Should I apply moisturizer or facial oil first? Do I even need both?! When your skin is feeling dry, you know the answer is moisture, moisture, moisture. But where to get it from? Oils are super moisturising, but take ages to absorb. I don’t want to wait 30 min before putting on moisturiser, so maybe I should apply that last. But then some influencers does the opposite and go with facial oil first and her skin looks amazing. What goes first, moisturiser or facial oil (and does it even matter)?!
- What Is A Moisturizer?
- What Is A Facial Oil?
- What’s The Difference Between A Moisturizer And A Facial Oil?
- Should I Use A Moisturizer, Facial Oil, Or Both?
- Should You Apply Moisturizer Or Facial Oil First?
- The Exception To The Rule
- The Bottom Line
What Is A Moisturizer?
While both moisturisers and facial oils deeply moisturise skin, banish dryness, and make skin soft and supple, there are some key differences between them. Let’s start with moisturisers. They contain both humectants (like hyaluronic acid) to attract moisture from the air into your skin, and oils and occlusive humectants to seal it in. Some moisturisers are oil-free, meaning they only contain humectants and skin-identical ingredients, like ceramides and fatty acids, that seal moisture in without adding more oil to it. If you have oily, acne-prone skin, oil-free moisturisers are the way to go.
What Is A Facial Oil?
You could say that a facial oil is a type of moisturizer. Some facial oils are pure, meaning they only contain natural oils. Others contain synthetic ingredients to moisturise skin, thicken texture, preserve the product, etc. Either way, facial oils focus on repairing your skin’s barrier, so that moisture stays in, where it needs to be to make skin softer and suppler. They’re ideal for dry skin that needs more moisture than moisturisers can provide, but can cause breakouts in oily and acne-prone skin.
BEST FACIAL OILS
- Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Luxury Facial Oil ($72.00): A pure marula oil product to deeply moisturise dry skin. Available at Cult Beauty, Sephora, and SpaceNK
- The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rosehip Seed Oil (£9.00): An anti-aging oil suitable for all skin types, including oily and acne-prone. Available at Beauty Bay, Boots, Cult Beauty and The Ordinary.
What’s The Difference Between A Moisturizer And A Facial Oil?
First things first. Before you go crazy trying to figure out what goes first, are you sure you need both a moisturizer AND a facial oil? I know that facial oils are all the rage now and you’re feeling like you’re missing out if you don’t use one. But what if I told you that a moisturizer and a facial oil do the same job?
Both moisturizers and facial oils moisturize skin. The main difference is that oils are always occlusive. They create a barrier on the skin that locks water in. Moisturizers come in different forms. Oil-free moisturisers, for example, work thanks to humectants, i.e. clever little molecules that attract water from the air into the skin. For oily skin, they’re the bomb.
But most moisturizers out there do contain a mix of humectants and occlusive oils, so they can attract water into the skin and keep it there. If your moisturizer already has them, do you really need a separate facial oil?
Related: The Complete Guide To Facial Oil: What They Are, What They Do And How To Use Them
Struggling to put together a skincare routine that banishes dryness and makes your skin supple and dewy? Download your FREE “Best Skincare Routine For Dry Skin” to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):
Should I Use A Moisturizer, Facial Oil, Or Both?
That depends on your skin type. 80% of people need only a moisturizer. Let’s see what YOU should be using:
Oily skin? An oil-free moisturiser is all you need. Thanks to your workaholic sebaceous glands that insist on pumping out more oil than you need, your skin’s protective barrier is intact. You know what that means? You can just add moisture to your skin, and your natural barrier will keep it there. No need for oils.
I’d go as far as to say that oily skin should stay away from oils. Sure, there are oils that are suitable for your skin type, like rosehip and jojoba. But oils tend to clog pores, so be careful when adding them to your skincare routine. If you don’t need them, don’t risk it.
BEST MOISTURIZERS FOR OILY SKIN
- CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion ($20.99): It uses humectants that hyaluronic acid and glycerin to attract water into your skin and ceramides to moisturise skin without adding more oil to it. Available at Beauty Bay, Boots, Cult Beauty, Dermstore, and Ulta.
- Boscia Green Tea Oil-Free Moisturizer ($38.00): An one stop shop for all the moisturising needs of oily skin, it hydrates, absorbs excess oil, and fights wrinkles all at the same time. Available at Ulta.
- Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Invisible Finish Moisture Gel ($29.00): A hydrating moisturizer loaded with antioxidants to prevent premature aging. Available at Paula’s Choice.
Dry And Sensitive Skin?
You need either a moisturiser or a facial oil. Your skin’s protective barrier is damaged. Moisture keeps evaporating through the cracks, turning your skin into a dull, flaky red mess. Ouch. Both a moisturiser and a facial oil can patch up your skin’s protective barrier. One isn’t better than the other. It just depends on personal preference. Oils take longer to absorb and they don’t always layer well under makeup. That makes them a better choice for night time. In the morning, a lightweight moisturizer is the best option.
