So *This* Is Why You Should Apply Serum Before Moisturizer
by Jessica DeFino

Serums and moisturizers go together like peanut butter and jelly, like cookies and milk, like pizza and ranch dressing. (I can’t be the only one who’s into that last combo, right?) Whatever your pizza dipping preferences are, my point stands: The best serum and moisturizer combinations prove the two are better together than they are apart — really, they were made to complement each other.

Serum should be applied first, since products in this category are usually water-based and lightweight, and contain active ingredients targeted towards a particular skin issue. For example, vitamin C brightens and improves hyperpigmentation, while hyaluronic acid, which can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water, adds hydration. The low molecular weight of a serum means these ingredients should easily penetrate the top layer of skin, sink deep into pores, and get to work. But in order to do its job effectively, serum needs a teammate: moisturizer. Moisturizers are heavier than serums, and typically feature emollients (like beeswax and shea butter) or occlusives (like silicones and mineral oil) to help “lock in” moisture — and lock in the actives of the underlying serum. To continue the pizza metaphor, think of serum as the sauce and moisturizer as the cheese. Without a layer of cheese (moisturizer) baked on top, the sauce (serum) would slide right off.


You can’t just apply any serum-moisturizer combo and expect delicious results, though. Ahead, derms break down the exact ingredients to look for — and their favorite product duos — based on your skin type.

Dry Skin: Hyaluronic Acid + Ceramides

“Hyaluronic acid acts as a humectant and pulls water into the skin,” Dr. Sejal Shah, the founder of SmarterSkin Dermatology, tells The Zoe Report — which is why this ingredient is her top pick for those dealing with dry, flaky skin. As for what moisturizer to pair with your favorite hyaluronic acid serum? Dr. Shah suggests one with ceramides or niacinamide. “Ceramides hydrate the skin, and both ceramides and niacinamide help strengthen the skin barrier, which allows the skin to hold on to moisture and stay more hydrated,” she says.

Oily Skin: Grapeseed Oil + Silica

For oily skin, I like serums that have oil-balancing ingredients and a mattifying moisturizer,” Dr. Shah says. She’s a fan of Odacite's Gr+G Serum. “It contains grapeseed oil to balance sebum production and grapefruit oil, which acts as an astringent,” the dermatologist explains. “For a moisturizer, try La Roche Posay's Effaclar Mat, which uses a unique Sebulyse technology and lipo-hydroxy acid to reduce oil, and silica to immediately mattify and reduce shine.”

Mature Skin: Vitamin C + Peptides

Mature skin concerns include both signs of aging and dryness,” Dr. Shah says, so she recommends a serum-moisturizer pairing that gives collagen production a boost. “Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to boost collagen synthesis, improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, brighten skin, and reduce hyperpigmentation,” she says. “Moisturizers made with peptides can potentially boost collagen, too.”

Acne-Prone Skin: Salicylic Acid + Green Tea Extract

According to Dr. Shah, those with acne-prone skin should focus on two things: Keeping pores free from buildup and reducing inflammation. “Serum with salicylic acid or an ingredient from which salicylic acid is derived, like willow bark extract, helps exfoliate skin and unclog pores,” she says, citing Juice Beauty Blemish Clearing Serum as a favorite. Next, she recommends a moisturizer made with green tea extract. “Green tea has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and some data shows it can improve acne and reduce oil production,” Dr. Shah says.

Combination Skin: Hyaluronic Acid + Dimethicone

“Combination skin can be tricky to treat,” Dr. Rita Linkner, a board-certified dermatologist with Spring Street Dermatology, tells The Zoe Report. A hyaluronic acid serum is a safe bet, since the ingredient is a universal crowd-pleaser. “For moisturizer, I recommend Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion, as it provides emollients to moisturize, as combination skin still needs hydration,” Dr. Linkner says.

Sensitive Skin: Chamomile + Glycerin

Since sensitive skin is almost always on the verge of a reaction, Dr. Shah suggests seeking out calming ingredients across the board. “Murad Sensitive Skin Soothing Serum contains chamomile and arnica to soothe skin, as well as hyaluronic acid and glycolipids to provide hydration,” she says. “La Roche Posay Toleriane Double Repair Moisturizer contains thermal spring water to soothe sensitive skin, as well as glycerin (a humectant), ceramides, and niacinamide.”