and doesn’t leave any greasy residue behind.

To get the most benefit from this serum (and any hyaluronic acid serum for that matter), it helps to apply it to damp skin. That way the hyaluronic acid pulls in even more moisture from the water and not just from the moisture reserves in your skin.

This can be skin that’s damp from being freshly cleansed, or freshly misted skin. If you find that hyaluronic acid tends to foam when applied to damp skin, you can pat it in. Or you can apply it to dry skin and then immediately mist your face.

Due to its natural formulation, hyaluronic acid can be used alone or layered with other skincare products, depending on your individual needs.

WANT MORE? Best hyaluronic acid serum UK: Our tried-and-tested hydrating serums for all skin types and budgets

Buy now from iHerb

3. Good Molecules Hyaluronic Acid Serum

£16.99 | Buy now (UK)

View the full TikTok test here

Good Molecules Hyaluronic Serum UKmamabella | mamabella

Good Molecules is a US brand and, as a result, a lot of our American followers requested that we test its Hyaluronic Acid serum. It didn’t disappoint.

Jumping straight into the top three in our best serum list, its hydrating, cheap and doesn’t contain any nasty ingredients.

In our hydration test, this serum rose the hydration levels of our skin by a very impressive 10.1 points (27.3%) after five minutes.

These levels dropped slightly after an hour to 8 points up (22.9%) but this overall score is still higher than the average, and higher than the majority of serums we’ve tested.

According to its INCI Decoder listing, there are no icky ingredients in the formula.

Nor should any of the ingredients cause you irritation, or breakouts. In addition to hyaluronic acid, this serum also contains glycerin and butylene glycol, and caprylyl glycol which are all humectants.

This means they draw in moisture, and lock it into the skin to make look plump and hydrated.

This is why experts recommend you apply hyaluronic serums to your face immediately after cleansing and toning – while your skin is still damp – or you apply the serum and put a face mist on top.

We prefer the latter because putting hyaluronic acid onto damp skin can cause it to foam and feel sticky.

The main downside about this serum, if you live in the UK at least, is that you need to pay for it to be sent from the States. This not only adds a customs fee – albeit a small one, but a fee nonetheless – it can take a while to arrive.

Our delivery took almost five weeks so if you’re keen to get hold of it soon, order it ASAP!

Buy now from Good Molecules

4. Hada Labo Anti-Ageing Hydrator

£16.99 | Buy now (UK) 

View the full TikTok test here

Hada Labo Anti-Ageing Hydrator reviewHada Labo

Hada Labo is Japan’s leading skincare brand and for good reason.

It has developed a cult following for products that are as effective as they are affordable.

The name comes from the Japanese Skin Laboratory and the range is formulated by the Japanese pharmaceutical company Rohto.

There are a number of serums, hydrators, and creams in the range and the first one we put to the test was the Hada Labo Anti-Ageing Hydrator.

In our test, the almost water-like serum increased the hydration of our skin by 8.5 percentage points, which is equivalent to a 32.8% rise.

This means it increased the hydration of the skin on our hand by a third in just five minutes.

And it felt incredibly lightweight and gentle on the skin in the process.

Many of our followers on TikTok requested the Premium Lotion version from this brand, however, this cheaper, Anti-Ageing Hydrator performed better on our skin.

As with all of our best serum tests, these results should be used as a guide only.

They’re not designed to mimic lab conditions and if you’ve had a better experience with the Premium Lotion, then carry on buying it!

However, if you’ve not tried either or you’re wondering if the cheaper Anti-Ageing version is worth it, these tests confirm that it may well be.

Buy now from Amazon

5. Cos De Baha Hyaluronic Acid Serum

£24 | Buy now (UK) | Buy now (US)

Cos de Baha hyaluronic acid serummamabella | mamabella

The Cos De Baha Hyaluronic Acid serum is simple, yet highly effective.

It contains just three ingredients – purified water, hyaluronic acid, and a solvent called 1,2-Hexanediol. That’s it.

Due to this minimalist formula, it’s suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin.

The high hyaluronic acid content makes this serum slightly slimy but on the plus side, it’s also hydrating.

