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The Best Body Serums, According to Dermatologists

Photo-Illustration: Courtesy of the retailers.

As seasons change and central heating returns, now’s the time everyone is scrambling for new ways to moisturize reptilian skin. One of those ways might be with a body serum, which is similar to a serum for the face, only it’s meant to moisturize and even exfoliate the dry bits on your legs, arms, and back. “Just like serums for the face, serums for the body offer a great way to deliver more active ingredients to the skin,” explains New York dermatologist Dr. Hadley King, a clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University. Adding a serum to your skin-care routine is helpful, she says, because while “some body lotions also contain active ingredients, body serums often have higher concentrations of these ingredients.” But the two aren’t interchangeable and, for best results, should be used one after the other, layered lightest to heaviest (that’s serum before lotion). Here, we asked King and five other dermatologists to tell us about their favorite body serums. Their eight picks below run the gamut — from serums made for dry skin to others designed to brighten to some that even fight body acne — with all promising to deliver a daily dose of hydration.

Best overall body serum

Three of our experts agree that the REN AHA Smart Renewal Body Serum is a great choice, especially if you want a body serum that also exfoliates. Both King and Dr. Noelani González, the director of Cosmetic Dermatology at Mount Sinai West, like that it contains alpha-hydroxy acids (like lactic acid) and essential oils. “Gentle chemical exfoliation helps to slough off dry, dead skin cells, leaving the skin softer and smoother,” King says, and “the lactic acid in this gently gets rid of dead skin cells without any scrubbing.” Dr. Morgan Rabach, a dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical NYC, also notes that the 10-percent blend of acids in this “lightweight” serum will work to “brighten sun marks and other discoloration.”

Best (less-expensive) body serum

While the above serum packs an extra punch with its exfoliating properties, perhaps you’re just looking for something to help hydrate and moisturize your skin. When it comes to hydration, a serum that contains the powerful humectant hyaluronic acid will go a long way toward plumping skin and helping it retain moisture. One product with hyaluronic acid that King likes is this luxurious serum–slash–body milk from French pharmacy brand Vichy, which contains ten essential oils. Vichy says the serum should last for approximately 90 applications, which, at $29 per bottle, works out to just over 30 cents a day.

Editor’s note: Unfortunately, this body serum from Vichy has been discontinued.

Best body serum for dry skin

Dr. Robyn Gmyrek of Park View Laser Dermatology told us that this body serum is “great for very dry skin” because it contains hydrating argan oil and glycerin along with lactic and citric acids, “which chemically exfoliate the top dead skin layer to allow for better penetration of the moisturizing ingredients.” Importantly, Gmyrek adds that this does not leave behind a greasy feel and notes that you can get it in one of three light fragrances (vanilla apricot, peppermint bark, or winter gardenia) as well as in a fragrance-free variety that’s better for those with sensitive skin (or noses).

Best body serum for acne-prone skin

For those with body acne, dermatologist Dr. Camille Howard-Verovic, the founder of haircare line Girl+Hair, suggests this product from Paula’s Choice. According to her, the serum’s acne-fighting “salicylic acid — a lipid-loving beta hydroxy acid — is perfect for sebaceous-rich areas” like the back and chest. According to the brand, it’s also a good option for those who want to minimize the appearance of keratosis pilaris.

Best body serum for sensitive skin

By now, you’re probably seen Nécessaire’s minimalist bottles in plenty of shower shelfies. The body-care line founded by Into the Gloss and Estée Lauder alums was designed with sensitive skin in mind, according to its creators. As such, its serum is formulated without fragrance, sulfates, parabens, or phthalates. Gmyrek recommended it to us, noting that the product contains moisturizing hyaluronic acid, as well as ceramides to “improve and support a healthy skin barrier” for moisture retention. “In addition, this serum contains anti-inflammatory niacinamide which helps to stimulate collagen and elastic tissue, as well as vitamin B5 which provides antioxidant benefits,” she explains. This body serum is also beloved by Rio, who relies on it to keep her eczema at bay when the temperature dips: “It’s truly a magical wintertime treatment to ensure your body is properly quenched during dry, windy times,” she writes.

Best brightening body serum

Though this one has a steep price point, González says it’s very promising for people hoping to lighten up stubborn dark spots and melasma. “It has tranexamic acid in it, an ingredient that has been shown to improve melasma and dark spots in a few clinical studies,” she explains.

Best plant-based body serum

“Clarins Renew-Plus Body Serum is a primarily plant-based serum using hydrating ingredients, such as water-lily extract, sunflower-seed oil, and hazel-seed oil, with anti-inflammatory and skin-exfoliating ingredients,” explains Dr. Rachel Nazarian of New York City–based Schweiger Dermatology Group. She calls it “one of her favorites.” What’s more, because the serum is paraben-, sulfate-, phthalate-, and mineral oil–free, it’s another good option for those with more sensitive skin.

Best easy-to-apply body serum

We’ve covered One Love Organics before for its cult-y cleansing oil, but the brand’s body serum is another good product to know if you don’t want to spend too much money — or time applying it. Packaged in a unique spray bottle that makes it fast and easy to use, González says it’s ideal for someone who’s short on time. “It also has pumpkin-seed oil, a natural source of salicylic acid, which helps exfoliate,” she adds, noting that, generally, such essential oils are a must for those looking to plump and hydrate their skin.

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The Best Body Serums, According to Dermatologists