Creams, Facial Oils, Moisturizers, and Serums: What Are They? And What Do I Really Need?

The beauty industry is intentionally confusing. Big cosmetic companies toss around words like "serum," "facial oil," "cream," and "moisturizer" as if they're four completely different products with completely different functions, and so of course as confused consumers, we feel like we need them all!

One of my missions is to empower us all to consume mindfully and intelligently. Let's define what each of these face-fixers are, and figure out what we really need.

What's the difference?

Cream: A thicker moisturizer, typically water-based, often targeting a specific need or time to use — eye cream, night cream, etc. Because creams are water-based, they require preservatives. They take the longest to absorb.

Facial Oil: An oil-based moisturizer containing no water, which therefore needs no preservatives. The absence of heavier ingredients make facial oils easier to absorb into the skin (the fastest of these four), and the nourishing benefits of the oils are carried deeper.

Moisturizer: Lighter than a cream, but still water-based. Moisturizers absorb fairly quickly and tend to be general/everyday use. The use of water means they need preservatives or they'll grow bacteria. 

Serum: The terms "serum" and "facial oil" are often used interchangeably (I'm even guilty of this sometimes), but they are not always the same. For one thing, many serums contain water, whereas facial oils are made solely with oils. Serums are typically used to target specific skin concerns like acne or anti-aging. The ones that do tend to be pricey because they contain nutrient-rich ingredients and essential oils.

Do I need all of these? What should I use?

No, you don't need all of them. In fact, your bathroom is probably FULL of products you don't need. Like so many other natural beauties, I have adopted a "less-is-more" approach to skincare, and have found this to be very effective. By getting rid of all the unnecessary ingredients and paying attention to what my skin really needs, my skin has never been healthier!

Because I want a 100% natural skincare regimen, I opt for totally oil-based serums or facial oils, rather than water-based (and therefore chemical-preservative-laden) creams or moisturizers. 

However, if you have very dry or mature skin, you may find that facial oils and serums alone won't cut it. In which case, I'd suggest using my serum underneath a thicker cream, like my Whipped Body Butter.

Benefits of Using Facial Oils + Oil-Based Serums

I prefer using facial oils and oil-based serums because...

  • They do not need to contain toxic chemical preservatives.
  • They are lighter and absorb more quickly.
  • they penetrate more deeply into the skin than creams + lotions, to deliver a high concentration of active ingredients.
  • They do not contain fillers or thickening agents, just pure antioxidant-rich, skin-nourishing ingredients.
  • No fillers mean you don't need to use as much of it to moisturize.
  • Heavier ingredients in creams may lock moisture in, but they also prevent nutritive oils from getting into your skin.
  • They are non-greasy, and leave behind no residue.
  • Rather than just nourishing topically as most creams and moisturizers do, oil-based serums and facial oils nourish on a cellular level by restoring, repairing, balancing, softening, and hydrating damaged skin.

What's so great about florapothecarie's Rejuvenating Facial Serum?

My Rejuvenating Facial Serum is full of skin-loving, nutrient-rich, high-antioxidant oils, plus Vitamins A & E, and omega-3 + omega-6 fatty acids. Here's a closer look at its ingredients:

Jojoba Oil — my serum is built on a base of hypoallergenic jojoba oil which is similar to our skin's own natural oils. Jojoba oil absorbs quickly, balances your skin's oil production, and does not evaporate like water-based moisturizers do. More about why I love jojoba oil here.

Rose Hip Seed Oil — high in fatty acids and Vitamin C, which hydrate, rejuvenate tired skin, fade age spots, and smooth fine lines and wrinkles. Though beneficial for all skin types, rose hip seed oil is often used on mature or environmentally damaged skin.

Vitamin E Oil — rich in antioxidants that reduce sun damage and helps prevent and heal scar tissue. Also acts as a natural preservative.

Carrot Seed Oil — the high content of vitamins A, B1, and C present in carrot seed oil fight signs of aging and restores elasticity to the skin. It also helps with eczema and psoriasis, smooths scars, fine lines, and wrinkles.

Geranium Essential Oil — considered by many to be the women’s essential oil, geranium (also known as rose geranium) balances hormones and treats menstrual and menopausal problems. Its fresh, rosy scent uplifts and relieves anxiety. It balances oil production and is especially useful on mature and environmentally damaged skin.

Lavender Essential Oil — this gentle, versatile oil is well known for calming the mind, but did you know it's also a great antiseptic? This makes it fantastic at preventing and healing acne.

Clary Sage Essential Oil — reduces inflammation, balances skin and mind, and relieves stress.

Tea Tree Oil — a strong antibacterial germ-killer, tea tree boosts the immune system to fight off and heal acne. It's a must-have for acne-prone skin, and can even be used undiluted to treat pimples.

Buy Rejuvenating Facial Serum.

What about florapothecarie's Whipped Body Butter?

If you're looking for something thicker, check out my Whipped Body Butter. The majority of the year, I use this primarily on my body. In the winter, I apply it after my facial serum when my skin is particularly dry. It's entirely oil/butter-based (no water = no preservatives) and made of only four ingredients:

Cocoa Butter — wonderfully moisturizing and full of antioxidants. It works wonders on scars, stretch marks, and dry skin.

Coconut Oil — renews and repairs skin. Coconut oil is super moisturizing because it's full of fatty acids, which reinforcing our skin’s natural lipid barrier to lock in moisture. One downside of coconut oil is that it's comedogenic (clogs pores), which is why I use the WBB sparingly on my face. Still, it's great for when your skin needs a little extra moisture boost, and many florapothecarie fans swear by WBB as their primary moisturizer. More about why I love Coconut Oil here.

Shea Butter — incredibly moisturizing Shea butter can hydrate even the driest skin. Plus, it’s and non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog pores. It also helps heal scars and stretch marks.

Jojoba Oil — See above. Seriously, I love this stuff. I put it in almost everything!

Buy Whipped Body Butter.