Serum Or Moisturizer? – The Difference Between Serums And Moisturizers
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Serum Vs Moisturizer

Healthy and young looking skin doesn’t happen overnight and simply using a moisturizer isn’t going to cut it. A skin serum is going to address some of your skin issues and give you the healthy glow that you are looking for. Wait, what? A skin serum? What’s that?

What’s a face serum anyway?

The face serum is the most concentrated and the most distilled skin care product that gives your skin exactly what it needs. Water based most of the time and formulated with the smallest molecules, the face serum goes deeply into your skin and has greater power than a typical moisturizer. The nourishing ingredients within the concentrated formula address specific skin conditions, from dark spots, acne scars to fine lines and wrinkles.

A little bit goes a long way when it comes to serums and even if you’re going to feel like you’re paying too much in the beginning, it’s a wise investment in the long run.

What’s a moisturizer then?

Our skin loses its moisture in a natural way as water travels upward through the skin pores. The typical daily moisture loss may vary from minimal to severe and it depends a lot on your skin type and age too. Created to restore moisture to skin, a moisturizer seals in moisture and it’s an important cosmetic to include in your skin care regimen.

Are serums and moisturizers the same?

Serums and moisturizers are alike, and yet so different. A serum is typically clear-ish and you can barely see it when you’re applying it, sitting on the watery side on terms of consistency. The moisturizer, on the other hand, is white most of the time and can create “soft-peaks”, needing a bit more than a couple of seconds to fully absorb into the skin.

Does your skin need both serum and moisturizer?

Trying to answer this question puts you in a dilemma. Do you need salt or water for your body? Even though the comparison is a bit of a stretch, the idea is just the same: you need both salt and water for surviving. Therefore, your skin benefits from both the serum and moisturizer. They give your skin different things, and you should never sit on the fence about whether you should use both of them or not.

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Here are some differences to begin with:

  • Serums offer treatment for specific skin conditions, whereas moisturizers typically only condition the skin
  • Serums and moisturizers go on different layers of your skin
  • Serums are made to work against your skin’s barrier and the moisturizers work with it. This is important for understanding when to apply each of them.

Let’s go over the main differences between the two skin care products.

Credits: Brianna Stanko

Conditioning or treatment?

Formulated to offer treatment for specific skin conditions, the serums are a dependable choice most of the times, whereas moisturizers condition the skin.

For instance, if you’re trying to get an evener skin tone and brighten some dark spots or to fade out some acne scars, a moisturizer isn’t going to cut it. You need a skin care product that goes deeper in the skin as it’s where the main cause of your hyperpigmentation. A serum is going to be able to go directly to the source and reach the deeper layers of the skin.

On the other hand, if you’re dealing with a dry skin and constant flaky patches of skin, the moisturizer may come to the rescue instead. The reason for the dry skin is typically a weak skin barrier, so a skin care product that strengthens it is the way to go. The moisturizer is going to be able to recondition the top layers of your skin, for better appearance and health of your skin.

Long story short, conditioning skincare helps your skin barrier stay healthier and stronger, whereas the treatment based skin care addresses current skin care issues (fine lines, acne scars, breakouts, wrinkles and so on).

Moisturizers are made for conditioning the skin, looking for the top layers of the skin to stay healthy and keeping the occurrence of future skin problems under control. Serums are created for treating skin conditions that happen in the deeper layers of the skin, from sun damage to skin aging and so on.

Do you need both? Well, it’s up to you to decide.

There is a penetration difference as well

Let’s say your skin is just like a 3 tiered cake. You have the strong outer coating made of your favorite flavored frosting on the outside (this would be epidermis), the softer inner middle made of some creamy cream (the dermis, in the case of your skin) and the firm base, made of some crunchy chocolate chips (this is the hypodermis).

So, the order is this: epidermis, dermis and hypodermis. Each of them has a different biology so you need to address them accordingly.

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Typically, the top of the epidermis is oil based so it’s mainly made with dead skin cells, but they maintain your skin’s waterproof barrier. They’re just like the lid of your cake tin. They seal in hydration and keep bacteria and allergens at bay.

As you go deeper into your skin’s biology, the situation takes a turn. The skin cells and everything around them is mostly water based, which makes these cells alive and living. Can you tell the difference now?

Serums are water based, whereas moisturizers are typically water and oil based. This is why serums are going to go deeper into your skin, finding the water based layers of your skin that are similar to their formula. On the other hand, moisturizers are going to stay on the top layers of your skin, as their ingredients mimic the top layers of the skin.

Do they fight the same with your skin’s barrier?

We come back to the 3 tiered cake as it’s a great image for better understanding your skin and the two skin care products as well. Remember the firm outer tier? That’s your skin’s barrier and any cake cannot do without. You need to protect your entire cake and the tough frosting is going to do that. A healthy barrier for your skin is just as important as the frosting and you cannot have a clear and healthy skin without it.

No matter how great the recipe for your coating may have been, if you’re not keep it in the fridge long enough, it’s still going to melt and ruin all your cake. The more air gets to it, the more your cake is going to get stale.

What we’re trying to say is that serums protect your skin’s barrier as it goes deep into the skin. Moisturizers, on the other hand, replenish and condition the skin’s weakened barrier.

In their effort to get to the deeper layers of the skin, the serums are going to ruin your skin’s barrier and act just like an invisible frosting. On the other hand, moisturizers are a lot like a fun and effective frosting that preserve the ingredients within and don’t ruin the looks of your skin at the same time.

Can you do it with just one of them?

You most definitely do need both and the last thing to ask yourself is which brand should you go with. As most professionals out there do recommend us to always use skin care products from the same line, for better results.