There may not be a more popular — or more controversial — skincare ingredient than hyaluronic acid. It’s kind of the green juice of skincare: It’s everywhere, no one’s really clear on what it does, and everyone wants it. Unbeknownst to many (even some who use it), this sugar molecule is a substance naturally found within the body, but…
We’re super proud of our skin for all of the ways it naturally produces everything we need to stay healthy and look our best. Yet as we age, around 25 years old to be exact, the production of key substances within our body, including hyaluronic acid, collagen, and elastin, slows down as skin begins to lose a very important molecule known as hyaluronic acid (HA). As board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Umbareen Mahmood, explains, “One of the most valuable things that HA provides for our skin is water.” In fact, she says that it is able to “hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water to maintain the plump and hydrated appearance of our skin.”
But that’s not all — it acts as a moisturizer, otherwise known as a humectant, to boost skin’s elasticity, reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and can even help heal wounds. Still, retaining hyaluronic acid isn’t only important to keep your skin looking young and fresh. HA’s ability to strengthen the skin barrier and improve its function also means that it’s better able to protect the skin from damaging environmental factors, like sun damage and pollution.
So, the solution sounds easy, right? Simply add more hyaluronic acid into your skincare routine in the form of a topical solution like a serum, cream, or gel (trust us, there are plenty of options). The hard part comes with finding a product that won’t irritate your skin and also plays nice with other ingredients. Luckily, we spent more than 400 hours over two months testing the most popular HA-based serums out there to determine which ones made our skin look plumper, healthier, and glowier.
We gathered a team of InStyle editors across a wide range of ages, skin types, concerns, and textures, to evaluate each hyaluronic acid serum over an eight-week period. We judged each one based on specific criteria, including how well they hydrated our skin and if our texture looked smoother, our fine lines plumper, our dry patches soothed, and our acne cleared up. We also considered the way each serum felt on our skin, paying particular attention to any lingering stickiness, residue, or heaviness. No detail was too small for us and we kept notes on any potential annoyances, like scent, absorption speed, and lackluster packaging. After we collected and evaluated the data and details from our editors, we scored and ranked each hyaluronic acid serum to curate this list with the ones that delivered the very best results.
Isdin Isdinceutics Hyaluronic Concentrate
What We Love: This supercharged concentrate goes above and beyond just hydration to wipe out acne and skin to clear acne and even out skin tone using a unique combination of fermented ingredients and two different weighted hyaluronic acids.
What We Don’t Love: It contains a small amount of added fragrance which may not make it suitable for extremely sensitive skin.
We hate to throw around the term “skincare magic,” but it’s the best way to describe how we felt about the Isdinceutics Hyaluronic Concentrate. It efficiently solved some of our biggest skin issues, including acne, dryness, and dull texture. Of course, this serum is better than any magic trick because the ingenious formula, which contains two types of hyaluronic acid and skin-barrier strengthening peptides, gave our skin a pillow-soft texture that was absolutely real.
From the jump, we noticed that our skin stayed hydrated all day, which is a stark difference from our typical complexion that turns flaky just a few hours after using a hydrating skincare product. We’d bet this effect is from the inclusion of a fermented marine bacteria called pseudoalteromonas. Recent research shows that the process of fermenting bacteria helps skin better retain moisture.
Plus, the formula contains two different weighted hyaluronic acids: The lighter one is able to deeply penetrate the dermis, providing far more enduring benefits, whereas the heavier version sits closer to the surface, giving us an instantaneous glow.
As much as we loved the immediate gratification of dewy skin, the long-term effects were even more thrilling. As we continued testing the concentrate, our acne-dotted chin began to clear, potentially due to the antioxidant-rich properties of lentil seed extract. This little legume can soothe inflammation and protect the skin against outside environmental factors. Pollution is the biggest offender and often leads to blemishes. On that same note, emollients like lecithin boost hydration, preventing pores from overcompensating with excess oil, which in turn, leads to even more clogged pores. To boot, it made our textured complexions much smoother in the process.
Finally, the formula is free of mineral oil and other comedogenic additives that trigger congestion and irritation, though we’d cautiously suggest it to our friends with extremely sensitive skin since it does contain an added fragrance.
Price at time of publish: $103
Skin Type: Combination, oily, dry | Key Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid (low and medium molecular weight), biomarine, peptides, lentil extract | Size: 1 oz
The Inkey List Hyaluronic Acid Serum
What We Love: We saw near-instant results, including brighter skin and reduced redness.
What We Don’t Love: Application is a little difficult since the product doesn’t have a pump or dropper.
The Inkey List continually saves our skin from disrepair, and its affordable products are even good enough for celebrities like Haim, so it’s no surprise that we’re here espousing the brilliance of its hyaluronic acid serum. Its quick-drying formula has a gel-like consistency that sunk into our skin in under 30 seconds and left a lovely, even base for the skincare and makeup we layered on top of it.
