Ask The FRIENDLY FORMULATOR: Serum vs Oil Faceoff

DEAR FRIENDLY FORMULATOR: What’s the diff between a face serum and face oil? Which is better for dry skin? Is there such a thing as an oil-serum? — FACED OFF IN INDIANA

DEAR FACED OFF IN INDIANA: First, The Basics: Facial Serums are used to target specific skin concerns. Facial Oils are used primarily to moisturize. And yes, there is such a thing as a hybrid oil serum, which you can use on both your skin and your hair. (Glossier has a nice oil plant-based serum hybrid you can apply at the end of your skincare routine called FutureDew.)

But I digress. Back to serums and oils. Face Serums are meant to target specific conditions such as fine lines, wrinkles and other skin issues, like dryness. Your skin absorbs them more effectively than creams or lotions due to the smaller size of their molecules.

Concentrated face serum ingredients like Vitamin C help hyperpigmentation or discoloration concerns, Hyaluronic Acid is used to aid hydration and reduce wrinkles and Retinol (Vitamin A) is a prime anti-aging ingredient, helping to brighten skin tone. Other common facial serum ingredients include: AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) for acne and breakouts, Vitamin E to minimize free radical damage and brighten skin, Peptides for increasing collagen production and Glycerin for overall hydration.

TIP: A very easy, sunny-feeling serum we use at DEWFACE is 40 Carrots Retinol Rich Carrot + C Vitamin Serum. It’s lovely and light and can be used every day or you can skip your moisturizer and use this instead.

Now for Face Oils. They nourish, lubricate and work to form a protective lipid barrier on the surface of your skin. Facial oils work in tandem with moisturizers. Their main job is to help your skin hydrated by keeping water in, but since they don’t actually contain water, they do not do the job of a moisturizer.

Also, face oils are rich in essential fatty acids, which can help balance oily skin and provide hydration without a greasy feeling. They also can protect your skin and provide a look of “plumpness.” Facial oils are lipophilic (they combine or dissolve in lipids or fats), so they trap water. In this way, face oils help strengthen and repair your natural skin barrier.

As for which is best for dry skin, the simplest answer is BOTH. SERUMS supplement your skincare by targeting specific concerns (and lack of hydration can be one of those concerns), while OILS work for extreme dryness or when you need additional moisture (when followed up by a moisturizer barrier).


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