Serums V. Facial Oils: What’s The Difference?

Routine 101

Serums V. Facial Oils: What’s The Difference?

By Alexandra Adevai Serron

Filed Under

Serums and facial oils are Goal-Oriented products. They fall outside of the foundational Core Four products (cleanser, exfoliant, moisturizer, SPF) to target specific skin conditions and goals.
Serums, Explained

A serum is a catch-all title for a potent, ingredient-packed treatment that targets a very specific skin condition or goal. Serums are applied to freshly cleansed skin (or following a toner if you use one). Their small molecular makeup allows for better penetration, carrying nutrients to the deeper layers of the skin.

Facial Oils, Explained

Facial oils mimic the skin’s natural sebum, moisturizing and balancing the skin. Our skin is happiest when its water and oil contents are balanced. Our skin doesn’t produce water-based moisture, which is why moisturizers are so critical to a skincare routine (and part of the Core Four!). Facial oils balance out the other half of the equation.

Their larger molecular makeup tells us that facial oils should be applied last in the routine. They seal in the nutrients applied in steps before and lock in moisture to keep skin hydrated.

It’s a myth that oilier skin types should stay away from oils. The right facial oil, applied topically, can actually tell the skin, “We’re good on oil!” to lessen the natural production of it.

Serums penetrate deep within the skin, while facial oils are applied last to lock in nutrients and moisture.

How They Fit Into Routine

The general rule of thumb is to apply products in order of the smallest molecule size to the largest.

Serums are among the smallest, so they should go on after you cleanse and tone and before you moisturize. Start conservatively with your dropper—because of their packed formulas, serums are often more expensive. You can always add more!

Facial oils should also be applied toward the end of your routine—either after your moisturizer or blended with it, and before SPF. Place 1-2 drops into your palm, rub together, and press into your skin.

Choosing Serums & Facial Oils
Serum: For A Hydration Boost

Skin looks and feels like a cool drink of water with this hydrating serum. All thanks to hyaluronic acid, this solid routine addition kicks dull, dehydrated skin to the curb.

Ageless Total Pure Hyaluronic-6 Filler

Image Skincare

Ageless Total Pure Hyaluronic-6 Filler

An intensely hydrating serum that floods skin with moisture.

Dehydration

Fine Lines

Serum: For Aging Gracefully (And Slowly!)

A cocktail of retinoid (collagen-boosting for fine lines), lipids (for staying plump and hydrated), and antioxidants (future protection) makes this serum a triple-threat on aging concerns.

Concentrated Firming Serum

Dr. Loretta

Concentrated Firming Serum

A dermatologist-formulated serum that turns back the clock on aging skin.

Fine Lines

Blackheads

Serum: For Calming Inflamed, Cranky Skin

Arnica extract (a powerful healer) plus lavender (an anti-inflammatory antioxidant) work in harmony to make skin feel and look cool, calm, and collected.

Calm Skin Arnica Booster-Serum

Eminence

Calm Skin Arnica Booster-Serum

Help irritated skin finds its zen through daily use of this calming and balancing serum.

Dehydration

Inflammation

Facial Oil: For Nourishment & Defense

Adored in and out of the treatment room, this facial oil is a cocktail of natural healers: carrot seed (defense), evening primrose (soothing), and sunflower seed oil (strengthening).

Carrot Seed Soothing Facial Oil

Naturopathica

Carrot Seed Soothing Facial Oil

A lightweight, healing vitamin boost that deeply nourishes and reinforces the skin's barrier.

Dilated Capillaries

Inflammation

Facial Oil: For Soothing Inflammation

Rosehip and vitamin E pair up to soothe cranky skin, while also providing an antioxidant boost for protection from environmental damage.

Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil

Pai Skincare

Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil

Streamline your routine with this multitasking oil that does it all: conditions, firms, and evens out skin tone.

Fine Lines

Inflammation

Facial Oil: For Breakout-Prone Skin

If you’ve always feared oil, this is the product to change your mind. The olive squalane mimics your natural sebum to control oil production, while the kukui nut hydrates without clogging pores.

Lapis Facial Oil

Herbivore Botanicals

Lapis Facial Oil

An inflammation-reducing facial oil that we recommend for even the most sensitive skin.

Fine Lines

Breakouts

Serum or Oil?

After all this, you might be asking, okay, so do I need both? Potentially, because serums and facial oils serve different purposes. Though some serums are oil-based, that doesn’t necessarily make them a substitute for facial oil. Think of your serum as the superpower to target those specific changes you want to see in your skin. And think of your facial oil as the calm, quiet, balancing force, that helps keep your skin happy and moisturized.

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