In our best serum group test, this serum increased the hydration levels of our skin by 3.8 points (11.2%).

After an hour, this dropped slightly to give a total rise of 3.1 points (9.3%).

This is below the average of 14.5% but the product scored highly overall due to the fact the brand is vegan and cruelty-free.

Plus it scored the maximum amount of points available in terms of the ingredients, with none of them having any risk of irritation, and none of them being linked with clogged pores.

The serum is lightweight, fast-absorbing, and gentle.

Buy now (UK) | Buy now (US)

6. Essence Hello, Good Stuff! Glow Serum Primer

£4.50 | Buy now (UK) 

Essence Hello, Good Stuff! Glow Serum Primermamabella | mamabella

Essence is a highly affordable makeup brand and we didn’t realise it sold skincare until we began our search for the best serum.

Having been requested by a number of followers on TikTok – and being named as a cheap alternative for the Glow Recipe Watermelon serum – we put the Essence Hello, Good Stuff! Glow Serum Primer to test.

It’s jumped straight into the top five with a total score of 37.1.

It increased our skin’s hydration by 6.5 points (21%) after five minutes before dropping by 3.2 points after an hour.

This gave the Essence Watermelon serum a total rise of 3.3 points (11.9%).

Elsewhere, it gained points for being so cheap – a 30ml bottle costs just £4.50 – and the brand is fully vegan and cruelty-free.

The downside to this cheap price is that the serum contains a couple of “icky” ingredients, including a variety of fragrances.

It also contains an ingredient called Isopropyl Myristate which, at certain concentrations, has been shown to clog pores.

This doesn’t mean it definitely will cause breakouts, but if you’re prone to acne then it’s worth bearing in mind.

Buy now (UK)

7. The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 Face Serum

£5.90 | Buy now (UK) | Buy now (US)

View the full TikTok test here

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid Serum reviewThe Ordinary

As with the entire The Ordinary range, its Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 Serum is cheap, cheerful, and does the job.

In our skincare group test, it increased the hydration of our skin by 5.1 percentage points.

This is equivalent to a 16% percent increase overall.

It didn’t create the highest hydration rise of all the serums we’ve tested, however, it appears high up on the face serum leaderboard because it’s cheaper than COSRX and other rivals.

On the INCI Decoder database, The Ordinary’s HA serum is shown as containing no “icky” components, and none of its ingredients have an Irritation Rating higher than 1, or a Comedogenic Rating higher than 2.

This suggests that the chances of this serum causing irritation, breakouts or spots are low.

Elsewhere, this serum is vegan and cruelty-free, whereas some of the other serums and moisturisers we’ve tested can’t make that claim.

This serum’s formula uses three forms of hyaluronic acid with varying molecular weights, as well as a hyaluronic acid cross-polymer, to offer “multi-depth” hydration and visible plumping without drawing water out of the skin.

Hyaluronic acid is found naturally in the skin but diminishes with age, and since it can attract up to 1,000 times its weight in water, The Ordinary’s concoction (combined with the addition of Vitamin B5) leaves your skin feeling soft and smooth.

READ NEXT: The best The Ordinary products for all skincare concerns

Buy now from Cult Beauty

8. Beauty of Joseon Glow Serum

£14 | Buy now (UK) | Buy now (US)

Beauty of Joeson Glow Serum reviewmamabella | mamabella

We were already aware of just how well-regarded Korean beauty brands are but there are so many that we’ve yet to try.

Until recently, this included the Beauty of Joseon Glow Serum.

It has a honey-like colour and feels lightweight on the skin.

Thanks to the fact it includes 60% Propolis extract and 2% niacinamide – two ingredients renowned for helping clear and brighten the skin – the skin looks radiant after just one application.

Propolis extract in particular has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties making it great for targeting acne and breakouts.

According to the brand’s description, the Glow Serum also contains so-called Hanbang ingredients (traditional Korean herbal medicine) to help reduce the appearance of enlarged pores.

In our test, this serum rose the hydration levels of our skin by a high 7.7 percentage points (29%) after just five minutes.

