Face Oil vs. Serum: What’s the Difference (And How to Use Them)

Face oil vs serum – What is the difference

So you’re wondering what’s the difference between a face oil vs. serum? Well, you’ve come to the right place – welcome to the wonderful world of facial oils and serums!

These products have a loyal following among beauty professionals and home users alike, which is why they’re becoming increasingly popular in the mainstream market.

Both products allow you to tailor your skincare routine to suit your skin type and any skin concern you want to address. Because both oils and serums deliver specific benefits, they’re a fantastic way to help your skin feel and look its best.

We talk about face oils and serums daily, and hear questions like:

  • What’s the difference between face serums and oils?
  • Do I need both? And if so, when should I use them?
  • Is it OK to use face serums and oils together?

To help answer these questions and more, I’ll walk you through what face oils and serums are, their benefits, and how they are different.

We’ll also look at how to choose the best ones for your skin type and concern – plus what not to do with them.

What are face oils?

Face oils are a blend of natural ingredients, including vitamins and minerals. They can be made from plant extracts or essential oils, which are extracted from plants using steam distillation or cold pressing.

Here are a few common ingredients in face oils:

  • Jojoba oil – non-greasy, supports your skin’s natural barrier
  • Rosehip seed oil – helps restore and boost skin elasticity
  • Argan oil – rich in vitamin E

Most often, you would use face oils to add beneficial ingredients to your skincare routine. The active ingredients in facial oils can help keep your skin moisturized by locking in humectants, restore your skin’s natural radiance, and soothe redness and irritation.

Also, you may find a face oil helpful for improving the overall look and feel of your complexion. Applying face oil can make your skin softer, smoother, and more resilient.

The benefits of face oils

Face oils are an easy way to pamper your skin with selected active ingredients, regardless of your skin type.

You can use oils on dry, oily and sensitive skin types with equal effectiveness.

They’re especially effective at helping with irritation, redness, and even acne scarring or hyperpigmentation. That’s why they’re so popular among people who want to lighten dark spots and sun damage on their face.

Of course, face oils aren’t the silver bullet for your skin concerns. Nevertheless, they are a valuable addition to your skincare routine to address specific concerns.

Face oils work well for reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, too. Pick a face oil containing collagen-boosting ingredients, and pair it with other anti-ageing ingredients and products for optimal results.

If your skin is sensitive and you are fighting redness and irritation, face oils may prove helpful, too.

All in all, facial oils are excellent all-around additions for most people looking to improve their complexion.

What are face serums?

Face serums contain a relatively high concentration of different active ingredients – either one or more ingredient per serum.

These ingredients address a specific skincare concern, such as ageing, large pores, or redness.

Face serums are more potent than moisturizers, so you’ll often see better, targeted results faster. For example, if you use a face serum with retinol in it (an ingredient that helps fight wrinkles), it will help minimize signs of ageing on your skin more quickly than a moisturizer alone would.

Hence, you can use face serums in conjunction with other skincare products like moisturizers or masks but they won’t replace them. I repeat: a face serum isn’t a moisturizer – you need to apply your moisturizer on top of your serum.

Related guides:

The benefits of face serums

Serums are more concentrated than most other skincare products. They often contain a single active ingredient, allowing you to target a specific concern or issue with your skin.

For example, if you are experiencing redness and irritation, you can add a face serum to your skincare routine with ingredients that address that problem.

Similarly, if you’re fighting acne, a soothing serum can reduce inflammation and help your skin recover.

Or if you want to battle fine lines and wrinkles, a face serum with anti-ageing ingredients is definitely worth a try.

Needless to say, face serums offer a plethora of targeted benefits. This makes them a fantastic tool for giving your skin exactly what it needs on any given day.

Face oils and serums: What’s the difference?

Now that we know the basics of how face oils and serums work, the question is:

What’s the difference between face oils and face serums?

Let’s look at a few key differences next:

Difference in formulations

Face oils are oil-based, while most face serums are either water-based or silicone-based.

This is the biggest difference between face oils vs. serums while using them. You will notice a water-based serum absorb more quickly than a face oil. Most often, oils tend to sit on the surface of your skin, creating a thin barrier that protects your skin.

Difference in application

When it comes to applying face oils vs. serums, you want to make sure that you layer your skincare products correctly.

Most importantly, remember to go from the lightest formulation to the heaviest when layering products. Thus, a watery, light serum comes right after cleansing and toning.

Face oils should be the last step in your skincare routine right after moisturizer but before sunscreen. In the evening, face oils are the last step in your routine.

Do you need to use both?

The answer is a resounding “yes.” You should use both face oils and serums – as long as they serve a purpose in your skincare routine.

So before you follow our simple “yes”, make sure you understand what your skin needs and how you can help it feel and look its best.

