Hair serum vs. Hair oil: What to use and when

Ink | 22 April 2016

FYI, they’re not the same.

The terms hair serum and hair oil are often used interchangeably, even among industry professionals. Unsurprisingly, not many people can tell, or even know, there’s a difference. And while there’s no such thing as identifying one as better than the other, the two do have distinctive qualities that make them good for entirely different reasons.

The more important question here then, is what should you be using, and when? We know, it can all get rather confusing, so here’s a breakdown of how serums and oils differ, how to apply them, plus a roundup of our favourite products to tempt you to invest in the best one(s) for you.


Hair serum

Hair serum is a silicone-based formulation that coats the surface of your hair, to lock in curl pattern and seal the cuticles. Designed to protect hair from forceful brushing, heat (from electrical styling tools), pollution, and prolonged sun exposure, serums are essentially styling products with added benefits that act also most like a ‘botox’ for your tresses. Serums also possess a light-reflecting quality, which is what makes the strands appear shinier, smoother, and healthier-looking.

Try: Toni&Guy Glamour Serum Drops (£7.49*) and TIGI S-Factor Silky Smooth Moisture Serum (£16.45*).

Hair oils

Hair oils, on the other hand, are 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, they’re also great heat protectants, thanks to the sealing properties of 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.

There’s also a misconception that oils can weigh your tresses down and make them feel heavy, but in reality, highly advanced technology means there are many multi-faceted formulations that are much lighter (and boast multi-functional benefits) on the shelves today than ever before.

Try: TRESemmé Oleo Radiance Oil Elixir (£8.99*) and Alberto Balsam Smooth & Sleek Nourishing Oil (£3.99*).

How to apply them

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

When it comes to oils, the two most important things to consider is that even distribution is essential, and to apply away from the roots, from mid-shaft downwards to the very end of the hair tip (oils are great for camouflaging split ends!). It may help to divide your hair into two horizontal sections, and work the oil through each individually, bearing in mind that those with thicker, coarser locks will need a few more drops for best results.

Feeling more confident about hair serum and hair oil? Let us know which product camp you’re in!

*RRPs are Unilever suggested retail prices only, it is at the discretion of the individual retailers to set the actual price.

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