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Navigating the cosmetics counter can be confusing. In addition to new ingredients, better technology and manufacturer’s claims, we have to decide whether our skin needs a serum, a lotion (sometimes referred to as a fluid or fluide) or a cream. How do we decide what’s best for us?  

It’s important to understand that in the cosmetics industry; companies are free to use whatever descriptors they want. And there isn’t an absolute definition of cream, serum or lotion.

Creams vs Serums vs Lotions

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. If you have combination skin, creams will be suitable for those parts of your skin that are dry but may be too heavy for oilier sections.

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.

My Favorites

I have combination skin, which tends to be drier in the winter. My favorite products depend on the season, my skin concern and most importantly, whether a product delivers. Here are some of my current favorites:

1. [Link Removed] - Maximum strength - 20% Vitamin C evens skin tone and boosts collagen production in a lightweight lotion. Great for almost all skin types.  

Sharmani Pillay is a Registered Pharmacist who specializes in anti aging skin care. She owns and operates an online skin care store at [Link Removed] 

Pharmagirl, Your links have been removed, please consider upgrading to premium membership.


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