Serum or Moisturizer: What Should You Use?


With the long, packed aisles of skincare best serums to use with microneedling products in drugstores, and a new advertisement for a revolutionary anti-aging product being marketed every week, it’s difficult to know what products to choose for the best skincare regimen for our faces. Serums? Moisturizers? Eye Creams? Cleansers? Toners? Just how many skincare steps does one face require to look its best, and how do we know which products to choose?

Many people are confused about the choice between a serum and a moisturizer. Which is best for anti-aging and moisturizing? How do you choose between a serum and a moisturizer?

The answer is… you don’t. Serums and moisturizers have very different uses and functions. For the very best skincare regimen, it’s wise to choose both.

Why do I Need a Serum?

Face serums are relatively new to the world of skincare. Unlike moisturizers, which have been used in one form or another for centuries, serums began to emerge only in recent decades and are still an often misunderstood product.

A serum is a liquid or gel that’s packed with ingredients to target specific skin issues. For example, there are serums formulated specifically to soothe and balance acne-prone skin. Other serums target fine lines, wrinkles, and sun discolorations with powerful ingredients like retinol and antioxidants.

Serums leave out the heavy oils and emollients that are the main components of moisturizers and make the moisturizer likely to sit heavily on the skin’s surface. Instead, a serum is composed of 70 percent or more of active ingredients, which is much higher than the typical 10 to 20 percent active ingredients found in moisturizers—the primary purpose of which is to moisturize.

Unlike moisturizers, the best face serums are water-based and formulated with small molecules which are much more quickly and easily absorbed deep below the skin’s surface where they can address specific skin issues while nourishing cells below the surface of the skin. Also, unlike moisturizers and sunscreens, serums are not considered a necessary skincare product for every person; however, if there is a specific skin issue that a person wishes to resolve, such as acne or aging, a face serum is a powerful tool for correction and prevention and comes with many benefits.

Because a serum is not considered a moisturizer, and contains a lesser amount of moisturizing ingredients, it should not replace your moisturizer. Instead, a face serum should be used in conjunction with a good moisturizer. Ideally, the serum is absorbed deep into skin cells below the surface to work its magic, and then a moisturizer seals in the benefits with a strong skin barrier.

Common Powerful Ingredients in Face Serums

While you may encounter serums with exotic or unusual ingredients, there are several key ingredients commonly found in serums.

Vitamin C is one of the most common ingredients in today’s facial serums. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which targets and combats free radical cells which develop in the skin over time and in response to environmental factors such as UV ray exposure. Vitamin C can stimulate collagen production to improve skin’s structural integrity and restore firmness. Other powerhouse antioxidant ingredients found in serums come from green tea, grape seed extract, and fruits like pomegranates.

Retinol is another key ingredient found in popular serums. Retinoids benefit both acne-prone skin and aging skin by increasing skin cell turnover to increase the sloughing of dead cells on the skin’s surface and the regeneration of new cells which function more like younger skin cells with increased collagen production. Retinol brightens the skin and reduces the appearance of fine lines.

Hyaluronic acid is another common component of face serums. Hyaluronic acid is a super humectant that can draw moisture from the air itself and pull it deep inside skin cells for deep hydration. Hyaluronic acid molecules hold up to 1000 times their own weight in water and are found naturally in young skin, but lessen as we age.

Serums may be more expensive than moisturizers, but they pack a much greater amount of active ingredients into each product than a typical moisturizer.

If I Use a Serum, Why do I Need A Moisturizer?

While serums are hugely beneficial for your skin, and contain powerful ingredients to target specific issues such as acne, aging, and sun damage, the reason they are so powerful is because the ingredients are not diluted with the heavy creams, oils, and emollients of moisturizers. Instead, they quickly sink deep below the skin’s surface to begin their repair and balancing work. As nourishing and restorative as serums are, they do not replace a moisturizer.

While it’s true that serums work by quickly sinking below the surface of the skin, your skin still needs a protective moisture barrier on the surface to seal in both natural moisture, and the benefits of your serum to keep it from evaporating before it can be completely effective.

A good moisturizer helps to hold hydration below the surface of the skin and contains oils and emollients to fill the microscopic cracks and openings between skin cells to maintain a protective barrier and smooth the surface of the skin while promoting elasticity and resilience. Most moisturizers contain humectants to draw moisture to the skin’s surface, giving it a fresh, dewy glow that’s more like young skin.

A night time moisturizer is essential to replace the moisture that’s taken from your skin when you cleanse and remove your makeup. Moisturizing at night is essential because skin replenishes and restores itself during the night while you rest. Adding moisture to your skin’s surface helps to facilitate the repair process by adding nourishment and essential hydration.

A daytime moisturizer benefits the skin by providing a protective barrier between the skin cells and your makeup and the dust and grime of the day. A moisturizer with sunscreen gives the skin critical protection from damaging UV rays that not only contribute to premature aging, but also to skin cancer.

Even those with oily skin can benefit from an oil-free moisturizer. Part of the reason that some of us have skin that over-produces oil is because the skin is protecting itself from losing hydration by attempting to seal it in with oils. Applying an oil-free moisturizer can provide the barrier your skin needs in order to keep it from over-producing oils.

Ideally, a good skincare regimen should include both a nourishing serum and a good moisturizer to then seal essential hydration and key serum ingredients into the skin. The results will be a face that has a healthy, more radiant and youthful glow.

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