After an hour, this instant hydration boost dropped every so slightly by 0.5 points. Yet this still meant that the serum increased hydration by a total of 7.5 points or 28%. Highly impressive.

The brand lost points because it sells vegan products but isn’t a fully vegan brand. It gained points for being cruelty-free and affordable.

Buy now (UK) | Buy now (US)

9. COSRX Hyaluronic Acid Essence

£24 | Buy now UK 

View the full TikTok test here

COSRX Hyaluronic Acid Essencemamabella | mamabella

This is one of two COSRX products in our best serum list – the COSRX Snail Mucin features below – and it has one of the most minimal formulas in our best serum list.

It contains just seven ingredients, none of which are icky and none of which will cause irritation or breakouts.

Despite this minimal formula, it’s crammed full of humectants. These are ingredients that draw moisture in and lock it into the skin.

This includes hyaluronic acid, as its name suggests, but it also includes glycerin, and butylene glycol.

In our hydration test, these humectants increased the hydration levels of our skin by 6.5 points (17.5) after five minutes.

After an hour, these levels dropped by 2.8 points but this still gave a total hydration rise of 3.7 points (10.5%).

Slightly below average, but enough to put the COSRX Hyaluronic Acid into the top 10.

It doesn’t come cheap, so you may want to opt for a cheaper, higher-scoring hyaluronic acid serum, but the minimal formula is particularly good if you have sensitive skin or are prone to irritation with other serums.

Buy now from Beauty Bay

10. Hada Labo 5 HA Intense Lotion

£19.45 | Buy now (UK) 

View the full TikTok test here

Hada Labo Premium Lotion reviewHada Labo

The second entry for Hada Labo – Japan’s leading skincare brand – in our best face serum list is for the Premium Lotion. Or to give it its full name, the Hada Labo Tokyo Intense Lotion 5X HA Super Deep Hydrator Premium Lotion.

It’s slightly more expensive than the Hada Labo Anti-Ageing Hydrator (tested above), coming in at almost £20 rather than £17 and in our hydration test, the watery serum increased the hydration of our skin by 6.3 percentage points or 17.6%.

By comparison, the Anti-Ageing Hydrator rose hydration by 8.5 percentage points, which is equivalent to a 32.8% rise.

We’ve also started separately testing all of our serums and moisturisers an hour after application.

We still use the five-minute test to determine the rankings but the hour-long test is a good indicator as to how much hydration is retained.

In our Hada Labo longer-wear test, hydration dropped to 33.8% which is a 1.9-point drop from its highest, five-minute reading.

However, it shows that even after an hour, the hydration of our skin was still 4.4 points higher than before we applied it.

Plus, in order to test the product (and the product alone), we didn’t seal it with a moisturiser which is standard practice.

The reason why moisturisers are typically added on top of hyaluronic acid (and other serums) is to lock the hydration in and give it a chance to penetrate deeper into the skin.

This makes the 4.4 overall increase even more impressive in our view.

Buy now from Superdrug

Best face serums: Top 11-20

  • The Inkey List Hyaluronic Acid
  • COSRX Snail Mucin Power Essence
  • Simple Booster Serum HA + B5
  • Vichy Mineral 89 Serum
  • Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum
  • Hada Labo Gokujyun Premium HA Lotion
  • Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration
  • Rhode Glazing Milk
  • Simple Hyaluronic Acid + B5 Serum
  • The Inkey List Polyglutamic Acid 



WANT TO KNOW MORE? Best BB cream | Best moisturiser | Best tinted moisturiser  | Best toner | Best primer | Best cleanserBest eye creamBest anti-ageing cream | Best hand cream| Best foot cream | Best face mask  | Best face exfoliator | Best face oil| Best serum | Best night cream | Best SPF | Best Vitamin C serum | Men’s skincare routine| Best stretch mark cream

11. The Inkey List Hyaluronic Acid Serum

£6.99 | Buy now (UK) | Buy now (US)

View the full TikTok test here

The Inkey List Hyaluronic Serum reviewThe Inkey List

In the battle for ingredient-led, affordable skincare brands, The Inkey List just misses out on our best serum list to The Ordinary’s serum of an almost identical name.

