The Difference Between Serums, Oils and Moisturizers

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Years after serums became a thing, it turns out many of us have no clue what they really are. Heck, We know they serve as moisturizers for the face, but they’re not really moisturizers and they feel almost like an oil, but they’re not that it, either. So, um… yeah.

[SEE ALSO: How To Add Serums To Your Regimen For Glowing Skin]

As we work to get our skin care game tight this winter, here’s a quick breakdown on each type of skin must-have and when you should use either.


Serums are lighter than moisturizers and made up of small molecules that can penetrate the skin deeper than traditional moisturizers to target specific skin problems like dryness, hyperpigmentation, and wrinkles. While they can be full of moisturizing ingredients, they are not considered moisturizers. Instead, they are a concentrated blend of active ingredients like hyaluronic acid, antioxidant-rich vitamin or plant extracts to address specific skin care issues. They can be water-based or thick like gels.

When to use: Nighttime, when addressing a specific skin issue like wrinkles or hyperpigmentation. Always apply serums before layering on moisturizers and oils.


After water, this is our most basic of products to hydrate the skin — and too many of us skip this basic step. These oil- or water-based hydrators prevent create a barrier on top of our skin to keep it from drying out and cracking and are meant for daily use after washing and toning skin. They are richer and often contain sunscreen to help protect from sun damage.

When to use: Daily, after washing and toning skin.


Facial oils are heavier than both serums and moisturizers with larger molecules meant to hydrate skin while creating a protective top barrier against the elements. As they usually contain plant or vitamin extracts, they also provide nutrients while locking in moisture. You can gently massage the oil into your skin while still damp, either after washing, using a toner, or applying your serrum and/or moisturizer.

When to use: Daily, when you need a heavier protectant from the elements.I

About The Author

Stephenetta (isis) Harmon

Stephenetta (isis) Harmon is founder/Black beauty directory for Sadiaa Black Beauty guide, the premier directory Black-owned beauty brands, and former digital media director for Hype Hair.