A few short years ago, the idea of using a skin serum was still a pretty niche thing. Thankfully, the recent boom in affordable skin care means that high-quality ingredients and excellent skin serums have become more accessible than ever. But, with the growing popularity of skin serums comes a wealth of questions that need answers. Do you put serum on before moisturiser, or after? Do I really need it? And, the ultimate question when it comes to skin serum - is it actually better than moisturiser?
What's the difference between moisturiser and serum?
The biggest noticeable difference between serums and moisturizers is their formulation. Serum is designed to deliver a potent shot of targeted ingredients into your skin cells right after cleansing which helps with fine lines and wrinkles. It typically has a thinner formula, which allows concentrated active ingredients to be absorbed quickly and efficiently for maximum benefit.
Moisturiser is a thicker cream, formulated to soothe and hydrate dry skin. It is one of the last steps in your skin care routine, designed to keep skin hydrated all day and prevent moisture loss. Moisturiser also protects dry skin from elements like sun damage. However, this is particularly important in colder months, when harsh winds, central heating and cold winter air can wreak havoc on your skin needs.
Moisturisers are made up of at least one of three factors - occlusives to trap moisture into the skin (like jojoba oil), humectants to attract water into the skin (like glycerin) and emollients to condition the skin (like squalane).
So is serum better than moisturiser?
Yes and no. Asking whether a serum is ‘better’ than moisturiser is a bit of a misnomer because they’re formulated to do entirely different things. So depending on what concern you’re trying to address, your serum and moisturiser are going to work differently to achieve that goal.
Say you want to fade dark acne marks. While hydration is important to help your skin repair itself, it isn’t enough on its own. You should also be using a targeted serum with ingredients to brighten and even out skin - like antioxidants, retinol, vitamin C, or glycolic acid. Our Soothing Serum is specially formulated for oily and combination skin, to combat excess oil production while still being gentle to the skin.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to hydrate your skin, relying on serum isn’t enough. Moisturisers work like a thick blanket, to seal hydration into the skin cells and prevent moisture loss throughout the day. While serums can boost hydration, like hyaluronic acid face serums, they’re not enough to help skin stay hydrated and protected.
Moisturiser also works to trap all your active serums into your skin to work their magic. In order to get the full benefits out of your serum follow up with a moisturiser, we recommend using Ultra Hydrating Moisturiser.
So do I really need both? Short answer: yes
Like we said, moisturiser and serum do different things, so you can’t really use one to replace the other. Think of your moisturiser as your ride-or-die, while serums can be more like a fun fling.
With skin serums, you have much more room to play around with your routine. While you should be using a product consistently to see real results, you can change up which serum you use on a daily basis to reflect your skin’s needs. Looking for a little extra hydration? Start your day with a hyaluronic acid serum. Want to enhance your skin’s glow? Throw in an AHA or vitamin C serum.
Moisturiser is more of a seasonal product that you won’t change up as much. While you should swap to a thicker formula in colder seasons, it’s going to be a pretty consistent product in your routine. While there are plenty of moisturisers with targeted active ingredients - like the Regenerating Collagen Moisturiser - ultimately, the main job of moisturiser is to keep your skin moisturised.
Newsflash - ALL skin types need hydration, even oily skin types. In fact, excess oil production is often caused by skin dehydration. When the skin lacks water, it can over-produce oil to compensate - which can then lead to acne break-outs.
On top of that, studies show that oily skin is often caused by a lack of linoleic fatty acids - the thinner fatty acids in skin sebum. This results in too much oleic acid - the thicker, stickier fatty acid which can then cause acne break outs. Using a moisturiser with linoleic-rich plant oils (like hemp seed oil and evening primrose oil) could help to combat excess oil production.
Which should I apply first - serum or moisturiser?
Repeat after us: Serums always go before moisturiser. Putting serum on after moisturiser is about as useful for your skin as pouring it straight down the sink.
Since moisturiser works as a thick protective seal over your skin, applying serums after moisturiser prevents your serums from penetrating into your skin (which is what you want them to do).
You should apply serums straight after toning and/or cleansing. When in doubt, a good rule of thumb is that you should apply your skin care products from the thinnest to thickest formula. This allows everything to be absorbed efficiently to do the best job for your specific skin type. If you’re using essences (thinner, watery treatments) these fit halfway between your toner and serum.
What if I’m using several serums at once?
Sticking with the thin-to-thick rule, it’s best to apply your serums in order of consistency as well. If one of your serums has a thicker texture (like silicone-based serums), apply this one last before your moisturiser.
Avoid mixing all your serums together to apply in one go, as this can prevent active ingredients from working efficiently. Some ingredients can also cancel each other out or potentially cause irritation (like vitamin C and chemical exfoliants). To err on the side of caution, try not to layer too many products in one go.
Instead, pick one or two gentler serums to use in your AM routine. Leave more heavy-duty serums (like AHAs, BHAs and retinoids) for your PM routine, as these can increase your skin's sun sensitivity and lead to sun damage. The Soothing Serum is formulated with calming aloe, tea tree oil and plant antioxidants to treat acne while still being gentle enough for daytime use.