The post-application results were as speedy as its dry-down. Our skin drank up the two percent hyaluronic acid instantly, smoothing over the rough texture we had around the high points of our face. In fact, our skin stayed so well moisturized that on the rare instance we forgot to use the serum, it still felt incredibly soft and healthy. Additionally, its trademarked concoction of peptides prompted our bodies to make more collagen and gave our skin a bouncy, radiant texture after just a couple of uses.
Meanwhile, the antimicrobial effects from the radish root extract killed any acne-causing bacteria, and mitigated the sheen on our T-zone. These extracts also contain flavonoids, which are natural chemicals with antioxidant properties commonly found in plants, and can calm inflammation, which may explain why throughout testing we saw the redness around our cheeks almost completely disappear. But what makes flavinoids extra special – and important – to hyaluronic acid serums is the fact that they are able to penetrate the deeper levels of the dermis, not just the top, most visible layer, leading to stronger, longer-lasting anti-aging results over time.
In terms of application, the product squeezes out of a disc top cap (similar to a mini hotel shampoo) and though this wasn’t a huge nuisance, it would’ve been nice if it came with a dropper instead for an easier, more consistent application. However, if not having one is what keeps the price tag under $15, then we’re definitely not complaining.
Price at time of publish: $10
Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination, oily | Key Ingredients: Multi aolecular hyaluronic acid 2%, the brand’s patented Matrixyl 3000 Peptide | Size: 1 oz
The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5
What We Love: We put our skin through the wringer (Think: sun, pool, and plenty of outdoor time) and yet, you’d never know it from the look of our moisturized and flake-free visage.
What We Don’t Love: Using too much of the product will create a sticky residue.
Naturally, consulting with your dermatologist is key when finding a new skincare product, but a skincare product that was developed, tested, and approved by doctors, like this one, is your next best bet.In addition to three hyaluronic acids across a range of weights, dermatologists also concocted a hydrating sodium hyaluronate crosspolymer, and when mixed together, they deliver lasting, radiant hydration by locking moisture into the skin and throwing away the key.
Even after spending many summer days in chlorinated pools and hours lazing around in the sun, this serum saved our skin from drying out and rewarded our skincare sins with a smooth, ultra-soft complexion. The formula leans on pro-vitamin B5, in the form of panthenol, to act as a powerful humectant and anti-inflammatory, shielding UV rays and arid weather from draining our skin barrier of moisture. And, though we weren’t congested at the time, panthenol is known to curb the growth of acne-causing bacteria, leading us to believe that it could be a possible preventative solution against breakouts.
Though it felt lighter than air on our skin, it’d be easy to think we’d been applying a heavy-duty overnight treatment to get the visible results that we did.
One suggestion: Be cautious not to over apply the product and use it on a slightly damp face to avoid any sticky residue.
Price at time of publish: $16
Skin Type: Normal, oily, combination, dry, sensitive | Key Ingredients: Sodium hyaluronate, sodium hyaluronate crosspolymer, panthenol | Size: 1 oz
Dr. Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Serum
What We Love: With three types of hyaluronic acids in various weights, our wrinkles, fine lines, and dark circles looked far less visible.
What We Don’t Love: You have to be patient to experience the best results, but (trust us) they are well worth the wait.
As it turns out, Dr. Barbara Sturm is a bit of a research nerd like us, and we’re endlessly grateful to the German-based brand for the way this science-backed formula brought new life to our dull, tired skin.
So, how does the serum work? It’s all in the innovative ingredient lineup, starting with three types of hyaluronic acid that fit together like nesting dolls to yield a long list of results with every application. Almost immediately, we saw our skin brighten as it drank up the highest-weighted hyaluronic acid that slightly absorbed and stayed close to the top of the skin’s surface, whereas the medium-weighted HA refreshed the skin around our chin and cheeks. Over time, we spotted the effects of the low-weighted hyaluronic acid kick in — this weight sinks deeply into the dermis to target dark circles, wrinkles, and fine lines right at the source.
Meanwhile, the mineral- and fatty acid-rich purslane soothed our flaky, cracked skin after we spent too much time in the sun. A member of the succulent family, purslane has been a celebrated anti-inflammatory and protective ingredient in Eastern medicine for years as a way to treat and heal wounds. With more omega fatty acids than fish oil and more vitamins than veggies, this extract is brimming with skin-supporting benefits, like revving up cell turnover, strengthening the skin barrier for improved hydration, and defending against free radicals and UV damage.
