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Navigating the world of oil-free moisturizers: Our top 4 picks

Curology’s licensed dermatology providers share what you need to know about keeping oily skin hydrated.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Mar 11, 2024 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Elise Griffin, PA-C
Swab of Moisturizer
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Mar 11, 2024 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Elise Griffin, PA-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

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Whether you’re battling acne, dealing with clogged pores, or just craving a matte finish, oil-free moisturizers can be your skin’s answer to proper hydration. Luckily, there’s no shortage of formulations tailored to give your skin maximum hydration without the shiny aftermath.

But with so many options flooding the market, which ones truly stand out?

Dive in as we unpack the science behind skin hydration and unveil our top 4 picks for the best oil-free moisturizers this year, ensuring your skin remains supple and radiant—without the grease.

Why keeping your skin hydrated is essential

When our skin’s water balance is thrown off, we can end up with troubling issues like dryness or flakiness. That’s where moisturizers step in. These hydrating products are specifically designed to increase your skin’s water content.¹

Moisturizers do more than add moisture, they play a significant role in maintaining your skin barrier and keeping your skin’s water balance in check as well.² Some moisturizers have unique ingredients that help prevent water loss and pull water into your skin.

If you’re dealing with conditions like atopic dermatitis, where your skin barrier can be damaged, moisturizers aren’t just good to have; they’re essential. They help make your skin look and function better.³

Hydrating your skin is key for overall health, and the right moisturizer can make all the difference.

So, pick wisely based on your skin needs!

Oil-based moisturizers vs non-oil-based moisturizers

Moisturizers can be broadly divided into either oil-based or non-oil-based.

So, what’s the difference?

Oil-based moisturizers, often packed with occlusives, set up a barrier on your skin to stop water from escaping—something known as transepidermal water loss (or TEWL for short).⁴ They can be helpful for dealing with contact dermatitis, xerosis, and atopic dermatitis. The one catch is that they sometimes feel oily and a greasy appearance might not be everyone’s cosmetic best friend. There’s also a slight risk they could lead to folliculitis or breakouts.⁵

Popular picks in this category include mineral oil, petroleum jelly, and beeswax. Pro tip? They work best when applied to damp skin!⁶

On the flip side, we’ve got humectants and emollients, which are non-oil-based moisturizers. Humectants are like magnets, drawing water into your skin’s outer layer.⁷ Hyaluronic acid is a common example of a humectant. However, sometimes, humectants might do more harm than good by letting that water evaporate if you don’t apply an occlusive afterward. Emollients work differently by filling in the tiny gaps between skin cells, making your skin feel soft and smooth.⁸

So, while oil-based moisturizers are great at locking in moisture, they may potentially clog pores. But don’t think non-oil-based moisturizers get a free pass. Some of their ingredients might also block your pores.

It’s always best to double-check your products for potential pore-clogging ingredients using our helpful guide.

Our top 4 oil-free moisturizers

Trying to find the perfect oil-free moisturizer can feel overwhelming, especially with the huge range of available products.

But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!

Here’s our expert-reviewed list of the top three standout oil-free moisturizers available now:

1. The Moisturizer

Leading our lineup is our acclaimed gel moisturizer, celebrated not just by us—but by over 600 glowing reviews! Its standout formula, enriched with hyaluronic acid and glycerin, offers a boost of hydration, ensuring your skin stays moisturized and vibrant throughout the day.

2. La Roche-Posay Effaclar Mat Mattifying Moisturizer For Oily Skin

Created with oily skin in mind, this moisturizer strikes a balance between mattifying your skin and ensuring it remains hydrated. It’s especially ideal for those looking to reduce that unwanted shiny look without compromising on moisture.

3. Neutrogena Non-Comedogenic Oil-Free Pink Grapefruit Acne Face Moisturizer with Salicylic Acid

A commendable choice from the drugstore aisle, this moisturizer blends hydration with the power of salicylic acid. Targeted at acne-prone skin, it aims to offer moisture while actively combating breakouts, offering dual benefits in a single product.

4. Paula's Choice Clear Oil-Free Moisturizer

Prioritizing a formulation that hydrates without the risk of clogged pores, this moisturizer from Paula’s Choice stands out for those with acne-prone skin. The focus here is on providing moisture without adding any unnecessary complications to your skincare routine.

The world of oil-free moisturizers is vast, but understanding the unique attributes of each product can simplify your choices. Whether your concern is shine, acne, or simply ensuring hydration without the oiliness, there’s likely a product tailored to your needs.

Remember, skincare is personal; what works for one person might differ for another. Always prioritize understanding your skin’s unique needs and connecting with a dermatology professional as you explore your options.

