There’s never been a better time to buy an inexpensive serum—and these under-$35 options are proof


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With so many great serums on the market filled with it-ingredients that you’ve just gotta have for your routine, it’s hard to resist going gaga over them all… like a child pining for every doll in the toy store. Beauty shelves are minefields of options, and it makes it far too easy to empty your wallet in pursuit of a healthy complexion. So what’s a girl to do?

With a seemingly infinite number of skin-care serums out there to choose from, there are more affordable—and effective—options than ever. Formulators have nailed how to pack actives like vitamin C, retinol and niacinamide into products that everyone can manage to snag for themselves without breaking the bank. The Ordinary has been dutifully offering potent skin-care serums since 2016, with not one bottle running past $29 (and for what it’s worth, that single $29 serum is double the cost of the rest of the line).

Over the past year or so, even more wallet-friendly skin-care brands have infiltrated the shelves: There’s Versed,  a solution-oriented collection you can get at Target; The Inkey List, a London-based beauty brand where nothing costs over $15; Sweet Chef, a spin-off line from buzzy K-beauty brand Glow Recipe that’s sold at Target and makes nutrient-dense serums for much less than its sister brand; and Ghost Democracy, a derm-backed skin-care line offering the most coveted ingredients at more cost-effective prices than most. Drugstore staple brands like Neutrogena and Olay have even caught onto the trend, with each formulating solid brightening and retinol products, respectively, at enviable price points.

These brands aren’t like your typical bargain buys. Unlike fast fashion, for instance, which is known to use lower quality materials, this wave of low-priced skin-care serums are produced at high standards, and leave out the typical mark-up that luxury skin-care companies utilize the crap out of. Ghost Democracy, for example, sells direct-to-consumer to cut out the middle-man markup, while Versed and The Inkey List has opted for bare-minimum packaging to save on costs. So, yeah—there’s never been a better time to be on the market for a serum… especially for one that’s under $34. Keep scrolling for what you can score.

Photo: The Inkey List

The Inkey List Niacinamide, $7

Niacinamide, AKA vitamin B3, is a hot-ticket ingredient for a healthy complexion. This one’s a steal, and a must-have in order to keep your skin barrier protected, plus it’s got equally buzzy hyaluronic acid in it for moisture. You can also cop retinol, bakuchiol, and ceramide serums from the brand, plus many more. The (Inkey) list goes on.

Photo: Versed

Versed Stroke of Brilliance Brightening Serum, $20

Even out your hyperpigmentation with this brightening cocktail of vitamin C and licorice root, and niacinamide to keep your skin soothed and protected. Not looking for brightening? Choose from the other serums on the brand’s roster meant for clarifying, firming, or hydration.

Photo: Ghost Democracy

Ghost Democracy Floodgate Hyaluronic Acid Serum, $34

Quench dry, dehydrated skin with this affordable yet smartly formulated HA serum, which also has niacinamide (of course!) and linden flower extract which all work to calm and moisturize your skin. The brand also makes a punchy vitamin C serum for the same price.

Photo: Sweet Chef

Sweet Chef Beet + Vitamin A Serum Shot, $20

This fruity serum shot delivers vitamin A along with nutritious beet extract to make your skin more plump, protected through antioxidants, and refined. Mix it with the brand’s other shots of vitamin C and ginger, or kale and vitamin B, for a serum cocktail your skin will drink right up.

Photo: Neutrogena

Neutrogena Bright Boost Illuminating Serum, $20

Neutrogena’s new Millennial-friendly Bright Boost line is formulated for that age where you’re just starting to think about combatting dark spots, skin dullness, fine lines, and dryness. This active serum has NeoGlucosamine, a molecule behind hyaluronic acid, and turmeric extract, which both work together to hydrate, brighten, and stimulate cell turnover in one.

Photo: Olay

Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Facial Serum, $29

A retinol and niacinamide blend, this brand-new drugstore serum smooths and calms your skin while working to even your complexion’s texture. If you’ve had irritation from retinol before, good news: This one’s formulated to give you those trusty vitamin A benefits minus the flakes and redness.

Also friendly for your wallet: the best drugstore serums that we’ve found this year. And here’s how to calculate the cost per ounce in beauty products, so you can *really* shop smarter. 

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