Serum or Moisturizer? Which skincare is more effective?

My great aunt to this day swears by her Oil of Olay cream but as it is with everything in life, the passage of time brings new ideas and technology.

The undisputed fact is that we all need to take care of our skin in order to be and look healthy. Moisturizers are primarily designed to hydrate the skin by adding to and sealing in the natural moisture of the body. Although moisturizers often contain ingredients to target specific issues like ageing or sun damage, their main role is to get hydration to the skin and keep it there. 

Serums, on the other hand, are formulated to penetrate deeply into the skin and address or even reverse the causes of ageing and skin damage at the cellular level. Serums are likely to contain more antioxidants, nutrients and vitamins that work to repair the structure of skin cells, increasing skin radiance, smoothness and suppleness.

So let's break down the difference between serum and moisturizer.difference between serum and moisturizer

A big difference between serums and moisturizers is what serums don't include. Serums leave out the ‘sealing’ ingredients such as petrolatum and mineral oils that moisturizers often use to keep water from evaporating from the skin. Serums also contain fewer fillers, thickeners and lubricating agents.

The second important difference is that serums are actually able to work more effectively in your skin for two reasons. Firstly, because serums have smaller particles they penetrate the skin on a deeper cellular level. Also, because serums don’t contain the thick airtight ‘sealing’ particles present in moisturizers, the active ingredients in a serum penetrate your skin faster and can work more effectively.

So, the beauty of a serum is that they provide a high concentration of active ingredients, and penetrate further, effectively delivering beneficial nutrients and hydration actives to the deepest layers of the skin where moisturizers won’t penetrate.

How does a serum work?

Serums are lightweight, intensive skin care products formulated to penetrate deeply, allowing their active ingredients to combat free radical damage, skin pigmentation, ageing, acne and scarring by delivering nutrients and vitamins right into the skin cells. Serums providing antioxidants, peptides, hyaluronic acid and Vitamin C can have dramatic and swift effects on the radiance of skin by brightening, exfoliating and hydrating the skin.

Serums are designed to repair the skin at a cellular level and act on a wide range of skin health factors at the same time. If you have aged, damaged, scarred or sun damaged skin, a serum is your best choice to reduce the visible impacts on your skin. Serums act to improve skin firmness, smoothness and luminosity while reducing fine lines and wrinkles.

How does a moisturizer work?

A moisturizer is a lotion or cream which contains skin hydrating emollients and forms a physical barrier to help skin stay hydrated. Moisturizers have larger molecules than serums, so they don’t penetrate into the epidermis or surface layer of the skin. Their main benefit is that they seal the skin, locking in moisture and nutrients.

The thicker, heavier ingredients in moisturizing creams form a barrier on your skin designed to lock in moisture in. But it can also lock active ingredients in the moisturizer out of the skin, reducing their efficacy. 

Does your skin need a serum or a moisturizer?

This is where the layering effect comes into play – while an antioxidant serum works to repair skin cells and combat free radicals, a moisturizer acts to prevent the evaporation of moisture and provides a physical barrier to protect the skin from environmental irritants and makeup particles.

Serums can be used both morning and night to address specific skin issues more effectively than a moisturizer alone, and will also boost the hydrating effects of your moisturizer. Ensure your serum contains antioxidants to provide protection from environmental damage. 

Ideally, you will use a facial serum to increase the effectiveness of your skincare regime and combat ageing and skin damage more successfully. If you are 30 or older, using a serum will make a huge difference in improving your skin.

Serums can be used alone by people with naturally oilier skin, or under a moisturizer to help protect the hydration levels in normal to dry skin.

During the winter months, it’s a good idea to use a moisturizer over your serum for extra hydration, to help your skin cope with changing temperature and drying winds.

Specific reasons to use facial serums in your skincare regime include: 

  • repairing sun damage and reducing wrinkles
  • deeper skin hydration
  • skin firming and improved texture
  • exfoliation for smoother more radiant skin
  • calming redness and sensitivity
  • clearing and preventing blemishes
  • to fade brown spots and pigmentation.

How should you apply your serum and moisturizer?

Moist skin is ten times more permeable than dry skin, so we recommend that you always apply your serum twice daily, directly to your skin after cleansing and toning. In the morning apply your facial serum before your SPF moisturizer or sunscreen, at night time apply the serum before your night cream or moisturizer.

After cleansing, your serum should be applied over the entire face, neck and décolletage. Gently press on with your fingertips and allow it to absorb into the skin for a few minutes before applying a moisturizer. 

Apply about a dime size of serum with two fingers and massage thoroughly into the skin. More serum does not equal more benefit. Your skin can only absorb a certain amount, and when a serum is packed with great actives, you don’t need large amounts. Using a serum often is better than simply applying more.

Using moisturizer over your serum will help lock in the serum anti-ageing actives and nutrients. If you keep your moisturizer in the refrigerator, the coldness of the cream when it is applied after your serum can push surface blood into the skin through the capillary contraction, increasing the penetration of the serum’s active ingredients.

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