The Inkey List Hyaluronic Acid Serum costs slightly more – at £6.99 versus £6.40 – and increased the hydration of our skin by 3.4 percentage points.

This is an equivalent percentage increase of 10.5%.

By comparison, The Ordinary’s HA serum increased hydration by 5.1 percentage points, or 16% percent overall.

What’s more, The Ordinary’s version also contains Vitamin B5 which helps the skin (and hair) retain moisture, while protecting it from the elements, and boosting the skin’s natural repair process.

All that said, The Inkey List’s HA serum still performed well.

Instead of Vitamin B5, it contains an ingredient called Matrixyl 3000. This is a peptide that helps the skin look more plumped and reduces the appearance of fine lines.

Ultimately, your choice between these two products will come down to personal preference.

Buy now from Boots

12. COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Essence

£24 | Buy now UK | Buy now (US)

View the full TikTok test here

COSRX Snail Mucin 96 reviewmamabella | mamabella

COSRX is a brand that we only learned of relatively recently when we discovered its Blackhead Power Liquid was a great alternative to the Paula’s Choice BHA exfoliator.

However, as soon as we started our skincare series on TikTok, the COSRX Snail Mucin was one of the most requested products. Almost immediately.

In our test, it increased hydration by 8.4 percentage points, which equates to a 32.2% increase overall. This is astonishing.

This means that this serum (when applied to damp skin) increased the amount of hydration in our skin by almost a third of what it was before.

What’s more, this face serum promises to help get rid of age spots, improve skin texture, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and soothe damaged skin.

The brand claims this hydration stems from the use of Korean beauty, or K-beauty staple, Snail Secretion Filtrate.

This filtrate is said to protect the skin from moisture loss suggesting that over the course of the day, the hydration levels we saw during our test should stay high.

And as you’d expect, it’s the excretion from a snail. Rather than being the slime, it leaves on the ground as it moves, snail mucin is what’s produced when the snails are under stress.

Due to the fact, it’s a stress-induced excretion, it’s made up of ingredients designed to repair or protect from injury.

Which in turn helps increase skin turnover and boost collagen production.

Sadly, this requires putting snails into a state of stress and many vegans and vegetarians have bemoaned the use of this ingredient.

READ NEXT: The best The Ordinary products for all skincare concerns

Buy now from Boots

13. Vichy Mineral 89 Serum

£26 | Buy now (UK) | Buy now (US)

View the full TikTok test here

Vichy Mineral 89 Serum reviewVichy

Another top performer in our skincare group test was the Vichy Mineral 89, a hyaluronic acid hydrating serum that contains the highest concentration (89%) of Vichy’s Thermal Mineralizing Water.

It’s designed to hydrate, plump the skin and boost radiance in our tests, it increased our skin’s hydration by 10.7 percentage points. This equates to a rise of 28%.

Although this represents the highest percentage point increase of the serums we’ve tested to date, its total percentage rise is lower than that seen with the COSRX Snail Mucin essence.

It also dropped places on the leaderboard because it’s the most expensive serum we’ve tested (so far).

The reason it’s said to be so loved by dermatologists is that it contains a relatively low number of 11 ingredients.

Its hyaluronic acid comes from natural sources, and it’s full of essential minerals that are hypoallergenic and suitable for sensitive skin.

It has a lightweight gel texture that feels cooling and calming on the skin. It absorbs easily and Vichy claims its hydration lasts for 24 hours.

We haven’t put this particular claim to the test yet but we have plans for more skincare tests and when we do, we’ll update this mini Vichy Mineral 89 review.

Like with other serums in this list, this needs to be applied to clean damp skin to see the full benefit of hydration.

Read our full Vichy Mineral 89 serum review here

Buy now from Boots

14. Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum

£22.50 | Buy now (UK) | Buy now (US)

View the full TikTok test here

Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum reviewmamabella

Another absolute stand-out Korean skincare brand, Innisfree’s whole brand philosophy centres on the concept of “green life”, which means its formulas are all designed to showcase the importance of “living in harmony with nature”.

