This One Ingredient in Your Moisturizer Could Be Making You Break Out

As a lifelong beauty enthusiast, I've always considered myself pretty knowledgeable about my combination skin type and the kinds of products that work best on it. I rotate through an artfully crafted regimen of cleansers, serums, moisturizers, and oils to combat the various zones of oiliness, dryness, and even the occasional sensitivity on my face. When I recently met with acclaimed celebrity dermatologist Dennis Gross, MD, he pointed to a small (but mighty) breakout I was experiencing and suggested a skincare swap I wasn't expecting. "You should think about using an oil-free moisturizer," he said plainly. "You want to hydrate, but oils can block the pores." I was shook.

Although it's no surprise that oil can clog the pores and lead to breakouts, I thought I was immune to such foolery since the slippery substance is among my favorite skincare ingredients. I love double-cleaning with an oil cleanser and even rely on a number of different types, especially during the winter months when the skin around my mouth gets straight-up parched. "Nowadays, technology allows for you to have great results without oils, and I think that's a good move for you," Gross explained.

Moisturized Skin



Water-based moisturizers are a popular alternative to their oil-based counterparts. Simply put, they employ water as the main ingredient into which other water-attracting humectant ingredients are mixed. This helps to achieve hydration from within the skin as opposed to sealing in moisture from the outside. "It gives what's called internal hydration, so it doesn't sit on your skin like oils do. It gets inside the skin and brings water into the skin. Not only do you get hydration, but you get some plumping and this beautiful, dewy radiance without the possible side effects of excess oils," said Gross.

I was hesitant to fully jump on the oil-free train, but when the trusted dermatologist of stars like Zoë Kravitz and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley makes a suggestion, you listen. And so began my deep dive into this foreign skin territory. Ahead, see 20 water-based moisturizers to quench the thirstiest skin.

Best Overall Water-Based Moisturizer: Tatcha The Water Cream

Conversations about water-based moisturizers truly start and end with this OG offering from Tatcha. The water-burst technology is supported by Japanese wild rose to balance the skin and refine pores, and Japanese leopard lily keeps oil production in check. The result is plump, clear skin.

Customer review: "It doesn't feel like you're wearing moisturizer when you put it on—it's so light. I wear it twice a day under my makeup and before I go to bed. Let me tell you, my skin has never been so clear, bright, and beautiful looking."

2. Fresh Rose & Hyaluronic Acid Deep Hydration Moisturizer

Instead of using oil-based humectants, this hydra-gel moisturizer employs damask-rose extract and hyaluronic acid to not only deliver moisture but also keep it locked in the skin.

Customer review: "I recently have had very dry skin due to all the drugstore moisturizer and face wash I have been using previously, and I wanted to invest in a good skincare line that would help my dry skin. After using the line for a month now, I have to say my skin has never looked better. I don't even wear makeup anymore because I have such a natural glow and an even skin tone with soft, supple skin because of these products."

3. Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel

This oil-free water-gel offering from Neutrogena feels refreshing and cool on application. Don't let the lightweight consistency fool you—hyaluronic acid and olive extract make it a deeply moisturizing option.

Customer review: "I am shocked at how much I love this moisturizer! Even with oily skin, it's important to hydrate the skin so it doesn't overcompensate and produce more oil. This moisturizer is perfectly light and not sticky at all, which is exactly what I look for in a moisturizer."

4. Laneige Water Bank Blue Hyaluronic Cream Moisturizer

K-beauty brand Laneige is beloved for its oil-free offerings, and this one is no different. This hyaluronic-based water cream hydrates while protecting the skin's barrier.

Customer review: "I love this cream. It hydrates really well, and it never stings. It's perfect under makeup and as a day cream. I feel like my makeup lasts longer with this."

5. Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Hyaluronic Marine Oil-Free Moisture Cushion

Marine algae, hyaluronic acid, glycolic acid, and coconut extract join forces to promote firm, hydrated skin by enhancing moisture content and plumping fine lines and wrinkles. If you want to look like you drink a gallon of water every day, this is a must-have.

Customer review: "I love it! I like that it is not too thick, feels cool going on, and pretty much vanishes into the skin quickly, but feels so good. I have somewhat dry skin that is not prone to breakouts, and it works wonderfully. My husband has oily skin and is prone to breakouts, and it works great with his skin as well. All around amazing."

6. Olay Regenerist Whip SPF 25

This hydrating gel moisturizer contains anti-aging and hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid and B3 vitamins that penetrate the skin to condition it from the inside out.

Customer review: "I needed to change my skincare products because I wasn't getting the results I wanted. After tons of wasted money on products, I tried this, and I'm so glad I did. My skin feels so soft and looks healthier, younger, and brighter. It sits nicely under makeup, and I have naturally oily skin. This has controlled my oily skin."

7. Saturday Skin Waterfall Glacier Water Cream

This aptly named water-cream option by Saturday Skin uses mineral-rich Alaskan glacier water as its main ingredient. From there, a peptide formula and soothing moss keep the skin calm and balanced.

Customer review: "I have mature, normal to dry skin which is very sensitive. I have been using a couple of products for this brand, and this is one of my favorite creams. It isn't greasy at all but provides enough moisture."

8. The Inkey List Omega Water Cream

For an effective water-based moisturizer at a very reasonable price point, look no further than The Inkey List's Omega Water Cream. This lightweight moisturizer is perfect for oily skin types looking for a little added hydration.

Customer review: "This is, by far, the best facial moisture I have ever used. It melts in my face during application but keeps my face hydrated all day long. I have oily skin, and because of the use of this product, the oil production in my face has significantly reduced after three weeks of usage."

