As a lifelong beauty enthusiast, I've always considered myself pretty knowledgeable on 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 occasional sensitivity on my face. When I met with acclaimed celebrity dermatologist Dennis Gross, MD, recently, 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.
Water-based moisturizers are a popular alternative to their oil-based counterparts. Simply put, they employ water as the main ingredient into which the 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, you get some plumping, and this beautiful, dewy radiance without the possible side effects of excess oils," says Gross.
Though I was hesitant to fully jump on the oil-free train, the fact is that when the trusted dermatologist of stars from Zoë Kravitz to Rosie Huntington-Whiteley makes a suggestion, you listen. And so began my deep dive into this foreign skin territory. Ahead, 16 water-based moisturizers to quench the thirstiest skin.
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.
Instead of oil-based humectants, this hydra-gel moisturizer employs lotus, cactus fruit, bamboo leaf, wild soybean, and green tea extract to not only deliver moisture but also keep it locked in the skin.
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.
K-beauty brand Laneige is long-beloved for its oil-free offerings, and this one is no different. The green mineral water base in this deeply moisturizing cream is extracted from brussel sprouts, artichoke, and lima bean, so it's basically like a salad for your face.
5. Dr. Dennis Gross Hyaluronic Marine Oil-Free Moisture Cusion
Marine algae, hyaluronic acid, glycolic acid, and coconut extracts 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.
Another aptly named water-cream option, this one by Saturday Skin uses mineral-rich Alaska glacier water as its main ingredient. From there, a peptide formula and soothing moss keep the skin calm and balanced.
8. Sunday Riley Tidal Brightening Enzyme Water Cream
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.
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.
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.
This innovative formula starts out like a water-cream but disperses into a hydrating toner and you rub it in. Sea water and vitamin C and E, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid all work together to hydrate, brighten, and smooth the skin.
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 hydration.