Oily Skin? Here’s Why You Need Oil-Free Moisturizers

by Gio
oil-free moisturizers

Oily skin, meet your new BFF: oil-free moisturisers.

I know how much you hate moisturisers. Your skin’s already greasy enough without adding another thick layer on top that never sinks in… Can’t you just do without moisturiser altogether?

But oil-free moisturisers aren’t like other moisturisers. Like the name says, they don’t contain a drop of oil. Yet, they keep your skin soft, supple, and hydrated for hours on end.

How is that possible?! Let’s find out:

The Anatomy Of A Moisturiser: What Your Traditional Creams And Lotions Contain

Moisturisers are usually made up of 3 types of ingredients:

  • Emollients: Think of them as skin smoothers. They fill in fine lines and wrinkles, so your skin looks smoother. While they’re at it, they also help the cream spread evenly onto your skin. Examples include Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Cetearyl Alcohol, and Isostearyl Palmitate.
  • Humectants: They’re moisture magnets. They attract moisture from the environment and bind it into the skin. When skin has all the moisture it needs, it plumps up and looks supple. Common humectants include Hyaluronic Acid, Urea, and Glycerin.
  • Occlusives: These have big molecules that can’t penetrate skin. Instead, they create a protective barrier that slows down water loss and protects it from environmental aggressors. FYI, some emollients double up as occlusive. A few examples: Shea butter, Mineral oil, and Squalane.

Related: What The Heck Are Humectants And Why Are They In My Skincare Products?

Why Do Oils Do In Moisturisers?

The job of a moisturizer is to prevent dryness.

Your skin gets dry when its protective barrier gets damaged. Moisture evaporates through the holes, making your skin all dry and flaky.

Most moisturizers fix this by creating a barrier on the skin that patches up the holes in your own barrier and traps moisture in. That’s a job for occlusives. And a lot of occlusives happen to be oils.

Oils – like mineral oil, coconut oil, and olive oil (to name a few!) – seal everything in, including moisture.

If you have oily skin, that’s the last thing you need. Your protective barrier is usually intact. Thank excess sebum for it. It strengthens your skin barrier, making sure that moisture stays in.

Related: Is Mineral Oil Bad For Skin?

How Do Oil-Free Moisturisers Work?

What happens when you remove oils from a moisturiser? Enter oil-free moisturisers.

Oil-free moisturizers help skin retain moisture, too. But in a slightly different way. They only use:

  • Emollients: Remember when I told you that a lot of emollients are occlusive? Like oils, they create a barrier on the skin that holds moisture in. But they’re much lighter than oils, so don’t clog your pores or turn your face into a greasy mess.
  • Humectants: If your skin lacks something, it’s water, NOT oil. Humectants draw it from the environment, making sure your skin always has enough to be soft and supple for hours.

In other words, oil-free moisturisers are the perfect way to hydrate oily skin sans oils.

Are Oil-Free Moisturisers Really Oil-Free?

Technically, yes. Practically, not always. Here’s what I mean…

Oil-free is one of those unregulated terms that mean nothing. Brands can be as strict or loose with the term as they want to.

When they’re strict, they remove everything that’s either oily or acts as an oil. All that’s left are humectants.

When they’re loose, they avoid every ingredient with the word “oil” in the name (cos we aren’t stupid and we’d call them out on that). But they still use ingredients that have the characteristics of an oil. Here are a few examples:

  • Dicaprylyl Carbonate
  • Dimethicone
  • Homosalate
  • Isopropyl Myristate
  • Octisalate
  • Octyldodecanol
  • Squalane

These are fine for people with mildly oily skin. But if your skin is so oily, you need to blot the excess oil away every couple of hours, you may want to steer away from them, too.

Related: What Ingredients Are Comedogenic?

What Are The Best Oil-Free Moisturizers?

Are Oil-Free Moisturisers Really Better For Oily Skin?

Oils are problematic for oily skin, there’s no doubt about that. The oilier your skin is, the higher the chance adding oils can cause another breakout.