9. Glow Recipe Watermelon Pink Juice Oil-Free Moisturizer

This lightweight gel emulsion employs watermelon extract to soothe the skin, while hyaluronic acid carries water deep beneath the surface. It also smells good and looks so pretty sitting on your vanity.

Customer review: "I really like this moisturizer. It's lightweight but packs a punch of hydration. It also keeps my oily T-zone in check. Love the watermelon scent [as] it's not too heavy."

10. CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion With SPF 30

Hero ingredients hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and niacinamides make sure this noncomedogenic formula moisturizes all day long. Plus, the added SPF protects from the sun's harmful rays.

Customer review: "My skin has become less textured, my breakouts have decreased, and the redness has significantly subsided. I also find that my skin is less oily than it was when I was using a gel moisturizer marketed for oily skin."

11. Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Cream

I mean, the name itself says everything you need to know about the heavenly concoction. A 30% concentration of hyaluronic acid at three different molecular sizes has the ability to hydrate the skin for up to 72 hours. Ceramides also help to lock in even more moisture.

Customer review: "You cannot believe how good this is! I have extremely reactive dry skin. Popped this on over an oil serum and sprayed it with aerosol water. My skin is so smooth and not dehydrated."

12. Koh Gen Do All in One Moisture Gel

Although not totally oil-free, this nourishing mineral water-based gel delivers lightweight hydration via herbal extracts and a conscious blend of jojoba oil, olive squalene, and shea butter to protect the skin and preserve moisture.

Customer review: "I have very dry skin and struggle with redness, dry and flaky patches, sensitive skin, etc. and was dubious that a gel would work for me, but this product has been a miracle worker. My skin has literally never looked better, and this is now the only product I use morning and evening. I have no redness, I use this around the eye area with great success, and my flaky patches are gone—incredible."

13. Shani Darden Skin Care Weightless Oil-Free Moisturizer

This moisturizer sinks into the skin almost immediately after you apply it, leaving the skin feeling hydrated without weighing it down. 

Customer review: "I live on the Gulf Coast (read: extremely humid climate). This is one of the only daytime moisturizers that does not turn me into a greaseball. It sinks in fairly quickly, doesn't leave a film on top, and even though it's lightweight, my skin does not feel dry at all. I also have sensitive skin (like so sensitive that chemical sunscreens irritate it) and rosacea, and this moisturizer does not irritate me in the slightest or even make my skin go red for a minute. Lastly, cost-wise, this product is amazing—I have been using one to two pumps a day in the a.m. for three months, and I am just now getting to the point where I need to get another bottle."

14. Goldfaden MD Detox Hydrating Gel

This oil-free hydra-gel is the perfect combatant to both dryness and breakouts. It contains beta hydroxy acids, mallow extract, and a special blend of skin-defending extracts and antioxidants that offer as much protection as they do hydration.

Customer review: "I have very oily skin, and the thought of a hydrating moisturizer scared me at first. But let me tell you, this leaves my skin feeling smooth, helps with acne, and the scent is not overpowering at all!"

15. Boscia Cactus Water Moisturizer

Sophie Turner is a fan of this ultra-lightweight moisturizer, which deploys cactus water to nourish and impart heavy-hitting hydration without clogging the pores.

Customer review: "I have very sensitive skin, and I have been using this product for a couple of months with no issues. I have been getting compliments on how refreshed and soft it looks. Have no complaints at all."

16. La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Sensitive Skin Face Moisturizer

The soothing prebiotic thermal water base is one of only a handful of ingredients in this formulation, which makes it perfect for sensitive skin.

Customer review: "My skin has never been smoother. There is a definite difference in my pores and skin texture. I've always had fairly decent skin but dealt with dry patches, flaky skin, and blackheads on my chin/nose area. It's gentle enough for my skin, no more drying or flaking skin, and I get compliments all the time on my skin at work! I usually have trouble with sensitivity as well, and this has not caused me any rashes or itchiness which is a rare thing for me with skincare!"

17. Summer Fridays Cloud Dew Oil-Free Gel Cream Moisturizer

This moisturizer is infused with three different types of hyaluronic acid, making it extremely hydrating. It absorbs quickly for a lightweight finish.

Customer review: "I was so excited to try this, and it did not disappoint. It gives my skin such a glowy look. I have fairly sensitive skin, and it worked great for me. A little goes a long way, and there's a good amount of product in the jar. Will definitely buy again."

18. Belif The True Cream Aqua Bomb

It's not called "aqua bomb" for nothing. This moisturizer is super hydrating. It's packed with lady's mantle (a skin softener), glycerin, and ceramides. 

Customer review: "Received a sample along with many other moisturizers, and this one is by far the winner. The smell is amazing, fresh, not overpowering, and it didn't break out my sensitive skin. My skin is also dry, and these types of moisturizers normally would be too dry for me, but not this one. It's very hydrating and feels amazing."

19. Biossance Squalane + Probiotic Gel Moisturizer

Squalane and probiotics help nourish and protect the skin's natural moisture barrier. 

Customer review: "It doesn't feel like you're wearing moisturizer when you put it on—it's so light. I wear it twice a day under my makeup and before I go to bed. Let me tell you, my skin has never been so clear, bright, and beautiful looking."

20. Kiehl's Since 1851 Calendula Serum-Infused Water Cream

This unique serum-moisturizer hybrid is full of calendula-flower extract, which helps soothe skin. 

Customer review: "I have very sensitive skin that is extremely prone to redness (rosacea, ugh). This has helped me so much! Between this and their ultra facial cream, I have found my miracles! I am about to start my second jar of this, and I highly recommend it."

This article was originally published at an earlier date and has been updated. 

Next, The 7 Most-Wanted Face Creams and Their Less Expensive Drugstore Dupes