One of Innisfree’s bestsellers is its Green Tea Seed Serum and this entry in our best serum list is made using fresh green tea from Jeju Island. This volcanic island, off the coast of South Korea, is home to lush, green, and natural ingredients that are becoming increasingly popular in skincare. Beauty Pie, for example, has an entire Jeju range.

The Green Tea Seed serum from Innisfree promises intense hydration while protecting the skin from pollution and “external aggressors”. It’s rich in antioxidants and amino acids, which help to nourish and repair your skin barrier.

This was confirmed during our tests. In our hydration test, the hydration levels of our skin rose by 8.9 points (23%) after five minutes.

This dropped slightly after an hour, by 2 points, but it still gave the serum a total hydration increase of 6.9 points (18.8%).

Noticeably above the average hydration rise of all the serums we’ve reviewed to date. It’s also lightweight and absorbs quickly, leaving the skin feeling instantly plumper and refreshed.

If you’re someone who struggles with dehydrated or dry skin, we highly recommend the Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum. This serum is also great for people who live in towns and cities and are regularly exposed to pollution.

The reason this serum didn’t score higher in our best face serum ranking is because it contains a couple of ingredients that could cause irritation to sensitive skin. Notably, alcohol, and a number of fragrances.

In our tests with this serum, we’ve not experienced any irritation or breakouts and we’re prone to redness and rosacea, but it is worth noting if irritation is a particular problem.

On the plus side, this serum smells really fresh like we’re at a spa!

Buy now from Pure Seoul | Buy now from Sephora

15. Hada Labo Gokujyun Premium HA Lotion

£17.30 | Buy now (UK) | Buy now (US)

View the full TikTok test here

Hada Labo Gokujyun Premium HA Lotionmamabella | mamabella

A second entry in our best serum list for Hada Labo, this time for its Gokujyun Premium HA Lotion.

It contains seven kinds of hyaluronic acid to not only help hydrate the skin upon application but to keep on hydrating the skin at lower levels throughout the day.

In our tests, this serum boosted hydration levels by 4.9 points (15.3%) after five minutes before rising another 1.5 points after an hour. This gave the Premium lotion a total hydration increase of 19%.

Elsewhere, it scored maximum points for its ingredients. None are listed as “icky” meaning that they should be suitable for all skin types, even sensitive.

Similarly, none of these ingredients have been found to cause irritation; the lotion doesn’t contain any fragrance, colourants, oils, or alcohol, and they all have a very low chance of causing spots and breakouts.

Due to the fact it contains so many types of hyaluronic acid, the lotion itself is a little slimy but it doesn’t feel heavy on the skin and really does leave the skin feeling plump and hydrated for ages.

It’s a great base for makeup too, due to the slightly tacky feeling it gives the skin.

We recommend applying the serum to damp skin but, because of all of the hyaluronic acid, it can end up foaming a little if you rub it in. Instead, pat it into damp skin and wait for it to be absorbed to get the maximum effect.

Buy now from YesStyle

How we test serums

For each best face serum test, we use a gadget called the Mili Pure to record the hydration level of the skin on our hand. We then wash them with cold water, to make the skin damp. We then apply each serum or essence onto the damp skin.

We then wait five minutes at which point we take a second skin hydration reading. After an hour, we take a third and final reading.

We test the products on our hand because we have adult acne and the oil and hydration levels on our face can vary. We’re aware this isn’t perfect, because the products are made for our face, however, given that the hydration levels of our hands are more consistent, we feel this is a fair way to compare the products.

We recently added three new categories – INCI score, Irritation Rating, and Comedogenic Rating. We explain more about the scoring system and the spreadsheet below.

Best face serum: Scoring methodology

To determine a product’s total score, which determines where it sits on the leaderboard, we add together the points in the Vegan, Cruelty-Free, Hydration Percentage, and INCI Score categories. We then subtract the price per 30ml, and the Irritation and Comedone Rating scores.

