Skin-Care Tips

Thirsty? These Are the 4 Best Hydrating Serums for Skin, According to a Dermatologist

Zoe Weiner

Photo: Getty Images/Westend61
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The best word to describe skin during the winter months is "thirsty." The lack of moisture in the air deprives our complexions of what they need to stay plump, juicy, and hydrated, which explains the chapped lips and rough cheeks you've likely been experiencing these last few months. While the right moisturizer can definitely help, derms suggest also adding a hydrating serum to your routine this time of year to keep your complexion quenched.

Serums are known as the "workhorses" of the skin-care world, thanks to the fact that they're heavily concentrated with active ingredients, and are meant to serve as the treatment step for your main skin concerns. In general, serums can help protect against moisture loss and improve your skin barrier function—two things that are critically important during the challenges that cold weather brings about for your skin—and this rings even more true when you're dealing with a hydrating formula.

When looking for the best hydrating serums, derms suggest seeking out ingredients like squalane and hyaluronic acid. Squalane—aka the "big gulp of moisturizers"—is a naturally occurring lipid in our skin that serves as the mortar that holds the bricks of our skin together. When it's applied topically, it acts as an emollient and lubricates the skin for smoothing and softening results. It works for all skin types, and won't leave you greasy or irritated.

Hyaluronic acid, on the other hand, acts as a humectant "sponge," drawing moisture into your skin and preventing it from evaporating into the air. It's famous for holding 1,000 times its weight in water, and will help any other hydrating products you pile on top of it (your moisturizer, for example) permeate more deeply.  "All of the best hydrating serums contain hyaluronic acid as it's the most moisturizing thing you can put on your face," says Caren Campbell, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in San Francisco. Look for a product that has high- and low-weight hyaluronic acid molecules, because the different-sized molecules are able to penetrate your skin at different levels, delivering the ultimate inside-out hydration. A product will usually tout that it has both high and low-weight molecules on the package.

Since derms say serums are one of the few steps of your routine worth splurging on, we asked a few of them to choose the best hydrating ones that are well worth the spend. Keep scrolling for their picks.

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1. PCA Skin Hyaluronic Acid Boosting Serum

A combination of hyaluronic acid, skin-strengthening ceramides and inflammation-reducing niacinamide, this serum is an all-around dermatologist fave. In addition to the hyaluronic acid it delivers to the skin topically, it's also formulated with a proprietary ingredient called HA-Pro Complex, which stimulates your skin’s natural hyaluronic acid production process for long-term moisturization.

2. The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5

Shari Sperling, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New Jersey, is a fan of this multi-weight hyaluronic acid, which has a combination of low, medium, and high-weight molecules to deliver hydration to multiple layers of your skin. It also has B5 for an added level of nourishment, and Dr. Sperling calls it “a great moisturizer that helps with skin hydration.”

3. Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum

“This light hyaluronic acid serum helps plump and hydrate dry skin,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. It's great for layering under your moisturizer, and in addition to hyaluronic acid, it's also got the skin-nourishing benefits of vitamin B5.

4. Charlotte Tilbury Charlotte's Magic Serum Crystal Elixir

For a hydrating serum that will take the place of all of the other active steps in your routine, look no further than this "magic" product. "It contains glycerin, lactic acid, hyaluronic acid, and polyglutamic acid—all humectants that help create an immediate plumping effect that makes the skin look younger and smoother," says Hadley King, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. She explains that because hyaluronic acid and polyglutamic acid are different sizes, they're absorbed on different levels of your skin, delivering hydration at multiple levels. It also has shea oil, which helps lock in moisture without leaving you greasy, niacinamide, which evens out skin tone and texture, and vitamin C. "It also has a very subtle iridescence—not enough to look shiny or glittery, but enough to make the skin look luminous," says Dr. King.

For additional info on how to best hydrate your skin, check out the video below. 

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