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Best hydrating serums in 2023: For plumped, glowing skin

Moisture-boosting elixirs designed to nourish dry and dehydrated skin

Skin needs water to maintain a healthy skin barrier – fact. And the best hydrating serums are perfect for the job because they deliver an instant hit of it. Similar to giving your complexion a pint-glass of water, a few drops of serum applied over parched areas of skin will make them noticeably plumper and more supple, often bringing a vast improvement in texture and luminosity, too.  

But first you need to determine whether you have dry skin or dehydrated skin. “Dehydrated skin is lacking water. Skin can look dull and often feel tight,” explains Eve Casha, chief scientific officer at Dermoi. “It’s often a temporary condition, so hydrating serums are perfect to replenish moisture in this case.

“Dry skin, on the other hand, is lacking oil and tends to be a more long-term issue. It can be rough, flaky and scaly in appearance – this is where creams, oils and ceramides are more useful to replenish skin lipids.” 

However, you can suffer the two skin issues at the same time, and you’ll find that many serums on the market are designed to treat both: “When your skin is dry and at a loss of oil, it’s often dehydrated too,” adds Eve. “This is because skin lipids play a huge role in maintaining the skin’s barrier and water loss. When the skin barrier is compromised, water loss increases.”  

So, to provide a helping hand, below you’ll find our pick of the best hydrating serums available right now, with the range including products for mature and sensitive skins, among others. But first, here’s our guide to picking the right hydrating serum for you.

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Best hydrating serums: At a glance

How to choose the best hydrating serum for you

What should I look for in a hydrating serum?

“Hydrating serums will contain humectants, a type of ingredient that serves to draw in and bind water molecules,” says Eve. “Right now, the most popular humectant is hyaluronic acid, but glycerin, polyglutamic acid, urea, sorbitol and propylene glycol are other common ones.”

Those with particularly dry skin types might also want to consider oily substances that support the skin barrier lipids and prevent excess water loss by forming a film. “These include argan oil, squalane, lanolin acid, stearic acid, ceramides or plant oils,” says Eve.

Are hydrating serums the same as moisturiser? 

In a word, no – so your skincare routine should include both product types.

“Humectants should always be combined with occlusive agents such as an oil or moisturiser, because they work by bringing water up into the epidermis but don’t actually prevent its loss,” says Eve. “This can greatly affect those with an already impaired skin barrier.” So, while a hydrating serum works to boost hydration, a moisturiser or oil layered on top will help lock it in. 

When it comes to application, think thinnest to thickest: “Always apply serum to damp skin after cleansing (and toning, if that’s applicable to you), but before your moisturiser, SPF or oil,” adds Eve. 

How much should I spend? 

Without doubt, serums are one of the most hardworking products when it comes to skincare. “They’re formulated with active ingredients that have been designed to penetrate the skin and tackle a specific concern. They also have a higher concentration of active ingredients than, say, your moisturiser,” explains Eve. So how much you spend on a product may well come down to your personal skincare needs. 

If all you require is a basic hyaluronic acid to give short-term hydration and a plumping effect, you’ll find it in numerous products across a range of budgets – some as little as £6, as you’ll see below. If you want to tackle other concerns with your serum, such as ageing or pigmentation, then formulas containing antioxidants – including vitamin C – may be worth considering, as well as greater expenditure. 

How we test hydrating serums

Like many skincare products, it can take around 4-6 weeks to see results from a serum, which is the reason our testers put 15 top-performing options under scrutiny over the course of six weeks. The formulas are used both morning and night to see how complexions improve over a period of continued use, and by how much. The formulas we test come from a range of brands and budgets, with us taking into account factors such as how a product feels on the skin on application, how well it fares beneath moisturiser and makeup, and whether there’s any piling, and – ultimately – how well each one performs for plumping and softening the skin.