Incorporating your moisturizer into your daily skincare routine

After choosing the right moisturizer, integrating it into your skincare ritual is the next step.

Our Curology routine is simple and effective!

Start your mornings by washing your face. Once you’ve gotten rid of the night’s residue, it’s hydration time. Depending on your preference, Curology offers a Gel Moisturizer for a lighter feel or a Cream Moisturizer for deeper hydration. Be sure not to skip that crucial sunscreen step after to protect that refreshed face from harmful UV rays.

As evening rolls around and you’re ready to wind down, begin by melting away the day’s grime. For your nighttime routine, a gentle cleanse is vital, especially for removing makeup, and Curology’s Micellar Makeup Remover can help with that. Curology’s Gentle Cleanser can be used after. Following your cleanse, it’s treatment time; whether it’s OTC or a personalized prescription formula by Curology for acne or anti-aging, ensure it gets its dedicated spotlight.

Finish off by locking in hydration with a moisturizer. But a small pointer: if your treatment leans on the stronger side, your skin might appreciate the buffer of a moisturizer applied before the treatment.

No matter the time of day, this three-step process is your passport to vibrant skin. And as with anything rewarding, consistency is the true secret to unlocking radiant skin.

Hydrate your skin with Curology

Hydrating your skin isn’t just about looking good—it’s about feeling good from the inside out.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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Our dermatology experts at Curology have designed moisturizers with rich ingredients to give your skin the hydration it needs.

Fancy a deep dive into hydration with us? Check out our moisturizers, and let’s embark on this journey together!*

FAQs

How do you know if a moisturizer is oil-free?

Oil-free moisturizers are usually labeled as oil-free. But if you’re reading the ingredients, keep an eye out for mineral oil, petroleum jelly, beeswax, and silicones. These components have oil-like properties.⁹ Need clarification? It’s always a smart move to consult with a dermatology provider.

Is oil-free moisturizer good for skin?

The answer varies based on your skin type and condition. While oil-based moisturizers are designed to form a physical barrier to keep your skin hydrated, they might cause clogged pores for some people.¹⁰ For a clearer picture tailored to your skin, consider chatting with a dermatology provider.

Which is the best oil-free moisturizer for oily skin?

One popular choice, among others, is the Curology Gel Moisturizer. However, remember that everyone’s skin is unique. It’s beneficial to consult with a dermatology provider who can provide tailored advice and recommendations for your specific skin needs.

I’ve heard of humectants and emollients in moisturizers. How do they differ?

Humectants are like your skin’s personal hydration magnets; they draw water into the skin’s outer layer. Emollients, however, act as fillers for tiny gaps between skin cells, making your skin feel soft and smooth.¹¹

With so many oil-free moisturizers available, which one is the MVP for combating shine and acne?

The Neutrogena Non-Comedogenic Oil-Free Pink Grapefruit Acne Face Moisturizer combines hydration with salicylic acid to tackle breakouts. Remember, skincare is personal; always consult with a dermatology professional to find your MVP!

• • •

P.S. We did the homework, so you don’t have to:

  1. Harwood, A., et al. Moisturizers. StatPearls. (2022, August 21).

  2. Harwood, A., et al. Moisturizers. StatPearls. Ibid.

  3. Harwood, A., et al. Moisturizers. StatPearls. Ibid.

  4. Purnamawati, S., et al. The Role of Moisturizers in Addressing Various Kinds of Dermatitis: A Review. Clin Med Res. (December 2017).

  5. Purnamawati, S., et al. The Role of Moisturizers in Addressing Various Kinds of Dermatitis: A Review. Clin Med Res. Ibid.

  6. Purnamawati, S., et al. The Role of Moisturizers in Addressing Various Kinds of Dermatitis: A Review. Clin Med Res. Ibid.

  7. Purnamawati, S., et al. The Role of Moisturizers in Addressing Various Kinds of Dermatitis: A Review. Clin Med Res. Ibid.

  8. Purnamawati, S., et al. The Role of Moisturizers in Addressing Various Kinds of Dermatitis: A Review. Clin Med Res. Ibid.

  9. Purnamawati, S., et al. The Role of Moisturizers in Addressing Various Kinds of Dermatitis: A Review. Clin Med Res. Ibid.

  10. Purnamawati, S., et al. The Role of Moisturizers in Addressing Various Kinds of Dermatitis: A Review. Clin Med Res. Ibid.

  11. Harwood, A., et al. Moisturizers. StatPearls. Ibid.

Elise Griffin is a certified physician assistant at Curology. She received her Master of Medical Science in physician assistant studies from Nova Southeastern University in Jacksonville, FL.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary. Restrictions apply. See website for full details and important safety information.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Elise Griffin, Physician Assistant Curology

Elise Griffin, PA-C

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