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These 5 Serums Are Under $20 and Work Just As Well As Expensive Ones

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Despite their petite packaging, serums are often some of the priciest skin-care products on the market. Buzzy, shelfie-worthy serums — like Dr. Barbara Sturm’s hyaluronic acid serum or SkinCeuticals’ bottle of vitamin C, for example — can be extremely expensive, costing anywhere between $100 and $300.

According to Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, brand founder and board-certified dermatologist based in Miami, there are a few reasons why a serum may be particularly costly: First, there are marketing costs. Brands might spend extra money on a celebrity contract, use expensive packaging, or simply raise their prices to align with other “luxury” beauty brands, all of which factor into the price you see at checkout. But there are also formulation-related reasons — brands can spend a lot of clinical time developing and testing products before they ever reach the market, so you’re paying for the hours of research and expertise behind the final formula.

But according to Dr. Loretta, splurging on a product doesn’t guarantee greater benefits. “There are so many wonderful affordable drug-store products. Instead of worrying about pricing, I would prioritize learning about ingredients and purchasing products that are both kind and effective on your skin,” she said. There are tons of affordable and effective serums out there that can help treat and target whatever your skin-care concern may be (hydration, radiance, reducing inflammation, to name a few) without breaking the bank. Below, a list of my favorite serums under $20.

If you’re struggling with breakouts, dullness, or congested skin, you just might love this niacinamide and zinc serum from Naturium. Niacinamide is a wonderful, workhorse ingredient that can help prevent and control current acne breakouts, even out your complexion, and smooth fine lines and wrinkles. There’s a reason why niacinamide has become such a beloved ingredient among skin-care professionals — it just works. And its partner in crime here, zinc, is pretty great also — its soothing and anti-oxidant properties make it an excellent candidate for reducing inflammation and irritation.

Vitamin C serums are a wonderful way to deliver radiance and fade hyperpigmentation marks left behind from breakouts. However, a lot of vitamin C serums quickly oxidize and lose potency — annoying. But this particular brightening serum uses 15% ascorbyl glucoside, a more stable derivative of vitamin C that ensures a longer shelf life. This serum also uses one percent Epitensive, which can help promote elasticity and repair skin damage.

If maintaining skin elasticity and adding a kind of bounciness and plumpness to your skin is a main priority, Skin Buffet from The Ordinary may be a great serum for you. It’s chock-full of peptides, which can restore, soothe, and improve the appearance of any fine lines or wrinkles. It also uses hyaluronic acid, which adds a boost of hydration.

Photo: Courtesy of the Inkey List

If you’ve long wanted to integrate a retinol into your routine, but have feared the initial irritation period, you might love this gentle (and wonderfully affordable) option from The Inkey List. This formula uses a slow-release retinol, which makes the product sink into the skin at a slower rate, lessening the initial redness and flakiness you often get with retinol. This serum also has squalane, which creates a cushion of moisture to soothe and calm the skin.

If you’ve long coveted the Hailey Bieber–approved hyaluronic acid from Dr. Barbara Sturm but couldn’t bear to pull the trigger on a $300 30ml bottle, look no further. This wonderful $16 serum from Naturium uses hyaluronic acids with four different molecular weights, meaning the serum’s hydration reaches multiple levels of your skin. The hydration is deep and comprehensive — not superficial — and creates a plumping effect. This serum also uses hydrating ingredients propanediol and glycerin for maximum moisture. If you have dry, flaky wintertime skin, this is definitely worth checking out.

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5 Serums Under $20 That Work Just As Well As Expensive Ones