These Are the Best Serums for Dry Skin, According to a Dermatopathologist

Photo: Getty Images/Justin Lambert
You can always count on serums to give you your glowiest, healthiest skin. While the magic potion of sorts does wonders for any skin type, taking advantage of the product's hydrating qualities can be especially beneficial when dealing with dryness, whether that's a year-round or seasonal thing.

Think of your serum as a tall drink of water for your skin. Because of its potent mix of skin-boosting active ingredients, they can take dry, flaky skin to glowy and moisturized overnight. And according to Gretchen Frieling, a Boston-based dermatopathologist, there are three key ingredients to look out for when buying a serum when you have dry skin—the first being hyaluronic acid, which is an all-star in replenishing moisture.

"As age, we naturally lose the ability to retain moisture in our skin. Moisture is needed for a supple and youthful look and feel. Without an adequate amount, our skin begins to lose plumpness and firmness," Dr. Frieling says. "Hyaluronic acid is super effective because it can absorb up to 1,000 times its own weight in water. Since it’s so absorbent, it’s able to draw in water and lock in vital moisture. By rehydrating the skin, it smooths and plumps the surface, while dramatically reducing fine lines and wrinkles."

Also important? Vitamin C, which is hands-down one of the best nutrients for skin health. Dr. Frieling says the powerful antioxidant not only protects the skin from damaging free radicals, aids in cellular repair, helps with wound healing, promotes collagen production, and fights off inflammation, but also plays a role in bettering your complexion in many different ways—including upping its elasticity and resiliency.

"Vitamin C brightens your skin tone and reduces the appearance of discoloration from sun damage, acne scars, and age spots. This vitamin works hard to repair, protect, and revitalize your overall complexion and fights the signs of aging," she says. "Two especially powerful forms of vitamin C used in face serums are l-ascorbic acid (a water-soluble vitamin) and vitamin C ester (a fat-soluble vitamin)."

Last but not least, there's resveratrol, which she says protects your skin and neutralizes damage from free radicals—things that affect the production of elastic and collagen, "two key players in the health and vitality of skin." Then there's retinol. Retinol—which is known to be drying—seems like an odd ingredient to look for in a serum if you have dry skin, but Dr. Frieling says it can still be used. In fact, it could help combat the problems making your skin dry in the first place.

"Retinol stimulates the production of collagen, which leads to firmer, plumper skin. It also has exfoliating properties that encourage cell turnover and help shed dead skin cells. As we age, our skin’s natural exfoliating functions slow down and we produce less collagen. This results in dull, tired-looking skin that can be dry and flakey," she says. "Retinol is also able to tighten pores and reduce hyperpigmentation by evening out the skin tone, leaving you with a fresh, vibrant glow and visibly softer, firmer skin."

The best skin serums for dry skin, according to an expert

1. Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Serum, $15

You can't beat expert-approved drugstore finds, and this one is a steal. "It contains hyaluronic acid, non-comedogenic and oil-free, completely wearable under makeup, and very hydrating," Dr. Frieling says.

2. SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, $166

This product is loaded with all the skin-loving ingredients you need. "The formula contains high concentrations of pure vitamin C, vitamin E, and ferulic acid to help even out pigmentation," she says. "The potent blend also prevents damage throughout the day by neutralizing free radicals caused by UVA/UVB and infrared radiation. Once absorbed, the serum remains effective for a minimum of 72 hours, and it's ideal for normal, dry, and sensitive skin types."

3. The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane, $20

Dr. Frieling says there's no need to be afraid of retinols—even if you have dry skin. "If flaking and redness have made you stay away from retinoids in the past, this high-dose retinoid will be your savior," she says. "Derived from vitamin A, just like retinol, retinoids have a different chemical structure that can make them gentler on skin while still reaping the wrinkle-fighting benefits."

Considering a product with vitamin C? Here's what a derm wants you to know: 

If you're looking for an under-$35 skin serum, these are the best options. And don't just use 'em on your face—try this legendary lash-lengthening serum, too.

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