MEDILOGIN | Medical Academy

Cream or serum?

The skin has always held an important position within medicine. Even the writings of Hippocrates contain formulas for the elimination of “traces of aging”. The skin, as the largest organ of the human body, occupies a special position in the aging process of humans (1). Nowadays, almost everyone uses a hydrating cream daily. But which daily routine is the best one?

What is the difference between a lotion and a serum?

The difference lies in the galenic formulation. The galenic formulation deals with the principles of preparing and combining medicines in order to optimize their absorption. The term ‘galenic’ is named after Claudius Galen, a second century Greek physician who codified the preparation of drugs using multiple ingredients.

He described numerous cosmetic preparations, an example being his famous cold cream (unguentum refrigerans), which was very popular among Roman women of his time who wanted to alleviate the effects of aging (2). These so-called “cold creams” are unstable water in oil emulsions that break on the skin and segregate. Thus, shortly after application of the cold cream, there is an increased release of water from the preparation.

Effectiveness through the overall formulation

A well-formulated and skin condition-based foundation has been proven to have many beneficial effects on the skin, while a too rich foundation applied to seborrheic skin can lead to breakouts, defined as acne cosmetica. In addition, the efficacy of many skincare agents is strongly dependent on the overall formulation.

When considering a water-in-oil emulsion or Vaseline, only a moderate penetration of vitamin E into the skin can be achieved. Using a micro or nano-emulsion, for example, can significantly improve its effectiveness (3). This is why not every face cream is the same, even if one is advertised to contain the same main ingredients.

Serums for face care

A formula that allows carrying of a high concentration of active ingredients is the so-called serum, a low-viscosity gel. In addition, a serum provides a great deal of moisture and thus absorbs quickly. The cushioning effect of anti-aging serums is therefore immediately visible. However, serums contain hardly any moisturizing ingredients.

Skin care through the combination of serum and cream

Skincare products designed to increase the skin’s moisture content are among the best-selling skincare products. The use of moisturizing agents is not only an essential principle of the moisturizing and rehydrating care of dry skin, but also of the treatment and preventative care of aged skin.

These agents complement the natural barrier of the skin, protect against dehydration, and can smooth fine lines through discrete swelling of the upper layer of the skin, known as the stratum corneum (4).  For this reason, a skincare routine based on the application of a serum and then hydration with a cream is recommended.

Table of Contents


  1. Kerscher M. Dermatokosmetik. Steinkopff Verlag. 2009.
  2. Pai-Dhungat JV, Parikh F. Claudius Galen (130-201 A.D.). J Assoc Physicians India. 2015 Mar;63(3):21-2.
  3. Martine MC, Bobin MF (1984) Role des micro- émulsions dans l-absorption percutanée de l’alpha-tocophérole. J Pharm Belg 39:348–354
  4. Böni R, Burg G. Altershaut: physiologische Grundlagen, prophylaktische Maßnahmen und Therapieansätze. Schweiz Med Wochenschr 2000. 130:1272–1278