READ NEXT: The best anti-ageing creams

The best hydrating serums you can buy in 2023

1. Emma Hardie Midas Touch Super Serum: Best multitasking serum  

Price: £58 (30ml) | Buy now from Boots

This hardworking serum from cult skincare label Emma Hardie is formulated with a range of transformative botanical ingredients, including bakuchiol (a natural, gentler alternative to retinol) to fight the signs of ageing, skin-brightening vitamin C to help reduce pigmentation, niacinamide to boost elasticity, and so much more. But it’s the brand’s innovative, patented ingredients that deliver sustained hydration; immediately tightening the skin and evening out tone, while significantly boosting moisture levels.

Where some serums can feel particularly runny or gloopy, this has a light, silky gel-like texture that isn’t tacky, but instead sinks in well and leaves skin feeling soft. Our tester also loved the pump-bottle packaging, since it delivered just the right amount of product each time. 

Buy now from Boots

2. The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5: Best affordable HA serum   

Price: £6.40 (30ml) | Buy now from The Ordinary

The Ordinary is known for its gloriously effective yet affordable skincare formulations, and this no-frills hyaluronic acid serum has raked in thousands of rave reviews – not only for its purse-friendly price, but for its radiant results, too.

As well as hyaluronic acid, it contains vitamin B5 to help skin retain moisture and calm inflammation. Note that it has a thick, slightly gloopy texture that can feel a little tacky after application. However, pair it with your favourite moisturiser or SPF and you’ll be back to a smooth, non-sticky base. The hydration and softening benefits are instant, and it easily matches up to some of its pricier counterparts. 

Buy now from The Ordinary

3. Douvall’s Acne Rehab Serum: Best for blemish-prone skin 

Price: £33 (30ml) | Buy now from Feel Unique

Despite what we were led to believe for many years, acne-prone skin needs hydration, too, and this plant-based formula has been specifically designed to aid healing and control sebum production. As well as containing papaya fruit extract to gently exfoliate, there’s cold-pressed hemp seed oil and vitamin E-rich argan oil to repair and soothe.

Many of us with oily or acne-prone skin are put off by the idea of applying oils to our face, when in fact non-comedogenic oils can sometimes be the solution to oily skin. Hemp seed and argan oil also contain linoleic acid, of which acne-prone skins tend to have a lower concentration, which can contribute to clogged pores.

This serum feels wonderfully silky without being greasy, is lightweight enough to quickly absorb into the skin, yet it feels ultra-hydrating at the same time. Wear under SPF if you decide to apply it in the morning, or if you want to apply at night, we’d go as far as saying it’s sufficiently hydrating applied as the last step in your routine. Our tester also saw a marked improvement in their acne and scarring. 

Buy now from Feel Unique

4. Jurlique Moisture Plus Rare Rose Serum: Best for sensitive skin 

Price: £52 (30ml) | Buy now from Jurlique

Rose has long been revered for its skin-loving properties. As well as being anti-inflammatory and packed with vitamins C and E, it’s also full of natural oils that keep complexions intensely moisturised.

Our tester loved the luxurious look and feel of this serum from Australian brand Jurlique. Everything from the tactile feel of the bottle – which has a smooth, opaque finish – to the light rose scent made it feel like a lot of thought had gone into creating the formula. The gel texture perhaps isn’t as smooth as our tester would have liked, but it absorbs quickly – and there was no denying that it left skin feeling firmer, more sculpted and calmer after use.

As well as rose extract, this serum contains dwarf lilyturf root to help boost barrier function and a botanical hyaluronic acid alternative.

Buy now from Jurlique

5. Lumene Nordic Hydra [Lähde] Aqua Serum: Best for plumping 

Price: £25 (30ml) | Buy now from Look Fantastic

A few drops of this hero product on our tester’s dull, dehydrated skin left it feeling more supple, healthier and brighter in an instant. It’s formulated with triple hyaluronic acid, replenishing Nordic birch sap, moisture-retaining algae and pure spring water to intensely hydrate the surface layers of the epidermis – delivering that instant plumping effect we all crave.

The serum glides on smoothly, and has a fresh, spa-like scent. Although it has a slightly sticky finish, it sinks in well and when layered with your favourite moisturiser, that tackiness disappears almost completely.

