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Serums Vs. Moisturizer: Do You Need Both?

Skincare can be simple, or skincare can be complicated. The truth is, understanding your skin and learning about what it needs is the key to making your skincare routine less complicated. That’s why we’re here to help. 

Skincare should be something you look forward to each day - not something you dread doing. Selfcare should be fun! What’s not fun is feeling like you can’t find the right product for you. Or worse, not knowing how to optimize your products for the best results possible. 

There are so many products out there from serums to scrubs, so how do you know what to use? We’re going to go through the differences between serums and moisturizer specifically, and why it’s important to use both in your regular skincare routine. 

What is a serum?
Serums are lightweight formulas that deliver active ingredients the skin needs. They are designed to penetrate the skin deep and effectively because they absorb into the skin due to their lightweight texture. 

Serums tend to address a variety of skin care concerns including hyper pigmentation, anti-aging, brightening, or acne fighting. They tend to cost a little more than other ingredients for their ability to dive deep with potent ingredients - also they tend to last longer because you only use a small amount at each use. Serums can technically be lotions, oils, or gels.

What is a moisturizer? 

Moisturizers are thicker in texture and are specifically formulated to lock in moisture and prevent the skin from drying out. They also protect and enhance the skin barrier, which is the outer most layer of the skin. By building a strong outer layer, you help your skin retain moisture. 

Some moisturizers have added ingredients such as SPF to protect from harmful UV rays. Or some may have anti-aging properties. The bottom line is, moisturizers are thicker than serums and are designed to hydrate the skin more than anything else. Because of their thicker texture, they do not penetrate the skin as deeply as serums. 

Why do you need to use both? 

Combining the use of a serum and moisturizer might just be the answer you’re looking for - especially if you struggle with dry skin. Depending on what you want to accomplish with your skin, using a serum with your daily moisturizer can help you get there.

For example, if you struggle with dark circles under your eyes and seasonal dryness, you can add a brightening serum and daily moisturizer to your skincare routine. The serum will penetrate deeply into your skin to combat that discoloration you want to tackle, and the moisturizer will help protect your skin barrier. 

The cool thing about serums is that you don’t have to use them everyday, too. If you have an oil-based moisturizer and serum and notice that your skin is more oily than usual, you can limit your serum use to 2-3 times per week instead of daily to balance it out. 

How to layer

Now that we know the difference between serums and moisturizer, and that they work best together, we just need to understand how to layer them. And order does matter! 

The key to layering your products is to remember: thin to thick. This is the rule of thumb. That said, since we know serums are thinner in texture than moisturizers, your serums will go on before your moisturizer. 

And if you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. Serums are designed to penetrate deep under the surface of your skin, so it would make sense to put them directly on the skin so they can work their magic without having to also penetrate a layer of moisturizer. 

Serums should be applied to clean, fresh skin. Wait about 60 seconds to allow the serum to absorb on its own before applying your moisturizer. This gives the serum time to settle. Then you can follow with the moisturizer to lock in moisture. 

More serums and moisturizers can be used in the morning or in the evening. Read the instructions on your product to know for sure. There are certain serums that are best used at night - especially those with anti-aging properties. Other serums are best used in the morning - such as a vitamin C serum that can add an extra layer of protection from the sun. 


Adding a targeted serum to your skincare routine can help you improve your areas of concern. You should always be using a moisturizer, and they work in tandem with serums. Serums tackle your specific skin concerns with potent ingredients, and moisturizers help lock in hydration.