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Serums vs. Oils: What Is The Difference?

With the recent explosion of skin improving oils, I have been hearing a lot of misconceptions about serums and oils that I wanted to explain on my blog. Many people believe that oils are serums, and many companies even lay claims to the fact that their oils "apply like serums". While similar application and feel may be true in certain instances, there are very distinct differences between the two product types that I would like to make clear. Are you ready for it?

Serums vs. Oils

First, let me just state that I absolutely LOVE both serums and oils. They are both a fabulous way to nourish your skin and achieve certain skincare goals, however, their formulations are very distinct from one another. Lets start with serums!

So, I'm sure you are wondering what exactly classifies a product as a "serum". A serum is essentially a water-based formula that delivers a potent blend of ingredients that will penetrate your skin. Generally speaking, serums tend to be lightweight as well. There are so many serum options out there, some that are general, and some that are targeted to fight a specific skincare concern. A helpful tip? If you are looking to treat acne, reach for a serum that contains ingredients such as: salicylic acid and willow bark extract. If hyperpigmentation is an issue, try vitamin-c, bearberry, mulberry, or licorice root extract-enhanced products. If you are going more for an anti-aging effect, try a serum infused with peptides, glycolic acid, or ferulic acid. No matter what your concern, I highly recommend having a serum in your daily regimen for faster, longer-lasting, more powerful results.

Now, onto oils. An oil is... well, an oil! Many "oils" have extra added ingredients, which is fine . As I mentioned before, many brands are marketing their oils to be "like serums", and to be honest, I have tried certain ones that do feel like serums when applied. However, the oil base does make them naturally heavier, which means you need to consider when to apply it in relation to your other products. Since oils are emollients, they interfere with concentrated ingredients trying to reach the skin. Unlike serums which are water-based, thus delivering the concentrated ingredients directly into the skin.

So, when do you apply your serum and/or oil? The typical rule of thumb for product application is lighter products first. And by light, I mean formulation, not color. Since serums are water-based, it is typically best to apply them directly after cleansing or better yet exfoliating. This allows for the best absorption of your serum, meaning faster results! Many people also apply their serum after they use a toner; this is typically just fine!

I usually apply my oils last, and it really depends on the circumstances. On a typical day, I only utilize my oil in the evening . I apply it following my serum has dried and I feel as though it helps to lock in all of the fabulous benefits of both. If I am going to be using my oil during the day, I choose a no-makeup day and go sans-serum. Of course, this is a personal preference. However, it is important to wear SPF during the day, so you want to be sure you aren't getting too "heavy" with your facial layering during the day. SPF is essential, which is why I usually choose to use my oil at night!


Hi, Vanessa! I’m including some recommendations below:
Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any questions.

Alana @ 2018-10-23 12:34pm

Alana, I came across your post and found it helpful! I was wondering what oil products you recommend as I am trying to build a skin care routine for myself. Thanks! Vanessa.

Vanessa @ 2018-10-15 8:56pm

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