Finding a good exfoliating product is like finding the perfect little black dress. You have to shop around before you find the right one, and the process can be frustrating. Between the abrasive scrubs and complex ingredients, exfoliation in general can be touch-and-go if you don’t know what formulas work best for you. For that reason, exfoliating serums are popular options in that they’re not only gentler options, but also have the ability to tackle every issue from dryness to acne. In fact, even the pros are major advocates for the gentle skincare giants.
Unlike grainy scrubs, exfoliating serums are “a genius way to exfoliate without using harsh, jagged particles,” says Zoë Foster Blake, founder of Go-To skincare. “Instead, they use naturally occurring acids like AHAs or BHAs to remove dead skin cells, refine skin texture, and keep skin healthy.”
They also pack a wallop of benefits. In addition to refining the skin, certain serums can also treat “skin with blemishes, as BHA’s are known to help clear and unclog pores,” states Pamela Marcos, director of product development for Farmacy. Those with dry skin who need a burst of “hydration while they exfoliate should opt for formulas with lactic acid,” she adds. For uneven complexions, exfoliating serums can also help speed up the recovery of hyperpigmentation, sunspots, and fine lines.
All that said, chemical exfoliants are not something to take lightly. Make sure you stick to ingredients and formulas that cater specifically to your skin’s needs and also monitor the frequency of use, otherwise you risk the serums working against you. As Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, explains “over-exfoliating can lead to redness, irritation, and dryness. When your skin barrier is not working as well as it should be working, which is commonly seen on sensitive and rosacea-prone complexions, irritating ingredients can lead to further skin barrier disruption and increased inflammation.”
If you do have sensitive skin stay away from BHAs and glycolic acid. Opt instead for lactic acid-infused formulas. “It is the gentlest of all AHAs, provides hydration and is a safe place to start for easily irritated skin,” says Blake. “Work it into your skin two to three times a week, max.” As for oily and normal complexions, “start integrating exfoliating serums into your routine once per week and build from there,” says celebrity facialist, Georgia Louise. Start by “using them in the evenings, wait a week, and then add to your morning and nightly routine. But add a layer of SPF in the AM as the skin’s chance of getting burned increases.” The moral of the story: Listen to your skin, and if redness or tingling lingers after the initial application, cut back on your frequency of use.
Now that you got the gist, check out some exfoliating serums that will help you get your glow back.
Refined To Perfection
Farmacy Honeymoon Glow
This powerful resurfacing serum contains 14 percent AHA/BHA/flower acids to refine the texture of your skin, but also has honey and hyaluronic acid to hydrate and prevent overdrying.
PRISM Exfoliating Glow Potion
Don't let its lightweight consistency fool you—this exfoliating serum contains a blend of potent natural fruit acids that work together to remove dead skin cells, revealing a brighter, smoother complexion.
Go-To Exfoliating Swipeys
While technically not in a traditional serum form, these handy-dandy wipes provide the same benefits, but allow you to exfoliate and brighten on the go. The lactic acid sloughs off dead skin while hydrating essential oils provide an infusion of much-needed moisture to the skin.
Glass Skin Refining Serum
Peach & Lily
Thanks to its gentle yet effective cocktail of peach extract, peptides, and hyaluronic acid, this serum is quickly becoming a cult item in the skincare world. Its clear consistency instantly seeps into the pores to start refining and resurfacing the skin. The complexion is left pore-less and supple.
Olga Lorencin Lactic Acid Hydrating Serum
Gentle enough for daily use, this super-hydrating serum uses malic acid to wipe away dull skin and erase fine lines to give the skin a luminous glow.