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 difficult 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 10 years ago, claiming it was a wonder-plant for literally everything. Everyone started putting it in their coffee; replacing their cooking oils with it;  and slathering it on their skin. But what raving fans failed to recognize, or mention if you ever found yourself in a debate - is that coconut oil is high in saturated fat and can raise your cholesterol levels; and is highly comedogenic - meaning it can clog your pores if used on your skin. Not so wonderful, after all.

Face mists are also a novelty product that have been trending for some time, and are, in my opinion, not worth the investment. While they can feel nice to use, most of them are made up of just water, coloring and fragrance. Even if a face mist contains active ingredients, if you apply them throughout the day they are not going to absorb into the skin if you’ve used a moisturizer - especially one with SPF - as these are designed to 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, but the amount of water used to produce, and the non-recyclable products and packaging are completely 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, let it dry and then rinse it off after 10 minutes. You are more likely to find active and effective ingredients in other skincare products - like a serum, or an exfoliant.

A typical regime looks like this:

  • Cleansing;
  • Toning; and,
  •  Moisturizing. 

From there, 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 very specific skin concerns. They are formulated in a way that can penetrate the skin much deeper than other products, making them an effective and valuable addition in 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 doing. Serums pack a powerful punch and can aid our skin in areas, such as:


This is the number one reason why people use a serum in their regime. The efficacious ingredients work effectively on minimizing fine lines and wrinkles through replenishing the collagen within the skin. Ingredients to look for in anti-aging serums include retinols, peptides, Vitamin C, active plant-based ingredients like Bakuchiol, and AHA’s.

Skin Brightening

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


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


Treat your skin with a serum that prevents acne-inducing bacteria before it can form into a breakout. It can also be effective in minimizing pores, fading scarring, absorbing excess oils, and reducing 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 retinols are great for scarring; and niacinamide for controlling excess sebum. 


Our skin’s matrix is made up of 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 to make way for other products to penetrate the skin more easily and effectively. Without exfoliation, our skin can look dull, uneven and tired. Common ingredients in exfoliating serums are things like AHA’s, BHA’s, and fruit enzymes.

When using a serum in your regime, ideally you want to add it in after you have double cleansed and toned 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 level-out your skin’s pH (which sits around 5.5 on the pH scale). This is why it’s important 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.

Using a toner after you’ve double cleansed will then 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 type of oil you are using, it can also treat certain skin conditions and concerns. 

Facial oils are an effective product to add into your regime. Different skin types will benefit from different types 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 kind of 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 correct 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 that contains various ingredients, seeing as most of us are normally tackling 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 onto the skin.

Dry skin

This one is kind of 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 an oil regularly will help to create a protective barrier against environmental factors, balance out dryness, calm that 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 a last step in your regime to seal in other products and protect your skin; at night mix a few drops into your moisturizer as well.

Normal skin

These blessed humans with normal skin can get away with using almost any oil. However, our skin can still be affected by the products we use 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 products that are middle-of-the-road 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 need to calm and nourish their skin. Using clean-ingredient oil bases that contain no fragrance, no essential oils, no additives - NADA. Sensitive skin can be normal, oily or dry, so choose a carrier oil according to the previous notes, and always test 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 realms of sustainability. Things like zero-waste, waterless, and refillable are trending hard right now. But for 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 MTY is one of these companies. 

They formulated a new innovative waterless skincare product that replaces your serums, face oils and moisturizers. 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, try their Bloom Jelly Serum Bar.

All of the brands Fait avec Coeur promote are vegan and cruelty-free, sustainably and ethically sourced and made, and are manufactured using low-waste or plastic-free packaging.

Written by Emma Masotti. Emma is an Australian now living in Austin, TX, and 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.