Are you confused about oil and serums?

So what's the difference? So do you need both? And how do I use them?

The terms ‘oil’ and ‘serum’ are often used interchangeably in skincare which leads to confusion, with some brands calling what is technically an oil a ‘serum’ and vice versa.

Generally, oils are a combination of potent oils, including essential oils, so expect the texture of an oil when you use one. They contain no water, which means they don’t need preservatives added to them to counteract bacteria growth (bugs need water to survive!). This means you shouldn’t need to worry about preservatives being present in an oil-based product.

These oil blends are high in skin-friendly goodies like vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. We need more fatty acids as we age, as they naturally decline in our skin.

Serums, on the other hand, are water-based, so they have a different texture from an oil.  They work well underneath a moisturizer, which locks in their ingredients and forms a protective layer over the skin.

Oils and serums are the perfect partners in your skin regime because they work in different ways. Serums move into the skin, taking their active ingredients with them to hydrate and tackle skin concerns from within. Meanwhile, oils go to work on the upper layers and surface of the skin, repairing and reducing trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL) to keep your skin hydrated.

Oily skins can benefit from small amounts of facial oils too, as long as you choose wisely. Sometimes people try to combat oily skin by constant cleansing and exfoliation, but this sends a message to the skin to produce yet more oil to replace the natural oils that have been stripped out. A facial oil can help to break this cycle by rebalancing skin to keep oiliness at bay.

However, if you have oily or acne prone skin, you should avoid using products containing occlusive oils (they form a protective barrier on the skin) or comedogenic oils (a tendency to block pores) on your face.

An example of a comedogenic oil is linseed (flaxseed) oil which contains a nourishing blend of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. But, with a high comedogenic rating, it’s best added to your food to nourish your skin from within, rather than applying it directly to your skin. Read more about comedogenic oils here.

When it comes to occlusive oils, while they’re ideal for dry to normal skins, you need to proceed with caution if you’re on the oily side. It also depends on the amount of oil in the formulation – a skincare product with a lower amount of an occlusive oil in it will have less impact on an oily skin than another with a higher amount of the same oil in the blend.

Examples of occlusive oils include petrolatum, lanolin, mineral oil and silicone which are all highly-effective occlusive ingredients, creating a barrier of film on the skin. Other oils in the occlusive line-up include olive oil. While it’s a natural ingredient, it can still cause issues if you experience blocked pores and, to a lesser extent Coconut, Sweet Almond Oil and Apricot Kernel Oil can also be an issue for some oily skins.

So, if you have oily skin, it’s best to test a small amount of the product first to check how it works for you and if you notice your skin doesn’t work well with any particular oils, make a note to avoid them in the future.

These cautionary notes aside, oils are a versatile product in your skincare regime. Add them to your moisturizer or night cream to increase emolliency which will smooth and soften your skin even further, or use in a facial massage. They’re also an indulgent treat for your hands – one of the pain points when it comes to showing your age – just massage a few drops into your hands while you’re chilling in front of the TV.

Facial serums have a potent mix of active water-soluble ingredients, containing molecules small enough to penetrate skin, where they get to work delivering their effectiveness. Their potency is reflected in their more expensive price tag but this means you don’t need as much. Just a few drops are all that’s required – more is not more when it comes to serums! Over-use can lead to sensitivity and breakouts, due to the potency of the cosmeceutical ingredients they contain, so only use sparingly.

You can use both oils and serums in your skincare regime to gain the benefits of both formulations, so change them out depending on how your skin feels. Once again, there are different schools of thought on when to use them, so just relax, experiment and be guided by your skin.

If you’ve never used one before, try using a serum in the morning, to protect your skin during the day, and follow with an oil at night, where it can be absorbed to nourish and heal skin while you sleep. Because oils also generally contain essential oils, their fragrance will also provide a calming, soothing experience to help you sleep.

Once you’ve tried this approach, switch it around and see what works best for your skin and don’t be afraid to adapt as your environment changes. Cooler weather in winter dries your skin out, so you can add more facial oil into your regime to counteract dehydration.

Whichever one you choose, they’re both an easy way to give your skin a boost if you don’t have time, or can’t stretch your budget to a beauty salon treatment. Simply use them on their own as a treat for your skin when you’re having a makeup free day.

Want to try an oil or serum?

Glow Lab Facial Serum contains a powerful blend of multi-active cosmeceuticals, reducing wrinkles, evening skin tone and reducing irritation. Discover more here

Glow Lab Facial Oil deeply hydrates, firms and nourishes skin. It contains a blend of skin-loving oils and Vitamin E to deliver the essential fatty acids your skin needs. Discover more here.

Glow Lab Eye Serum contains clinically-proven ingredients which reduce dark circles, lift upper eyelids and smooth wrinkles. Discover more here.