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Is There a Difference Between Hair Serum and Hair Oil?

Understanding what sets these hair care products apart may make all the difference in the health of your strands.
December 15, 2023

Hair care products aren’t supposed to make you scratch your head in confusion regarding how they work. Products like shampoo, conditioner, hair gel, leave-in conditioners and even hairspray are straightforward products that almost everyone knows how to use. However, there are some products on the shelf (and probably in your hair) that confuse many people, like hair serums and hair oils, for example.

There are numerous questions online about these hair care products that leave people wondering whether the two are interchangeable, or if you even need both. Don’t let hair serums and oils be a hair care product you skip in your routine as all hair types can benefit from them. Ahead, learn more about the two products and if there is a difference between hair serum and hair oil. 

What Is Hair Serum?

Hair serum is a targeted hair care treatment that has a liquid almost water-like texture. In this way, hair serums are similar to face serums. While there are many hydrating hair serums for dry strands out there, there are also options to address various other hair concerns. Another popular type is a frizz serum, like L'Oréal Paris Elvive Dream Lengths Frizz Killer Serum Leave-In, which is used to smooth and soften the hair while packing nutrients within the strand. 

What Is Hair Oil?

Oils and serums have a lot of similarities, but the difference is simple. hair oil has an oil-based formula; Argan oil, coconut oil, olive oil and jojoba oil are all popular ingredients. You may find that hair oil is formulated almost entirely of one of these plant-based ingredients or it could be made up of a blend of different oils. Most hair oils are meant to nourish hair, boost shine or repair damage. An oil can also be used to lock in moisture provided by other hair care products.

What Is the Difference Between Hair Serum and Hair Oil?

First things first, let’s clear something up: A hair serum and an oil are not the same. They’re both hair care products and are often used for dry hair, but having this overlap doesn’t equate to being completely analogous. Hair serums are ideal for reducing frizziness and providing better protection from heat damage and other forms of styling damage. They can also boost moisture and make hair softer and more manageable to style. 

Hair oil can be used on the scalp to care for the hair at the root, and on the lengths of the hair to provide shine, absorb moisture and keep that moisture locked in. Different types of oils are used for different things, giving this product multiple uses and providing something for all hair types. Some hair serums can include oils, creating a sort of hybrid product that offers layers of nourishment and protection to the hair. 

What Is Hair Serum Oil?

The comparability of hair serums and oils isn’t lost on anyone. For this reason, these two hair care product types are often blended into one super product. The result is hair serum oil. This product takes the best parts of both and brings them together. It’s a convenient option that allows you to reap all the benefits (frizz control, shine, nourishment and trapping moisture) and streamline your routine at the same time. We’re fans of hair serum oils ourselves. Below, we’re naming two we recommend.


L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate Free Simply Clean Midnight Color Care Serum

This hair care product is the perfect example of a hair serum that benefits from the infused oils that all hair types will enjoy. Rosemary essential oils are added to the formulation to provide a pleasant scent, while (more importantly) providing shine to your mane. You can use this serum at night for a mini hair treatment so you can wake up with luxurious, ready-to-style hair in the morning. 

L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate Free Simply Clean Sheer Oil

This ultra-lightweight oil promotes shine and and controls frizz on all hair types. To use, simply pump a few drops of the oil into your hands before applying the serum-like oil to your entire mane. Pay extra attention to dry spots that may need more moisture and enjoy the blend of sunflower oil, jojoba oil and coconut oil that add nourishment.

Our Best Hair Serums

L’Oréal Paris Elvive Dream Lengths Frizz Killer Serum Leave-In

Hair serums make the ultimate frizz reducer, and this leave-in product proves just that with a non-greasy texture that minimizes flyaways and static. The silicone-free formula provides nourishment to the exterior of the hair strand while adding a layer of heat protectant up to 450 degrees. Reach for this serum anytime your hair is looking frizzy or if you’re using a heating tool.

L’Oréal Paris Elvive Hyaluron + Plump Moisture Plump Serum, Paraben-Free

Whenever your hair is starting to look a little dull or in need of hydration, add a few pumps of this serum to your hair for instant softening with added shine. The infused hyaluronic acid provides up to 72 hours of moisture without weighing hair down. With a non-greasy texture and the benefits of a serum, this hair care product will become a constant in your routine. 

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When Should You Apply Hair Serum or Oil?

The rules of how to use a hair serum, an oil or a combo product are all about the same. You’ll take a few drops of your formula of choice (two to three drops is plenty) and work them through damp or dry hair from the mid-lengths to the ends. You want to avoid your roots as they may end up looking greasy. The only time you’ll add an oil to your scalp is if the formulation specifically says it can be used there. If you use any ordinary oil or serum you run the risk of clogging your hair follicles and producing buildup that can lead to dryness, itching, irritation or even dandruff. 

Apply to damp hair post-shower as a treatment or use it on dry hair as a shine-boosting finishing touch for any hairstyle. If you’re applying other hair care products, this is where a serum or oil fits in: Apply it second to last. Your hairspray should always be the final step in your hair care and styling routine, and a serum or oil comes just before that. Shampoo, conditioner, masks, mousse, gel and any other hair product should be applied before a serum or oil.

Next: 6 Tips for Bringing Dehydrated Hair Back to Life

Photo Courtesy of L'Oréal Paris

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