Facial Oils vs Serums: Confused Yet?

Facial Oils vs. Serums YouGlowGal You Glow Gal Sarah Payne Dallas Hiatus Spa Beauty Blogger Skincare Esthetician

Facial oils, facial serums…. facial oil-serum. I mean, as a consumer how are you supposed to know what to do and how to use your products? How do you layer? Does your oil replace your serum? What the hell is a serum-oil… or is it oil-serum? There’s a ton of mixed information out there, a lot of inconsistent answers. I’ve done my research, I’ve asked skincare reps and professionals. Today, we’re breaking it down so we can all know w.t.h. we’re supposed to do.


What’s the difference?

Serums are water-based treatments containing active ingredients to treat a specific skin condition. They’re formulated with smaller molecules, allowing ingredients to effectively penetrate deep into the epidermis. This is why quality serums can cost so much.

Facial oils are blends of essential oils to optimally balance your skin type. Essential oils can contain over 200 different molecules, of varying size, and they love our skin’s lipids. That’s why facial oils make your skin look so damn amazing. Why do lipids matter? Because our skin’s barrier function is made up of lipids. With a compromised barrier skin is easily irritated, prone to infection, and inevitable water loss leads to dehydration. Sad, angry, dried-up-sponge-face. Nobody wants dried-up-sponge-face.


Serums are identified as being water based. They treat your skin condition.
Facial oils consist of essential oil blends to bring balance to your skin type.


What about moisturizers?

While facial oils and serums can provide moisture, serums deliver nutrients into your skin. Due to their molecule size being smaller they can reach much further than your moisturizer. Serums and facial oils are not meant to be used alone, but together with a moisturizer. Moisturizers protect your outermost layer of skin, act as a lipid delivery system, and should always be applied over serums. Think of it as the cap locking in all that goodness!


So, do antioxidants in facial oils work?

Many brands tout antioxidants in their facial oils. Remeber: facial oils reinforce the lipid barrier, the upper layer of your skin. So, yes these oils will provide some extra protection. But they aren’t going to reverse and prevent damage the same way a serum will. As mentioned earlier, serums are created with smaller molecules allowing them to penetrate far deeper than any oil will.


Can facial oils be serums?

Facial-oil-serums/Facial-serum-oils are water-based with a blend of essential oils and extra ingredients found in a typical serum. In a way, your facial oil could be a serum. But I haven’t found one of these blends I would replace my treatment serums with. I would keep them in the oil category: a nice balancing treatment with a little oomph.


How do I even layer my products?

The usual rules apply: lightest to thickest, water-based products before oil-based. Water cannot penetrate oil. So, your water-based serums go before your oils. If you have a serum containing oils, apply it after your water-based serum. Facial oils better absorb into damp skin. If you’re layering several products spray your skin with a mist toner, apply your oil, and massage in. Don’t forget the moisturizer!


But where does my oil fit into the layering sandwich? 

With so many oil products on the market, it can be confusing. The general rule is for oil-based products to be applied over water-based. Your serum will always go first, followed by your oil, then moisturizer. You can massage facial oil into damp skin before applying your moisturizer, or layer your oil on top if it’s a larger molecule size like coconut oil. Due to the molecular structure of oils most will not be able to penetrate your moisturizer. Typically I apply my lighter oils underneath a moisturizer or mix in a few drops. Oils allow for customization, play with different combinations and see what you prefer!


Any less confused? More confused? Share in the comments below! xo




3 thoughts on “Facial Oils vs Serums: Confused Yet?

  1. Hiya I’ve just started using a retinol serum and also have facial oils to use so which would go on 1st as the retinol doesn’t feel water based?

    1. Look your retinol serum ingredients and see if water is first in line. If so, apply it first. If it’s an oil I would alternate your oils instead of layering them.

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