If your skin can’t seem to make up its mind what type it is — oily one day, dry the next — welcome to the combination skin club! You’re in good company: the majority of people have combination skin. We know that doesn’t make it any easier to figure out what skincare products will work for your unique skin, though. So to make life easier, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to choosing the best face moisturizer for combination skin, featuring a list of different moisturizer options we’ve reviewed to make sure their ingredients won’t clog pores.
Above all, we recommend taking it easy and sticking with a simple, gentle, non-clogging moisturizer — which is why we made our own. The moisturizer by Curology is designed to take all of the guesswork out, and it conveniently comes in your three-step skincare set along with your custom cream and a gentle cleanser when you subscribe to the full package!
But we’ll always be honest with you: our moisturizer is made to work for everyone, but it might not be everybody’s proverbial cup of tea. The important thing is that we help you find what feels good and works well for you! So we’ve reviewed all of the products we recommend in this guide to make sure their ingredients meet our skin-satisfying standards.
The best moisturizer for your skin can depend on your skin type, and (newsflash!) acne-prone isn’t a skin type. Your skin might be dry, oily, sensitive, or “normal,” and also prone to acne. Also, your skin type can change on you from one week to the next (great, right?). Your skin may be dry one day, oily or combination the next. What makes it change its mind? It could be hormones, your diet, or the time of the year. Your skin type may even be different on different parts on your face — you might have an oily T-zone, for example, but dry skin on your forehead. Luckily it’s not hard to figure out what your skin type is on any given day.
STEP 1 Wash your face gently, wait an hour, then check out your skin in the mirror. STEP 2 Pat a blotting paper (gently) on each area of your face: T-zone, forehead, chin, and cheeks. It can be hard to tell whether what you’re seeing on your skin is oil, shine, or just glowiness, so check the sheet each time you blot to see which part of your face was oilier. STEP 3 Wait an hour. If oil has reappeared on your face, your skin type is likely oily skin or combination skin (if you’re only oily in certain places). “Normal” skin isn’t dry nor oily, but smooth and balanced. Normal: Smooth, no signs of dry flakes or shiny oil Oily: Slick and shiny, larger pores Dry: Dry flakes, tight-feeling Combination: Oily T-zone, with normal-to-dry skin everywhere else (fun fact: most people actually have combination skin!)
Whatever your skin type, our advice is: keep it simple, smartypants. Whether your combination skin is prone to acne breakouts, or your biggest skin concern is an oily T-zone or big pores, take it from our derms: a gentle cleanser will do the trick, and if your skin needs a little help in the hydration department, you can’t go wrong with a simple, gentle, non-comedogenic moisturizer that’s suitable for every skin type.
The moisturizer by Curology We developed this lightweight daily moisturizer with Curology members in mind, so it’s great for acne-prone and sensitive skin. Our in-house team of dermatologists formulated the moisturizer with non-comedogenic ingredients only, and it’s free of parabens, sulfates, fragrances, dyes, or any other common irritants. You also don’t need anything fancy or expensive — our moisturizer clocks in at under $10 per bottle when you subscribe to the Curology set!
Contains hyaluronic acid to maintain the skin’s hydration barrier without adding oil
Ultra lightweight gel formula is easily absorbed into the skin and adds a feeling of freshness
Gel formula feels ultra-light and won’t clog pores
Improves skin elasticity and water-binding capacity for intense hydration
Contains aloe vera to refresh and soothe skin
Weightless water cream provides 24-hour hydration
Infused with calendula serum and calendula extract to soothe irritated skin
Reduces redness, evens skin tone, and boosts radiance
Ultra-lightweight liquid formula that’s quickly absorbed into the skin
Provides a long-lasting matte finish that layers well under makeup
Hydrates and balances oil with vitamin B, tea tree oil, and willow bark extract
Weightless, oil-free hydration in a whipped, silky formula
Delivers radiance and improves the appearance of hyperpigmentation
If you have another favorite moisturizer that your skin likes (especially if it’s labeled non-comedogenic or formulated for sensitive skin), feel free to keep on using it! But if you’re breaking out, you’ll want to check the ingredients (more on this, below).
The moisturizer by Curology We designed our moisturizer specially with Curology members in mind, many of whom start their skincare journeys to treat acne. So, naturally, priority #1 was to make a moisturizer that won’t clog pores! Our moisturizer is lightweight with a soft, glowy finish. It absorbs quickly and locks in hydration all day long without looking or feeling too rich.
