What's the difference between a serum, a cream and a lotion?

There isn’t an absolute definition between a serum, a lotion (sometimes referred to as a fluid or fluide) and a cream in the cosmetics industry; companies are free to use whatever descriptors they want.

In general, creams are made by mixing oil with water. They tend to be moisturizing in action and may or may not contain active ingredients such as antioxidants or skin lighteners. Creams are best suited for normal and dry skin types.

Lotions or fluids are very similar to creams in containing both water and oil. They tend to be lighter than creams. Lotions can be used by all skin types, though some oily skin types may find them too heavy. Like creams, lotions may contain active ingredients.

The last type of formulation is a serum. Serums are the newer cousin of creams and lotions and are currently very much in vogue in the cosmetics industry. Serums tend to be thick liquids and are usually (but not always) clear. They are water based which makes them lightweight and quickly absorbed into the skin. Many companies formulate serums for the delivery of topical active ingredients such as Vitamin C, peptides, alpha hydroxy acids or retinols. They are a concentrated way to get anti-aging ingredients into the skin and can be layered under other products without interfering with them. Because serums tend to be light and water based, most skin types can use them.

Here are some of our best selling serums at PhaMix:

1. MaMa Lotion – A high concentration alpha hydroxy formulation for hyperpigmentation and scars.
2. Neostrata Dark Circle Serum – Vitamin K and retinol help to reduce the appearance of dark circles and fine lines.
3. La Roche Posay Active C – 5% Vitamin C helps to boost collagen production and even skin tone
4. La Roche Posay Redermic – Vitamin C and madecassoside boost collagen production and even skin tone
5. Neostrata Skin Brightener – Maximum strength – 20% Vitamin C evens skin tone and boosts collagen production
6. Neostrata Wrinkle Repair – 5% Matrixyl (a peptide) boosts collagen production to reduce the appearance of wrinkles.


Roxanna Felix

I’m a 26 woman searching how to do my skincare, I’ve found lots of creams, lotions and serums that came all together in a set! I didn’t understand why. The explaination was clear enough to me, and now I can tell the reason to use each one.
Thanks so much!
Roxanna, Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico


Glad to hear that you found this useful Roxanna. Let me know if there are other skin care questions that you can’t find answers to; I’d love to answer them here if I can.



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