What Is an Oil-Free Moisturizer and Is It Right for My Skin?
Choosing the best moisturizer for your skin can be challenging, with so many ingredients and products to pick from. There are many different aspects of moisturizer to consider before committing to “the one.” Often, whether or not a moisturizer works for you is down to your individual skin rather than some objective metric or ideal product.
“Oil-free moisturizer is the best option for those with breakout-prone skin.”
Shani Darden, Esthetician
So while there probably will be some trial and error involved in finding the best moisturizer for your skin, there are some things you can learn about before you start your search.
Let’s talk about oil-free moisturizers and whether or not they’re right for your skin.
Do Moisturizers Usually Contain Oil?
Let’s start by breaking down the idea of a moisturizer completely. Three main components can help you achieve the perfect balance of hydration: occlusives, emollients, and humectants.
Emollients help to fill any gaps between your skin cells, resulting in softer, smoother, more even skin. They can be beneficial to your skin barrier function and are generally the main component of a cream moisturizer or lotion.
Humectants are basically magnets for water. They’re molecules that attract water to themselves, and they’re able to bind many times their own weight in water to themselves, which means more hydration for your skin. Common humectant ingredients include Hyaluronic Acid and Glycerin.
Occlusives are like the outermost layer of hydration — they help create a protective barrier over your skin, which traps water into your skin and prevents it from being depleted throughout the day, resulting in dry skin. This is the most important one when talking about moisturizers because oils are occlusives — although many oils also have emollient properties.
What’s the Benefit of an Oil-Free Moisturizer?
You may be wondering why you’d want an oil-free moisturizer if oils are such an important part of skin hydration. Oil-free moisturizers are increasingly popular, and like any trend, it’s a good idea to look more closely at them to be sure it’s based in reality.
Oil-free moisturizer is most beneficial if you have oily skin. This is because oily skin is already swimming in natural hydration — you just need a light moisturizer to help keep things balanced without overdoing it. Your skin’s natural oils will already serve the purpose of additional oils, so occlusive may be less necessary for your skin than for somebody with dry or combination skin types, for instance.
That said, the theoretical benefit of oil-free moisturizers is the idea that without the oil, your moisturizer will be non-comedogenic. This is actually the most important question you should be asking when choosing a moisturizer: is it non-comedogenic?
What Does Non-Comedogenic Mean?
Comedogenic refers to comedones, which are the bumps you get on your skin when you break out, including blackheads and whiteheads. When a product is comedogenic, it means it’s more likely to lead to breakouts, especially in acne-prone individuals or if you have oily skin. Oil-free moisturizers are more likely to be non-comedogenic, which is to say not pore-clogging, so are ideal if you have one of these skin types.
That said, not all oil-free moisturizers are created equal! Something can be oil-free but still be comedogenic due to other ingredients, such as waxes. So if you have oily or breakout-prone skin, it’s important to pay close attention. An oil-free moisturizer is a good place to start, but the goal should be a non-comedogenic moisturizer. Otherwise, it defeats the purpose.
Should You Even Use Moisturizer With Oily Skin?
If you have oily skin, it’s tempting to skip moisturizer altogether. After all, if your biggest issue is that your skin feels slick and shiny more often than not, you might feel like you already have enough hydration — so why add more and make matters worse?
The truth is, even if your skin is oily, you still need to moisturize daily. Your skin’s sebaceous glands naturally produce oil when your skin is dry — if you have oily skin to begin with, not moisturizing may make things worse by dehydrating your skin and stimulating it to create extra oil to compensate.
It’s also important to moisturize if you’re breakout-prone because of the methods used to treat breakouts. Whether you’re taking an oral medication prescribed by your doctor, using a high-strength acne-fighting treatment, or are just using over-the-counter products with AHAs, BHAs, or retinol, pretty much every ingredient used to address acne can result in dry skin.
In order to give your skin the best chance at beating your breakouts, you’ll want to take extra care to moisturize if you’re using anti-acne products for this reason. Moisturizing will help to balance your skin’s hydration levels and to strengthen your skin’s moisture barrier, which is responsible for keeping moisture in, and harmful, breakout-causing bacteria and impurities at bay.
What’s a Good Skincare Routine for Oily Skin?
Now that you understand what goes into a moisturizer in general, what the benefits of an oil-free moisturizer are, and the importance of hydrating, let’s talk about a simple routine that can be beneficial for oily skin. This routine features an oil-free, non-comedogenic moisturizer to keep your pores clear.
Keeping your skin clean is important for all skin types, but if your skin is oily, finding balance is key. You don’t want something so strong that it strips your skin of too many oils, leaving you dry and unbalanced — but you also don’t want something so gentle that it doesn’t effectively clean your face. I often recommend my Cleansing Serum, the gentle daily cleanser that’s perfectly suited to oily skin.
This luxurious lathering cleanser helps melt away makeup and pore-clogging impurities while leaving your skin’s natural oils intact. Hyaluronic acid helps to hydrate while restorative oat bran offers balance to your moisture levels, and olive extract rounds out the formula with its ability to soothe irritation and redness.
2. Toner or Essence
If you’re breakout prone, a toner or essence may be a helpful second step. My Sake Toning Essence is antioxidant-rich and alcohol-free, so you’re getting all the good stuff and none of the bad. Antioxidants help to brighten your skin and keep it healthy, while niacinamide refines your pores for a soft, shine-free complexion. Niacinamide is also beneficial when it comes to balancing your skin’s sebum production.
If you’re looking for effective, non-comedogenic, oil-free moisturizers, my Weightless Oil-Free Moisturizer and Hydration Peptide Cream are both great optionse. Rather than relying on potentially pore-clogging occlusives, these oil-free moisturizers are powered by heavy-hitting hydrators like hyaluronic acid, hydrolyzed collagen, and red algae to help attract water and prevent water loss throughout the day. Hydration Peptide Cream is a rich oil-free moisturizer powered by moisture-drenching Hydrosella™, plumping peptides, and replenishing squalane that delivers deep hydration, while continuing to support your skin barrier. The benefits are both instantaneous and long lasting with up to 72 hours of hydration—without the congestion. It's rich enough for dry skin but won’t clog pores or cause breakouts.
These ingredients also enrich your skin with vital nutrients, leaving your complexion soft, smooth, and shine-free all day long. If you want to keep your skin perfectly hydrated but don’t want to stress about pore congestion, this is the answer.
Always finish your skincare routine with sunscreen! There’s sometimes a myth that circulates about the sun being good for oily skin due to its ability to dry it out, but as we’ve learned, the goal with oily skin should be moisture balance, not dryness. It’s always important to protect your complexion from UV rays, too, which can lead to much bigger problems like hyperpigmentation down the road. You can find some of my favorites here.
Choosing the right moisturizer for your skin type can feel like an uphill battle with all of the options available out there. Not only that, but different products work for different people because everyone’s skin is so unique. While you may have a friend who has oily skin just like you and swears by one moisturizer, it might leave you red-faced and broken out.
The best way to ensure that any product you’re introducing to your skincare regimen is going to be good for your skin is to pay attention to the ingredients. If you have oily or breakout-prone skin, seeking out an oil-free moisturizer is a good place to start — but finding a moisturizer that is also non-comedogenic is crucial. When you find the moisturizer that checks both of these boxes, your skin will thank you!