Are Serum Moisturizers? Similarities and Differences You Shouldn’t Miss

Skincare routines often consist of the use of various products in a step-by-step procedure.  There is the toner, the serum, the moisturizer, the sunscreen, the exfoliator, and a number of other products.

However, two products often confused with each other are serums and moisturizers. This is because serums are often confused with moisturizers. But are serum moisturizers?

Serums are not moisturizers. They are a completely different skincare product serving other purposes.  

Serum and moisturizing skincare products have their time of use, duration of use, and most importantly, functions and ingredients.

These two products of course perform different functions and offer different benefits to the face. Therefore, they come in different tubes and are applied at different times on the skin.

Mistaking one for the other is common, and the result of this could be damaging. It could lead to some negative skin defects, and even using one without the other may not deliver the most desirable result.

That is why it is very crucial to know that serums are not moisturizers. For skincare routines to work, all needed products should be used. 

What Is a Serum?

Serums are skincare products applied to keep the face moisturized, reduce wrinkles and protect the skin. Many constituent ingredients of the face serums make its action very fast and effective on the skin. They help the skin to protect itself, improve its texture and reduce scars.

SEE: What is Serum? Facts You’ve Never Heard About

What are Moisturizers?

Moisturizers, on the other hand, are skincare products whose major function is lubrication and moisturizing. They hydrate the skin, keep moisture in and dryness out.

They mainly perform the function of the body sebum in cases where the sebum is not adequate enough, or when it is not producing enough to keep up with the skin’s needs.

Applying moisturizers daily helps your skin to glow, become softer and clearer.

Similarities Between Serum and Moisturizer

Serums are often mistaken with moisturizers because there exists a certain level of similarities between the two products. Nonetheless, the similarities do not make up for the differences, as they are so great they cannot be ignored.

Here are some of the similarities common to face serums and moisturizers. 

1. Ingredients 

You will find out quite easily that serums and moisturizers often contain the same type of ingredients. Does this then make them the same? No! Despite the commonness in ingredients, concentration and number differ.

Usually, serums have fewer ingredients compared to moisturizers and they have their own ingredients in higher concentrations. That hyaluronic acid is present in both your serums and moisturizers does not make them the same. 

2. Moisturising property 

Often you will read that your serum can help moisturize. Yes, that is true. Both serums and moisturizers moisturize. However, compared to your moisturizer whose primary job is to moisturize, the serum does little. Because of the water and oil content in your serum, you will find them helping you with moisturizing.

Nonetheless, they do not do the job quite as much as your moisturizer itself. Serums lack the “sealing content” that keeps the water in.

SEE: How to Apply Serum In Your AM and PM Skincare Routine

Differences Between Serum and Moisturizer

We know it is easy to conclude that face serums and moisturizers can be interchanged since they seem to perform the same function. However, they are two different skincare products that are produced independently, bought independently, and used independently. 

1. Function 

Both differ in the function that they perform and the advantages that they give the body. While the face serum has a lot of functions that supersedes moisturizing, the moisturizer moisturizes and gives your body all of the advantages that come with moisturizing.

Face serum can get rid of wrinkles, dark spots, scars, and help even skin tone.  Moisturizers hydrate your skin and majorly prevent it from drying.

2. Ingredient concentration and type  

Also, another clear difference between the two is the ingredient concentration and type. For one, serums lack a lot of ingredients that are present in moisturizers.

They do not have as many moisturizing agents as moisturizers and are mostly water-based. Moisturizers have more oil, more petroleum 

Also, the ingredients that you would find in moisturizers are usually more potent and in high concentration compared to the moisturizer. Therefore, they are known to penetrate deeper into the skin than moisturizers. 

3. Effectiveness

Because the concentration of ingredients in serums is pretty high, they are known to be more effective than moisturizers. They penetrate the skin very fast and work quickly when applied to cleansed skin.

This is further aided by the fact that they have small particles. Unlike moisturizers,  they penetrate deep into the skin to the deepest layers.

4. Thickness   

Serums are not as thick as moisturizers. They are actually very lightweight and thin. Moisturizers are thick and not very watery, so they stay on the face. This thinness and thickness also affect their feel on the skin. 

Face serums are thinner and therefore do not feel heavy on the face like the moisturizer. When applied, they are absorbed by the body, taken into the deepest skin layer where they work.

This makes their effect faster compared to the moisturizer which needs a lot of active daily use to be effective. 

SEE: Face Toner Is the Missing Link In Your Skincare Routine

Serums and Moisturizers: Which Should You Use?

Now that we have established that face serums are not moisturizers. Now, the question of which to use is probably bulging in your mind. Should you use a serum or a moisturizer? 

The answer is you should use both! Using a serum without a moisturizer is not bad, neither is using a moisturizer without a serum. However, you will find that using both has more advantages.

Right after cleaning and toning your face, you should apply face serums, then apply the moisturizer to keep the serum on your face. 

Each of them helps the skin in different ways and has different advantages attached to its use. So, choosing the better option of using both gives you an edge and increases your chances of getting even flawless skin in no time.  

SEE: The Right Way to Use Face Serums with Moisturizers for Maximum Effect

Can Serum Replace Moisturizers?

Serums cannot replace moisturizers because they do not have the necessary component to do so. They lack may of the formulation that helps the skin to keep its water and not lose it.

Although serums are active skincare products, they sink into the skin very fast and leave the face exposed and dry. Therefore, they cannot do the work of a moisturizer.

Are Serums Better Than Moisturizers?

No, they are not. Serums and moisturizers have different functions in your skincare. Each product works to improve your overall skin complexion.

However, on the scale of importance, a moisturizer comes first because your skin has to stay hydrated. Furthermore, moisturizers contain SPF which might not be present in serums.

On the other hand, serums are more concentrated than moisturizers. They provide fast shots of ingredients to treat a specific skin issue.

SEE: Do Moisturizers Prevent Wrinkles? Skincare Guide to Smooth Skin


Are face serum moisturizers?

No, they are not. Face serums are not moisturizers. Although face serum itself has some moisturizing properties, its moisturizing effect is not as effective as that of the moisturizer itself. 

Does serum moisturize skin?

Yes, it does. However, not for a long time. Its moisturizing effect does not last very long because it lacks the necessary components and formulations that create a lasting moisturizer effect.

It could moist the skin on application, only to dry up after exposure to the atmosphere.

Can you mix the serum with moisturizer?

Yes, you can. Basically, they also have the same ingredients and therefore can work together.

However, before you mix it, check or ask your manufacturers if your serum is not the type that needs to be layered on its own. If it is, mixing it with a cream or moisturizer can limit its effect and ability to penetrate the skin.

Does serum go on before or after moisturizer?

Serum goes on before the moisturizer. The serum is lighter and therefore ideal for layering. The moisturizer goes on to help the serum’s deep penetration, right before the sunscreen.

Can you use serum without moisturizers?

Yes, you can. Nonetheless, it is best to not do so. Moisturizers are necessary to help your skin retain moisture and stay healthy. Using serum without the moisturizer will likely not give you a 100% desired result.


If you care about your skincare routine, you would need to answer if serum are moisturizers.

However, the only thing common to serums and moisturizers is their component or ingredient. Even that differs in concentration and therefore, tends to affect their action.  

Serums and moisturizers are two different products, but they are applied right after each other -the serum first, then the moisturizer.

Take cognizance of these two, their ingredients, and your skin type when choosing them. So that you can have one that will boost your skin’s natural vibrance. 

Thanks for reading.

You can find more helpful answers to your skincare questions on Serum101.