It took less than a month for our skin to look like we just came home from a long, restorative weekend spent at a five-star spa, but it was around the six-week mark when our skin really hit its stride. We experienced far less dryness and our entire face looked brighter and plumper — even our crow’s feet looked softer, as if we’d been sleeping eight hours a night (we definitely weren’t).
Price at time of publish: $320
Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination, oily | Key Ingredients: Custom-blended hyaluronic acid, purslane | Size: 1 oz
Best for Mature Skin
La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum
What We Love: By enveloping the skin’s surface in a protective barrier of vitamin B5, sensitive and mature skin around mature, sensitive skin with helpful ingredients like vitamin B5 and madecassoside, while diminishing the appearance of wrinkles.
What We Don’t Love: It doesn’t work super well as an acne-clearing agent.
Think of this La Roche-Posay serum as the foundation that’ll prop up aging skin as it begins to produce less hyaluronic acid and collagen — and an inexpensive, non-irritating one at that. Even those who have celebrity-sized budgets, such as Sarah Jessica Parker and Natalia Dyer, opt for the super effective, sensitive-skin friendly formulas from La Roche-Posay. It uses vitamin B5 alongside HA to replenish mature skin with any nutrients and hydration it may have lost along the way.
On top of that, this serum recruits madecassoside, an active ingredient from the medicinal plant gotu kola. Known for its regenerative effects, this little herb has an outsized ability to improve the flow of blood through the body, which in turn, increases the supply of nutrients for the body to absorb, which strengthens the skin at the cellular level while also jumpstarting collagen production. Throughout the testing period, we watched our fine lines begin to soften, particularly around our eyes. We also attribute this delightful combination of the ancient herb with modern medicine as the benefactor behind our super dewy skin. In fact, our skin looked so dewy that the luminosity just radiated right through our makeup, eliminating the need for a brightening base primer.
Meanwhile, dimethicone, a non-comedogenic silicone common in many smoothing face primers, further filled in our fine lines, delivered a glass-skin effect, and created a barrier against moisture loss. Luckily, none of these potent ingredients contributed to our acne-sensitive skin, though it would’ve been an extra bonus if it could’ve cleared a few of our bumps. However, the brand’s signature Prebiotic Thermal Water did soothe our skin and calm redness with its bounty of natural minerals and antioxidants.
Price at time of publish: $40
Skin Type: Dry, sensitive | Key Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, madecassoside, glycerin, vitamin B5, dimethicone, La Roche-Posay prebiotic thermal water | Size: 1 oz
SkinCeuticals Hyaluronic Acid Intensifier Serum
What We Love: Our skin felt so well-hydrated and looked so bouncy that fine lines disappeared, some of our acne cleared, and we noticed less irritation and inflammation overall.
What We Don’t Love: Once you reach the bottom of the bottle, it’s difficult to get the last bit out.
At first, the texture of this product fooled us: It looks thick and clumpy, but once we applied it to our skin we discovered that not only did it feel weightless on our skin, but it also it cleared away flaky dry patches almost instantly. We have its pretty midnight color to thank for that, or, actually, purple rice extract. This ingredient gives the serum its groovy hue as one of its compounds, anthrocyanins, releases its deep red pigments that suppress inflammation and stabilize dwindling collagen levels.
Along with purple rice extracts, you’ll find one of the brand’s patented inventions: Proxylane, a synthetic, eco-friendly ingredient derived from birch and beechwood to support the skin barrier, allowing it to better retain long lasting hydration and refine skin texture. What’s more, the rice extract has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which we think accounted for the lack of redness and irritation we often see on our cheeks and may have helped clear up the acne on our chin.
The serum wasn’t humble about its talents either. We watched our winter weather-beaten skin perk up like a freshly watered plant, especially when it came to our cheeks that shined with a natural highlight instead of an angry red flush of color. We credit this effect to the addition of licorice root extract which has an illuminating effect on the skin by slowing down the body’s production of melanin, which fades skin discoloration and prevents new spots from forming.
But that’s not all. With our diligent skincare routine, the serum rewarded us by delivering the plump, cherubic complexion we typically only see on red carpets, with visibly smoother fine lines around our eyebrows and the crow’s feet at the outer corners of our eyes.
All that to say, considering how effective (and pricey) this pick is, we don’t want to waste a drop, so we hope the brand will redesign its packaging so it’s easier to reach the product left at the bottom of the bottle.
Price at time of publish: $110
Skin Type: Dry, normal, oily, combination, sensitive | Key Ingredients: Proxylane, licorice root extract, purple rice extract | Size: 1 oz
Best for Fine Lines
Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Glow Serum
What We Love: The formula relies on a high percentage of hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and other skin-plumping ingredients to promote skin elasticity for a firmer appearance.
What We Don’t Love: Depending on your skin type, some of its ingredients may clog pores.
