How it works:

  • Share your skin goals and snap selfies

  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

How it works:

  • Share your skin goals and snap selfies

  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

Everything you need to know about water-based serums for skincare

These products can help to give your skin an extra boost of hydration.

Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team
Sep 06, 2022 · 6 min read

Share
makeup cosmetic texture
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
  1. blog
  2. > Skin Treatments
  3. > Everything you need to know about water-based serums for skincare

A lot of people think face serums have a high concentration of oil, which can leave a greasy finish. But did you know that a water-based serum can be just as effective—sometimes better—at treating your skin? 

Water-based skincare is growing in popularity as more and more people recognize its benefits. Face serums are a totally optional part of your skincare routine—but a hydrating serum can be a great supplement, especially if you have dry skin. 

What is water-based skincare?

In short, water-based skin care products contain water as their primary ingredient. Products with water as the headliner tend to be lighter and more easily absorbed into your skin. Because a water-based serum for the face is fast-absorbing, you can immediately apply moisturizer, sunscreen, and makeup afterward. 

Water-based products can be a great addition to your skincare routine, especially for those with sensitive skin. But because they’re usually non-greasy and non-comedogenic, they work well with any skin type. Water-based skincare quenches your skin’s thirst and provides instant hydration, in addition to having an anti-aging effect by helping reduce the appearance of fine lines.  

What are serums? How to use them

Face serums are lightweight, topical skincare products that are designed to deliver active ingredients straight to your skin. Serum formulations are designed to penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin, targeting skincare conditions like acne, dryness, fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone. 

Most serums come with either a dropper or a pump as an applicator. How to apply serum depends on whether you’re using a water- or oil-based serum and the applicator. You typically apply facial serums after cleansing, but before moisturizing. 

After cleansing your skin, pat your face dry. If you use a toner, apply the toner after cleansing. Then, add two to three drops or one pump of nourishing serum to the palm of your hand. Gently apply the serum to your face. Just remember, a little goes a long way. And don’t rub your palms together—doing so only wastes product!  

Water-based vs. oil-based serum

Water-based versus oil-based: Which serum is better? In short, it depends. There are three main factors to consider when deciding between water-based and oil-based serums: your skin type, the time of day you use it, and the season. 

  1. Skin type. If your skin type is oily, a water-based serum may be the way to go. That’s not to say that oil-based products are bad for your skin. Just as long as the oil is non-comedogenic—meaning that it won’t clog your pores—it’s fine to use. On the other hand, if your skin feels dry, an oil-based serum can help moisturize and hydrate your skin. 

  2. Time of use. Whether you use the serum at night or in the morning largely depends on the ingredients. For example, serums with alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)—like glycolic acid—should be used at night because these ingredients may increase your skin’s sensitivity to UV radiation.¹,² If your serum doesn’t contain ingredients that increase sun sensitivity (like AHAs or retinol), you can use either oil-based or water-based serums in the morning or at night. Always follow up your morning routine by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30—regardless of the other ingredients in your products.

  3. Season. The seasons and weather can influence oil production and acne. Cold winter months tend to come with drier air—which can then lead to dry skin. And indoor heating only exacerbates this condition. In fact, you may want to change your skincare routine during the winter to combat dryness and skin irritation that can lead to more breakouts.

Just as winter conditions can dry out your skin, the heat and humidity of summer can cause our oil glands to secrete more sebum. That’s why it can be helpful to refresh your routine in the summer and shift to oil-free products. As the temperature rises, so can the amount of oil on the surface of your skin. Using a lighter, water-based serum during the warmer months can help keep fat to a minimum. In the winter, a profoundly hydrating oil-based serum might be the right choice, especially if you’re experiencing dry skin. And if you’re looking for age-defying serums, we’ve got you covered!

woman applying serum

Benefits of water-based serums

Here are some additional benefits of water-based serums:  

  • Quick absorption. Because the main ingredient is water, it’s easily and quickly absorbed into your skin. It doesn’t tend to leave your skin greasy, and there’s generally no need to wait before applying moisturizer, sunscreen, and makeup. 

  • Light and non-comedogenic. Most water-based serums fit both of these descriptions. Non-comedogenic ingredients are a must for those with acne-prone skin—you won’t be doing your skin any favors using a water-based serum if it's full of pore-clogging ingredients. 

  • Efficient delivery of water-soluble ingredients. Water-based serums often contain vitamin C and hyaluronic acid—two skincare superstars that are water-soluble. Vitamin C is an abundant antioxidant and free radical scavenger that helps protect against sun damage, reduce the signs of aging, and even skin tone. Vitamin C also helps promote collagen formation, which can help reduce the appearance of wrinkles.³ (And on that note, here's a list of our fav vitamin C serums.) 

