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Serum vs. Moisturizer: When to Use Them and Why They Matter

Serum vs. Moisturizer

It’s no secret that skincare regimes are part of our lifestyle. 

With skin care products emerging left and right, it leaves us wondering what our skin actually needs!

Enter serums vs. moisturizers.

Both staple skin care steps in their own right. But have you ever wondered if we really needed to use both? Or which should go before the other? 

What’s the difference, anyway?

We’re here to tell you why both are essential steps to your skincare routine.

Table of Contents

What are Serums?

What are Serums

Upon first glance, you can already tell that serums have a lightweight formula

They typically leave a thin layer of product onto your skin because of its absorbent properties.

Serums are usually made of water based and eliminates oils/occlusives altogether.

As with all skincare products, serums cater to specific skin problems. 

Serums can also be applied multiple times a day, being suitable for morning and night use.

Most serums retail at a relatively higher price compared to other skincare products because of their potent ingredients.

The high concentration of active ingredients also means that a SMALL AMOUNT of product goes a LONG WAY and penetrates the skin better.

The Benefits of Serums

Some functions of serums with active ingredients can be targeted towards a variety of specific skin concerns such as:

  • Combating free radical damage
  • Skin pigmentation
  • Age-restoring and anti-aging ingredients
  • Acne prevention and scarring
  • Skin brightening
  • Repairing sun damage
  • Skin firming and improved texture
  • Calming redness and sensitivity
  • Clearing and preventing blemishes

Aside from that, using serums can also improve your skin’s current situation in terms of:

  • Firmness
  • Smoothness
  • Luminosity
  • Reducing fine lines and wrinkles
  • Hydration

What are Moisturizers?

What are Moisturizers

Moisturizers have a thicker formula in comparison to serums. 

The thickness of a moisturizer is actually what keeps the hydration concealed into the skin, which then creates the moisturizing effect. 

Due to its thickening agents, moisturizers typically only come in lotion or night cream form.

Unlike a serum, a moisturizer does not penetrate deeply into the skin. 

The main job of a moisturizer is to lock active ingredients into the skin, sealing in all the moisture and nutrients your skin needs.

There are also different kinds of moisturizers available in the market that accommodate various skin types. 

But only a few should be given consent to our faces!

Moisturizers also usually come right after serums in the 10-step Korean Skincare Routine.

The Benefits of Moisturizers

Moisturizers target specific skin concerns as well and come with their own benefits:

  • Prevent water loss
  • Hydrating properties
  • Enhance exfoliation
  • Reduce redness
  • Anti-aging
  • Retain natural moisture
  • Protect skin barrier

Facial Serum vs. Moisturizer

Both types of skincare products rigorously take care of our skin in their own ways. 

Perhaps the most evident difference between serums and moisturizers is their consistencies.

With serums having a thinner and lighter consistency as compared to a moisturizer’s thicker and heavier one.

It’s truthfully quite difficult to compare the two products simply because they don’t fall into the SAME category as one another. 

However, some distinctions between a serum and moisturizer include:


  • Serums – Designed to penetrate the skin barriers on the face to allow active ingredients to seep in
  • Moisturizers – Protects the surface of the skin and holds the skin cells together to increase hydration

Stand-Out Ingredients

  • Serums – Contain antioxidants, peptides, and Vitamin C
  • Moisturizers – Contain petrolatum, mineral, and nut or seed oils

What to Use Based on Your Skin Type

Everyone has their own skin care regimen, so it would be unfair to claim what you should or should not use to address specific skin issues.

But we can tell you what could work best for you based on your skin type and skin needs.



Very Dry Skin

Dry Skin Serum

For dry-skinned women, the best thing to look out for when buying serums is hyaluronic acid (AKA the skin brighteners)

The ingredient plumps and strengthens the skin, leading to hydrated skin and a reduction in fine lines.

Other ingredients to look out for to improve dryness are: sodium hyaluronate, sea kelp, and essential vitamins.