  • Price: The recommended retail price (RRP) for the product in question.
  • Price (per 30ml): The price of the product, per 30ml.
  • Vegan: Fully vegan brands score 10. Brands that offer vegan products but aren’t fully vegan score 5. Brands with no vegan options score 0.
  • Cruelty-free: Cruelty-free brands score 10. Brands that don’t test on animals, but who partner with organisations or countries that do, score 5. Brands that offer no assurances about animal testing score 0.
  • Hydration points: The percentage point difference between the baseline hydration test, and the five-minute hydration test.
  • Hydration percentage: The percentage difference between the baseline hydration test, and the five-minute hydration test.
  • INCI score: Using the INCI Decoder website, we determine how many of the ingredients in a product’s formula are considered to be “icky.” A product with no “icky” ingredients scores 100%, which we convert to a score of 10. A product with 10 ingredients and two of them are “icky” means the product is 20% “icky” and 80% “good.” The 80% is then converted to a score of 8.
  • Irritation Rating: All ingredients listed on the INCI Decoder website come with an irritation score, out of 5. The score for this category is taken from the highest-rated ingredient.
  • Comedogenic Rating: All ingredients listed on the INCI Decoder website also come with a comedogenic rating, out of 5. The score for this category is taken from the highest-rated ingredient.

Note: The Irritation and Comedogenic ratings should be seen as a guide only. The rating can change depending on the amount of being used. For example, if an ingredient has an irritation rating of  4 but only features in trace amounts in the product in question, the chances of it causing irritation is lower than the rating would suggest. This means that while it’s a useful indicator, it shouldn’t be used as gospel. You can find out more about this here.

You can also learn more about how serums work in our science of serums article, and explore the INCI Decoder and its ratings in our skincare ingredient checker guide.

Serum vs Essence: What’s the difference?

The vast majority of entries in this best serum list are, as the name suggests, serums. However, a few call themselves essences – such as the Glazing Milk from Rhode, and the COSRX Hyaluronic Acid Essence.

For all intents and purposes, serums perform very similar skincare tasks. So much so, the terms are often used interchangeably and they’re largely for marketing purposes. But, there are a couple of subtle distinctions to make.

Serums are typically thicker and tend to have a higher concentration of active ingredients. This is why they’re so good at targeting specific skin concerns.  The texture of serums allows them to go deeper into the skin and take all their active ingredients to the layers where they can have the most impact.

Essences are usually lighter and often have a more watery consistency that’s slightly thicker than toners but thinner than serums. They can target similar skin concerns as serums but they’re usually best at hydrating, soothing, and nourishing. This is because they often contain a higher water content than serums and they help prepare the skin for subsequent products.

Serums are typically used after cleansing and toning but before applying moisturiser. They are applied directly to the skin and allowed to absorb before applying other products.

Essences are typically used after cleansing and toning, similar to serums. They are applied by patting or gently pressing the product into the skin, helping it absorb effectively.

As a result, it is possible to use serums and essences together.

Personalised serums

If none of the best serums do exactly what you want them to do, or there isn’t one that ticks all your skincare boxes, why not try a personalised, customisable serum?

Personalised beauty is a fast-growing trend in which companies use either online questionnaires or consultations, machine learning and AI to deliver tailored products and regimes.

When it comes to skincare, we highly recommend Dermatica. Following a 1-2-1 virtual consultation, via an online questionnaire, Dermatica’s consultants formulate a serum tailored to you and your skin concerns.

A bottle of serum is delivered each month (for £19) and as your skin changes and improves – tracked over time via an online dashboard – so does your formula.

If you want to take things even further, Nomige creates DNA-based skincare based on your unique genetic makeup.

Developed by Belgian bioengineer Dr Barbara Geusens, Nomige uses a sample of your DNA to uncover your skin’s ageing process before developing serums and creams that target your very specific needs.

This doesn’t come cheap – as you’d imagine. A Nomige kit costs a whopping £439.

♥︎ Don’t miss out! Sign up for the mamabella newsletter today ♥︎




This site contains affiliate links to recommended products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. We will not recommend anything we don't believe in and we are not paid by brands to include specific products unless explicitly stated.
Next Article Previous Article