But every rule has its exception. Oils high in linoleic acid can help heal acne faster.

Here’s the deal: Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid that’s naturally present in your skin that has moisturising, anti-inflammatory properties. Plus, it plays a key role in your skin’s natural exfoliating process, getting rid of dead cells before they can fall into your pores and give you breakouts.

Studies show that acne sufferers have less linoleic acid than people without acne. So what happens when you add it back in? Again, research tells us that using linoleic acid every day for a month reduces spot size and incidence by 25%.

Every little bit helps, ladies!

So, what oils are high in linoleic acid? Here are the most common ones in skincare:

  • Evening Primrose oil (75%)
  • Grapeseed oil (72%)
  • Hemp seed oil (55%)
  • Rosehip oil (45%)
  • Safflower oil (68%)
NOTE: these are rough estimates. The exact amount of linoleic acid in each batch of oil varies depending on how the plant was grown (soil, climate etc).

So, should you still go for an oil-free moisturiser if you have oily, acne-prone skin?

It’s true some oils can help. But I do think it’s safer to stick to oil-freeproducts. Why? Everyone’s skin is different. The right oils can work wonders for some people, but cause breakouts in other.

Unless you’re willing to experiment, I recommend you keep oils to a minimum. But if you want to give linoleic acid a go, your best bet is to mix a few drops of rosehip oil with your oil-free moisturiser.

Related: Can You Really Fight Acne With Oils?

The Bottom Line

If you have oily skin, oil-free moisturisers are the way to go. They keep your skin hydrating without adding more oil to it. Win win.

What are your fave oil-free moisturisers? Share your picks in the comments below.

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6 comments

Dao July 28, 2009 - 3:36 pm

Hyaluronic acid also works well as a moisturizer. To me, I prefer oil-free moisturizer as it does not aggravate my skin condition. For those whose skin can tolerate oil, I say go for it.
.-= Dao´s last blog ..HiP Eyes FOTD =-.

Vonvon July 29, 2009 - 1:33 am

This is a very informative post. I have to admit that as much as I use skincare and makeup, I don’t really go deeper into its ‘pharmacology’, as in how a particular product really works on the skin and for the skin. *sheepish smile*
.-= Vonvon´s last blog ..Invitation To Kiehl’s Party =-.

prettybeautiful July 29, 2009 - 2:13 am

now i am using mattifying moisturizer too 😀 if it contains essential oils or mineral oils, it gives me tonnes of small tiny bumps!
.-= prettybeautiful´s last blog ..NOTD: Simple Gradient Glittery Nail Art =-.

beautifulwithbrains July 29, 2009 - 1:25 pm

Dao: you’re right, Hyaluronic Acid works rally well because it has good water-binding properties. I think if your skin is oily, then you’re better off using an oil-free moisturizer. After all, that type of skin already produces too much oil, so you don’t want to add more. But otherwise, there is no need to avoid oils, as they aren’t all bad.

Vonvon: thanks. I used to be like that too. I’ve started to take an interest in these things a couple of years ago and I found it really helps me choose the best products that work for my skin.

Prettybeautiful: that’s too bad! That’s the downside of oils, they have nice properties but can also cause awful breakouts for some people 🙁

Geo May 12, 2019 - 12:00 am

Thanks for this list Gio. I’d like to add a product that has revolutionized my oily, acne prone skin. Almost all moisturizers cause me to get clogged pores, tiny whiteheads, and or breakouts– even the Paula’s Choice ones designed for my skin type. I started using a Korean product called “Aloe Propolis Soothing Gel” made by Benton. My skin is loving this stuff. My face has not been this smooth and hydrated since I was like, 10 years old! I highly recommend it, especially if you use strong actives or if your skin barrier gets compromised. This product is really healing.

Gio May 31, 2019 - 12:44 pm

Geo, thanks for sharing. Sounds like holy grail material. 🙂 So glad you’ve found it!

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