Facial Serums Vs Moisturizers: What’s The Difference?

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When it comes to skin care, there are a lot of products on the market that can be confusing for consumers. Read the difference between serums vs moisturizers.

Two of the most popular types of skincare products are serums and moisturizers. They both sound like they’re essential for keeping your skin looking young and radiant, but what’s the difference? And which should you be using for your skin care routine?

In this article, we’ll answer those questions and more. We’ll start by explaining what serums vs moisturizers are, and the key differences between the two. After this, we’ll discuss the benefits of each product and help you decide which one is best for you!

What Is A Serum?

A face serum is a light-weight, often water-based product that contains active, potent ingredients that are designed to target specific concerns like acne or fine lines.

Facial serums are typically more expensive than moisturizers because they contain a high concentration of active ingredients that are designed to penetrate the deeper layers of the skin. They are usually applied after cleansing the skin, before moisturizing.

Face serum in glass bottle


A high quality serum can help with everything from wrinkles to dark spots. If you’re looking for an anti-aging serum, look for one that contains retinol, glycolic acid, or vitamin C.

For a brightening serum, look for one that contains niacinamide or vitamin C. And if you’re looking for a serum to help with acne, serums with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide can be especially helpful.

What Is A Moisturizer?

A moisturizer is a cream or lotion that is designed for hydrating the skin and preventing moisture loss. Moisturizers can be used on all skin types, especially for those with sensitive skin, dry skin, or acne-prone skin.


Facial moisturizers work by creating a physical barrier on the skin’s surface that locks in hydration and prevents transepidermal water loss, making it an essential staple in your daily and nightly skin care routine. The compounds that achieve this are either oil soluble or an emulsion – purely water-soluble ingredients are not effective in creating a barrier that prevents water loss.

Most moisturizers contain ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, vitamin E, or aloe vera to give the skin extra nourishment and hydration. Some also contain SPF to protect the skin from sun damage, while others are formulated with anti-aging ingredients.

While these extra additions to a moisturizer are great, the premiry purpose of the cream is to keep your skin hydrated and moisturized.

Serum Vs Moisturizer: What Is The Difference?

The biggest difference between serums vs moisturizers is that serums usually have a higher concentration of active ingredients, which are formulated to penetrate and improve the skin. If you have a specific skin concern you would like to target and improve, a serum(or even a toner) would usually be the first product you’d want to purchase.

Meanwhile, the function of a moisturizer is to hydrate the skin and prevent water loss on your entire face – any additional benefits are a bonus, but secondary to the hydrating and moisturizing function.

In addition to these primary functions of the two products, it’s beneficial to mention that serums and moisturizers have fundamentally different formulations.

Unless otherwise specified, most serums are usually water-based, while moisturizers are thicker emulsions, which means they contain both water and oil soluble ingredients. Heavier moisturizers that are formulated for dry skin usually also contain waxes, and in some cases, beneficial face oils and ingredients like shea butter.

So, can you apply both to your skin? Absolutely – this is the best way to get the most out of your skincare. Serums contain so many active ingredients that are designed to penetrate the skin, so you should apply your serum directly to your skin after cleansing.

After that, once the serum has dried onto your skin, you’re free to apply a generous coat of moisturizer so the thick formula can lock the active ingredients on your skin while also hydrating it.

Our Top 3 Favorite Serums For All Skin Types

1. The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 Hydrating Serum

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The Ordinary has gained a massive cult following thanks to their quality skin care products, and one of their most popular serums is their hyaluronic acid serum, available for just $7.50.

This hydrating serum has been formulated with vegan hyaluronic acid, which specifically targets dryness. It’s great for all skin types, ranging from normal, to oily, to combination, to dry, and sensitive skin types. 

This serum has been praised for giving users not just added hydration, but also more glow and a smoother skin texture.

2. Esteé Lauder Advanced Night Repair Complex Serum

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Estée Lauder has a surprisingly great amount of skin care products that are well-loved by women (and men) worldwide. 

The Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Multi-Recovery Complex Serum is definitely the priciest serum in this list, but it packs a lot of benefits.

The super serum is formulated to tackle fine lines and wrinkles, as well as dullness, loss of firmness and elasticity of the skin, while boosting collagen levels and providing antioxidants.

The standard size (1 oz/30 mL) costs $75, but if you’re on a budget, they also have a mini size (0.24 oz/7 mL) for only $18.

3. Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum

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While the two serums above have hyaluronic acid as their main key ingredient, the B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum from Drunk Elephant also boasts pineapple ceramide (to boost skin luminosity), and provitamin B5 (to improve the skin barrier function) as their key ingredients.

Another great thing about this Drunk Elephant serum is that it focuses on bringing healthy pH levels to the skin, earning it the 2019 Best Hyaluronic Acid Serum award from Women’s Health.

This amazing serum can be yours for $48!

Our Top 3 Favorite Moisturizers

1. First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream Intense Hydration

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The Ultra Repair Cream Intense Hydration from First Aid Beauty aims to help hydrate dry, parched skin, and it can also be used to relieve skin irritations and itching. This creamy moisturizer is perfect for those with dry and sensitive, eczema-prone skin.

Its key ingredients include colloidal oatmeal which help relieve itching caused by eczema and rashes, shea butter to moisturize and protect the skin, and allantoin to calm and smoothen the skin.

This hydrating face cream has received consistent five star reviews from those struggling with dry and sensitive skin. A standard size (6oz/170g) pot can be yours for $38.

2. Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Moisturizing Cream

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Of course, how could we forget about Korean skincare products? Korean skincare is on a whole other level, and Dr. Jart+ is an expert on all things skincare.

The Ceramidin Moisturizing Cream in particular is a holy grail, go-to moisturizer for a lot of skincare enthusiasts.

It contains a blend of five ceramides to support and hydrate the skin, with a particular focus on battling dryness and loss of skin elasticity. It also contains hyaluronic acid as well as shea butter that provide an extra creamy texture. A standard tube retails for $48.

3. Youth To The People Superberry Hydrate + Glow Dream Mask

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Don’t get fooled by the name of this product: While its advertized as a mask, this product is used much like your regular night cream, with the only exception that it should be washed off in the morning.

The Superberry Hydrate + Glow Dream Mask with Vitamin C by Youth To The People contains antioxidant-rich superberries, as well as squalane (to mimic the skin’s natural oils), and vitamin C to firm and brighten the skin so you’ll wake up with a healthy, glowing face in the morning.

Not only is this moisturizer packed with a lot of benefits, but it is also vegan, cruelty-free, and gluten-free… with recyclable packaging as well if you’re eco-conscious.

A standard tub can be yours for only $48!

And there you have it! We hope you found our guide on serum vs moisturizer helpful! If you’re still looking for more beauty tips, make sure to check the posts down below.

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