nourishing botanical facial balm moisturizer from Fawn Lily Botanica

Facial Serum, Oil, Balm, or Cream? The differences and how to layer moisturizers

What is the difference between a facial serum, oil, balm, and lotion/cream? And, can you use them together? If you’ve ever wondered about this, you’re definitely not alone! These are questions that we often receive.

  • Oil Based Facial Serums are the most concentrated and moisturizing option. Made from oils pressed from nuts, seeds, kernels, fruits, or derived from animals, these formulas are very effective since they are not diluted. Oil-based serums are often the best choice for dry, mature, and sensitive skin types.
  • Emulsified Facial Serums are a made from a blend of oils, water-based ingredients, and often contain waxes, butters, and active ingredients. These formulas are lightweight, concentrated, and hydrating. They are great for those with normal, oily, and combination skin types. They can also be used as a base layer for those with dry and mature skin.
  • Facial Creams and Lotions are similar to emulsified facial serums since they are made from a combination of water-based and oil-based ingredients, plus usually contain wax and butters. They are hydrating as well as moisturizing, but less concentrated than emulsified or oil-based facial serums.
  • Facial Balms are oil based, and they often contain butters and waxes. Unlike creams and lotions, there is no water in these formulas, which makes them more concentrated. Facial balms are very rich, protect plus moisturize, they are ideal for mature and dry skin, and they offer protection during dry, cold, and harsh weather.
  • Water Based Facial Serums: These are facial serums made from a blend of water-based ingredients (no oils). They are hydrating, lightweight, and often contain active ingredients like hyaluronic acid and vitamin C. While beneficial, these products need strong synthetic preservatives in order to prevent them from going rancid quickly, so make sure to read ingredient lists carefully!

Can you use all of these? Absolutely! Creams/lotions or balms can be layered with serums depending on your skin type and your skin’s needs which will likely change throughout the year. Just as the weather undergoes seasonal changes throughout the year you may find that your skin's needs also change. For example, you may find that you need lighter products in the spring and summer and thicker, more protective products in the autumn and winter. For all skin types, we recommend applying facial moisturizers twice per day: in the morning and before bedtime, after washing your face and applying a toner.

To layer: Use cream/lotion before serum (serums helps lock in the hydration), or use balm after serum (the balm helps protect skin and seals in the serum layer).

Everyone's skin is unique to us and has it's own unique needs! So, it's always best to listen to your skin and let it tell you what it needs. However, here are some basic guidelines on layering that work for many folks:

Dry & Mature Skin: These skin types need a lot of moisture and protection. Oil-based serums are usually the first choice for dry and mature skin since they are so concentrated. Emulsified serums can also be used (the active ingredients and hydration can be really beneficial for these skin types), as a first layer for these skin types. A facial balm or thick facial cream may be needed as a secondary layer over the serum in order to help really lock in moisture and further protect the skin. Dry and mature skin types often need to reapply serum, cream, or balm during the day as needed - especially in dry conditions.

Normal Skin: Lucky you! You have the easiest skin to care for, and likely don't have to do much to keep your skin looking great! You can likely use any combination of facial oils, serums, balms, creams, lotions, etc. For you, a facial serum may be the only product that you'll need, perhaps adding a facial cream, lotion, or balm as a secondary layer during dry or harsh weather.

Oily, Acne-Prone & Combination Skin: Use a lightweight facial oil designed for oily/combination skin, or an emulsified facial serum. Lotions, balms, and creams may not be needed for your skin type, but they can be used as needed. For combination skin, there are sometimes areas of the face that feel dry, tight, or in need of a little extra moisture or protection, so simply apply additional moisturizer to those specific spots.

Looking for additional information or for products that will help nourish, protect, and moisturize your skin? We offer a wide variety of botanical based facial care products in our shop for all skin types! Designed specifically from herbs and plants known to benefit and naturally balance skin, and handcrafted in small batches from our warehouse studio in Oregon.

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Irene Wolansky Fawn Lily Botanica
Irene is the owner, founder, formulator, and chief maker at Fawn Lily Botanica. Prior to beginning Fawn Lily Botanica in 2012, she worked within the natural and herbal product industries for two decades. Her herbal medicine and skin care articles and recipes have been featured and published in national magazines, blogs, newsletters, and journals including Willow and Sage Magazine, MaryJanesFarm Magazine, Mountain Rose Herbs, the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) Journal, EarthFirst Journal, Farming Magazine, Amaze Magazine, Eugene Magazine, and the Eugene Weekly among others. In her spare time, she can be found chasing her energetic twins around and exploring Oregon’s wild places.
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