Serum vs. Moisturizer: What’s the Difference?

Any skincare expert will tell you to include a serum and moisturizer in your everyday regimen. But, why is that? Is there really a difference between these two products? Do you need both for healthy skin? Keep reading along as we answer these questions and more. We’ll break down the differences between serums and moisturizers, and let you know just how to incorporate them together into your routine.

What is a face serum?

Face serums are lightweight, highly concentrated formulas that deliver potent, active ingredients to the skin — like hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, and niacinamide. These ingredients provide the skin with vital nutrients as they target specific skin concerns or conditions. For instance, some serums are formulated to brighten the skin while others focus primarily on healthy aging or acne prevention. Face serums are typically clear, gel-based, or liquid, and their molecules penetrate the skin on the deepest level. With a serum, a little goes a long way. You can learn more about serums here.

What is a face moisturizer?

Face moisturizers are lotions or creams that help prevent dryness. They’re mostly water-based and work by forming a protective barrier over the skin’s surface. Moisturizers trap moisture in the outer layer of the skin, known as the stratum corneum. They also increase the skin’s water content while shielding it from environmental stressors. This product keeps skin hydrated, soft, and supple. Moisturizers can be classified as emollients, humectants, occlusives, or protein rejuvenators. 

What’s the difference between a serum and moisturizer?

At first glance, the most obvious difference is that a serum is thinner and lighter in texture than a moisturizer. Beyond that, serums serve a greater variety of functions than a moisturizer. A serum may be specifically formulated to brighten skin tone or minimize fine lines and wrinkles. Whereas, a moisturizer’s job is to always hydrate and prevent moisture loss.

Another difference is that face serums penetrate deeper into the skin — up to 10 layers — to quickly deliver targeted active ingredients. These formulas reach further into the skin since they’re made up of smaller molecules. Moisturizers have much larger molecules than serums, which is why they’re effective only at the surface of the skin.

Do you really need to use a serum and a moisturizer?

The simple answer here is yes. As explained earlier, serums and moisturizers offer different benefits to the skin. Serums work to target specific skin concerns, and moisturizers are made to effectively hydrate and lock in moisture. Layering these two products together is especially beneficial for those with dry skin. With the help of each other, serums and moisturizers keep the skin, and the skin microbiome, healthy and balanced.

Do you apply serum or moisturizer first?

A serum should be applied first before using a moisturizer. That’s because the serum delivers its active ingredients and then the moisturizer seals in that serum. This optimizes the serum’s overall skin benefits and allows the active ingredients to reach their full potential.

How do you layer serums and moisturizers?

The order you apply your skincare products matter. Typically, you should start with products that are thinner in texture and then work your way up to the thickest ones. When layering these two products, start with the serum. Squeeze the dropper a few times with the bottle closed until it’s filled with product. Apply 2-3 drops of the serum onto clean, dry skin. Pat your face afterward so that the product is fully absorbed.

Next, wait for 30 to 60 seconds before applying your moisturizer. This allows the serum to settle into your skin. When using a moisturizer, begin by scooping out a quarter-sized amount and apply it evenly onto clean, dry skin. Then, gently massage it over the entire face until it’s fully absorbed.

Face serums and moisturizers are a powerful combination for glowing results. When layered together, they leave the skin looking and feeling its healthiest. You can shop our glowshot supercharged hydrating serum and glowburst intense hydration boosting cream together with our hello hydration kit here.

Back to blog