The Difference Between an Oil and a Serum

There are so many skincare products on the market today. Just like the fashion and makeup industry, the skincare industry follows trends. Sometimes it can be challenging to know what works and what is just a marketing ploy. 


Take coconut oil, for example. This natural ingredient blew up in the health and wellness space around ten years ago, claiming it was a wonder plant for literally everything. Everyone started putting it in their coffee, replacing their cooking oils, and slathering it on their skin. But what raving fans failed to recognize is that coconut oil is high in saturated fat. It can raise your cholesterol levels and is comedogenic, which can clog your pores when used on your skin. Not so wonderful, after all.


Face mists are products that have been around for some time. But what many brands won't tell you is that they are not crucial to a skincare ritual. While they can feel nice to use, most are made with predominantly just water, coloring, and fragrance. And if you apply them throughout the day as a refresher, they can't absorb into the skin if you've used a moisturizer—especially one with SPF—as they work as a barrier to protect your skin from the elements.


Sheet masks are also a recent trend and an unnecessary evil. The face mask market is expected to grow to over $50 billion by 2025. The amount of water used to produce them, plus the non-recyclable materials and packaging, are entirely detrimental to our planet. Not only that, but they're not necessarily any better than using a traditional-style mask where you spread the product on and rinse it off after 10 minutes. 


A typical regime looks like this:

  • Cleansing;
  • Toning; and,
  • Moisturizing. 


You can add other things to your regime to treat specific skin concerns, such as targeted eye creams, serums, and oils


What Are Serums? 


Serums are highly concentrated liquids used to treat particular skin concerns. They can penetrate the skin much deeper than other products, making them an effective and valuable addition to your skin ritual. 


Serums can be either oil or water-based. Oil-based serums can be suitable for all skin types, although their texture can feel heavier on the skin. So people with drier skin types are more likely to enjoy the oil-based serums more than oily-skinned folk. Oil-based will sit on top of the skin and can also leave more of a "glow" to your complexion, which is something oily-skinned folk don't typically need help with.


Water-based serums are almost like a gel and absorb into the skin more easily, making active ingredients more readily available to the skin cells. The lighter consistency of a water-based serum makes them more desirable to layer with other serums and products in a skin regime.


I talk more about serums here.


Types of Serums


In recent years, and as skincare has become more scientifically advanced, serums have grown in popularity due to their high concentration and ability to do what other products can only dream of. Serums pack a powerful punch and can aid our skin in areas such as:


  • Anti-Aging
  • Skin Brightening
  • Hydrating
  • Acne
  • Repairing
  • Exfoliation



This is the number one reason people use a serum in their regime. The efficacious ingredients effectively minimize fine lines and wrinkles by replenishing the collagen within the skin. Ingredients in anti-aging serums include retinol, peptides, Vitamin C, active plant-based ingredients like Bakuchiol, and AHA's.


Skin Brightening

Another excellent benefit to using serums is their ability to brighten our complexion. When applied to the skin, specific serums help smooth our complexion and illuminate the skin. Look for ingredients like green tea, antioxidants, Vitamin C & E, ferulic acid, and light reflectors.



No matter our skin type, we could all use a little more hydration. Hydrated skin facilitates a more youthful and plump appearance. Serums with ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, rose water, and ceramides will work wonders for keeping your skin feel hydrated.



Treat your skin with a serum that prevents acne-inducing bacteria before they can form into a breakout. It can also effectively minimize pores, fade scarring, absorb excess oils, and reduce irritated skin. Serums that contain AHA, BHA, glycolic and citric acids are all effective ingredients in fighting these active skin conditions, while Vitamin C, peptides, and retinol are great for scarring; and niacinamide for controlling excess sebum. 



Our skin's matrix contains collagen fibers that make our skin plump and bouncy. As we age, our skin's collagen production slows down. You can boost your skin's natural collagen production by using targeted serums. Look for ingredients like seaweed, antioxidants, Omega-3 fatty acids, Resveratrol, and noni extract



Exfoliation is imperative to help facilitate a more youthful glow and make way for other products to penetrate the skin more efficiently and effectively. Without exfoliation, our skin can look dull, uneven, and tired. Common ingredients in exfoliating serums are AHAs, BHAs, and fruit enzymes.


When using a serum in your regime, ideally, you want to add it after double cleansing and toning the skin. 


