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Serums v. Face Oils: A Beginner’s Guide to Skincare

  • 4 min read

Even the most beauty-obsessed can stumble over the differences between serums and face oils (and don’t even get us started on essences, ampoules, and boosters). We get it. It’s confusing! That’s why we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to choosing, using, and layering the best serums and face oils for your skin. 

What is a serum?

A serum is a highly concentrated product which serves as a delivery system for specific, potent skin care ingredients. Popular ingredients include:

  • Vitamin C (corrects hyperpigmentation)
  • Vitamin E (targets dry skin) 
  • Zinc (regulates sebum production) 
  • Green Tea Extract (brightens dull skin)

+ Hyaluronic Acid (helps retain moisture)

While other skin care products may also include these, a serum’sonlyjob is to deliver each ingredient quickly and efficiently to the skin’s molecular level. That’s why you won’t find fillers like emulsifiers or emollients in serums that are so common in cleansers or moisturizers. 

How do you use a serum?

Serums should be applied to a dry face directly after cleansing your skin. Serums are used to target particular skin concerns (hyperpigmentation, dullness, dryness, etc.), so you have the option to only use the product in problem areas or to use it on the entire face. Either way, we recommend patting the product slowly into your skin. 

If you have multiple skin concerns, you can layer serums to achieve your dream results. Just apply each serum in the order of thickness from watery to goopy. Same consistency? Start with the one you want to see the most results from. 

(Editor’s note: Vitamin C doesn’t always play nicely with others. If you’re using a Vitamin C serum, keep it separate from your harsher ingredients like retinol. If you’d like to use both, try one in the morning and one in the evening).

How often should you use a serum?

Depending on the particular product and your specific skin issues, the recommended use of serums will vary. Check your product for specific instructions, but you can’t go wrong using a serum once a day.

Okay, but what about essences?

Essences and serums serve a similar purpose and should be applied in the same manner.  Generally the only difference between each product is the concentration of the ingredients and/or texture. For example, essences tend to be more water based and can be applied via a spray bottle or with your hands. Serums are almost always more viscous (gooey) and must be applied via hand or cotton pad. Essences should be applied right after cleansing, but before serums.

What is a face oil?

Face oils help to both maintain moisture and create a seal for any products—like serums—you’ve applied to your skin. A unique advantage of a face oil is that it mimics your skin’s natural oils. If you’ve damaged your skin’s moisture barrier through over exfoliation or sun damage, a face oil can help you regain balance.

Face oils can include ingredients to improve overall skin tone and texture. Popular ingredients in these products include:

+ Neroli Oil (smoothes fine lines)

  • Jojoba Seed Oil (intensely hydrates)
  • Rosehip Oil (targets uneven skin texture) 
  • Frankincense Oil (brightens dull skin)

Can I use a face oil if I have blemishes or oily skin?

Don’t let the word oil scare you—face oil is an incredible product for any skin type. Face oils are formulated to not clog your pores and work in harmony with your natural sebum production. In short, using face oils can actually help improve oily or blemished skin. 

How do you use a face oil?


At the end of your skin care routine, gently massage your face oil into your skin. Start at your chin and slowly work your way up to your temples.

How often should you use a face oil?

Face oil can be applied on a daily basis as part of a morning and evening skin routine. If this proves to be too heavy or irritating to your skin, try applying it just once in the evening. 

Do I need a face oil and a (cream/gel) moisturizer? 

You can use both, but you certainly don’t need to. It’s really personal preference. Many people layer face oils over moisturizers to seal in extra hydration. 

Can I use both a serum and a face oil?

Absolutely, you just need to know the secret of layering products. 

  • Cleanse and/or exfoliate .
  • Apply your serums (remember: most watery to most viscous). 
  • Moisturize as applicable. 
  • Seal with a face oil.
  • Apply sunscreen.

Some products are marketed as oil-based serums. In that case, use the product last when layering other serums.

Any recommendations?

We wouldn’t be Clad Proper if we didn’t have recommendations! These are our favorite clean serums and oils for healthy, beautiful skin. 

  • Tata Harper Beautifying Face Oil: the perfect face oil for glowing, radiant skin. We recommend this product for anyone struggling with dull or uneven skin tone. 

And that’s a wrap on Serums v. Face Oils! Still have questions? Drop them in the comment section and we’ll make sure to answer them soon.

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