The Best Resurfacing Serums For Smoother Skin, According To Dermatologists
You might have grown up thinking the only way to get rid of flaky dead skin was to slough it off with a harsh apricot scrub (guilty). These days, there are far less aggressive ways to achieve a smooth complexion — one being a resurfacing serum. But, like every type of skin care product, there are certain resurfacing serums to consider depending on your skin type.
"A resurfacing serum increases cell turnover and gently removes dead skin cells to reveal more youthful, glowing skin underneath," Dr. Onyeka Obioha, FAAD, a Los Angeles-based dermatologist, tells TZR. Resurfacing serums are formulated with chemical exfoliators, which are gentle, low-percentage acids, Dr. Hadley King, MD, FAAD, a New York City dermatologist, adds. These serums are typically grouped into two categories for chemical exfoliation: alphahydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). "They dissolve the bonds that hold dull, dead skin cells on the surface of the skin so the skin will gently shed, revealing smoother, brighter skin underneath," the dermatologist says. "The difference is that while AHAs are water-soluble and work on the surface of the skin, BHAs are oil soluble so they can penetrate into pores so they are able to work on the surface of the skin as well as inside the pore."
If you have normal to dry, sun-damaged skin, Dr. King says AHAs (like glycolic acid and lactic acid) are often favored as they are proven effective in reducing the appearance of sun damage. On the other hand, BHAs are preferred for normal to oily skin, as well as acne-prone and clogged pores. "BHAs can help reduce black heads, white heads, pimples, and milia. BHAs also have anti-inflammatory, skin-calming properties so they are gentle enough even for sensitive skin prone to redness and or rosacea."
Before you get too excited and start applying these serums daily, read the product's label first. "If the label says you can use it every night or every other night, you can probably start to use it that frequently," Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, MD, FAAD, a Miami-based board certified dermatologist, tells TZR. "If you are using a medical grade product you will be recommend to start slowly with resurfacing products." For those with sensitive skin, she says it's best to start off using a resurfacing serum once a week for the first two weeks, and then gradually increasing to twice a week for the next two weeks. "Until you see enough improvement but not irritation, twice a week may be enough," she says. "But if you want to improve lines and wrinkles, acne scars, or uneven pigment you may need to advance slowly to nightly."
Ahead, find 13 resurfacing serums to add into your skin care routine. Your skin will be feeling as smooth as ever — just wait and see.
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Best Resurfacing Serum: Colleen Rothschild's Beauty Mandelic Acid Radiance Serum
"I recommend the Colleen Rothschild Beauty Mandelic Acid Radiance Serum as a daily treatment that promotes cell turnover, and improves photoaging, acne, discoloration, fine lines, and skin texture," Dr. King says. "It combines salicylic acid to promote clear skin, lactic acid to improve tone and texture, and mandelic acid to refine and resurface. And it's gentle enough for daily use."
Best Resurfacing Serum: CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum
"CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum is well priced and the ceramides and niacinamide in this serum help decrease the irritation that may result from retinol," Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, a Toronto-based dermatologist, says.
Best Resurfacing Serum: Honest Beauty's
Launched in Jan. 2020, Honest Beauty's Beauty Sleep Resurfacing Serum works its magic while you get some shut-eye. Made with five naturally derived alpha-hydroxy acids, this serum gently exfoliates the skin when you leave it on overnight.
Best Resurfacing Serum: GoodJane's Face Latte
If your skin is too sensitive to tolerate acids in your serum, Dr. King recommends trying a formula that contains vitamin C as well as other antioxidants and soothing and moisturizing ingredients. "I like GoodJane's Face Latte Serum, which is formulated with vitamins C and E, green tea extract and plant stem cell extracts from echinacea, and apple that contain potent antioxidants," she says. "It also contains jojoba oil to moisturize and soothe the skin."
Best Resurfacing Serum: L'Oreal's Revitalift Derm Intensives Glycolic Acid Serum
Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, MD, FAAD, a Miami-based board certified dermatologist, recommends L'Oreal's Revitalift Derm Intensives Glycolic Acid Serum. "It is recommended for nightly use reflecting that it has been pH adjusted to more neutral pH, and it has aloe to soothe skin," she says. "Due to directions saying you can use it every night it seems to have a more neutral pH."
Best Resurfacing Serum: Drunk Elephant's T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Resurfacing Night Serum
"Drunk Elephant Glycolic Night Serum is formulated with a blend of AHA and BHA to lift away dead skin cells and improve skin tone and texture," Dr. Y. Claire Chang, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology, tells TZR. "It also contains skin-soothing green tea and aloe vera in its formulation."
Best Resurfacing Serum: Tata Harper's Resurfacing Serum
Tata Harper's Resurfacing Serum is an oldie but a goodie. The OG product includes seven AHAs and BHAs and vitamin C to help brighten and resurface skin.
Best Resurfacing Serum: Alpha-H's Liquid Gold Exfoliating Treatment
"This overnight resurfacing treatment has a totally different approach to other resurfacing products," Dr. Obioha says. "It utilizes a state-of-the-art, low pH delivery system to effectively diminish the look of wrinkles, pigmentation, and sun damage."
Best Resurfacing Serum: ROSE Ingleton MD's Retexturizing Booster
Deal with texture? Look to ROSE Ingleton MD's Retexturizing Booster to aid in curing it. Containing retinol and its signature Jamaican blend, the serum smooths out skin.
Best Resurfacing Serum: SkinCeuticals' Blemish + Age Defense Serum
"SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense is an oil-free serum to help with acne-prone and aging skin, combining alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids to improve uneven skin tone, blemishes, and clogged pores," Dr. Chang says.
Best Resurfacing Serum: INNBEAUTY PROJECT Slushy Serum
Dr. Obioha says INNBEAUTY PROJECT's Slushy Serum is a great option for sensitive skin. "It contains bakuchiol which achieves the same benefits of retinols without the irritation," she notes. "It’s also packed with potent antioxidants and hyaluronic acid to protect and nourish the skin."
Best Resurfacing Serum: Graydon Skincare's Full Moon Serum
Dr. Skotnicki says Graydon Skincare's Fullmoon Serum is a retinol alternative serum that is formulated with vigna aconitifolia, a plant-based ingredient made from moth bean. She says this ingredient has been clinically proven to have similar effects to retinyl palmitate (a form of vitamin A).