Just a side note to cleansing and toning:


Cleansing once will remove impurities and makeup. Cleansing twice will then treat the skin and balance your skin's pH (which sits around 5.5 on the pH scale). This is why it's essential to use the right cleanser for your skin type. One that won't strip your skin. You don't want that tight, "squeaky clean" feeling, even though, for us oily-skinned folk; it can feel good to have all of that oil taken away after a long day.


After you've double cleansed, using a toner can also help neutralize your skin's pH and prepare your skin for the next steps in your regime. 


Moving on.


What Are Face Oils?


Face oils are used in a skin regime to help supplement your skin's natural oil barrier. Depending on the oil you are using, it can also treat certain skin conditions and concerns. 


Facial oils are an effective product to add to your regime. Different skin types will benefit from other kinds of oils. So which oils should you be using?


Oily skin 

Believe it or not, oily skin does benefit from using facial oils. It can seem counterintuitive, but using the right oil can bring equilibrium to the skin's sebum production. After using facial oil for a few days, it can reduce the skin's need to produce as much oil as you add nourishment to the skin. In addition, using the correct oil in the right amount will leave your skin feeling hydrated and healthy - not slick and slimy.

Use oils that contain astringents, such as jojoba and grapeseed oils. Or ideally, you could opt for a facial oil containing various ingredients, seeing as most of us usually have more than one skin concern.


Application tip: Add the oil at the end of your regime, after moisturizing, to lock in your other products. Do this by spreading 2-3 drops into our hands and then pressing them onto the skin.


Dry skin

This one is a no-brainer. Dry skin loves oil. People with dry skin will know that feeling of tight, itchy, or irritated skin from lack of moisture. Using oil regularly will help create a protective barrier against environmental factors, balance out dryness, calm itch, and irritation, and leave your skin feeling supple and hydrated. Oils that contain oleic acid will feel richer and more comforting on the skin. Try almond oil as a start.


Application tip: Use as the last step in your regime to seal in other products and protect your skin; at night, mix a few drops into your moisturizer.


Normal skin

These blessed humans with normal skin can use almost any oil. However, our skin can still be affected by our products and environmental factors, no matter how perfect our skin may be. Normal skin can still get dehydrated, clogged pores, and dryness from time to time. So opting for specific oils to suit the weather changes can help with this. It's always safe to choose middle-of-the-road products in texture and heaviness if you're uncertain. Argan oil and retinol oils are great for normal skin.


Application tip: add 2-3 drops into your moisturizer morning and night - except for your SPF moisturizers, as this will affect the SPF efficacy.


Sensitive Skin

Sensitive folk needs to calm and nourish their skin. Use clean-ingredient oil bases that contain no fragrance, no essential oils, and no additives. Sensitive skin can be normal, oily, or dry, so choose a carrier oil according to the previous notes, and always test a patch on your jawline 24 hours before using.


Application tip: add at the end of your regime to seal in your products and protect your skin from the environment.



One Bar to Rule Them All


With innovation in the skincare industry constantly evolving, you'll often see new products popping up. The latest trend in skincare is within the realm of sustainability. Things like zero-waste, waterless, and refillable are trending hard right now. But for a good reason.


Our planet is in dire straits, with the skincare industry being one of the biggest contenders causing its demise. So to combat this issue, we have done the legwork to bring forth ethical companies that are innovating the space.


Dew Mighty is one of these companies. 


They've created an innovative waterless skincare product that replaces your serums, face oils, and moisturizers. Try their Bloom Jelly Serum Bar if you're looking to tackle skin dryness, skin aggravators, uneven spots, pigmentation, fine lines, skin tone, or redness while simultaneously doing good for the planet.


The difference between oil and serum is vast, and together they can work wonders. Anyone can—and should—use both if they know the right products and ingredients for their skin type. A ritual doesn't feel complete without them.



Emma Jade has been a trained esthetician for over 15 years. She is a sustainable skincare writer, educating and building awareness around proper skin health that doesn't cost the Earth.

Some of the products promoted in our blog are from our online store. Many others are brands we have researched and found to be great examples of sustainable, ethical, and innovative brands in their field, and we don't profit from mentioning them in our blog. #CollaborationOverCompetition,%25%20bump%2C%20compared%20to%202020.&text=That%20will%20likely%20result%20in,the%20World%20Travel%20%26%20Tourism%20Council.