The brand promises 72 hours of deep hydration – and in our experience it certainly delivers. Plus, bonus points for the upcycled packaging, which feels luxurious but is made with recyclable and recycled materials. 

Buy now from Look Fantastic

6. The Body Shop Edelweiss Daily Serum Concentrate: Best for mature skin

Price: £30 (30ml) | Buy now from The Body Shop

In a bid to take a stand against beauty’s exhausting anti-ageing narrative, The Body Shop has renamed its Drops of Youth range after its powerhouse ingredient, Edelweiss. But with the new name comes a new formula, which we can confirm is even more concentrated and effective than the previously best-selling serum.

The plant-based ingredient contains leontopodic acid, which has antioxidant and DNA-protecting properties and is said to be 60% stronger than the more commonly used ferulic acid. As well as delivering a healthy dose of hydration, the serum has been clinically proven to help protect skin from pollution.

Our tester loved the light, velvety consistency. It feels substantially nourishing while absorbing quickly, for a smooth, non-sticky finish. A great option for wearing under makeup. 

Buy now from The Body Shop

7. NIOD Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Complex: Best lightweight serum 

Price: £41 (30ml) | Buy now from NIOD

As the name suggests, this serum contains multiple weights of hyaluronic acid for an all-round boost of hydration.

As well as being one of the most effective serums we’ve tried, it was also the lightest – it goes on almost like water and sinks in quickly. It has a very subtle scent upon application that appears to divide people according to some reviews, but our tester found it inoffensive. Since it’s so light, the pipette requires the gentlest of touches; otherwise, it’s possible to dispense a bit too much.

As well as delivering on the hydration front, this skin-savvy serum is formulated with a novel hyaluronic acid precursor peptide complex, which strengthens the skin’s structure over time. 

Buy now from NIOD

8. Dr Irena Eris Aquality Water Serum Concentrate: Best for tired skin  

Price: £47 (30ml) | Buy now from Debenhams

Sometimes the word “gel” suggests something watery, which can feel ineffective. However, this serum has a lovely glossy consistency that’s light enough to feel refreshing but weighty enough to feel like it’s hydrating the skin. Our tester – who has combination skin that’s prone to oiliness and fine lines – revealed that not only did skin look more luminous and hydrated, but the formula delivered a long-lasting smoothing effect, too.

It contains polyglutamic acid (y-PGA), too, which is scientifically proven to have five times higher hydration potential than hyaluronic acid. The product releases water particles during application, stimulating tired skin to instantly reduce signs of fatigue. 

Buy now from Debenhams

9. Crystal Clear Pharma Grade Hyaluronic Serum: Best high-potency serum  

Price: £90 (30ml) | Buy now from Look Fantastic

This advanced serum from Crystal Clear is a saviour for skin that’s feeling dry, dehydrated and in serious need of a boost. It combines high-molecular weight and low-molecular weight hyaluronic acid to deliver multi-level hydration – and it really does work, and quickly.

It glides on without leaving behind any sticky, glue-like residue, and skin is left looking bright, bouncy and replenished in an instant. We also found this product wonderful for reducing puffiness around the eye area. Yes, it’s pricey, but if you’re looking for a highly effective hydration fix, then this is it. A little goes a long way, and the pump dispenses the perfect amount of product each time, so you won’t find any going to waste. 

Buy now from Look Fantastic

10. Comfort Zone Hydra-Memory Serum: Best sustainable brand   

Price: £54 (30ml) | Buy now from Comfort Zone

This is a wonderful all-rounder for anyone who wants a daily hydration hit while protecting their skin barrier from the elements. As well as hyaluronic acid, it’s bolstered by alpha-lipoic acid, which has antioxidant properties, and rosehip oil to nourish skin cells from within.

Unlike the others on our list, this serum is creamier in texture but it’s just as light and fast at absorbing into skin. There’s no tackiness or pilling under makeup, either.

Not only brilliantly effective, Comfort Zone is a sustainability leader, too. With 25 years in the spa industry behind it, the company is a certified B Corp whose products are fully plastic-neutral, and it supports several projects dedicated to preserving our planet, too.  

Buy now from Comfort Zone

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