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Wrinkle Serums vs. Wrinkle Creams: Is there a Difference?

Michelle Green
By: Senior Editor & Skincare Expert  |  Michelle Green

The short answer to this question is a resounding “yes”.

For most people, though, that one word answer isn’t enough. And odds are that if you’re reading this article, you are probably confused about what makes a serum a serum and a cream a cream. There are some very important differences between the two products, and knowing the specifics can be an essential part of knowing your beauty regimen.

In this article:

  1. Difference #1: Wrinkle Creams and Wrinkle Serums have Different Textures
  2. Difference #2: Serums are like Snipers; Creams are like Grenades
  3. Difference #3: Serums are Transparent; Creams are Opaque
  4. Difference #4: Serums vs Creams = Oils vs Lotions?
  5. A Closing Note about Serums vs. Creams

Difference #1: Wrinkle Creams and Wrinkle Serums have Different Textures

Whether a product is oil-based or water-based can make all the difference.

Wrinkle creams are typically oil-based, while wrinkle serums are usually water-based. This is a very important difference, as it might even determine whether the beauty product you buy actually moisturizes your skin or leaves your face looking like a mess.

Some oil-based products (but not all) are “comedogenic”, which means they can clog your pores and irritate your skin. If you already have oily skin or combination skin, using an oil-based wrinkle cream instead of a water-based wrinkle serum could give you breakouts or leave your skin feeling greasy and shiny.

Water-based products like serums are more easily absorbed by your skin and the active ingredients will penetrate better, resulting in a stronger effect. However, if you have extremely dry skin, a water-based serum may have trouble delivering the higher level of moisture which your skin needs.

Difference #2: Serums are like Snipers; Creams are like Grenades

Difference #2: Serums are like Snipers; Creams are like Grenades
Sometimes, beauty is war.

The military reference may seem odd when talking about beauty products, but it’s an appropriate analogy. Serums typically contain a stronger concentration of active ingredients than creams, and are used to target specific areas or problems. For example, eye serums are especially popular for targeting crow’s feet, puffiness, and sagging skin in the delicate area under the eye.

Creams, on the other hand, are generally formulated to deliver moisture all over your entire face. Because you are supposed to use more of the product, they also tend to come in larger containers, whereas serums are usually packaged in tiny bottles. The label on the back of a jar of wrinkle cream might instruct you to apply a quarter-sized dollop of the product over the entire area of your face, whereas most serums only require a drop or two to be applied to a small area.

Difference #3: Serums are Transparent; Creams are Opaque

Difference #3: Serums are Transparent; Creams are Opaque
The difference is clear… ish.

This difference might seem marginal at first, until taking a closer look at why the difference exists at all. This is because serums do not have any occlusive, airtight moisturizing ingredients, and don’t have a need for nearly as many thickening agents. Serums are meant, mostly, to be administered with a dropper or pipette, meaning that they can be thinner and liquidy without posing a problem. This traces back to the fact that they are water-based, and thus have a lower natural viscosity than oil or oil-based creams. 

So what? 

So they penetrate faster, as discussed above, and this faster penetration can be either beneficial or very problematic. If you have oily skin and need the power of a serum, it can do wonders. But if you have a skin-drying condition or sensitive skin, it can lead to severe irritation. It is important not only to know the difference between these products, but the condition of your own skin. Each product is designed with a particular task in mind; you need to select the one which will help your skin the most.

Difference #4: Serums vs Creams = Oils vs Lotions?

Difference #4: Serums vs Creams = Oils vs Lotions?
With so many products, who’s to know what’s what?

We have established that most serums are water based, so how can they even be remotely the same as oils and oil sticks? And are all creams actually lotions? What about crèmes? Moisturizers? Balms? Who can tell? If anyone else is confused, you are absolutely not alone. Most people throw around these terms interchangeably, not at all realizing there are actual differences. 

It’s all about the ingredients and the intended use. 

Serums are water-based semi-viscous liquids with high concentrations of active ingredients to zap problem areas hard and fast. 

Creams are oil-based viscous products with a wider array of anti-aging ingredients, mostly aimed at all-over moisturization and water retention.

Crèmes are the Americanized version of the French word. There is no discernable quality difference between a cream and a crème, but there is very often a price difference.

Oils or oil sticks are either solo extracts or a combination of essential oils made to be a simple, on-the-go skin hydration solution. They are concentrated, waxy version of creams. 

Lotions can be oil or water based, and are often a combination of both. They are typically much milder, and sold in much larger containers. They rarely have the anti-aging power of their smaller, more concentrated beauty opponents.

A Closing Note about Serums vs. Creams

A Closing Note about Serums vs. Creams
Most cosmetic companies make entire lines so that all the products work together.

Trying to decide between a serum or a cream doesn’t have to be an either/or choice. Often, beauty gurus will pair serums with creams in an extended beauty regimen. Serums are usually applied first because they get absorbed quickly into the skin with little or no residue left behind, and can even prime your facial skin to better receive the positive effects of your favorite wrinkle cream. But in the end, it all comes down to what specific type of skin you have and what will work best for your anti-wrinkle needs. Take a look at our wrinkle cream reviews and wrinkle serum reviews for an in-depth look at the top products on the market today.

Michelle Green
Senior Editor & Skincare Expert
Michelle Green is a well-established aesthetician with over 20 years experience in skincare. She has researched over 5,000 products over the past decade, striving to help her readers fine-tune their skincare routine so they can get the results they want.
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