Which Goes First? Serum or Face Oil?

layering face oils and serums

Most of us are using multiple products on the skin and there's a lot of confusion around correctly layering skincare products. Correctly layering serums and face oils is worth getting in the right order to maximize the absorption and efficacy of products. Serums and face oils are different products that have different functions and they should be used at the right step in a skin care routine. Let's start by looking at the difference between the two. 

What’s a Serum? 

Serums are the workhorses of skincare routines. They are formulated with actives and are targeted at addressing specific skin concerns. Actives are ingredients (vitamin C, retinoids, acids, and many others) that affect the function of the skin, such as slowing the breakdown of collagen, treating hyperpigmentation, or accelerating desquamation.  

A serum can be hydrating and moisturizing, especially when formulated with hyaluronic acid or tremella mushroom. This hydrating action doesn't make them moisturizers and using a moisturizer or face oil after applying a serum is an important step for maintaining adequate skin health. Some serums can be more drying than oils and it largely depends on the ingredients. 

More is not always better with serums, especially if they contain high concentrations of actives that could irritate or disrupt the skin’s lipid barrier. Serums can be used day and night. Day use should be targeted for antioxidant protection and night use should be aimed at repair and regeneration of the skin.

What’s a face oil?

All skin types and ages can benefit from face oils. The skin has a natural lipid layer, that protects the deeper dermal layers, and so it has a natural affinity for face oils. Oils, with their high essential fatty acid (EFA) content help to protect and repair the lipid barrier, especially if it has been damaged due to over-exfoliation and environmental stressors. 

Essential fatty acids are key for maintaining a healthy skin barrier. They nourish the skin, keep it hydrated, help to deliver lipid-loving ingredients, and provide anti-inflammatory action to help calm and soothe irritated and sensitive skin. Plant oils also contain high levels of vitamin E, lipid soluble antioxidants and phytochemicals.

Plant oils become increasingly important as we age (so do serums) as skin tends to lose more water and can become chronically dehydrated and lacking in moisture. Oils can help lock in moisture because they form a thin layer of oil on the skin which helps to prevent water loss. Oils spread very easily, so a few drops should be enough to cover the entire face. 

Oil/Serum Hybrids

There are plenty of oil-based serums on the market which are a mix between the two products.They are likely to be formulated to be deeply nourishing and to deliver active ingredients into the skin.These multitasking products can be great for those looking to cut down on the number of products or steps into their routines. 

Layering Skincare Products: When to Apply Face Oil and Serums

Skincare products should be applied lightest to heaviest and water-based products should be closest to the skin. If oil is applied first, then water-based ingredients will not not be absorbed. A serum should be applied directly to the skin, followed by a moisturizer, and then a face oil. 

Skin needs both water and oil for optimal function. To prevent dehydrated skin, a water-based moisturizer should be applied before a face oil. If you want to only use face oil, apply it on damp skin to get the hydrating effects of water alongside the nutritive effects of face oil.   

During the day, serums and oils are applied before your makeup and SPF. At night, oils are the last step in your routine.

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