What to Look for in a Serum? A Comprehensive List of All Possible Ingredients (including examples!)

When choosing a serum, consider the following components. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it covers some key ingredients to look for based on your skin needs:

Hydrating Ingredients:

  • Hyaluronic Acid: Attracts and retains moisture.
    The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, Vichy Mineral 89 Hyaluronic Acid Serum
  • Glycerin: A powerful humectant that draws moisture into the skin.
    CeraVe Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Serum
  • Urea: Provides moisture and helps exfoliate dead skin cells.
    Eucerin UreaRepair Plus 5% Urea Face Cream, ISDIN Ureadin Hydration Serum
  • Propylene Glycol and Butylene Glycol: Help the skin retain moisture and improve texture.
    Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Serum, Missha Time Revolution Night Repair Probio Ampoule
  • Panthenol: Also known as Vitamin B5, it hydrates and soothes the skin.
    La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume B5 Serum
  • Lactic Acid: Hydrates and gently exfoliates.
    Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment
  • Natural Moisturizing Factor (NMF): Mimics the skin’s own moisturizing mechanism.
    The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA
  • Squalane: Provides lightweight hydration and strengthens the skin barrier.
    Biossance Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Oil

Nourishing/Barrier-Repairing Ingredients:

  • Ceramides: Essential for restoring the skin’s barrier function.
    Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Serum
  • Fatty Acids: Important for maintaining skin health and elasticity.
    Sunday Riley Juno Antioxidant + Superfood Face Oil
  • Oils: Such as jojoba, argan, and rosehip oil, to nourish and protect the skin.
    Josie Maran 100% Pure Argan Oil, Pai Skincare Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil
  • Prebiotics and Probiotics: Help balance the skin microbiome.
    TULA Skincare Illuminating Serum
  • Peptides: Promote skin repair and stimulate collagen production.
    Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Serum
  • Collagen: Boosts skin elasticity and firmness.
    Algenist GENIUS Liquid Collagen, Mario Badescu Super Collagen Mask
  • Lamellar Emulsions: Mimic the structure of the skin’s own lipid layers.
    La Roche-Posay Lipikar Balm AP+
  • Niacinamide: Strengthens the skin barrier and improves texture.
    Paula’s Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster
  • Galactomyces: A type of yeast that helps with hydration and skin brightening.
    CosRX Galactomyces 95 Tone Balancing Essence

Anti-Aging Ingredients:

  • Peptides: Help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
    The Ordinary “Buffet” Multi-Technology Peptide Serum
  • Antioxidants: Protect the skin from free radical damage.
    SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
  • Retinol: Stimulates cell turnover and collagen production.
    Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Treatment
  • Bakuchiol: A plant-based alternative to retinol.
    Herbivore Botanicals Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Smoothing Serum
  • Resveratrol: A potent antioxidant.
    SkinCeuticals Resveratrol B E
  • Coenzyme Q10: Protects the skin from oxidative stress.
    The Inkey List Q10 Serum
  • Acids and Enzymes: Aid in gentle exfoliation and skin renewal.
    Tatcha Violet-C Brightening Serum

Soothing Ingredients:

  • Centella Asiatica: Calms and repairs the skin.
    Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Serum
  • Aloe Vera: Provides hydration and soothes irritation.
    Benton Aloe BHA Skin Toner
  • Azulene: Derived from chamomile, it reduces redness and irritation.
    Dear, Klairs Midnight Blue Youth Activating Drop
  • Allantoin: Promotes skin healing and soothes irritation.
    CosRX Centella Blemish Ampule
  • Calendula: Known for its anti-inflammatory properties.
    Mad Hippie Advanced Skin Care Vitamin C Serum, Kiehl’s Calendula Herbal Extract Alcohol-Free Toner
  • Panthenol: Hydrates and soothes the skin.
    Mizon Snail Repair Intensive Ampoule
  • Bisabolol: Calms and heals the skin.
    Paula’s Choice CALM Repairing Serum
  • Mugwort (Artemisia): Soothes and protects the skin.
    I’m From Mugwort Essence
  • Betaine: Hydrates and reduces irritation.
    Neogen Dermalogy Real Ferment Micro Serum

Brightening/Radiance-Boosting Ingredients:

  • Vitamin C: Brightens the skin and reduces hyperpigmentation.
    Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum
  • Niacinamide: Improves skin tone and texture.
    The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
  • Acids and Enzymes: Aid in gentle exfoliation and skin brightening.
    Elemis Papaya Enzyme Peel
  • Galactomyces: Helps with hydration and skin brightening.
    SK-II Facial Treatment Essence
  • Glutathione: A powerful antioxidant that brightens the skin.
    Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare C+ Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum
  • Tocopherol (Vitamin E): Protects the skin and enhances radiance.
    Paula’s Choice Resist Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum
  • Licorice Extract: Reduces hyperpigmentation and brightens the skin.
    Murad Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Serum

Exfoliating Ingredients:

  • Acids (AHA, BHA, PHA): Exfoliate the skin and improve texture.
    Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum
  • Enzymes: Gently exfoliate the skin by breaking down dead skin cells.
    Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment

Anti-Acne Ingredients:

  • Niacinamide: Reduces inflammation and controls oil production.
    Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Niacinamide Dew Drops
  • Zinc: Helps reduce acne and regulate sebum production.
    La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo (+) Acne Treatment
  • Salicylic Acid: Exfoliates inside the pores to prevent breakouts.
    Murad Advanced Acne and Wrinkle Reducer
  • Tea Tree Oil: Has antimicrobial properties.
    Sunday Riley U.F.O. Ultra-Clarifying Face Oil
  • Retinol: Promotes cell turnover and prevents clogged pores.
    Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment
  • Bakuchiol: Provides similar benefits to retinol without the irritation.
    BYBI Beauty Bakuchiol Booster
  • Calendula: Soothes and heals the skin.
    I’m From Calendula Serum
  • Benzoyl Peroxide: Kills acne-causing bacteria and reduces inflammation.
    Proactiv Emergency Blemish Relief

These ingredients can help you tailor your skincare routine to your specific needs, ensuring your skin stays healthy, radiant, and well-cared for.