In my book, January will always be a somewhat special time. Although I'm biased because it's my birthday month, I always like to use this month as a way to refresh and look ahead. Obviously, that usually entails journaling out new goals and dreams, but I'm also talking about streamlining things like my makeup, skincare, and hair routines to reflect my newly evolved philosophy. As I continue to move through my late 20s, I find myself seeking a simpler routine that allows me to do less and still look the most youthful. Yes, it's entirely possible.
I'm always a fan of a good serum to help out in this department, but with so many different ones out there, how is it possible to know which ones are truly the best for folks in their 20s who want to do a little preventative care while still addressing other skin concerns like adult acne? Luckily, according to board-certified dermatologist and Paula's Choice advisory board member Corey Hartman, the solution doesn't require 10 different products. "Fortunately, most active ingredients that address acne and the resulting hyperpigmentation are also beneficial for fine lines and wrinkles," Hartman says. "Retinol, hydroxy acids, niacinamide and azelaic acid are also helpful for acne and hyperpigmentation as well as being great for prevention and treatment of the signs of aging."
I know your next question might be What else? If you want to address early signs of aging sooner rather than later (wise choice), Macrene Alexiades, a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Macrene Actives, also suggests a few things. "Look for ingredients such as peptides and hyaluronic acid to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. In contrast, you should include amino acids such as arginine and aspartic acid. Also consider amino acid derivatives like glucosamine and ergothioneine, plus vitamin C and citric acid to reduce the appearance of brown spots and sun spots. You'll want to avoid hydroquinone, which has been shown to cause DNA mutations and has been banned in several countries," she says.
Whew, I know that was a lot. But after hearing from both Hartman and Alexiades, I feel confident in choosing the right products for my own personal routine. To help you select the right ones for yours, they've also provided us with a few of their recs below. Keep scrolling for what they think are the absolute best serums to use in your 20s along with a few of my own favorites.
Personal share: This serum is an absolute game changer. I know we say that a lot here, but Alexiades has created such a beautifully formulated product that I will most likely never stop using it. I'm glad I discovered it now in my late 20s to really protect my skin from damage and early signs of aging. "As a formulator with three Harvard degrees and over 20 years of formulation experience, I’m a bit of an ingredient snob," she says. "I formulated the Macrene Actives High Performance Face Serum to include 55 active ingredients including peptides, microencapsulated hyaluronic acid, the world's best antioxidants, DNA repair ingredients, amino acids, amino acid derivatives, redness-reducing polyphenols, and the list goes on and on. This extensive cocktail of ingredients addresses all aspects of skin quality, including the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, discoloration, and textural issues."
"I source these active ingredients for Macrene Actives, but C E Ferulic was still an inspiring early product, which showed DNA repair ability. It is still in favor today."
"This is a good company that makes elastin boost in peptides. It's a good serum for this purpose."
"This combines vitamin C with phytic acid and is a nice lightweight, simple brightening serum."
"Roth did a great job of combining some excellent peptides that are collagen-boosting."
Although this products isn't exactly a serum, the anti-aging benefits it delivers bring it into competition with some of the best. "It doesn't irritate the skin as it minimizes the appearance of large pores and smooths texture over time. You don't need a lot, as a little goes a long way. It just melts into the skin."
"This product is an antioxidant that contains silymarin, which helps with oiliness and lipid peroxidation commonly found in oily skinned individuals. This can also contribute to breakouts. Silymarin CF contains salicylic acid for extra acne-fighting capability, vitamin C, and ferulic acid, which provide antioxidant protection."
"This adds salicylic acid to SkinBetter’s near-perfect AlphaRet lotion, which packs retinol and lactic acid into a formulation that is well-tolerated by everyone. It's a soothing serum that hydrates the skin and skips the irritation experienced with most retinols."
"This is great for acne-prone, sensitive skin. It achieves acne clearance in a gentle, non-drying manner. It excels at treating not only the breakouts but also the inflammation that leads to persistent redness."
"This is a great retinol alternative for those with sensitive skin, who are pregnant, or breastfeeding because it contains bakuchiol, a plant-derived retinol alternative. It also contains vitamin E and melatonin, a direct and indirect antioxidant, which combine to offer two of the three vital components of any good skin regimen in one product (SPF is the third). The oil vehicle makes it unique and hydrating overnight."
"Universal Pro-Retinol is an affordable retinol solution for modest budgets that treats acne and signs of aging in a formulation that won't rip the skin apart. The light lotion vehicle complements most skincare routines without a tacky, sticky residue."
Other Beauty-Editor Favorites
This Biossance formula is another retinol alternative with bakuchiol, niacinamide, and squalane.
Aestheticians and derms alike will never stop singing this product's praises. It's a multitasking wrinkle- and acne-fighting serum that's well worth the steep price tag.
I've been pleasantly surprised by how many derms recommend Glow Recipe products to their clients. It's a TikTok favorite that delivers serious results. This hyaluronic acid serum from the brand works wonders to plump fine lines and wrinkles.
This is a great option for dry, sensitive skin because it delivers extra hydration support to the skin barrier using omega fatty acids.
Most people are fans of the Skinfix Barrier+ Face Cream, but you can receive the same benefits from the brand's serum. It has a triple-lipid complex that mimics the skin's natural barrier and restores ceramide and fatty acid levels.
The Inkey List is a dermatologist favorite and incredible budget option. The brand's retinol is highly potent but non-irritating and promotes a smooth, radiant complexion.
The Dewy Serum contains lactic acid, squalane, and hyaluronic acid—three of my personal favorite youth-promoting ingredients out there.
This new offering from Youth to the People doesn't disappoint. The triple-peptide-infused formula delivers a youthful boost to the skin while cactus and rambutan peel help keep skin hydrated longer. Oh yeah, and it doubles as an eye serum so you can save a bit of money on eye cream.
La Roche-Posay has a rep for producing high-quality products that won't break the bank—this serum is no different. It's reasonably priced and packed with vitamin C, salicylic acid, and the brand's Prebiotic Thermal Water to reduce wrinkles, fight acne, and refine the skin's texture.
So many people swear by this product for a reason—it really works. When I first started using the all-in-one lactic acid treatment, I noticed a major difference in my skin's texture and some lines I had around my mouth in just two weeks.
This new offering from Maelove is an upgrade on your traditional retinol serum. It's closer to prescription-grade retinoids in effectiveness without the dryness or irritation that often comes with them. If you can't tolerate a prescription retinoid, this serum is a great option to try for a youthful glow sans peeling.
Boost moisture, reduce fine lines, and protect your skin from environmental stressors with this serum from No7. I've always been pleasantly surprised by the price point of this product because it works so well.