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

What’s the difference between a facial serum, balm, and lotion/cream? If you’ve ever wondered this, you’re definitely not alone! It's a question that I often receive.

  • Oil based serums are more concentrated than lotions or creams, absorb into skin faster, and are more moisturizing. They are often considered more effective since they are not diluted.
  • Creams or lotions are usually a combination of water-based and oil-based ingredients which means that they are hydrating as well as moisturizing.
  • Balms are oil based, often contain butters and waxes, and usually do not contain water. Balms are very rich, protect plus moisturize, and they are ideal for dry skin and offer protection during cold and harsh weather.

Can you use all three? Absolutely! Cream/lotion or balm can be layered with serum, it all depends 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.

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

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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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