We use the term "beauty sleep" pretty loosely sometimes, but nighttime is actually the perfect time to set your beauty routine into overdrive. While you're catching some zzz's, your skin goes to work repairing itself, so applying a serum before you lay your head down on your pillow at night is a pretty smart choice.
From acne prevention to skin brightening, there are different types of serums and formulas that address a variety of skin concerns. But overall, these are essential to keep your skin looking healthy and young throughout your sleeping beauty experience. Not sure where to start? Shop TODAY contacted several skin care experts to find out what to look for in a night serum — and they even suggested their top 11 serums that you'll be dying to get in bed with.
Benefits | Ingredients to look for | Expert picks | Shopper favorites | FAQs | Meet our experts
Why do we need a serum at night?
According to board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Alexis Parcells, MD, serums serve to support your skin while it regenerates overnight to repair any damage produced during the day.
"Serums often contain power products — including antioxidants and collagen-inducing ingredients — and are best absorbed while we are sleeping," she says.
Aside from their fast-absorbing nature, serums also carry a higher concentration of active ingredients. "There are anti-aging serums, antioxidant-based serums, skin-brightening serums, ones that focus on hydrating, acne treatment and sensitive skin. While anyone can incorporate a serum into their skin care routine, many patients start when they have anti-aging or specific skin concerns," shares board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Tiffany J. Libby.
What ingredients should you look for in a night serum?
All skin types can benefit from the use of serums. However, choosing the right one depends on your skin treatment goals.
According to Libby, if hydration is your main concern, look for a night serum with hyaluronic acid, lactic acid or both. If you're concerned with pigmentation, she suggests a serum with vitamin C because it "brightens skin, lightens dark spots, builds collagen and protects skin from free radicals."
"Serums are usually thin and easily absorbed into the skin to deliver ... power ingredients that have been proven to improve skin tone and texture," Parcells explains.
Common serum formulations include vitamins C and E, as well as hyaluronic acid to fight signs of aging.
"While retinol is great to use before bed, it should be avoided during the day as it can increase photosensitivity," Parcells adds.
Other multitasking ingredients Libby recommends include mandelic acid, lactic acid and glycolic acid. This is because these chemical exfoliants help soften and smooth out your skin’s texture, as well as increase cellular turnover, which helps treat acne and pigmentation and boost collagen production.
Have more questions about night serums? Check out our experts' answers to frequently asked questions at the end of this roundup. Now, without further ado, our list of the 11 best night serums, according to experts (plus a few shopper-loved picks).
Best night serums, according to experts
L'Oreal Revitalift Derm Intensives Night Serum
Ready to incorporate a serum into your bedtime skin care routine? It's the perfect time to give your skin some TLC.
"Serums penetrate the skin’s surface a lot better while you’re asleep and your skin cells are regenerating. While your skin rests at night, it replenishes itself, allowing the product to get absorbed better," Dr. Debra Jaliman, MD, a board-certified New York City dermatologist says.
The skin care savant recommends looking for a serum with ingredients like retinol, peptides and antioxidants to get the most bang for your buck and swears by this anti-aging option.
"It contains pure retinol and hyaluronic acid and is great for fine lines and wrinkles," she said.
The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2% Exfoliating Serum
Serums don't get much more affordable than The Ordinary's less-than-$9 exfoliating option that board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marisa Garshick, MD, swears by. But despite its budget-friendly price tag, the lightweight formula actually gives high-end results and tackles a range of skin care woes like uneven skin tone and texture.
"It's best used at night and contains lactic acid, a gentle but effective alpha hydroxy acid that works to eliminate dead skin cells to improve the overall texture and tone of the skin," the derm explains. "It also contains Tasmanian pepperberry to help reduce irritation."
Pixi Skintreats Glow Tonic Serum
When asked why using a serum at night is so beneficial, Boston-based dermatologist Dr. Ranella Hirsch, MD, put it in pretty clear terms for us.
"Unlike during the day, when we wear other things like sunscreen and makeup, serums can be applied to a clean face with nothing else. Talk about a clean canvas," she says.
Pixi's Glow Tonic Serum is a triple threat that hydrates, nourishes and exfoliates skin, leaving behind a soft and healthy glow.
"It's a wonderful combination of ingredients that target hyperpigmentation (like glycolic acid and arginine) and soothe skin (like cucumber and aloe vera) at a fantastic price."
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Serum
Want to wake up to a hydrated, glowing complexion? Try dabbing a bit of hyaluronic acid into your skin before going to bed. "The substance is naturally found in your body and holds onto moisture and keeps tissues and joints lubricated," Dr. Liia Ramachandra, a former pharma executive and skin care expert, tells us.
