Facial Serum Before or After Moisturizer? | Routine Steps

Picture of a serum dropper bottle and a tube of moisturizer with the serum first.

One of the most common skin care routine questions that I get from patients in my dermatology practice is about serums and moisturizers and if you use the serum or moisturizer first.

Should I use a face serum before or after moisturizer?

 

You always use face serum before a moisturizer unless the serum is an oil.

 

There are two exceptions to this rule:

1. Facial oils can be applied before or after moisturizer

2. Retinoids such as retinol serum are always applied after a moisturizer until you get used to them.  See specific retinoid serum instructions here.

All serums that meet the classic definition of a serum and are not oils or retinoids should be followed with a moisturizer that is right for your Baumann Skin Type. [1]

To find which moisturizer is right for you- learn more about moisturizers here.

 

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When I discuss if you should use a moisturizer after a serum, I am referring to the classic definition of serums.  Some products that claim they are serums are actually oils.  You do not need to use a moisturizer after using an oil serum because they contain occlusive ingredients.  However, most serums do not have many fats or oils, so they do not have much occlusive effect.

Applying a cream after your serum is like slugging your skin to boost absorption.

 

Occlusive ingredients do 2 things:

  • They help keep water from evaporating off of the skin
  • They push ingredients into the skin. How well they do this depends upon the types of fatty acids in the occlusive and what other ingredients are in the occlusive. For example, oleic acid found in olive oil is one of the best penetration enhancers used in skin care moisturizers.[2] ,[3],[4]

 

Because most serums do not have many occlusive ingredients, they will evaporate off of the skin and not penetrate well into the skin unless they are covered by a moisturizer.

 

Face Oil or Moisturizer first?

If your serum is a facial oil, it is not a serum in the classic definition because it has fatty acids and occlusive ingredients.  Facials oils can be applied before or after moisturizers.  We usually apply oils after the moisturizer in our skin care routines. How to decide if oil serums go before or after moisturizers depends upon:

  1. Your Baumann Skin Type
  2. What ingredients are in the moisturizer?
  3. Which fatty acids are in the facial oil?

 

There is no need to stress about choosing serums and deciding when to use them in your skin care routine.  We do it all for you.  Our dermatologists have developed over 40,000 regimen templates that take all of the science into account. 

All you have to do is take the quiz.  You will receive skin care routine steps in our skin care regimen builder and you will be able to choose products from many brands for each step.  You can be certain that the serums and moisturizers are in the correct step in the regimen to maximize efficacy of all of your skin care products.

Dr. B In-Blog Images (2240 × 740 px) ...

 

 

[1] Baumann L. Ch 35 Skin Care Regimen Design and Product Layering In Baumann’s Cosmetic Dermatology 3rd Edition (McGraw Hill 2022)

[2] Baumann, L., & Weisberg, E. (2010). Olive oil in botanical cosmeceuticals. In Olives and olive oil in health and disease prevention (pp. 1117-1124). Academic Press.

[3] Touitou, E., Godin, B., Karl, Y., Bujanover, S., & Becker, Y. (2002). Oleic acid, a skin penetration enhancer, affects Langerhans cells and corneocytes. Journal of controlled release80(1-3), 1-7.

[4] Yamane, M. A., Williams, A. C., & Barry, B. W. (1995). Effects of terpenes and oleic acid as skin penetration enhancers towards 5-fluorouracil as assessed with time; permeation, partitioning and differential scanning calorimetry. International Journal of Pharmaceutics116(2), 237-251.

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