Between its wildly popular eye creams and celebrity-approved products, Peter Thomas Roth takes up a lot of real estate in the beauty industry, especially when it comes to anti-aging products. This Hyaluronic Glow Serum is a prime example of its anti-aging innovations. Throughout the eight-week test, we saw the more subtle fine lines around our face nearly vanish, while the deeper wrinkles around our eyes and cheekbones began to diminish.
Before we knew it, our makeup routine was a breeze: Powders started gliding over our skin without dragging on uneven texture while foundations and concealers stopped creasing between our smile lines and eye bags, providing tangible evidence that the hyaluronic acid formula was taking effect. Here’s how: With a concentration of 75 percent hyaluronic acid complex, as well as HydraFence, a man-made mix of minerals and calcium derived from rice starch and red algae that works from the inside out to restore damaged skin and fortify the skin barrier function, the skin is flooded with the tallest drink of water possible.
Fatty-acid-rich ingredients, like castor seed oil are an added benefit. This oil is packed with proteins that stimulate collagen production to help keep skin firm and plump. Although the oil is non-comedogenic, it is quite thick, so it does its best work during dry, winter months when we all need a little extra hydration.
Meanwhile, castor seed oil pairs well with gentle exfoliators, including lactic acid, to stimulate skin cell turnover, causing skin to shed layers of discoloration faster to reveal a brighter, more even complexion, while simultaneously hydrating it with the support of phospholipids. It also contains ceramides to protect against barrier-disrupting UV light. Together, these ingredients prevented moisture from seeping out of our skin and left it so luminous we stopped highlighting our cheekbones during our makeup routine.
Price at time of publish: $72
Skin Type: Normal, dry | Key Ingredients: Proprietary hyaluronic acid complex, ceramide complex, and hydrafence | Size: 1 oz
Best for Uneven Texture
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Hyaluronic Marine Hydration Booster
What We Love: Plant-based ingredients transformed our sensitive, acne-prone skin and rough texture into a smoother surface, eliminated dry patches, and cleared away breakouts.
What We Don’t Love: It wasn’t super life-changing when it came to diminishing fine lines.
Our skin runs the gamut of conditions that lead to uneven skin texture, especially dryness and acne, so you can imagine our relief when we finally saw an even, smooth complexion after years of trying other products.
Even our partner and friends called out our skin (unprompted, we might add) as looking extra radiant, and we have to assume the dose of retinol within the formula is partially why. Working together with free-radical fighting ingredients, most notably watermelon extract, the vitamin A derivative gently exfoliated all of the dead skin that had built up on our skin’s surface, helping to lighten hyperpigmentation and unclog pores, and we didn’t have to wait long until we noticed fewer blemishes.
We’d be happy if the serum stopped here, however, it kept on delivering exceptional results, especially when it came to replenishing our skin with hydration. By using saccharide isomerate, a plant-derived extract bursting with hydrating properties that is so long-lasting that it’s often used to treat super dry scalps dealing with dandruff. Additionally, primrose, a skincare powerhouse, helped moisturize and soften our skin, while eradicating our rough and bumpy spots as well as the redness we were experiencing.
It probably goes without saying that our skin looked much more radiant throughout the testing period, and though we would’ve liked to see it have a little more bounce, we’re enchanted by everything else this one product accomplished.
Price at time of publish: $72
Skin Type: Dry, textured | Key Ingredients: Hyaluronic chronospheres, saccharide isomerate, watermelon extract | Size: 1 oz
Best for Redness
Kiehl’s Ultra Pure 1.5% Hyaluronic Acid Serum
What We Love: This simple, no-frills formula cuts right to the chase with only seven potent ingredients to reduce redness and keep sensitive skin from becoming irritated.
What We Don’t Love: The consistency is a little runny.
As a nearly two-century-old business, you could say Kiehl’s knows a thing or two about skincare, so we weren’t even skeptical when we saw that this formula only included seven ingredients to solve a long list of skin concerns, including redness, dehydration, and emerging wrinkles. And boy, did our trust pay off. The formula’s powerful 1.5 percent hyaluronic acid combined with citric acid works to balance the skin’s pH levels, which we definitely noticed as our skin color moved from a red flush to a more even tone within weeks. Besides that, citric acid is known to combat oxidative stress — usually damage from pollution and UV rays, and if left unchecked, this damage will weaken the skin barrier, making it vulnerable to inflammation, along with a whole host of other unpleasant effects.
We saw skin-soothing ingredients, such as glycerin and sodium hyaluronate, calm our rosacea-related flare-ups. Plus, our current wrinkles looked plumper and less indented, while our usually dry under eyes began to look hydrated and healthy. Our newfound even toned and less irritated skin allowed our makeup to go easily and look more radiant than it had in years.
