Why You Need Oil- and Water-Based Products in Your Skin-Care Routine

Photo: Getty Images/Nyimas Laula
When it comes to my diet, I try to squeeze in the whole comprehensive smattering of vitamins that experts recommend on the reg so that my body can function at an (at least somewhat) efficient level. I think I apply the same philosophy for my skin, but there's a lot more to skin nutrition than just slathering on vitamins A, B3 (niacinamide), and C.

"All skin thrives off of the same nutrients," says April Gargiulo, founder of skin-care brand Vintner's Daughter. "That's why so many skin issues come from the same source, so it's very important to be feeding your skin proper nutrition, which is what can alleviate inflammation and imbalance."

But while it's important to get the right vitamins and nutrients on skin (and quick!), you also have to think about solubility of them and how they impact the skin's barrier. "Vitamins are classified as either water soluble or fat soluble," says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology. "Those that are water soluble are not stored in the body and need to be replenished often, versus fat soluble vitamins, which can be stored."

Then there's the matter of absorption, which Dr. Nazarian says is more complex than just solubility. "The skin barrier is partially fatty and partially water-based, but the solubility matters as much as the size of the molecule, the thickness of your skin, and the number of hair follicles and glands that are in the area," she explains. "Molecules can move between the skin cells—the fat-soluble ones—or through the skin cells (water soluble ones)."

And so—to try and ensure your skin's getting (and absorbing) its own healthy diet, it's essential for your regimen to consist of both these water and oil soluble vitamins. "The fat [or oil] soluble ones are A, D, E, and K, while water soluble are B and C," says Dr. Nazarian. Though there are truly dozens within both categories. "Water soluble nutrients are the full family of B vitamins, most amino acids and vitamin C," says Gargiulo. "Oil soluble nutrients are vitamins D, K, E, and minerals magnesium, calcium, and omegas 3, 6, 7, and 9." All of course have their own unique benefits (for example, vitamin A is key for cell turnover and regulating your cell cycle, while vitamin C can help stimulate collagen).

This is exactly how Gargiulo came up with the "water-soluble yin to my serum's oil-soluble yang." This is regarding Vintner's brand-new Active Treatment Essence ($225), the second ever product from the brand known for its cult-favorite Active Botanical Serum ($185). "Our serum delivers as many nutrients as we can get in every drop, but our limitation was that we could only include oil-soluble nutrition," she says. "That was the genesis of the Essence—I wanted to complete that nutritional circle for the skin." And so she did.

When your skin's not fully, robustly fed, it'll subtly tell you. "The signs are that it's red, it's super reactive, and it's dry in some places and super oily in others," says Gargiulo. "A lot of times the malnourishment is from too many products on your skin. All of this means the biome of your skin isn't in balance, so your barrier can't protect your skin from environmental factors because it's been compromised." The good news? "You can rebuild it fast if you're using the right products and sticking to good regimen," she says.

To build that nutrition-packed regimen, Dr. Nazarian has some pointers for picking them out on beauty shelves. "You might be more likely to see a fat-soluble vitamin in a creamy base like an ointment or cream, and a water-soluble vitamin in a water base like a toner, essence or gel," she says. At the same time, with today's innovations you can find ingredients in various vehicles—so just be sure to check the label. "Regardless of the active ingredient and vitamin, products should always be applied in order of highest water content of their vehicle first," she says. "This means apply a toner or essence first, then serum, gel, lotion, cream, and finally ointment."

And think of it more than anything like the skin diet that you need to make your skin happy, according to Gargiulo: "Just like your body needs a balanced diet, your skin does as well for it to be its most healthy, balanced and best self."

One thing to add to your regimen is a refreshing gel moisturizer, which is good for oily skin. And here's how to fight skin redness once and for all. 

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