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  • Post last modified:March 26, 2022
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Hair serum vs hair tonic – ever wondered what’s the difference between these two hair products?

You can often see them side by side on the aisles of your favorite drug store. But they have entirely different purposes.

How then, should you apply them – and does it matter which one you apply first (on dry or wet hair)? Which one do you really need? Find out in this post!

Hair Serum Vs Hair Tonic

The key difference between hair tonic and serum is that the latter is usually meant for styling purposes. It makes hair look shinier and healthier while providing protection from the sun and styling tools. A hair tonic however, stimulates and nourishes the scalp and hair to encourage (hopefully) the growth of stronger hair, and so prevent breakages and hair fall.

Old fashioned hair tonics (in the 50’s) or friction lotions were also used for styling purposes before hair serums ever existed.

The finish of these products tended to be very greasy-looking (that was trendy back then) and they could hold hair in place. Tonics today are often alcohol based and will not look as greasy.

Should I Apply Hair Tonic Or Hair Serum First?

Concerning the right method of application for a hair serum vs hair tonic, you can put the hair tonic on your scalp first and give it some time to absorb while massaging it in lightly with your fingertips.

It’s fine to apply the tonic after a shower. You may need to a run a comb through your hair to distribute the product evenly on your scalp and hair (not necessarily down to the ends of your hair).

Tip: Put your hair tonic into a misting bottle and spritz directly onto your scalp for a less messy application

How To Apply Hair Serum

On the other hand, hair serum is usually the last step in any hair care routine so you can style your hair and tame down frizzies and fly aways before you walk out the door.

Unlike a hair tonic, you don’t have to put hair serum onto your scalp.

Just rub a few drops of hair serum in your palms to warm up the product (and for a more even application), and apply it from mid-shaft to the ends of your hair.

Whether you should put hair serum on dry or damp hair depends on your hair type and the individual product.

Some serums are also meant to act as heat protectants so you should apply them before you start straightening, blow-drying or curling your hair.

Can I Use Hair Tonic Everyday?

If your hair tonic is oil-free, you can probably use it daily if you don’t experience any irritation on your scalp.

Just know that some hair tonics do contain alcohol and can be very drying on your hair with frequent application.

And if you only plan to use a hair tonic and no other hair product, you can get away with a heavier hair tonic that does contain oil. Just be wary of not using too much.

Can I Use Hair Tonic And Hair Oil Together?

What about hair oil? Can you use hair tonic and hair oil together? If your hair tonic is already oily, you might not even need to put hair oil.

As too much oil from using both products might lead to a greasy scalp or a dandruff outbreak.

Try to use the products separately first and once you have successfully incorporated the first product into you hair routine, you can gradually use the other product little by little, day by day to avoid irritating your scalp.

And if you have a naturally greasy scalp, you might want to dial back and use the hair oil only a few times a week, rather than everyday.


Hair serum vs hair tonic – there are some differences between the 2 hair products and we hope this post makes that a little clearer for you.

With every new product that you introduce into your hair routine however, start slowly and with caution.  So you can get a feel for how much product to use and when best (and how often) to apply it.

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Janice is the founder & editor for Wanted to be an author as a kid, got a D in English (First Language), but somehow now a content writer with an engineering background. Bakes, does yoga, plays the piano, reads, and most other introverted indoor hobbies.