Price at time of publish: $35
Skin Type: Dry, combination, oily | Key Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, cirtic acid | Size: 1 oz
Best for Plumping
SkinMedica HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator
What We Love: The serum includes time-released hyaluronic acid, antioxidants, and plenty of vitamins that protect it from moisture loss and made our skin look plumper for it.
What We Don’t Love: The formula contains whey protein, an ingredient derived from milk powder, which may make it irritating to those with this allergy.
Even if we didn’t want that dewy-fresh, plump youthful skin of Olivia Culpo (we do), we’d still reach for this lighter-than-air SkinMedica serum for all of the ways it improved our overall skin health.
Tucked away in its shiny, metallic bottle is a formula that was truly the gift that kept on giving — like an Advent calendar, each day our skin seemed to unveil a new complexion-enhancing benefit, starting with an instantly gleaming, supple visage as the sodium hyaluronate sank straight into our skin.
But the real power lies within the brand’s proprietary blend of five different types of HA, including a signature HA that releases hydration over time to keep skin moisturized for hours on end, alongside a faster acting HA for immediate dewiness, another long-lasting cross-linked HA, and two others to soothe and smooth skin, leaving us with complexions that seemed to be brighter and glowier each week, even at the end of a dragging workday.
Meanwhile, the vitamins A, B, and C from the formula’s natural ingredients, especially algae extract, offered anti-melanogenic properties that eased our hyperpigmentation, helping our skin tone to look even, renewed and balanced. Another proprietary innovation from the brand, Vitisensce Technology, taps the antioxidants from vitis flower stem cells to strengthen the skin barrier, allowing it to replenish and sustain hydration levels on its own. Though the research behind using plant cell extracts is fairly novel, studies suggest that these extracts can significantly prevent UV damage and keep your skin from losing the moisture it needs to stay supple.
One thing to keep in mind: The formula contains whey protein. While we didn’t experience any negative side effects, we wouldn’t recommend that anyone with a milk allergy try this product without consulting with their dermatologist first.
Price at time of publish: $184
Skin Type: Dry, combination, oily | Key Ingredients: Algae extract, amino acids, dimethicone, herbal extracts, peptides, plant stem cells, vitamin E | Size: 2 oz
Best for Glowing Skin
CeraVe Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Serum
What We Love: Affordable and gentle, this formula got the job done: It gave us an immediate glow that lasted all day without irritating our sensitive skin or causing it to look more oily.
What We Don’t Love: Although our skin definitely benefitted from the boost of hydration, it didn’t have much of an impact on our other skin woes, like hyperpigmentation or fine lines.
Based on our past experiences with the brand, we didn’t have much doubt CeraVe would let us down. After all, when it came to improving our dark circles and healing our damaged skin, this reliably great, not to mention affordable, brand was as effective as options at twice the price. Still, we were blown away by how this drugstore pick gave us beaming skin that looked fresh from a facial.
To start, our combination skin can be a challenge, since it doesn’t lean into one specific category or concern. Yet, the blend of hyaluronic acid, along with non-comedogenic, lightweight ingredients like niacinamide smoothed our rough, dry patches without increasing the sheen in our T-zone. With a hydrated, even skin surface, our makeup looked better than ever, and allowed our skin tints and highlighters to look extra dewy.
Although CeraVe uses the same ingredients as other options, like ceramides and vitamin B5, but somehow, this serum just does it better. The difference here is the brand’s patented MVE technology that is clinically shown to slowly release hydration throughout the day, and in a much deeper way so skin feels rejuvenated and soft well into the next day.
Price at time of publish: $26
Skin Type: Combination | Key Ingredients: Ceramides, niacinamide, vitamin B5 | Size: 1 oz
Best for Oily Skin
Glossier Super Bounce Serum
What We Love: Lightweight ingredients like glycerin and capric triglyceride make skin smoother and more even and won’t clog pores or contribute to shine.
What We Don’t Love: It might not provide enough hydration for extremely dry complexions.
It’s expected that the company whose M.O. is skincare first, makeup second would create a hyaluronic acid that did such an exceptional job at deeply nourishing our skin without triggering an oily surface that we closed the search tab on our computer for “mattifying face powders.”
Truthfully, we hesitated to add the silky-textured serum to our already slick skin, but this formula dissolved and absorbed into our skin in under 30 seconds. Plus, it left zero stickiness in its wake, especially when we followed the brand’s directions and emptied a dropper’s worth of serum into our hands before pressing it into our skin. After about four weeks of consistent use, our skin was so moisturized that the fine lines on our forehead had plumped up and didn’t look quite as deep as before, while the redness around our cheeks neutralized. And, though it paired nicely with our face lotion for an extra dose of hydration, we probably wouldn’t forgo using one altogether during a particularly dry moment.
