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Serum, Cream, or Lotion? What’s the Difference?

Each has a unique use and benefit. Here’s how they work.

Different Formulations for Different Needs

With the number of skincare products on the market today, trying to find what works for you can be difficult. Especially with the vast variety in formulations: including serums, creams, lotions, and more.

The biggest difference between serums, cream, and lotions is the ingredients they don’t contain. Serums, for example, typically don’t include airtight (also called “occlusive”) moisturizing ingredients, which can keep water from evaporating and have fewer thickening or lubricating components.

So, is one better than the other? The fact is: each has its own way of delivering benefits to your skin.

Serum

Serums

Serums are typically water-based and are intended for use under a moisturizer. They target a variety of different skin issues, such as uneven tones, lines and wrinkles, redness or rash, and other conditions. They generally contain a high concentration of vitamins, acids, antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and acids. Their main purpose is to penetrate deeply in the skin to repair.

Creams

As far as water content, creams have less than serums and lotions, so they’re richer and thicker. Creams act to create a physical barrier that can help seal in moisture. Cream formulations attempt to mimic your skin’s protective barrier and contain ingredients like fatty acids, cholesterol, ceramides, and more. The concentrations of such are dependent on what they’re trying to achieve. Creams can help boost your natural protective barrier, subsequently treating dry, rough, flaky itchy, and cracked skin.

Lotions

Lotions are higher in water content, lighter weight, non-greasy, and penetrate the skin more easily—when compared to creams. Skincare experts note that every lotion is a moisturizer, but not every moisturizer is a lotion. Since lotions are light and don’t clog pores or leave behind residue, they’re good for oily skin. They can be formulated in several ways. For example, lotions with a high oil and wax content are often used for very dry skin, or as an overnight face treatment. Dissimilarly, lotions can help keep oily skin hydrated, especially in dry climates or during cold winters.

No matter what formulation you choose, the goal is to keep your skin protected and hydrated. Make sure you read labels and research what works best for your skin and needs.

Sources:

  • “Facial Serum vs. Facial Moisturizer: What's the Difference?” Byrdie.
  • “The Truth About Facial Serums.” WebMD.
  • “Lotion vs. Cream—Here Are the Main Differences Between These Moisturizers.” WellandGood