Face oils and serums treat different skin concerns, so it’s best to use both if you want your skincare routine as effective as possible. If you’re using just one or the other, choose the product that targets your biggest issue.

For example: If you have sensitive skin with redness around the nose area and dark marks from acne scars (aka hyperpigmentation), then a serum containing vitamin C would be ideal. Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant, and it helps reduce inflammation while also fading discoloration.

On the other hand, if dryness is what concerns you most right now (maybe because of winter weather), then go ahead and try out an hydrating face oil instead. Since it’s the last step when layering skincare products, it will seal in all the other products and active ingredients you’ve applied underneath. This provides protection against environmental stressors like cold winds outside or dry heat indoors.

Which should you use and when?

Whether you should use a face oil or serum and when depends on your skin and what it needs.

Firstly, be mindful of your skin type. Every skin type can benefit from using oils and serums – but there’s no need to go overboard and buy a dozen products right away.

Since serums can penetrate your skin more easily than oils that tend to sit on top of your skin, their active ingredients get deeper into the skin than oils.

Therefore, a good rule of thumb is:

You should use a serum as a base for your skincare routine, and add a face oil if your skin needs the extra protection.

Start with a single serum or oil that suits your skin type. Here are a few tips for choosing the right product:

  • Dry skin: Pick a hydrating serum that contains glycerin, hyaluronic acid, ceramides, peptides, or niacinamide.
  • Acne-prone skin: Use a light formulation containing niacinamide to fight inflammation or salicylic acid to clear out pores.
  • Ageing skin: Choose products with retinoids to fight signs of ageing and ingredients that help your skin stay hydrated, like hyaluronic acid, peptides, and ceramides.
  • Sensitive skin: Pick soothing formulations that contain niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, or aloe vera. Ditch any products that contain fragrance or essential oils.

Choosing the right face oil and serum for your skin concern

If you’re still unsure about which to use, here’s a quick summary of the difference between face oil vs. serum:

  • Serums are more concentrated than face oils, so they can deliver more active ingredients to the skin. They often contain antioxidants and anti-aging ingredients like hyaluronic acid or vitamin C.
  • For example, if you have dry skin and want to improve its texture and tone without using something too heavy on your face (which might cause breakouts), try a hydrating serum instead of an oil.
  • Oils can lock in moisture from other products, but they don’t hydrate your skin. Just like you wouldn’t drink olive oil when you’re thirsty, your skin doesn’t want to bathe in face oil when it’s parched.

How to use a face oil

Face oils form a barrier on top of your skin, so you should always apply your face oil as the last step in your skincare routine. Otherwise, it will simply prevent any products you add on top from absorbing into the skin.

Here’s a quick recap on how to layer skincare products:

  1. Cleanser
  2. Toner (optional)
  3. Serums
  4. Moisturizer
  5. Face oil
  6. Sunscreen (AM)

To use a face oil, wait until your moisturizer is absorbed. Start by applying a few drops to your fingertips, and dab the oil gently onto your face, ears, neck, and neckline.

If your skin feels dry, you can apply a face oil at night before bed on any dry patches to lock in more moisture while you sleep.

When using a face oil for the first time, start with a product containing all natural ingredients, such as argan or rosehip seed oils. They work well as base products since they’re not too aggressive and won’t clog your pores.

How to use a face serum

Serums are more concentrated than oils and therefore can be used in smaller amounts. They’re a fantastic addition to any skincare routine for any skin type because you can pick and choose a serum that addresses a specific concern.

Moreover, face serums are easy to use and can help with everything from fine lines and wrinkles to dark circles under the eyes.

The best part?

You can apply one or more serums – either on your entire complexion or to areas that need some extra love and care. For example, if you have combination skin, you can apply an anti-acne serum to oily areas and a hydrating, soothing serum to the rest of your face.

When layering skincare products, serums come after the toner and before the moisturizer.

The best way to use a serum is by applying it after you cleanse your face but before moisturizing (or if you already have a moisturizer on hand). The best part about serums? You can apply them all over your face or just focus on areas where you need extra hydration such as around the mouth and eyes.

Summing it up: Face oil vs. serum – What’s the difference?

All in all, both face oils and serums are incredibly helpful for any skin type. They are easy to use, and you can pick the right ingredients that address any specific skincare concern you wish to address.

I hope this guide helped you grasp what the main differences between face serums and oils are, and how to choose the right products more easily.

If you are new to serums and oils, I recommend starting with a serum that helps with your biggest skin concern right now. Incorporate it into your skincare routine and remember to layer your skincare correctly for best results.

Once your skin gets used to the serum, you can add a face oil to your routine, too. It can be especially helpful for treating dryness, irritation, and rough patches on the skin.

Keep reading:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top