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Photo: JGI/JAMIE GRILL/GETTY IMAGES
Applying moisturizer is usually as routine as brushing your teeth and about as mandatory. But for certain women, it’s a take-a-deep-breath-and-just-do-it chore. Maybe it’s because their skin is so oily that they fear compounding shine—and breakouts. Maybe it’s because they hate the sensation. “I’m always surprised by how many of my patients loathe the feeling of moisturizer,” says Ellen Marmur, a dermatologist in New York City.
There is an answer to this common problem: a new generation of gel moisturizers. They’re free of the fatty, waxy ingredients that make creams creamy. “Gels are lighter and less greasy than traditional moisturizers and easier to spread on the skin,” says cosmetic chemist Randy Schueller.
In fact, you don’t have to spread them at all. “Because gels are water-based, you can just pat them on, and the moisture sinks in quickly without leaving a film behind,” says Anna Prilutsky, a senior director of research and development at Johnson & Johnson. And here’s the thing: Everyone really does need moisture, even if they can’t stand moisturizer. “Dryness is a major cause of aging. We all talk about sun damage, but a big reason that’s aging is because it damages the skin’s moisture barrier,” says Jeannette Graf, a dermatologist in Great Neck, New York. “Once you breach that fortress, free radicals and pollutants get in and cause wrinkles.” Shiny or acne-prone skin isn’t somehow magically exempt, which is why gels have the potential to be a game changer for women with oily skin—”a gel moisturizer can be all you need,” says cosmetic chemist Joseph Cincotta. “Most of them deliver hydration without a high concentration of synthetic oils, like silicones, which can clog pores, cause breakouts, and block anti-aging or acne-fighting ingredients from penetrating.”
But although the new gels may look alike (translucent, a little jiggly, and usually blue), “a lot of them don’t contain occlusive ingredients that hold moisture in the skin,” says Schueller. That’s not a problem if you have oily skin—your own oils will lock in moisture—but everyone else’s “doesn’t produce enough natural oils to keep the skin hydrated, and when the water from gels evaporates, it dries you out,” says Cincotta. “You need a gel with polymers that create a film on top.” And you’re in luck: Some of the newest gel formulas have them; you just need to look for dimethicone or vinyl dimethicone crosspolymer in the top half of the ingredient list. And if you have truly dry skin, the kind where your face feels tight after you wash it or it looks ashy or flaky, gels can still play a part in your skin-care act—just not a solo. “You need to layer a richer cream over the gel to trap the water and fill in the cracks that let moisture escape from dry skin,” says Cincotta. Then, in as little as one week of daily application, “your skin will be plumper, smoother, and dewier.”
Shop Gel Moisturizers: Purifect Snow Cream Moisturizer