Should You Use a Serum? How They’re Different From Moisturizers

When the weather gets dry, reach for a serum.

Should You Use a Serum? How They’re Different From Moisturizers

Sponsored by Olay

I never grew up hearing about serums. Even the first skin care set my mom gave me as a teenager only consisted of cleanser, toner, and moisturizer. Now, of course, skin care is much more expansive — and with good reason. There’s more science and information available today than ever before on best skin care practices. With this info under our belts, people see real results from sticking to a consistent routine. But that doesn’t mean it’s not confusing. Especially when it comes to serums and moisturizers, it can be difficult to know which one to use when and which product targets which issues. 

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Here are a few things to know about serums and why you should include one in your daily skin care routine. You can use this information to build and design your own skin care routine that works best for you, depending on which areas you want to target. 

Serums vs. Moisturizers

According to Dr. Frauke Neuser, Olay’s principal scientist, the difference between serums and moisturizers is in the concentration of the product. “Serums are usually quite concentrated formulas, containing targeted ingredients to tackle specific skin issues, such as discoloration, or wrinkles,” Dr. Neuser tells When applying serum, you only need a few drops of product to lightly pat into your face. Dr. Neuser shares that many beauty experts apply serums to their fingertips first to slightly warm the product before it touches your face. “Apply in a tapping motion to allow the serum to absorb quickly and evenly,” she says.

While serums have a lighter texture designed to be absorbed quickly, moisturizers “are usually richer in texture and provide intense hydration immediately and over time,” says Dr. Neuser. That’s why it’s a good idea to use both as part of an everyday skin care routine.

What Ingredients to Look for When Shopping Serums

This depends on what skin conditions you’re looking to target. If you have dry skin, hyaluronic acid acts like a moisture magnet for skin, according to Dr. Neuser. If you have red skin, look for a serum that has Vitamin B3, which Dr. Neuser says may help soothe irritation and strengthen the skin’s natural barrier. A serum containing Vitamin C will help brighten skin and could help reduce redness as well.

When Should I Apply Serums?

By now you’re probably convinced you should use a serum, but where does it fit into an everyday skin care routine? According to Dr. Neuser, serums should be applied twice a day, both in the morning and in the evening before bed. “Serums should ideally be used after cleansing, and before applying a moisturizer,” she says. 

You can use the same serum twice a day, or switch it up, depending on which skin issues you’re hoping to target. If you want to start your day with a bright complexion, begin with a serum that contains Vitamin C and switch it up at night. “It depends a bit on whether you’re tackling one specific issue, or whether you’d like multiple skin benefits. There is no right or wrong,” says Dr. Neuser. “Whatever works for you is good.”

If you’ve never used a serum before and know you have sensitive skin, start by testing it on a small patch of skin to check for skin reactions. If all seems well, begin by using it once per day. Build up as you see fit, and keep track of your progress. You’ll likely notice a change over the course of a few weeks. 


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