Moreover, conjunction was purged from our forehead and our more even skin tone was a telltale sign that the serum was reducing oil production with support from non-comedogenic emollients glycerin, propanediol, and caprylic triglyceride.
Price at time of publish: $29
Skin Type: Oily, combination, dry | Key Ingredients: Proprietary hyaluronic acid complex, pro-vitamin B5 | Size: 1 oz
Best for Dull Skin
Paula’s Choice Hyaluronic Acid Booster
What We Love: Our dull, textured skin looked more radiant and felt smoother after just one application.
What We Don’t Love: It didn’t improve the look of fine lines as much as we hoped that it would.
The best part about this product is it includes many ingredients we find naturally in our skin, essentially giving back to it what we lost and what made it appear dull in the first place. Take the use of two different types of ceramides, Ceramide AP and Ceramide EOP, for example. By including these to the formula, the serums restore the moisture we lost when these skin-protecting lipids started to decrease with age or overexposure to heat.
And, though the short ingredient list may seem like a no-frills, it got right down to business by swiftly giving us smoother skin using super skin-softening emollients like glycerin and pro-vitamin B5. Though it didn’t tackle fine lines quite as strongly as we hoped it would, we’re still impressed with how it managed to bring our dry, winter skin back to life so quickly and continued supplying radiance with continued use.
We also enjoyed how quickly our skin drank up the serum — we waited almost no time before moving on to our next skincare steps — and it never pilled or interfered with our makeup or sunscreen.
Price at time of publish: $39
Skin Type: Dry, combination | Key Ingredients: Ceramides, and pro-Vitamin B5 | Size: 0.5 oz
Olay Hyaluronic + Peptide 24 Hydrating Serum
What We Love: After just one use, our skin looked luminous and felt moisturized all day long.
What We Don’t Love: It takes a bit to sink into the skin than some of the other serums we tested.
For the same reason that Olay’s other products are a top-shelf staple for Drew Barrymore and Dolly Parton, this beloved serum is far from a one-trick pony. We found that despite being around half the price of similar products, it offers a long list of expensive-sounding benefits. Most importantly, it deeply nourished our skin with dewy hydration and created a more luminous base for our makeup.
In just a few weeks, our extremely parched skin felt alive again. Although the serum felt lightweight, it provided heavy-duty moisture, thanks to the inclusion of niacinamide, which served as a hydration booster, allowing our skin to absorb even more watery particles. In fact, our dry patches soaked up the serum immediately and those flaky spots disappeared, revealing nothing but soft, even-looking skin. This lightweight formula especially came in handy when the weather began to warm up and we needed something that would ward off flakiness and tight skin without causing our complexions to become greasy.
Plus, we were pleased to see the formula included amino peptides, which are naturally found in the skin and when created authentically as they are here, built a wall of protection around our skin to keep out damage from the sun’s rays that can draw out hydration.
The creamy, cushiony texture made applying the product feel like a treat. Although it has a thicker consistency than most HA serums, our worries that it might clog our pores were unfounded, as the fragrance-free formula and lack of mineral oils and synthetic ingredients kept them clear.
Sure, we had to wait around three minutes for the product to fully dry before we felt comfortable layering more products on top, but we really didn’t mind the extra wait since the serum felt like a cooling, soothing face mask on our skin and added some much-needed self-care time back into to our lives.
Price at time of publish: $30
Skin Type: Dry, sensitive, combination | Key Ingredients: Niacinamide, amino peptides, pro-vitamin B3 | Size: 1.3 oz
Best for Sensitive Skin
Fresh Tea Elixir Skin Resilience Activating Serum
What We Love: Gentle ingredients prevented our skin from becoming irritated while still delivering all the hydrating benefits we wanted.
What We Don’t Love: It feels a little sticky upon initial application.
Even with an ingredient that is generally considered very safe, like hyaluronic acid, we always have our guards up and shutters drawn when it comes to a new product for our sensitive skin, but we’re now indebted to Fresh Tea for how it kept all irritation at bay. Even the ceramides it uses to increase skin elasticity, ceramide III, has a lower threshold than others for any kind of allergies.
From the outset, this serum emblazoned some promising claims on the back of its bottle and we’re pleased to report that it lived up to all of them. Simply put, despite actually running on fumes, our skin looked less exhausted — so much so that it warranted a few unsolicited compliments from friends.
The product achieved this in a couple of different ways. First, it uses five different forms of hyaluronic acid to reach different layers of the skin and maintain moisture long-term. As if that weren’t enough, its formula includes skin-conditioning plant oils, like jojoba and sunflower, for added hydration.
