woman holding serum

How to choose the best facial serum

One question I frequently get from my clients is about the differences between oil serums and water serums.  “Which one is best for my skin?” This is an important question, but can be confusing to answer with so many products on the market! In this blog, I want to help you understand the difference between water serums and oil serums in order to guide you to find the best facial serum for your skin.

Oil serums and water serums do different things for the skin, and they target different concerns. Identifying the best facial serum for your skin’s needs can be tricky.  So, let’s jump right into it and talk about the differences between these two popular skincare products in order to help you find the best one for you.

woman holding serum

What is a serum?

A serum is a highly concentrated liquid that provides a high dose of targeted active ingredients and extracts to your skin, such as hyaluronic acid, essential fatty acids or vitamin C. Serums are more potent than moisturizers and often pricier for this reason.  Serums are meant to penetrate the skin more deeply, delivering targeted active ingredients to the sublayers of the skin.  Moisturizers on the other hand work more on the surface of the skin by protecting, moisturizing and nourishing.  Serums also have smaller molecules than moisturizers.  This means that serums will absorb deeper, quicker.  If you’re looking to target a specific concern on your skin – fine lines, dullness, sagginess – adding a serum under your moisturizer is definitely the way to go.  

Why do you need a water serum:

What I call a “water” serum is a light-textured product that’s usually made with ingredients like aloe vera juice, hyaluronic acid, and other hydrating plant distillates (floral waters). Water serums can be clear in colour or a pale yellow depending on the plant ingredients they’re made of.  They’re light in texture and therefore easily absorbed into the skin. Some brands may include specialty ingredients like plant retinol or plant collagen in their water serums to target fine lines.  Others include exotic ingredients like Icelandic Moss Extract to help the skin retain water.   Plant-derived vitamin C can also come in the form of a “water” serum.  Find it in Consonant Skincare’s Vitamin C and Licorice Serum.  The sky is the limit with types of serums.  You really need to be clear on the concern you want to tackle. 

The main thing that all water serums have in common is their light, gel-like texture and how quickly and easily they’re absorbed by the skin. 

Water serums mainly target dehydration on the skin.

Water loss on the skin leads to premature aging. Loss of firmness, wrinkle formation and dryness are all signs of aging.  There is nothing wrong with feeling confident in your skin at any age, but your skin should feel comfortable. If you need a product to improve dull, dehydrated, and sagging skin, then a water serum is the best serum for you.  For more tips on improving hydration on the skin check out this blog post or video if you’re more of a visual learner. 

Cocoon Apothecary Nordic Boost Serum

How to use your water serum:

Water serums are best right after cleansing and misting the skin. A drop or two is all that’s needed.  Applying them on slightly damp skin helps with absorption and spreading a little bit of product over the entire surface of the face. Gently tap the serum everywhere, especially under the eyes and anywhere fine lines are forming. To lock in all the benefits from your water serum, layer your moisturizer right on top.  Water serums are wonderful before applying makeup because they hydrate the skin and give you a plump canvas that’s perfect for makeup application.  

face oil in woman's hands

Why do you need an oil serum:

Oil serums are made with a variety of plant oils and essential oils. Think of rosehip and pomegranate blended with lemon essential oil.  Oil serums are oil blends, or cocktails, of ingredients as opposed to one single oil. However, some beneficial oils like the vitamin rich Rosehip Oil, can be found on their own and can be customized for your skin concerns by adding essential oils.  Oil serums are smooth and silky on the skin and those rich in caretinoids can be a deep amber color.  Lighter blends such as Argan, jojoba or camellia will offer a lighter golden hue.  Oil serums offer denser nutrients to the skin than water serums and might need a bit more time to absorb.  They’re excellent to use with a gua sha tool, a jade roller or for providing glide before a facial massage

Oil serums mainly target loss of moisture on the skin.

Oil serums can work for all skin types.  If you’re looking for the ultimate nourishment, opt for a rich oil like rosehip.  If you want something lighter that’s easily absorbed, give argan oil a try.  The right combination of oil and essential oils can benefit a variety of skin concerns from acne scarring to eczema.

jade roller on woman's face

How to use your oil serum:

Similar to water serums, the penetration and the absorption will be enhanced if your skin is damp before application. You can either mist your face, or layer your water serum right before applying the oil to your skin.  An oil serum can definitely replace your moisturizer year-round if you have dry skin.  If your dry skin is seasonal, switch to an oil serum during the winter months.  You can use your oil serum either in your am or pm skincare routine, but I prefer to apply mine at night and roll it into my skin with my Iremia Skincare jade roller.

Final Thoughts

I’m a big fan of both water and oil serums because of their unique benefits to the skin.  I love using a hyaluronic acid serum after cleansing and then locking in the hydration with a heavier product like an oil serum or moisturizer.  As I am in my mid-40s, I’ve found that my skin benefits from both. It can get pricey trying to find the best facial serum, so I have a curated selection in my shop.  I’ve tried and tested every product I’ve listed before choosing to work with it and the brand.  If you have any questions or need assistance choosing a product that’s right for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

I’m not a dermatologist.  My recommendations are based on research and testing of products on myself and my clients.  My knowledge and passion for skincare and makeup comes from 17 years of experience working with products in makeup school, as a manager in a spa and in retail.



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