One of the biggest misconceptions in the skin-care world is that people with oily or acne-prone skin don’t need to moisturize. But the truth of the matter is, skipping out on your daily moisturizing routine can actually make acne worse. While it may seem counterintuitive, it makes sense scientifically: When you don’t moisturize, your skin dries out, and then starts to produce more oil on its own to try and make up for it. The result? More breakouts. In other words? By not moisturizing oily and acne-prone skin, you’re causing exactly the problems you were trying to avoid in the first place.
But though complexions that skew oily unquestionably need moisturizer, you’ll want to be discerning with which formulas you’re using, because clogged pores can be a problem, too. To help you suss out your best bets, we asked dermatologists to share the best moisturizers for oily, acne-prone skin. Keep reading to see their picks.
Why people with oily and acne-prone skin need a moisturizer
In case you aren’t yet convinced that you should be moisturizing your oily and acne-prone skin, consider this: “Avoiding a moisturizer altogether can allow disruption of the skin barrier, and this causes a cycle of irritation as well as breakouts,” says Michele Farber, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Philadelphia. All skin loses moisture naturally, particularly in colder weather, so it’s important to add some of that hydration back in through topicals. Plus, using a moisturizer will help your skin tolerate other acne-fighting ingredients in your routine, like retinoids, AHAs, and BHAs, which tend to be drying on their own.
What to look for in a moisturizer for oily and acne-prone skin
When searching for the best moisturizer for oily and acne-prone skin, it’s important to do some detective work on the ingredient list before slathering something all over your face. “Look for a moisturizer that is oil-free, fragrance-free, and non-comedogenic to avoid clogging and irritation,” says Dr. Farber. “Gentle hydrators like ceramides and glycerin are also great ingredients that should not break your skin out.” She also suggests looking for lighter products, such as lotions and gel-based formulas, which tend to have less oil than thicker creams and ointments and are a better choice for acne-prone skin.
What to avoid in a moisturizer for oily and acne-prone skin
Of course, you’ll want to avoid putting on any products that could risk clogging your pores, which means staying away from certain ingredients. “Avoid moisturizers with oils, especially coconut or mineral oil, which can be comedogenic,” says Dr. Farber, adding that cocoa and shea butter can also clog pores. “It is also best to avoid fragrances and essential oils, as these can be irritating and cause breakouts.”
The best moisturizer for oily and acne-prone skin
“Cerave PM lotion is one of my favorites as it is gentle, and does not have fragrances or oils that can precipitate acne,” says Dr. Farber, and she isn’t the only derm who’s a fan. “I love the consistency of this lightweight moisturizer,” says Dustin Portela, DO, a board-certified dermatologist. “The niacinamide and hyaluronic acid are perfect for acne or rosacea-prone skin.”
Shop now: CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion, $12
2. Neutrogena Hydroboost Gel, $19
Neutrogena’s Hydroboost line has a reputation for being one of the best lightweight hydrators your drugstore dollars can buy, and it’s for good reason. “It’s a great lighter option, especially in warmer weather, does not have pore-clogging ingredients, and has hyaluronic acid to pack a hydration punch,” says Dr. Farber. It goes on silky smooth and feels like a cool drink of water for your skin.
Shop now: Neutrogena Hydroboost Gel, $19
For a mattifying moisturizer that looks great under makeup, look no further than this acne-friendly pick. “It has shine-reducing ingredients like perlite and silica, and also provides moisture,” says Dr. Farber. It’s made with micro-exfoliating lipo-hydroxy acid and will smooth skin without ever leaving it greasy.
Shop now: La Roche Posay Effaclar Mat Daily Moisturizer, $32
4. Base Butter Radiate Face Jelly, $21
Shop now: Base Butter Radiate Face Jelly, $21
Refresh your skin with this gel-textured moisturizer, which includes ingredients that will help keep skin clear. Tea tree oil disinfects your pores (getting rid of acne-causing bacteria), and lavender helps to regulate sebum production. Plus, aloe vera will hydrate and balance your complexion all day long.
“This moisturizer contains hyaluronic acid to increase moisture absorption and retention without oil or heavy ingredients,” says Nicole Hangsterfer, a physician’s assistant with Curology, adding that it’s generally safe to use on sensitive skin.
6. Boscia Cactus Water Moisturizer, $38
Harness the hydrating properties of cactus water and aloe vera with this jelly moisturizer, which also has anti-inflammatory properties. “With an ultra-light consistency and fast-absorbing properties, this moisturizer helps to hydrate skin without tending to feel heavy or oily,” says Hangsterfer.
Shop now: Boscia Cactus Water Moisturizer, $38
Thanks to an infusion of retinol, this lotion is a treatment and moisturizer all in one. The retinoid stimulates cell turnover, which helps remove pore-clogging dead skin cells, and a combination of hyaluronic acid, honey extract, allantoin, and arnica hydrate and soothe skin.
Shop now: Murad Skin Perfecting Lotion for Blemish Prone/Oily Skin, $42
This moisturizer has everything you need to calm those angry breakouts. It’s made with soothing licorice and seaweed extracts, plus lingonberry seed oil, which replenishes your complexion with Omega-6 fatty acids.
Shop now: Ren Clean Skincare ClearCalm Replenishing Gel Cream, $42
Got more acne questions? Check out the video below, where board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, answers them all.
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