Neutrogena's Hydro Boost serum is chock full of hyaluronic acid and is oil-free, so it won't clog pores. Ramachandra calls the ingredient the "holy grail" of skin care and said it can be a major power player in your beauty routine.
"Evidence suggests that hyaluronic acid helps with soft tissue growth, prompts your body to make more collagen and elastin, keeps your skin moisturized, prevents tightness, boots elasticity and reduces scarring," she says.
Olay Regenerist Wrinkle Serum Max
Antioxidants like vitamin C are perfect to use during the daytime, but at night, Garshick recommends breaking out anti-aging multitaskers like peptides, which this powerhouse serum has plenty of.
"It helps to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, while also smoothing the skin. This can be used day and night and is fragrance-free. It's also a good option even for those with sensitive skin," she says.
The best part? The fast-absorbing serum is formulated without parabens, fragrance, mineral oil or phthalates, so you won't have to worry about irritation from harsh ingredients.
La Roche-Posay Retinol Face Serum
This potent serum from La Roche-Posay has a trifecta of ingredients that Hirsch said are ideal for nighttime use, when skin is ready to do its best work.
"It contains retinol, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid and gently turns over skin cells," she says.
The anti-aging serum is oil-free, non-comedogenic and paraben-free, and is ideal for anyone who wants to treat the visible signs of aging like lines, wrinkles and sun damage.
RoC Multi Correxion Hyaluronic Acid Night Serum Capsules
When your skin switches from protection mode to repair mode at night, it's the perfect time to wipe away all the stress it experienced during the day.
"When you use a night serum that's packed with nutrients and active ingredients at night, they actively go into the cells, and the rejuvenation/restoration process is intensified and multiplied," Ramachandra explains.
The skin care expert suggests giving these paraben-free night serum capsules that are formulated with retinol and hyaluronic acid a try if you're craving plumper, more hydrated skin and visibly reduced fine lines and wrinkles.
Naturium Retinol Complex Serum
Dealing with sensitive skin but still want to reap all the anti-aging benefits of a retinol? Garshick recommends trying this $20 serum.
"It combines retinol with bakuchiol, a plant-derived retinol alternative, and together [they help] to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while also working to boost collagen production," she says.
The derm recommends starting off by using the product at night a few times a week and increasing the frequency as your skin gets used to it. "Serums are best used after cleansing and prior to moisturizing," she adds.
TruSkin Vitamin C Serum
Vitamin C serums are often prescribed for daytime use to counteract the sun's harsh rays, but they're also quite effective as part of a nighttime routine. Ramachandra recommends this option from TruSkin and loves that it's formulated with multiple superstar ingredients like hyaluronic acid, witch hazel, jojoba oil and vitamin E.
"Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that may be effective at reducing UV damage in skin. Jojoba oil is an extremely effective natural moisturizer. Witch hazel has many benefits for skin, including relieving inflammation, tightening pores and helping with razor bumps. It may also help reduce acne, since it can cleanse your skin of excess oil," she explains.
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Anti-Wrinkle Face Serum
You don't have to spend a fortune to get a high-quality serum. Case in point? Jaliman is a fan of this affordable find that has 3,300-plus verified five-star ratings on Amazon.
"It helps with fine lines, wrinkles and dark spots," she explains.
The Neutrogena bestseller is formulated with several workhorse ingredients like hyaluronic acid and retinol. It works its anti-aging magic without irritating skin, making it ideal for sensitive, mature skin.
"The hyaluronic acid hydrates the skin because it’s a natural humectant, and glycerin also moisturizes the skin," the derm says.
Olay Wrinkle Correction Serum
Jaliman always seeks out night serums with ingredients that resurface and repair skin, and she had nothing but kind words for this bestseller that travels deep into skin's surface and treat the signs of aging quickly. It even promises visible wrinkle reduction in just 28 days.
"It contains vitamin B3 (also known as niacinamide) and improves the appearance of enlarged pores and dullness while fighting wrinkles. Niacinamide also stimulates fibroblasts that make collagen," she says. "The serum also contains collagen peptides that help reduce fine lines."
Other shopper-approved night serums to try
Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Multi-Recovery Complex Serum
NBC News commerce coordinator Alexa Arent says this serum is worth every dollar on its price tag. You'll always find it in her beauty cabinet since she, her mom and her sister all regularly use this bestselling serum. "It’s worth it because of it’s quality/value for sure!" she raves.
According to the brand, it's meant to act as seven different serums in one, touting benefits like reduced fine lines, firmer skin and boosted hydration. It boasts the ability to provide hydration for up to 72 hours and a strengthened skin barrier in just four hours.
Yina Fortify Botanical Serum
This serum gets high praise from Shop TODAY associate editor Fran Sales as her "ABSOLUTE. FAVORITE. serum to use at night." Plant extracts peony and astragalus are key ingredients in this lightweight pick. Sales acknowledges that while the price may be intimidating at first, it works well and will last a long time, adding that she only uses one to two drops at a time.
