Serums and oils are confusing. Knowing the difference can help you choose the right product for the styles that you want to create and the looks that you want to achieve. Click the notes for the details on hair serums versus hair oils. –– Kelly Rowe


The truth is these products can feel similar in your hand or like complete opposites; it really depends on the brand. The main difference is that serums are going to feel slick and fast, they will never absorb into your skin and will have to be wiped off with a dry rough towel. Oils with feel slick but not as fast and they will eventually absorb into your skin; you will also need soap and water to get them off your hands.

Apply these facts to your hair. A serum is going to stay on the outside, acting as a barrier, the oil is going to absorb into the hair shaft.


Both oils and serums can be heavy, so keep them off of the root area to keep strands from looking greasy and weighed down. Serums can layer onto the strand causing hair to lay completely flat (whether that’s what you want or not). With oils the hair can absorb only so much, which can cause a wet appearance (whether that’s what you want or not). A tiny bit of either product goes a long way.


Oils are the stand out here. While a serum may have a few ingredients for hair health, its true function is a seal on the hair. Oils have health-giving and moisturizing properties, so they are great for styling distressed locks.

Look and Styling

Do you want a product that makes hair soft, shiny, and great for hot tool styling? You want an oil. Oils make hair super soft. These products are made to replicate the feel of natural hair oils, so strands are touchable and light. They are also great for styling with flatirons and curling wands to create reflective styles without hold.

Do you want a products that makes hair smooth, satiny, and with low volume? You want a serum. Serums were made for control without hold. They tame flyaways and frizz. This is a product that works best when applied to damp hair and then hair is blow-dried. The heat activates the product so it can do its job.


If you have fairly smooth hair you may not need the power of a serum; an oil will do. For everyone else, serums win by far with weatherproofing. Most serums are silicone based which encapsulates the hair strand, making it water resistant. To you this means humidity resistant. No product is perfect, but serums will do a better job of protecting you from hot, humid, hair destroying days.

By Kelly Rowe. Kelly Rowe is a professional hair stylist in NYC and a regular contributer to Style Noted.

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