Keep in mind that if you use a facial oil, you need to slather on a hyaluronic acid serum first. You need to add moisture into your skin if you want oils to trap it in. Hyaluronic acid is great at this. It can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water.
BEST MOISTURIZERS FOR DRY AND SENSITIVE SKIN
- Bioderma Sensibio AR ($24.90): A no-frills cream that moisturises dry skin and soothes redness and irritations. Available at Boots and Revolve.
- CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion ($20.99): A rare gem that works for all skin types, it repairs your skin’s protective barrier and brings dry skin back to health. Available at Beauty Bay, Boots, Cult Beauty, Dermstore, and Ulta.
- Paula’s Choice Omega+ Complex Moisturiser ($35.00): A rich moisturiser loaded with ceramides, fatty acids, and natural oils that repair your skin’s protective barrier and make skin softer and smoother. Available at Cult Beauty, Dermstore, Paula’s Choice, and Sephora.
When You Need A Moisturiser AND A Facial Oil
Is your skin so dry, all the moisturisers and facial oils you’ve tried are no match for it? That’s when you need to bring in a facial oil. You have two options here. You could add a few drops of facial oils to your fave moisturiser or you could layer one on top of the other. But, which one goes first, moisturizer or facial oil?
Related: Why Oil-Free Moisturizers Are The Best For Oily Skin
Should You Apply Moisturizer Or Facial Oil First?
As a rule of thumb, you should always apply skincare from the thinner to the thickest to give products the best chance to sink in. Following this rule, moisturizer always goes before facial oil. Here’s why: “Face oils don’t really add hydration to the skin, but they can help support the skin barrier and lock in the hydration that you’d get from a serum or moisturizer,” says NYC dermatologist Elyse Love, MD.
Plus, they take ages to absorb. Who wants to wait 20 minutes for the oils to sink in before slathering on moisturizer? Heck, if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably forget to apply moisturizer at all!
Related: How Long Do You Need To Wait Before Applying The Next Skincare Product?
The Exception To The Rule
Have you noticed those new hybrids between a facial oil and a serum? The Ordinary Retinol 1% In Squalane is the perfect example. Retinol is an active that needs to be applied as close to clean skin as possible. The more layers are in the way, the harder it is for it to get through. And if it can’t penetrate your skin, how can it work?
Yet, the base is an occlusive oil. It’s there to counteract the drying effects of retinol and moisturise skin. So, where does it go, before or after moisturizer? Before. If you’re using an oil with active ingredients that need to penetrate skin, apply it as close to the skin as possible.
Then, apply moisturizer on top. It’s not ideal, but you’ll still get some extra hydration. It’s not like moisturizers completely stop working if you use them on top of facial oils…
The Bottom Line
Most people DON’T need both a moisturizer and a facial oil. If you do, apply the facial oil last. The only exception? Serums disguised as oils. They need to be as close to the skin as possible.
Hi Gio, great report as usual. I am currently using the peter Thomas roth retinol fusion pm (remember a year ago I told you I can never use retinol because it broke out my face like it’s the end of the world, but now after the bad purging, my skin can take retinol now and enjoy the benefit) and it’s retinol + squalane. I often wonder if I apply it right after toner then the squalane will create a barrier to prevent all my other nice serums (niacinamide, vitamin C…etc) that I am apply after to penetrate into my skin and waste the good serum and money. what do you think?
Alan, glad you’ve found a retinol products that work for you. Oils like Squalane have big molecules. When they create a barrier on the skin, these molecules don’t create an even layer. There are still gaps here and there where smaller molecules can get through. It may reduce their effectiveness a little but it won’t make them useless. Or you can use them at different times of day. For ex, vitamin C in the morning and retinol at night,
I mix a few drops of oil into my moisturizer.
Ann, that’s a great way to get the best of both worlds.
Hi Gio. Love your blog!!!! If you go with moisturizer & oil, when do you put on the hyaluronic acid serum? After or before the moisturizer?
Cheryl, before moisturizer.
hi gio! love from indonesia! i already use hyaluronic acid hada labo then essence with HA and then moisturized with natural moisturize factor the ordinary but i still get dry skin? could you tell me what’s wrong with this?
Agassi57, are you sure your skin is dehydrated and not dry? Or are you suffering from any illness? Sometimes, dryness can be a symptom of a disease or a side effect of a treatment.
If my skin needs extra moisturizing, like in the winter months, I’ll pat on some oil after moisturizer at night or I’ll mix a few drops into my moisturizer. I only do this at night time.
After developing a sort of allergic reaction to salicylic acid which left my combination skin painfully dry and flaky, I ended up layering squalane oil over a very light moisturizer with snail mucin. Worked like a charm, much better than moisturizer or oil by themselves. The circumstances were very specific, though 🙂