Hyaluronic acid (HA) has the unique ability to retain water and is vital for maintaining the skin’s moisture. HA is seriously hydrating, and hyaluronic acid serum has been shown to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and roughness by increasing the skin’s hydration and moisture content.⁴

Curology full-service skincare

If you’re already a Curology member, you can message your licensed dermatology provider to discuss whether you should go with a water- or oil-based serum in their skincare routine.

Not yet a Curology member? Subscribe today for a free 30-day trial and receive a customized skin care plan personalized to address your skin concerns. Just take a short quiz and snap a few selfies. If Curology is right for you, we’ll pair you with a licensed dermatology provider who will create a custom formula with up to three active ingredients to target your skincare goals. Along with your personalized Curology formula, you’ll receive a cleanser and moisturizer to round out your skincare program.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Subject to consultation. 30-day trial. Just cover $4.95 in S&H.
curology bottle
curology bottle

Our products are designed by dermatologists to be non-comedogenic, dye-free, paraben-free, and hypoallergenic—made to improve the health of your skin. Interested? You can get a free month of Curology*—just pay $4.95 (plus tax) to cover shipping and handling on your first box. After that, you can cancel at any time or choose the subscription plan that works for you.

FAQs

What is water-based skincare?

Water-based skincare products contain water as their primary ingredient. Products with water as the headliner tend to be lighter and more easily absorbed into your skin. Water-based products can be a great addition to your skincare routine, especially for those with sensitive skin.

What are serums? How to use them

Most serums come with either a dropper or pump as an applicator. How to apply serum depends on whether you’re using a water- or oil-based serum and the applicator. After cleansing your skin, pat your face dry. If you use a toner, apply the toner after cleansing. Then, add two to three drops or one pump of nourishing serum to the palm of your hand. Gently apply the serum to your face.

what are the benefits of water-based serums?

Some additional benefits of water-based serums include Quick absorption because the main ingredient is water, Light and non-comedogenic, most water-based serums fit both of these descriptions.

  • Light and non-comedogenic. Most water-based serums fit both of these descriptions. Non-comedogenic ingredients are a must for those with acne-prone skin—you won’t be doing your skin any favors using a water-based serum if it's full of pore-clogging ingredients. 

  • Efficient delivery of water-soluble ingredients. Water-based serums often contain vitamin C and hyaluronic acid—two skincare superstars that are water-soluble. Vitamin C is an abundant antioxidant and free radical scavenger that helps protect against sun damage, reduce the signs of aging, and even skin tone. Vitamin C also helps promote collagen formation, which can help reduce the appearance of wrinkles. (And on that note, here's a list of our fav vitamin C serums.) 

Hyaluronic acid (HA) has the unique ability to retain water and is vital for maintaining the skin’s moisture. HA is seriously hydrating, and hyaluronic acid serum has been shown to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and roughness by increasing the skin’s hydration and moisture content.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Kornhauser, A., et al. The Effects of Topically Applied Glycolic Acid and Salicylic Acid on Ultraviolet Radiation-Induced Erythema, DNA Damage and Sunburn Cell Formation in Human Skin. Journal of Dermatology Science. (July 2009).

  2. Skin Cancer Foundation. When Beauty Products Cause Sun Sensitivity.Sun & Skin News. (2018, November 16).

  3. Telang, P. S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. (2013).

  4. Jegasothy, S.M., et al. Efficacy of a New Topical Nano-hyaluronic Acid in Humans. Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (March 2014). 

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Kristen Jokela, NP-C

Kristen Jokela, NP-C

Related Articles

What is retinol and where does it come from?Ask the experts: How to treat miliaHow jojoba seed oil can benefit your skinExpert-approved tips to help you control oily skinHow you can prevent acne with an effective (and simple) skincare routine

Popular Articles

Seasonal summer foods for healthier skinMoisturizers for sensitive skinFoundation matching: how to find your skin tone?How to shrink a cystic pimpleAcne vs. rosacea: what’s the difference?
30-day trial. $4.95 S&H. Subject to consultation.
Get StartedWhy CurologyGuidesOur StoryCommunity
SupportBlogReviewsCareersContact Us
Follow @curology
Vegan and Cruelty Free Stamp, est. 2014
Terms of ServicePrivacy Notice
Do Not Sell My Personal Information
All Rights Reserved © 2022 Curology