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Women applying PCA SKIN serum to face
A smiling woman applies serum to her face with a dropper in a mirror.

If you're looking for a surefire way to boost your skin health, hydration is the answer. But with so many different products on the market, it can be difficult to decipher what's actually worth adding to your routine. Case in point: serum vs. moisturizer. You might wonder how they work and if you really need both—or if you can get away with just using one or the other.

Well, we're here to clear this up once and for all. Keep reading to learn the difference between these two skin care MVPs and how and when to use serum vs. moisturizer in your routine for optimal results.


Serum vs. Moisturizer: The Basics

While both serums and moisturizers hydrate and nourish skin, they do so in different ways. Serums are light, highly concentrated solutions that deliver active ingredients deeply into the skin for fast-acting results. On the flip side, moisturizers have a thicker consistency and work on the surface of the skin to prevent water loss by locking in moisture.

Aside from these basic properties, serums and moisturizers differ in a few other ways.


A serum swatch layered over a moisturizer swatch



Serums have a thinner texture than moisturizers. They're typically lightweight and watery, which allows them to absorb into the skin rapidly. Moisturizers tend to be richer and more emollient to seal in moisture.



Serums are more highly concentrated than moisturizers. They're also made with smaller molecules than moisturizers, which allows them to penetrate deeply into the skin



Serums often contain more active ingredients, such as Vitamin C, Retinol, and Niacinamide.



Serums are typically designed to target specific skin concerns, including fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and dryness while moisturizers, in turn, are typically designed to create a protective barrier on top of the skin's surface to prevent water loss and keep the skin hydrated and soft. PCA SKIN is able to offer a unique moisturizer that also works to help brighten your skin in HydraBright.


When to Use Serum vs. Moisturizer

Serum Benefits

If you're looking to treat specific skin care concerns—such as redness and irritation, hyperpigmentation, dehydration, or fine lines and wrinkles—using a serum can be highly beneficial. Here's what serums can do:

  • Absorb quickly into the skin
  • Soothe sensitive, irritated skin
  • Fade fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation
  • Protect skin from free radical damage
  • Offer a lightweight, nongreasy fee
  • Support skin's natural exfoliation process


Moisturizer Benefits

Moisturizer is key to keeping your skin soft, supple, and well hydrated. Moisturizers are especially ideal for preventing and treating dryness and irritation. Here's what moisturizers can do:

  • Prevent water loss, which leads to dehydration
  • Protect skin from environmental damage by strengthening the skin barrier
  • Make skin look plump, smooth, soft, and dewy
  • Increase serums' effectiveness by sealing them into the skin
  • Help soothe irritation and surface-level dryness


Using the Best of Both Worlds

You can give your skin the best that science-backed skin care has to offer by using both serums and moisturizers to supplement one another and support your skin. If you have oily skin, opt for a lightweight moisturizer like PCA SKIN Clearskin. If you have dry skin, try a richer formula like PCA SKIN HydraLuxe. Even if you're using a hydrating serum, top it off with a moisturizer to ensure it stays in the skin instead of evaporating. Before you know it, you'll be on your way to nourished, glowing skin.



Kaleigh Fasanella
Kaleigh Fasanella is a New Jersey-based beauty and wellness reporter with over a decade of experience writing for both digital outlets and brands. She previously worked at magazines like Allure and Teen Vogue before going freelance to write for a variety of publications. While she loves all aspects of beauty, she's especially passionate about skin care and helping others learn about and care for their skin.