Stratia Soft Touch AHA
When she's not using the Yina serum, Sales cycles this budget-friendly pick into her nighttime routine. She likes it because of how gentle and non-irritating it is on her sensitive skin. It's made with 10 percent mandelic acid alongside skin-soothing ingredients like chamomile and aloe.
Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment
This lactic acid treatment is a favorite of several members of the Shop TODAY team, including editorial director Adrianna Brach, writer Jannely Espinal and editor Vivien Moon. Brach even calls it one of her "tried-and-true faves."
Other key ingredients include licorice and lemongrass to brighten the appearance of dark spots and discoloration, and prickly pear extract to soothe any potential redness. Plus, according to the brand, it works on all skin types.
Bliss Youth Got This Prevent-4
Get intense hydration with this retinol-infused serum that mixes amino acids, peptides, squalane and antioxidants to support the skin’s barrier.
"I've noticed [that] the fine lines on my forehead have reduced dramatically. And it's helped get rid of my milia [small cysts] on my face; they are almost completely gone," shared one Bliss customer.
Indeed Laboratories Snoxin II Serum
Whether you have dry, sensitive or oily skin, this concentration will help in reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. The product contains XEP-018, which is a biomimetic peptide made from marine cone snail venom that helps regulate face contraction while relaxing muscles. Essentially, it is an anti-aging formula made to relax wrinkles.
Colorescience Even Up Multi-Correction Serum
If hyperpigmentation is your main concern, this serum is the right one for your skin. Colorescience's serum is formulated for people with more melanosis (a type of hyperpigmentation), and it also addresses spots created by cystic acne. The product combines vitamin E, a bioactive complex to reduce the appearance of dark spots, hyaluronic acid, ceramides, peptides and more to enhance skin brightening.
SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Hyaluronic Acid Gel Moisturizer
This highly concentrated serum is powered with hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5 to deliver a visage revival. The formula is great for sensitive skins looking for a smooth concentration that doesn't clog pores.
"I had early signs of rosacea and have always had really dry skin. Adding this product to my skin regimen has done me wonders," said one verified buyer.
Obagi Medical Professional C-Serum 15%
It has a higher price tag, but this serum is condensed with enough vitamin C to slow down and fade signs of aging. The anti-aging formula is raved about by customers for its near-instant penetration into the skin. This formula is great for those with mature, sensitive and acne-prone skin.
Many customers shared that in order to see visible results, you have to be patient with this product. "This is a must in my morning routine. A little goes a long way. It took a few months to see results, but after I did, I am hooked!"
Night serum FAQs
Can I apply serums mixed with other ingredients?
Most serums are designed to be applied directly on clean skin so they can be absorbed quickly.
"Ideally, you want to apply your serum alone and follow it with additional steps like a moisturizer to deliver added hydration to the skin and help seal in and potentiate the effects of a serum. Many serums will have additional ingredients already, so be wary of mixing serums and potentially applying higher concentrations of a particular ingredient inadvertently," Libby says.
How to apply a night serum
Just like adding moisturizer, sunscreen or any other ingredient, your face needs to be clean before applying skin care products.
"After your skin is cleansed, consider a toner to balance out your skin’s pH," says Parcells.
Once this is done, you can proceed with the serum of your choice, preferably when the skin is still dewy.
"[Application] is best done in that golden minute when you get out of your steamy shower," the dermatologist explains. "This will allow the power product to deliver active ingredients deep into your skin. Rub the serum into your face first, then your neck and finally your hands," she adds.
Is it necessary to apply moisturizer after serum at night?
"It’s not absolutely necessary, but moisturizer certainly helps," shares Parcells. "Adding a moisturizer over a serum will allow it to seal in and make it more efficacious. Once your serum has been applied to your face, neck and hands, wait 30 to 60 seconds for the serum to settle before applying a moisturizer."
Meet our experts
- Dr. Marisa K Garshick, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology and an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Cornell.
- Dr. Ranella Hirsch, MD, is a Boston-based board-certified dermatologist and a fellow at the American Academy of Dermatology, the American Society of Laser Medicine and Surgery, the International Society for Cosmetic Dermatology and the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery.
- Dr. Debra Jaliman, MD, is a board-certified New York City dermatologist and the author of “Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist."
- Dr. Tiffany J. Libby, MD, is a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist based in Rhode Island.
- Dr. Alexis Parcells, MD, is a New Jersey-based board-certified plastic surgeon and founder of SUNNIE Skincare.
- Dr. Liia Ramachandra is a skin care and cosmetics expert and former pharma executive. She founded and is CEO of Epilynx.