Is Serum a Moisturizer? Find Out the Difference

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It’s a question you may have asked yourself, or one of your friends may have asked you. Is serum a moisturizer?

The simple answer is no. Serums are thinner than moisturizers, and they contain a higher concentration of active ingredients. Both are ultimately designed to hydrate and nourish the skin, but they do it in different ways.

This article discusses the similarities and differences between these two products, what they’re made of, and how to use them together.

What Is Serum?

A serum is a lightweight skincare product that hydrates and nourishes the skin. The texture is thin and liquid, so it absorbs into the skin quickly.

Manufacturers often make serums with active ingredients that target specific skin concerns, such as wrinkles or dark spots and offer general rejuvenation to the skin.

These active ingredients help nourish and hydrate your skin while also protecting it from external factors like pollution and dust.

While it can be tempting to think of serums as glorified moisturizers, that’s not exactly accurate. Although some serums contain hydrating ingredients, like hyaluronic acid, they do not substitute your regular moisturizer.

Instead, serums are super-concentrated formulas that treat specific skin concerns and deliver a high dose of active ingredients.

What Is Moisturizer?

A moisturizer is a skincare product (ointment, cream, lotion, or gel) applied to the skin to prevent dryness. It contains ingredients that attract water to your skin and form a protective barrier on top to keep moisture in.

Moisturizing your skin is a very important part of skincare, as it helps to replenish the skin’s moisture level and prevent dry skin.

Unlike serums, most moisturizers contain ingredients that form a protective seal over your skin to lock in hydration and prevent environmental irritants from entering.

They also tend to be richer in hydrating ingredients, so they help hydrate dry skin and prevent dryness or flaking.

Is Serum a Moisturizer?

No, it is not. Serum, by definition, is essentially a skincare product that’s more potent and lighter than a moisturizer. It also lacks occlusive agents (ingredients that create a protective layer on the surface of the skin to prevent moisture loss).

Whereas moisturizers focus on hydration and sealing in moisture, serums are packed with active ingredients that target and treat specific concerns like wrinkles or dullness.

Serums penetrate deep into the skin to deliver nutrients while moisturizers remain on the surface of the skin where they work to seal moisture.

While serums aren’t the same thing as moisturizers, they do have similar goals. Both products hydrate your skin, nourish it and protect it against environmental stressors such as UV rays and pollution.

Can You Use Serum and Moisturizer Together?

Yes, you can. While serum and moisturizer serve different purposes, they both work together to improve the feel and appearance of the skin.

Moisturizers replenish moisture in the skin that has been lost, while serums bring additional ingredients such as antioxidants and vitamins, to the skin.

You can apply both serums and moisturizers morning and night, but you should use them in the following order:

  • Cleanse and tone your face with products appropriate for your skin type
  • Apply a thin layer of serum and let it absorb for about 15 minutes before moving on to the next step
  • Apply any acne spot treatments or other prescription products (if necessary)
  • Rub in your eye cream, wait for a few minutes, then apply a moisturizer
  • Apply sunscreen (if needed)

How Do You Choose a Serum for Your Skin Type?

Dry skin

If you have dry skin, the best serum for you is one that contains hyaluronic acid (HA). Hyaluronic acid is a humectant that draws water into the skin’s surface layers due to its ability to hold up to 1000 times its weight in water.

It’s an ideal ingredient for hydrating dry skin without leaving a sticky or oily residue behind.

Oily skin

If you’re dealing with oily or acne-prone skin, look for a lightweight serum that contains niacinamide or salicylic acid. These ingredients help to reduce oil production and improve the appearance of acne scars as well as uneven skin tone.

Combination skin

Having combination skin can be frustrating. Your skin can be oily in certain areas and dry in others, making it hard to find a serum that benefits the whole of your face.

The best serums for combination skin typically contain key ingredients like hyaluronic acid (HA) and niacinamide. HA is a natural humectant that helps attract water to the surface of your skin, while niacinamide helps prevent excess oil production in your skin.

Sensitive skin

Serums that have too many ingredients can be harmful to your sensitive skin. Some of the ingredients can irritate your skin and make it red or patchy.

To avoid this problem, choose serums that contain soothing ingredients like aloe vera or chamomile. These products are less likely to cause problems on your sensitive skin because they contain fewer chemicals and fragrances.

How Do You Choose a Moisturizer for Your Skin Type?

Dry skin

If you have dry skin, you may experience rough patches or flaky areas. You may feel tightness after washing or even during the day. For this reason, it is important to use a moisturizer that will help keep your skin hydrated throughout the day.

A good tip on how to choose a moisturizer for dry skin is to make sure it contains ingredients that can help lock in moisture and build up the barrier of your skin.

Products containing ceramides, cholesterol, or fatty acids are good choices for building up the natural barrier of your skin and locking in moisture.

Oily skin

You may be inclined to skip the moisturizer altogether, but this can actually lead to the overproduction of oil by your sebaceous glands. Instead, look for a lightweight moisturizer that contains aloe vera or glycerin.

These ingredients will help soothe irritation while providing just enough hydration to restore balance to your complexion.

Combination skin

If you have combination skin, you need to choose a moisturizer that won’t be too heavy for the oily parts of your face and that will provide sufficient hydration for the dry areas.

To do this, look for moisturizers that contain hyaluronic acid and ceramides, as these ingredients help hydrate skin without causing excess oil production.

Sensitive skin

If you have sensitive skin, choose moisturizers that are free of fragrances and dyes because these can irritate your skin.

It’s also important to test the product on a small area of your face before using it all over. If no reaction occurs in 24 hours, you can try using the product on larger areas of your face.


Can you moisturize at night?

Yes, you can. Dermatologists recommend moisturizing at night before bed because it gives your skin time to absorb the product while you sleep.

If you have dry skin, applying moisturizer both morning and evening should be part of your daily skincare routine.

How often should you use a serum?

It depends on the formula. Some serums are meant for daily use, while others should be used only once or twice a week.

But it’s generally safe to apply it in the morning and night after cleansing and toning and before using your regular face cream or oil.

Which goes first, serum or moisturizer?

Serum goes first. Using a serum first helps lock in its benefits beneath your moisturizer and other products, allowing it to work better.

However, since every skincare routine is different, there are exceptions to these rules of thumb. You may find that certain serums work perfectly well over a moisturizer instead of under. Just make sure you test them out beforehand.


While both serums and moisturizers are good for the skin, they serve different purposes.

Serums are great for targeting individual skin problems such as dryness, wrinkles, or acne while moisturizer hydrates your face to prevent dryness.

I advise you to incorporate both into your skincare routine to give your skin a boost of hydration and reduce blemishes for smoother-looking skin.

Thanks for reading.

Serums and moisturizers are two types of skincare products with different functions. To learn more about them, visit Serum101 today.