Whether you have dry skin, oily skin, or fall somewhere in between, keeping your skin hydrated is critical. We’ve gone over this plenty of times before: Without adequate hydration, your skin’s natural moisture barrier can’t do its job properly. While drinking water is, of course, essential for your overall hydration, your skin also needs direct moisturization, supplied via skincare.
That said, not everyone loves the feel of traditional cream-based face moisturizers. That’s where gel face moisturizers come in. These water-based formulas hydrate without adding weight, making them ideal for those seeking an alternative to richer creams and lotions.
Ahead, we’ll introduce you to three of our best gel moisturizers and help you find the best formula for your skin type. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of gel moisturizers, plus how to use them for hydrated, healthy-looking skin.
What Is a Gel Moisturizer?
As the name suggests, gel moisturizers are bouncy, translucent formulas with a jelly-like consistency that spread easily on the skin. Unlike heavier creams and lotions, which often rely on emollient or occlusive moisturizers to trap moisture, gel formulas are almost exclusively water-based. This gives them an ultra-light feel and allows them to absorb quickly without a sticky or greasy residue. Don’t be fooled, though: Gel moisturizers can hydrate just as well as traditional oil-based lotions and creams.
Who Should Use Gel Moisturizer?
With their refreshingly light texture, high spreadability, and ability to hydrate without weighing down the skin, gel moisturizers are great for those with oily, blemish-prone skin. However, anyone who prefers the feel of water-based products can use gel moisturizers in their routine (including those with irritated or sensitive skin). The key is to find a formula that suits your skin’s unique needs. Read on to discover our best gel moisturizer for your skin.
Oily and Blemish-Prone Skin:
Ultra Facial Oil-Free Gel Cream
If you’re prone to blemishes or excessive oiliness, reach for a gel moisturizer designed for oily skin, like Ultra Facial Oil-Free Gel Cream. This oil-free moisturizer with glycerin and micronized amino acids instantly sinks into the skin, refreshing it with a burst of pleasantly cool hydration. The unique, non-comedogenic formula helps reduce excess oiliness and keep the skin feeling balanced and shine-free for up to 24 hours. When used consistently, it also helps minimize the appearance of enlarged pores (a common concern for those with oily, blemish-prone skin). The fast-absorbing moisturizer is ultra-gentle and can be used morning and night for fresh, healthy-looking skin.
Calendula Serum-Infused Water Cream
To keep combination skin looking and feeling its best all day long, we recommend Calendula Serum-Infused Water Cream. As implied, this ultra-light formula is water-based and contains glycerin and concentrated calendula flower extract—the latter of which is a Kiehl’s signature ingredient. The weightless formula soothes skin with lasting 24-hour hydration and helps improve the appearance of fine lines. It also helps visibly reduce redness to reveal more radiant, even-looking skin over time.
Dry or Sensitive Skin:
Hydro-Plumping Hydrating Serum
Those with dry or sensitive skin may instinctively reach for thicker creams, believing that the heavier texture will better moisturize dry or irritated areas. Some face creams, of course, are great for dry skin—but that doesn’t mean you can’t add a gel formula to your routine as well.
While Hydro-Plumping Hydrating Serum isn’t a moisturizer per se, its lightweight texture and impressive hydrating power make it worth including on this list. The mild, gel-like serum encourages the production of hyaluronic acid, an essential molecule involved with maintaining your skin’s hydration and elasticity. In increasing your skin’s natural moisture, this unique serum helps offset dehydration and visibly plump the skin, reducing the appearance of fine lines. It also helps boost elasticity, giving way to a smoother, more hydrated look over time.
Kiehl’s Tip: Because it’s a serum, this ultra-mild formula can be layered under the moisturizer of your choosing for an added dose of hydration.
How Should You Use Gel Moisturizer?
Now that you know why a gel moisturizer may be a good addition to your routine—next comes how to use it. As with any skincare routine, the first step is to start with a clean canvas.
Wet your face, either in the shower or at the sink, then apply a mild cleanser, like Rare Earth Deep Pore Daily Cleanser. This gentle exfoliating cleanser helps remove impurities—such as dead skin and excess oil—without stripping the skin’s natural moisture barrier. The detoxifying formula is suitable for all skin types and can be used morning and night for soft, healthy-looking skin.
Once you’ve rinsed off your cleanser, pat your skin dry with a clean towel and use a clean cotton round to sweep a cleansing toner over your face. Try Rare Earth Pore-Refining Tonic, which contains witch hazel water and mineral-rich Amazonian white clay. The mild formula helps remove residue left behind after cleansing while rebalancing the skin’s natural moisture levels. It also helps mattify excess shine and visibly reduces the appearance of pores over time.
Next up are your targeted treatments, like serums. Choose a formula designed to help address your specific skin concerns (for example, reach for a brightening serum if you’re struggling with dullness or an anti-aging eye formula if fine lines are a concern). We won’t get into all of the specific options here; however, you can check out our article The Best Serums For Every Skin Type for help finding the right serum for you.
After giving your chosen serum a minute or two to absorb, you can apply your gel moisturizer. We recommend using a generous amount of your chosen formula and applying it to your face and neck (any leftovers can be spread over your upper chest as well). If applying your moisturizer at night, you’re done—and can go to bed (yay!). For daytime, finish off your routine with a broad-spectrum sunscreen to help protect your skin from damaging UVA and UVB rays.