And, as suggested in the name, it contains tea extracts, such as camellia sinensis leaf (AKA green tea), which contains compounds that can help inhibit hyaluronic acid from leaving your skin. Translation: It kept all the moisture locked away safely in our skin barrier so we could experience less roughness and more luminosity.
What’s more, tea is an anti-inflammatory that can increase blood flow circulation and give skin a more youthful appearance (hence how we were able to fake a look of a restful night’s sleep). It’s true that the sticky texture initially threw us off, leading us to question if there was something in the formula that would make us break out, but once it dried down into our skin, we couldn’t feel a thing. We were also thrilled that every ingredient within this formula is non-comedogenic, proving that sensitive skin was top of mind during development.
Price at time of publish: $80
Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination, oil, sensitive | Key Ingredients: Proprietary Adaptive Phytocompound Tea (APT), niacinamide, 5kDA hyaluronic acid, ceramide III | Size: 1 oz
Best for Dry Skin
Dermalogica Circular Hydration Serum with Hyaluronic Acid
What We Love: It worked so well at resolving our rough, dry patches that we didn’t notice right away if we forgot a morning application.
What We Don’t Love: It can leave behind a sticky film if you don’t apply it to a damp face.
Hyaluronic acid does a pretty impressive job on its own to moisturize the skin, but superheroes still need help from a sidekick or two. In the case of this serum, a sidekick is in the form of a cocktail of skin-conditioning ingredients to drench even the most parched complexions.
Even in super dry, arid climates, Dermalogica’s hyaluronic acid serum prevented the sun and parched air from pulling all the moisture out of our skin. Honestly, there were a couple of mornings when we forgot to apply it, and we didn’t even notice because our skin remained hydrated and happy for days after each application. Normally, our skin is so dry that it feels tight, especially around our mouth and forehead, but after a few days of using this serum, the taut sensation gave way to a relaxed comfort, and we started to notice fewer fine lines in these same areas, too.
This breakthrough ingredient of polyglutamic acid is likely to thank for the deep, long-lasting hydration we felt — some studies suggest it may even have more impact at promoting skin elasticity than collagen. It’s shown promise as an antibacterial, which could explain why, along with the lactic acid, the breakouts we get around our menstrual cycle were much less intense than usual.
We also liked seeing some of our favorite plant-based oils on the ingredients list, like grapefruit, lemon, and rose, for even more hydration without triggering congestion or a heavy feeling on our skin.
The only drawback we could find was it felt slightly sticky, but once we discovered that all it took was dampening our face before applying the serum this became a total non-issue.
Price at time of publish: $64
Skin Type: Dry | Key Ingredients: Algae extract-infused moisturizing matrix, polyglutamic acid, amino acids, post-biotic blend of extracts | Size: 1 oz
Best for Acne-Prone Skin
Tula Triple-Hydra Complex Day & Night Serum
What We Love: Tula uses natural ingredients to fight acne-causing bacteria in a lightweight, skin-soothing serum.
What We Don’t Love: The product can get clogged near the top of the pump and make it hard to dispense.
Skincare gospel states that well-hydrated skin is the first step to cut down on breakouts, and this Tula serum threw in a few more helpful ingredients for good measure.
For instance, the formula contains natural ingredients red beetroot and blueberry extract for their antiviral and antibacterial properties that dislodge dirt and grime from pores to cut down on blemishes and breakouts. Additionally, blueberries are rich in vitamin A and because of their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties have the potential to heal and soothe skin that’s been subjected to breakouts.
With a cocktail of polyglutamic acid, squalane, and three different types of hyaluronic acid, our dry, rough patches were softened and soothed, meaning that other parts of our daily routine, like shaving, weren’t quite as uncomfortable. Plus, since oftentimes acne-prone skin tends to be sensitive as well, we appreciate that it left out pore-clogging irritants, like mineral oil, fragrance, and silicones.
The only thing we found a little cumbersome is that the product can be hard to get out sometimes since it may be a bit too thick for the pump, so hopefully the brand will consider a product redesign in the near future.
Price at time of publish: $48
Skin Type: Dry, mature, combination | Key Ingredients: Polyglutamic acid, three types of hyaluronic acid, apple, watermelon, blueberry squalane, collagen | Size: 1 oz
Our Testing Process
To start, we spent dozens of hours carefully selecting the most popular hyaluronic acid serums to test. Next, our InStyle editors, across a range of skin types, textures, and concerns, incorporated their serums into their daily routines over the next eight weeks. We evaluated the serums for how well it made our skin look plump and hydrated, and whether it addressed other skincare challenges, such as acne or excessive dryness. We also considered other aspects, like how well it absorbed into our skin, if it had a noticeable fragrance, and whether or not it caused any irritation throughout the process.
