If you’re anything like me, cleansing, moisturizing and SPF are a part of your daily skincare routine. But where do you fit in a serum or face oil? I mean, just mentioning these two products alone brings up a bevy of questions: What do you look for in a quality serum? How do you use face oil so that it actually works? What’s the difference between a face oil and a serum, anyway?
The truth: Serums and face oils are probably the most effective and efficient forms of skincare. In other words, you should be using them. Let’s take a deep dive into each, shall we?
What’s a face serum?
The Overview: A well formulated serum uses high concentrations of active ingredients and targets specific skin concerns. TL;DR: It gives you results. Pretty straightforward, right? Well, sorta. The tricky part of active ingredients is when they should be used. For example, a quality serum will specify whether to use it in the morning or at night.
Texture: water-based, lightweight, absorbs quickly
Formulation: a potent blend of active ingredients, targets specific skin concerns, smaller molecules absorbs into the deep layers of the skin more rapidly
How to Use: Serum should be the first product you apply to your skin after cleansing. Specific active ingredients are dependent on time of day and how they help the skin—so, the serum should be formulated specifically for day or night. This way, your skin will get exactly what it needs, when it needs it. A serum should be applied and pressed firmly into slightly damp skin. Allow to dry before applying face oil or moisturizer.
What’s a face oil?
The Overview: Face oils, on the other hand, can be a simple blend of botanical oils that help to effectively hydrate your complexion. They can also be a hybrid of serum + moisturizer if they contain active ingredients. Depending on your skin type, a face oil may be hydrating enough to skip your traditional moisturizer altogether. However, if your skin is on the drier side, you can add a few drops of oil to your moisturizer for an extra boost your complexion will love.
Texture: oil-based, heavier, absorbs slowly
Formulation: hydrating, may contain actives, works well as a moisturizer for normal or oily skin types, larger molecules mainly work on the top layer of the skin
How to Use: Apply your face oil after using your serum, similar to how you would apply your moisturizer. For normal to oily skin types, face oil may replace your moisturizer. Those with dry skin may add a few drops of face oil to their moisturizer or apply your moisturizer after using face oil to lock in hydration. Gently massage it into your skin. Apply serum first and allow to dry before using your face oil.
Your Daily Skincare Routine, Explained
Feeling overwhelmed? Have no fear! I put together a low-maintenance skincare routine that’s super easy to follow:
Your Morning Skincare Routine
- Step One: Wash your face with warm water or your favorite cleanser.
- Step Two: Apply a day serum. Your day serum should hydrate, plump, provide pollution defense and improve the effectiveness of your SPF.
- Step Three: Follow it up with SPF and moisturizer, if needed.
Look for These Ingredients in Your Day Serum:
- Hyaluronic Acid: For deep hydration, look for a day serum that’s low-molecular weight (this will absorb quicker and deeper into the skin)
- Peptides: For a plump complexion, tripeptide-5 is a tried-and-true peptide that helps stimulate collagen synthesis, while improving skin firming and moisturizing capacity
- Antioxidants: For pollution defense, vitamin C and plant-based antioxidants help to fight free radical damage that can age skin and cause dullness (plus, they help your sunscreen work better!)
Product Recommendation: The Go-Getter Day Serum
Hydrate, plump and protect in one easy step. This simple, yet effective serum was specifically designed to give your skin what it needs during the day. Use daily to help smooth, even and prevent aged and dull skin. Shop it here.
Your Nighttime Skincare Routine
- Step One: Wash your face with your favorite cleanser.
- Step Two: Apply a night serum. Look for one that lightly exfoliates, evens skin tone, brightens and helps with any skin concerns like blocked pores, mild breakouts, redness or pigmentation issues. Many of the ingredients that help with these issues (think: acids and retinol) can cause sun sensitivity.
- Step Three: Follow it up with a face oil and/or moisturizer. Find a face oil that brightens, hydrates and boosts a superstar active like Vitamin C.
Look for These Ingredients in Your Night Serum:
- Fruit Acids/Glycolic Acid/Salicylic Acid/Retinol: These exfoliating ingredients increase cell turnover and unclog pores to prevent aged, dull and breakout-prone skin. Fruit acids are best for daily use or sensitive skin types, while glycolic and salicylic acids are best for oily skin types or those that are acne prone. Use retinol intermittently to help with breakouts and aged skin.
- Niacinamide: This ingredient helps to reduce the appearance of aged, hyperpigmented and photodamaged skin. It also calms redness and breakouts caused by inflammation. Hello, even skin tone!
- Licorice Root/Bearberry/Vitamin C: These ingredients inhibit skin hyperpigmentation and improve cell regeneration to brighten and even tone.
Product Recommendation: The Multitasker Night Serum
This multitasking, super-efficient serum targets multiple skin issues, like pigmentation, breakouts, redness, dull and aged skin, in one simple step. This potent blend of active and plant-based ingredients revives your complexion using exfoliating fruit acids, soothing Niacinamide and brightening licorice root + bearberry extracts. Shop it here.
Ingredient Considerations for Your Face Oil:
- Beware of cheap filler oils such as safflower, sunflower and apricot kernel oil.
- Grapeseed oil is lightweight, making it perfect for both oily and sensitive skin types. Plus, it helps with breakout-prone skin.
- Marula and Jojoba are great ultra-hydrating oils.
- Rosehip is a reparative oil that is perfect for all skin types.
- Cranberry or Pomegranate oils are excellent blends of Omegas 6 & 9.
- Active ingredients in face oils are limited. You need to use an oil-soluble active, and most are water-soluble.
- Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate and oil-soluble forms of vitamin C or retinol are good actives to find in face oils. Don’t overdo it with a retinol face oil and a nightly serum.
- Vitamin C in your face oil is the best bet if you’re also going to use exfoliating acids in a night serum.
Product Recommendation: The Fresh Start Face Oil
The potent and hydrating oil blend is lightweight and effective. Made with 20% Vitamin C, it locks in hydration and instantly brightens the skin. Plus, The Fresh Start doesn’t contain any filler oils! Formulated with clarifying grapeseed oil, hydrating marula oil, healing rosehip and balancing cranberry, it gives your skin all the best benefits in one single step. Shop it here.
Phew! We covered a lot, but I hope this overview gives you a deeper understanding of face oils and serums. Have any other questions? Leave a comment below!