how to choose the right skincare serum for your age

For years, I ignored serums.

I had no idea what they were, what they were supposed to do and what the point in buying one was.

But, one day, curiosity got the better of me. I tried one and… have never looked back.

These days, a serum is an essential step in my skincare routine, both at morning and at night. What a change, huh?

So, what happened there? Well, I’ve finally figured out what serums are. Skincare superheroes that are packed with active ingredients, such as antioxidants and skin lighteners.

Serums contain a much higher concentration of these goodies than moisturizers. Their texture is much lighter, too, so they penetrate more easily into the skin. That makes serums work better and faster than any other skincare products out there.

Basically, you’d be mad not to use one.

There’s only one problem. How the heck do you choose the best one for your skin, especially when its needs keep changing as you get older?

Here’s a quick guide to help you out. It’ll tell you what ingredients you should look out for during any decade of your life and where to find them:

Best Serums For 20-Somethings: Anti-Aging Prevention

Your skin looks awesome. Soft, supple, glowy. What the heck do you need a serum for?


Your skin isn’t showing it yet, but sun damage, pollution, an unbalanced diet and plenty of other things are inflicting damage to it every day. If you don’t do something about it now, those wrinkles will turn up sooner than you think.

Enter antioxidants. They fight the free radicals that cause wrinkles and dark spots. The more you add to your skincare routine, the better you’ll age.

Best Picks:

Related: Common Antioxidants Found In Skincare Products

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Best Serums For 30-Somethings: Retinol

Fine lines are now starting to appear, especially around your eyes. Yes, already.

There’s only one family of actives that can reduce the damage: retinoids. They’re forms of vitamin A, the gold standard for treating antiaging. They reduce the fine lines and wrinkles you already have and prevent new ones from forming. How?

  • They fight the free radicals that cause wrinkles
  • They stimulate collagen production to firm skin
  • They accelerate cellular turnover, helping skin renew itself faster

But, there’s a catch. Retinoids can be irritating if you’ve never used them before. Start with small concentrations once or twice a week and build it up from there.

Best Picks:

Related: The Complete Guide To Retinol: What It Is, What It Does & How To Use It

peter thomas roth retinol infusion pm night serum 01

Best Serums For 40-Somethings: Exfoliation & Peptides

Skin is starting to lose its luster. It’s duller, drier and more uneven than it was before.

Getting it its glow back is a job for exfoliation. Glycolic acid is particularly good at this:

  • It exfoliates skin, making it smoother and brighter
  • Helps reduce wrinkles and dark spots
  • Hydrates skin
  • Boost collagen production (but only in high concentrations)

There’s no better exfoliant for dry and sun-damaged skin. Oily skin? Stick to salicylic acid. It’s not as brightening, but it still gets the job done.

You may also want to start using peptides. The verdict’s still out there, it’s true. Peptides are too big to penetrate skin, so some derms think they’re useless. 

But, enough studies are coming up lately to make me think they do something (like helping to firm skin) even when left on the surface of the skin. I wouldn’t buy a serum just because of peptides, but if it has other goodies + peptides, heck, why not?

Best Picks:

Related: The Complete Guide To Glycolic Acid: What It Is, What It Does & How To Use It

drunk elephant tlc framboos glycolic night serum

Best Serums For 50+ somethings: Skin-Brighteners

Wrinkles, sagging, dark spots… Your skin is starting to show its real age.

You still need all the goodies that served you well before. Antioxidants. Retinoids. Glycolic acid. Peptides.

But now, it’s time to bring out the big guns to treat dark spots. That usually means hydroquinone, the most powerful skin lightener out there.

Problem is, it’s a bit harsh. There are other gentler alternatives, like arbutin and Niacinamide, but they tend to cost more or work more slowly.

Best Picks:

  • Alpha Skincare Dual Action Skin Lightener ($10.99): available at Ulta
  • Paula’s Choice Resist Pure Radiance Skin Brightening Treatment ($34.00/£34.00): available at Paula’s Choice
  • Skinceuticals Phyto Plus ($86.00): available at Blue Mercury and Dermstore