We noted the length of time it took to see our results. Then we compared the overall look and texture of our skin from the beginning of the testing period to the end. The hyaluronic acid serums that earned our top scores are featured on this list.
What to Keep in Mind
The good news is that most ingredients work very well when paired with hyaluronic acid. However, “the exceptions are other acids with low pHs, such as glycolic acid, which may degrade the HA and render it useless,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Rachel Nazarian. Instead, she suggests seeking formulas that use ingredients such as vitamin C to protect against free radicals or retinol to target wrinkles and improve skin elasticity.
If you have super dry skin, Dr. Nazarian recommends a hyaluronic acid serum with emollients that will hydrate and soften the skin, like glycerine, squalene, and jojoba oil. Due to its formula that contains plenty of these types of ingredients, we found the Dermalogica Circular Hydration Serum with Hyaluronic Acid did an exceptional job at moisturizing our flaky, cracked complexions.
Percentage of Hyaluronic Acid
“Hyaluronic acid serums with concentrations less than 2% are recommended, as anything above this can actually dry out the skin,” says Dr. Mahmood.
Since hyaluronic acid on its own doesn’t absorb into the skin very well, you may also pay attention to the molecular weight of the hyaluronic acid in the formula you use. For example, Dr. Nazarian explains that “the type of HA we often like to use is sodium hyaluronate, because the molecular weight is lower, allowing it to penetrate more deeply into the skin.”
Our experts agree that all skin types can not only tolerate hyaluronic acid, but each one will benefit from it in some way. “I like suggesting hyaluronic acid for people that are on a skin care regimen that may be somewhat irritating,” says Dr. Nazarian, who adds that the HA “tends to offset some of the irritation that is found with acne ingredients, or retinoids.”
Your Questions, Answered
What is hyaluronic acid?
Technically speaking, hyaluronic acid is a chain of sugars known as disaccharides found in the body’s connective tissue, says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Mona Gohara, but from a surface level HA is a “little molecule that helps to absorb water into the skin — it’s a powerful, strong humectant that occurs naturally in our skin,” she explains. She tells us to think of it like a miniature sponge that absorbs water, drawing it into the skin and holding it there to give your complexion a plump, firm appearance.
This makes it a fantastic option for anyone with superficial wrinkles or fine lines and those experiencing skin sagging, says Dr. Nazarian, “because it can minimize those lines very nicely, even within a few hours.”
Though these effects may be temporary, as we age our bodies produce less hyaluronic acid, so truly anyone can get a headstart at keeping it replenished by incorporating this acid into their rotation.
What’s the best way to use hyaluronic acid serums?
Since hyaluronic acid is a humectant that draws water into the skin, Dr. Mahmood recommends applying it to damp skin after cleansing so that the acid acts like a magnet, attracting all of the moisture on the skin, enabling it to retain the hydration for a longer period of time.
The damp surface causes the acid to bind to the extra moisture and allows the formula to help your skin retain the hydration longer, and topping the serum off with a face lotion to further seal in moisture. “It can be used every day with no issue and can be used as part of your morning or evening skincare routine,” she adds.
If you’re seeking a more structured routine, Dr. Gohara suggests cleansing in the morning, followed by serum that contains an antioxidant like vitamin C, then using your hyaluronic acid before applying a moisturizer and sunscreen. At night, you can follow similar steps by skipping the sunscreen and swapping the antioxidant step for retinol instead.
Can everyone use hyaluronic acid?
Since hyaluronic acid is a natural substance, Dr. Nazarian says it’s well tolerated by nearly everyone. “There’s no skin type that can’t use it because it’s a naturally occurring substance that’s a hallmark of healthy skin,” she says.
Dr. Mahmood also explains that “despite the word ‘acid’ in the name, products containing HA are safe for sensitive skin and have not been found to have any known side effects.” She adds that it’s even one of the few skincare ingredients considered safe for a person who is pregnant or breastfeeding.
One outlier, says Dr. Gohara, is anyone with “inflammatory skin conditions such as acne or eczema,” who should always consult a dermatologist before using hyaluronic acid.
What Is InStyle Picks?
Did you notice the InStyle Picks seal of approval at the top of this story? That means our team of testers has reviewed every product on this list using a unique methodology to ensure it’s really worth your time, money, and attention. We may get samples for free to try but we never promise positive (or any!) coverage in exchange. Put simply: InStyle Picks are products we love, and we’ve put them to the test to be sure you will too.
Why Shop With Us
Irene Richardson is a writer covering fashion and beauty trends. For this story, she compiled insights from our in-house testers, read dozens of online reviews, and rounded up our top picks. She also spoke with NYC-based board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Umbareen Mahmood, as well as board-certified dermatologists Dr. Mona Gohara and Dr. Rachel Nazarian.