Beauty experts recommend using Vitamin C Serums.

Though serum use for dry skinned patients (those with atopic dermatitis and eczema) should take caution. 

The liquid or gel-like texture can weaken the already fragile skin barrier leading to irritation.

Oily Skin

Oily Skin Serum

Oh, the number of times we wished oiliness was mistaken for dewiness. Oiliness is a skin care problem that often goes hand in hand with acne. 

This is one reason why retinoid is so important.

The ingredient helps unclog pores, keeps oiliness at bay, and reduces age lines.

Note: Serums containing retinoids are best used at night as retinoids could make your skin more prone to sun damage.

Sensitive Skin

Sensitive Skin Serum

Antioxidants such as Vitamin C and peptides are vital serum ingredients for women who are starting to get wrinkles on their faces.

The presence of the former ingredient in your serum boosts collagen levels which prevent wrinkles from forming, while the peptides strengthen skin cells.

Combination Skin

Combination Skin Serum

Combination skin can often mean constant and unexpected breakouts on the face. And no one wants that

Your skin can have oily areas with some dry patches with flaking or sun damage. 

If you have this skin type, you will need anti acne ingredients that will also address the dry patches

So you’re going to want to look for the mandelic acid ingredient in your facial serums to prevent acne and acne scars from developing.

The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10% is the perfect quality serum to address discoloration. Its properties are able to counteract dryness as well.



Dry Skin

Dry Skin Moisturizer

Women who experience dryness often experience a tight feeling on their face due to the lack natural oils on the surface. 

Experts recommend an oil-based moisturizer to restore oils while keeping the skin hydrated.

We recommend you use the First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream.

Oily Skin

Oily Skin Moisturizer

When going through endless products to choose from, oily girls should look out for non-comedogenic moisturizers. 

These types of ingredients will keep pores from clogging and will lessen acne tendencies.

Lightweight moisturizers with matte finishes work well to tighten pores. The La Roche-Posay Effaclar Matte Daily Moisturizer does just that.

Combination Skin

Combination Skin Moisturizer

Aside from following a “less is more” home regimen for your skin, beauty experts recommend a moisturizer that balances hydration levels without the greasy after effects.

Enter PCA Skin, a moisturizer containing active ingredients such as niacinamide AKA skincare’s gift to all combination-skinned girls.

When it comes to combination skin, a little goes a long way. The lessened variety in your skincare steps ultimately leads to less aggravated skin.

How to Use Both Products Together

Though skin types and conditions may vary, a dermatologist claims that using both products complement each other to answer your skin woes.

The difference can be both seen and felt as the serum penetrates the active ingredients into your skin while the moisturizer conceals the nutrients.

When using a serum and a moisturizer together, it is important to apply your products from thinnest to thickest formulas.

As per the expert advice of a dermatologist, the serum must go before your thicker products such as your moisturizer or eye cream.


  • After applying the serum, make sure to give it enough time to seep in.
  • Once you feel that the serum has properly penetrated, only then should you apply the moisturizer.

Skincare Recap

Skincare Recap

Among the many serum and moisturizer hacks picked up from this article, here are some things to remember:

  • Select a serum and moisturizer according to your skin type and skin concerns.
  • When using both a serum and moisturizer, serum should always go before moisturizer.


August 18, 2021 – Updated article formatting and content

July 15, 2021 – Reviewed and updated article links

Paola Diaz
Paola Diaz

Hi, I'm Paola! A skin care enthusiast and nature lover. Creating content that promotes proper skin treatment and keeping a healthy glow is my way of sharing with the world how healthy skin can go a long way. I’m a firm believer of natural beauty that radiates inside all of us. All we need is the right kind of nourishment that inspires our wellness from inside out. So it’s really not about physical beauty alone – it’s the beautiful life we can create for ourselves when we connect with our own nature and see there is beauty that shines from every one of us.