Photo Credits: Product Images Courtesy of Brands

50 Dermatologists Say If They Had to Recommend ONE Serum, It Would Be This One

By Liz Ritter, Executive Editor | August 21, 2019

Asking derms to select their deserted-island, ultimate pick for a skin-care serum is not an easy task. But inquiring minds—and those on the quest for a glowing complexion—want to know. A whole lot of “I can only pick one!?” was shouted from the rooftops to come up with this comprehensive list of what 50 dermatologists use, recommend and, above all, deem as the “best.” 

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New York dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD admits she feels like she’s kind of cheating since her choice has SO many actives and benefits, but she’s selecting Retinol Ceramide Capsules Line Erasing Night Serum (starting at $48) from Elizabeth Arden as her pick. “Vitamin A derivatives are a vital part of any anti-aging regimen because they address so many skin concerns—fine lines/wrinkles, skin texture, skin tone, dullness, sun damage. The common problem is that they are often difficult to tolerate and, therefore, many [people] avoid them because they don’t want the side effects of redness and peeling. These capsules are formulated with skin-identical ceramides, avocado, olive, and sunflower seed oils, which help support the skin’s barrier AND mitigate the potential inflammation that retinol can induce. As a bonus, the mono-dose vegetable capsule helps maintains the formula’s potency because it not being repetitively exposed to light and air.”

Photo Credits: Elizabeth Arden


A Method Antioxidant Elixir ($118)!” is Washington, D.C., dermatologist Tina Alster, MD’s A-plus pick (she also created the line).

Photo Credits: A Method


Greenwich, CT dermatologist Lynne Haven, MDsays her personal favorite in the serum category is SkinMedica’s TNS Essential Serum ($281). “It’s a combination product that combines antioxidants, peptides and growth factors. It has multiple effective active ingredients and can be used twice a day under sunscreens or night cream.” Delray Beach, FL dermatologist Dr. Janet Allenby loves it too: “I see results with consistent usage and the data is unbeatable.” Washington, D.C. dermatologist Agnes Chang, MD even goes so far to say it’s a “fan favorite with patients,” pointing to her love for the double-duty, dual-chamber pump that has growth factors on one side and antioxidants in the other.

Photo Credits: SkinMedica


Rochester, NY dermatologist Lesley Loss, MD is also team SkinMedica, but she’s partial to the brand’s HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator (starting at $120), “especially in the winter!”

Photo Credits: SkinMedica


For Santa Monica, CA dermatologist Ava Shamban, MD’s selection it’s Senté Dermal Contour Pressed Serum, a “truly multipurpose product that helps with photo-aging and firmness via proprietary ingredients.”

Photo Credits: Senté


Senté gets two more derm nods—but this time it’s the brand’s Bio Complete Serum, which Tysons Corner, VA dermatologist Patricia Lucey, MD says has a very science-driven, slow-release retinol “to enhance tolerability and the glycosaminoglycan called heparin sulfate which helps to restore skin structure.” West Hollywood, CA dermatologist Nancy Samolitis, MD also loves it for the star ingredient. “It’s very tolerable retinol for anti-aging, plus the glycosaminoglycans support collagen.”

Photo Credits: Senté


If New York dermatologist Michelle Henry, MD had to pick one serum, it would be the super luxe Clé de Peau Beauté Wrinkle Smoothing Serum Supreme ($310), mainly because it contains a highly stabilized retinol making it tolerable for many with sensitive skin. “I also find the texture dreamy,” she says.

Photo Credits: Clé de Peau Beauté


“My favorite serum is the LovelySkin LUXE Cellular Anti-Aging Peptide Serum ($100) because it’s great for all skin types and contains an incredible array of actives, all at a reasonable pricepoint!” says Omaha, NE dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, MD. “It’s formulated with hyaluronic acid to plump lines and wrinkles, powerful peptides to target cellular damage caused by aging and environmental stress, as well as apple stem cells and Persian silk tree extract to protect skin cells and reduce signs of fatigue. The formula is lightweight and smooth, allowing it to be a perfect addition to any regimen.”

Photo Credits: LovelySkin


This will now start the SkinCeuticals section of the story: “My favorite serum is SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic Acid ($166),” says Mellville, NY dermatologist Kally Papantoniou, MD. “It brightens the complexion, combats photo-damage, and promotes smooth skin and reduces fine lines. I use three-to-four drops every morning.” 

Fifteen (!) other derms we interviewed for this story agreed with her, and had a hard time not throwing in the number-two pick of the brand’s Phloretin CF as well. “They will pry Skinceuticals CE Ferulic from my cold, dead hands,” says Greensboro, NC dermatologist Christina Haverstock, MD. “I’ve tried every other vitamin C, and this stuff is just magic for my skin. Every day, all day since I’ve been using it, my patients ask what I use on my skin. If I had to let it all go but one, this is it.”

Photo Credits: SkinCeuticals


Greenwich, CT dermatologist Kim Nichols, MD also sings the praises of SkinCeuticals, but with a custom-tailored twist: “Applying my Dr. Nichols’ Custom DOSE serum is a must. It’s a two-in-one nighttime corrective product, (with retinol!) to help cellular turnover and even out skin tone. The effectiveness of the retinol in the product is unmatched as compared to other retinol products because of its purity. Additionally, the serum includes kojic acid, which is the ultimate discoloration minimizer and anti-ager and the reason I call it a two-in-one.” 

Photo Credits: Kim Nichols, MD


Naples, FL dermatologist Anne Marie Tremaine, MD coins the entire SkinCeuticals line as her “one-stop shop” for amazing serums. “They’ve been previously mentioned [in the above] but, since I have melasma, my go to dark-spot correcting serum is the brand’s Discoloration Defense ($98). It can and should be used in conjunction with vitamin C serum. It contains tranexamic acid, kojic acid, niacinamide, and HEPES.” Glenn Dale, MD dermatologist Valerie D. Callender, MD also says this one is tops in her book because of its ability to target skin discoloration.  

Photo Credits: SkinCeuticals

DISCLAIMER All of the doctors included in this story mentioned just how important creative, off-label use is to the medical community, but more strongly stressed seeing a board-certified practitioner who has vast experience and knowledge on the treatments in question. “Always see a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon,” says Dr. Nichols. “Off-label use can be safe when done by an experienced dermatologist who specializes in that off-label treatment. A dermatologist or plastic surgeon may also produce research showing efficacy of the off-label use, has been trained on the off-label use, or performs it regularly. Of course, all cosmetic treatments can have a potential risk whether on or off label and this is why it’s important to see a properly board-certified doctor to review your skincare goals and consent for treatment.” Dr. Hartman agrees: “I absolutely am in favor of off-label use of treatments that are showing promise in solving medical problems. Certainly, a full informed consent, including the facts that it is not FDA approved for this use, may be experimental, there may be no data about the procedure, efficacy and complications is the cornerstone of any off-label use.”