Hair Oils vs. Serums: How Knowing the Difference Can Transform Your Hair Care Routine

FYI, they're not the same.

How do I know if I’m using a serum or an oil?

Hair oils are nature’s multitaskers—able to solve everything from treating split ends and a dry scalp to taming flyaways and smoothing out frizz. How? Hair oils lubricate the hair and can penetrate the cuticles, causing changes to the hair structure by adding fatty acids to replace the lipids in your hair. This can result in fewer split ends and prevent breakage. There is a perfect oil for every hair type—though the process of finding your perfect match can be a game of trial and error.

If you’re unsure about which one to add to your hair wardrobe, we’ve detailed the main differences between hair serums and oils, below.  No matter what you pick, your hair is sure to thank you later!

What myths need to be debunked?

The words hair and oil together can be terrifying to people who have been lead to believe that applying oil to the hair (especially those with naturally oily strands) will leave it heavy and greasy. In fact, a small amount of oil distributed evenly can nourish strands, protect fragile ends, and enhance shine.

Serums containing silicones also get a bad rep, but it’s important to remember that everything manmade isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, silicones can give hair a much needed boost and protect from damage caused by styling, managing or manipulating hair.

Should I apply oils and serums the same way?

Hair oil is a fantastic multitaskers that fit better into the hair care arena, with formulas (that don’t always contain silicone) designed to penetrate the cuticle, manipulating change in the hair structure, rather than simply coating it. As for the benefits? There are so many! Not only are they fantastic lubricants that can help with detangling wet hair, but they’re also great heat protectants, thanks to the sealing properties of the oil. That said, they can help control frizz and give shine, as well as soothe and hydrate individual strands for longer-lasting results.

While everybody – no matter their hair type – will benefit from using some kind of hair oil at least once a week, being the ultimate frizz-fighter, hair serums are most effective on thick, curly, or unruly locks, and those who want a product to aid easy styling, and achieve smooth, glossy results.

The best way to apply hair serum is to freshly-washed wet or damp hair. And remember, less is more in this instance: only a few drops are needed to do the job. Some serums can also be used for midday touch-ups but try not to apply to dirty hair as it may only enhance your days-old look.

Tip: for easy and effective application, flip your hair over and start applying from the tip upwards, concentrating more on the ends and lengths.

Read the labels

If you don't read the rest of the label, you'd pick this orange liquid drop shaped bottle up thinking you've got some fancy blend of jojoba oil and Amla extract. But a closer look at the front and back labels confirms this is a serum. And there is nothing wrong with that! Do not expect a hair serum to nourish and moisturize your hair, because serums are typically not water-based and often times the natural oils and extracts are so far down on the list, they aren't present in concentrations enough to be effective.


Su ("Sue") Beauty 

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