This winter, it’s all about super moisturized skin that boasts the most natural glow that leaves everyone guessing, “what’s her secret?” Of course, hydration is an obvious must, and these days, the options seem endless. The most popular choices are facial oils and moisturizers, which many people think are interchangeable and the same, but they’re not. Each has its place, but you need to understand their differences and use each one to reap the benefits.
Moisturizers vs Face Oils: What’s the difference?
Let’s cut to the chase here: both moisturizers and oils offer many skin-friendly benefits, but their most compelling advantage is that they hydrate the skin just in different ways.
A moisturizer is simply a product that helps retain or add moisture to the skin, says Dr. Nina Naidu, a board-certified plastic surgeon and the founder of anokha. “While this could describe either a water- or oil-based moisturizer, we generally think of them as water-based serums, lotions, or creams,” she says. On the other hand, oils are heavier and provide more of a conditioning effect. “They also retain moisture in the skin and do so by creating an occlusive layer that helps to prevent moisture loss.” However, unlike moisturizers, oils do not add or draw water to the skin.
So, with so many options out there, what’s a girl or guy to choose? Dr. Naidu says moisturizers work well for skin types that crave immediate light to medium hydration. Moisturizing products don’t always need to be in the form of a cream, either. Some versions, she says, have an oil-in-water formulation, as evident in a lotion, or a water-in-oil-base, like creams. “Creams have more oil than water, which makes them heavier than lotions, which have more water than oil.” Experts often recommend water-based serums over creams and lotions for oily and acne-prone skin.
According to esthetician and owner of Glow Skincare Kasey Boone, there is a common misconception in the skincare and beauty worlds that moisturizers and oils are interchangeable. “In my professional opinion, they aren’t the same since each functions differently,” she says. “Moisturizers with a water base can help bring hydration to the skin while an oil creates an occlusion to lock in any water that is already in the skin. But oils will not bring any more water, a.k.a hydration, to the skin.” For this reason alone, it’s critical to know what your skin needs to get the most out of what you use, although most people benefit from using a moisturizer to draw in water and oil to lock in the hydration.
While oils and moisturizers work hand-in-hand, almost all skin types benefit from using both products. “We need moisturizers to bring hydration to the skin and oils (they also great for cleansing the skin) for making the skin soft and supple,” Boone explains. “Because our bodies and skin are made up of 80% water, water and oil don’t mix, which means you need to use a water-based moisturizer to hydrate.” However, according to Boone, exclusively using oil can leave some short of the results they desire.
For deeper hydration, facial oils, like Sunday Riley Juno Antioxidant & Superfood Oil, are the way to go. But it’s important to understand that oils, which are just that, often contain more of their carrier oil and less of the active ingredients. “Oils are particularly nice to layer on right before bed, as they lock in hydration while you sleep,” she shares. They also serve as the perfect way to end a nighttime routine and act as a finishing seal of sorts to lock in moisture.
The ingredients to look for in each one
The common thread between moisturizers and oils, in addition to their hydrating factor, is that they both contain oil in some form. Boone says that including water and oil makes for a proper moisturizer; oils have only oils. For a moisturizer to provide hydration, it must contain a humectant (like urea, aloe vera, hyaluronic acid, or glycerin) to draw in water and an occlusive (like petrolatum, jojoba oil, waxes, or silicones) to hold in that moisture. From there, other ingredients to be mindful of vitamin-rich jojoba and marula oils, as well as squalene, which will not clog the pores given their small molecular size. Likewise, acne-prone skin should steer clear of face oils with coconut and argan oils, which may clog the pores and instigate breakouts.
How to best use each product
Skin type and your skin’s current play an essential role in choosing between an oil and a moisturizer. But if you really want to nip dry skin in the bud, a combination of moisturizer and face oil is your best bet.
In the morning, apply a lighter moisturizer with ceramides or hyaluronic acid, like Sunday Riley ICE Ceramide Moisturizing Cream, especially if you’ll be layering makeup on top of it. On humid days, opt for an oil-free gel cream for a dose of hydration without the need to worry about it clogging the pores. Finally, suppose you’re trying to achieve skin that boasts a dewy glowy and a bit of extra bounce. In that case, Boone says to apply a few drops of oil — Sunday Riley C.E.O. Glow Vitamin C and Turmeric Face Oil — to the skin in the morning before putting on your makeup — you can mix it into moisturizer or foundation, too.
Nighttime is the perfect time to ramp up the hydration factor since the skin repairs and rejuvenates itself at night, so it’s better equipped to use heavier hydrating and active ingredients, like Sunday Riley C.E.O. Vitamin C Rich Hydration Cream. In addition, oils are perfect for the evening since they create an occlusive lock of moisture and seal in your other skincare products.
In the world of oils, there are treatment oils to target a specific concern, like acne, for example, and nutrient-rich oils, which contain antioxidants and a blend of skin-nourishing ingredients. Apply treatment oils first and finish up with a nutrient one when using more than one facial oil.
However, the one caveat of daytime oil use is its ability to interact and possibly break down sunscreen. So, veer on the safe side, and always make sure that it is fully absorbed if you are using oil before layering SPF 30 (at least) over it.
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