If you’d like to check out some more options, here are a few that pass our test for no pore-clogging or irritating ingredients:
Ultra-absorbent, lightweight formula provides hydration without clogging pores
Uses skin-brightening lemongrass extract and soothing allantoin to balance skin
Lightweight formula provides lasting hydration
Includes blue algae extract, a rich source of vitamin E, which moisturizes and reduces inflammation
Includes sea parsley, which contains naturally occurring vitamins A and C to even out skin tone
Fights sun damage with SPF 20 — although we still recommend using this in conjunction with a sunscreen containing SPF 30 or higher
Lightweight formula moisturizes dry areas while controlling oily shine
Creates an all-day, matte finish that won’t clog pores
If you’ve got an oily T-zone, you’ve probably learned to be oil-averse by now. Hear us out: not all oils are bad! Most cleansers are water-based, but using an oil can be helpful in breaking down excess oil on the skin as well as oil-based makeup. Certain oils can soothe your skin, too (without clogging up the works!), especially if your combination skin includes some dry patches.
Rosehip seed oil Packed with omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, rose hip oil provides anti-inflammatory effects, which can help improve acne. It’s found in many face oils, but you can get it on its own and add a drop or two to your everyday moisturizer for extra hydration. Pai Skincare Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil is a popular option with great reviews!
Meadowfoam seed oil Made from a flower native to Northern California and Oregon, meadowfoam seed oil is lightweight, non-comedogenic, and sinks right into the skin. It’s great at locking in moisture, leaving skin supple, glowy, and hydrated. It’s an effective carrier oils as well, used in serums such as Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 40 and Sangre de Fruta Solis balancing serum.
Sea buckthorn oil Sea buckthorn has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties: it’s rich in anti-inflammatory omega fatty acids, including omega-3, -6, -9, and -7. A 2010 study of sea buckthorn fruit extract applied as a cream showed a decline in sebum (oil) production — this may point to some anti-acne benefit separate from fighting inflammation. It may be helpful for inflammatory skin conditions like acne, rosacea, and eczema.
Read more: face oils that won’t clog pores
Some ingredients found in moisturizers can clog pores or irritate the skin — here are the key ones to avoid, plus how to double-check the ingredients of any product to make extra sure!
Coconut oil Coconut oil is a popular ingredient in skincare and cosmetics, but if your skin is prone to pimples and clogged pores, you’ll want to avoid it. It’s also called “cocos nucifera oil,” so keep an eye on those ingredients lists. Coconut oil clogs pores slowly but surely, so you might not notice right away. Take it from the experts: it gets in those pores and clogs up the works!
Alcohol Alcohol is unfortunately used in a lot of skincare products, even though it dries out the skin and can damage its protective barrier! Watch out for alcohol (usually listed as “denatured alcohol” or “alcohol denat.”) on the ingredients list of your products, especially if your skin seems dry, red, tight, itchy, or irritated after using it. However, some products have alcohol at the end of the ingredients list, likely meaning there’s not too much of it — in that case, it may not irritate your skin.
Products not labeled with terms “non-comedogenic”, “non-acnegenic”, “does not clog pores”, or “won’t cause breakouts.” The label “non-comedogenic” (or similar) indicates that the product has been designed with acne-prone people in mind. It’s no guarantee of safety, but it can be a useful guideline! We still recommend checking products labeled non-comedogenic for pore-clogging or irritating ingredients.
The exception: coconut alcohol Even though coconut oil is not good for acne-prone skin, and alcohol (usually labelled denatured alcohol) can be irritating, coconut alcohol is actually fine. Coconut alcohol is a gentle surfactant (i.e. emulsifier) that the skin tolerates just fine (unlike sodium laureth sulfate, a surfactant which can cause breakouts). Coconut alcohol comes from coconut acid, which is derived from coconut oil; but unlike coconut oil, coconut alcohol doesn’t clog pores. It’s so safe, in fact, that we use coconut alcohol in our Curology cleanser — it was tested for comedogenicity (pore-clogging potential) and passed with flying colors!
Some ingredients in cosmetics and skincare products can actually make acne worse, even if the label says “non-comedogenic”. Check out our quick-and-easy guide to checking products for pore-clogging ingredients!
If you’re struggling with your skin, try a custom formula of prescription ingredients from Curology: we can help you whatever your skin goals, from clearing up acne to lightening hyperpigmentation like post-acne spots and even defying the signs of aging. Sign up for a free trial today (you just pay $4.95 for shipping and handling) to get your very own custom acne-fighting cream — plus our must-have moisturizer and gentle cleanser, when you opt for the full set!
While we’ve gone over a lot of moisturizers here that can be safe for acne-prone skin, the Curology moisturizer is the only one designed just for Curology members of any skin type who’re on an acne-clearing journey. That said, whatever works best for you and your unique skin — we’ve got your back. Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation.
Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C