Q&A | Face oils vs serums: What's the difference?

 Hello everyone!

Over the years, I've had many readers and Facebook Page followers ask me skincare and beauty related questions. Very frequently, I get similar questions again and again. So I thought it would be beneficial to share some of these FAQs in a new series. 

The first question in the Q&A series comes from a Facebook follower who sent me this message:

"What is the difference between a face oil and a serum? Do I need to use them both? How do I choose between a face oil and a serum?"

This is a great question! Both serums and facial oils can serve a purpose in your routine. Some oils are now marketed as serums which can be somewhat confusing.

skincare products in glass packaging

Facial serums are used to target specific skin concerns (such as wrinkles, fine lines, dullness, dryness, acne, irritation and redness) whereas face oils are primarily intended to nourish, protect and moisturise. For this reason, serums tend to be more expensive than oils. 

Some of the things serum can do include:

  • Treat hyper-pigmentation
  • Brighten, smooth and firm skin
  • Repair sun damage
  • Exfoliate away dead skin cells and speed up cell turnover
  • Calm red, puffy skin
  • Fight acne and future breakouts
  • Reduce the appearance of pores and prevent them from being clogged

You can use both serum and face oil in your routine. As a rule of thumb, it is recommended to apply products in order from lightest to heaviest. For oils and serums, that usually means applying serums (which are often water-based) first. 

Both can be derived from complex oil blends, but serums, are typically lighter weight and best layered under a moisturiser. After the serum absorbs into your skin, you can apply moisturiser. Face oils are occlusive, meaning they seal in all the ingredients and moisture you just applied to your face to keep them from evaporating quickly. Apply face oil last in your routine as this acts as a barrier on the outer layer of the skin.

Oils are designed to protect the skin from changes in weather and temperatures whilst also retaining moisture, repairing the skin’s barrier, keeping it supple and providing a source of antioxidants, fatty acids and vitamins. When used as the final step in your skincare routine, they prevent the serum from evaporating from the skin. 

If you want to use both a serum and facial oil, but not simultaneously, you can designate one formula for your morning routine and the other for your nighttime routine. If you’re doing this, I’d recommend using the serum for daytime, since it’s typically lighter in texture. Then, apply a richer oil at night to protect, hydrate and nourish your skin.

face oils

Some tips on how to use:

Face serum

  • Choose a serum formulated for your skincare needs. 
  • Apply prior to moisturiser and oil but after cleansing and toning.
  • Press into the skin.
  • Use once per day, either in the morning or evening, as this is sufficient for the potency of most serums.

Face oil 

  • Use 2-5 drops.
  • Massage into the face and neck - Apply on damp skin to trap in moisture.
  • Always use after your toner, serum, or moisturiser.
  • Apply last in your routine 
  • Start with applying it in the evening as this is when the skin has time to rest and repair.

Both products are highly concentrated and frequently come in a glass bottle with a dropper or pump for easy application.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you have any questions you want me to answer in future Q&A posts, leave your questions in the comment section below!



I'm a vegan with a passion for sustainability and clean, cruelty-free products. I mainly write lifestyle, wellness and self-care articles. Since I'm a true crime enthusiast, sometimes I also write about true crime and post videos on my two YouTube channels.


Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment! If you ask a question I will answer it asap. – Cosette

  1. Bio France lab offers environmentally friendly skincare products that are free from animal cruelty. For over a decade, we have worked with ethical suppliers to bring you a range of skincare treatments that address different concerns, from wrinkles and eczema to acne and hyper-pigmentation. We use a range of natural cleansers, creams, serums, masks, and more to ensure your specific skincare needs are met.

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