Moisturizer quiz time: You’ve A) used the same products for years but never took the time to consider if they are the best option for you. B) your skin always feels too dry, even though you moisturize regularly. Or C) you’ve heard the buzz about a new gel moisturizer but not sure if it’s right for your oily complexion. Beyond texture and formulation, face creams and gels offer different benefits for your skin. Let’s check out the basics to get you properly hydrated.
Meet the Experts
Dr. Azza Halim is a board-certified multi-specialist physician.
More emollient in texture, “cream moisturizers are thicker in consistency with a longer-lasting protective barrier for the skin,” explains Dr. Azza Halim, a board-certified multi-specialist physician. Usually, creams are an equal blend of water and oils and are packed with skin-barrier-boosting ingredients like ceramides “to lock in moisture from within the skin barrier,” says Dr. Halim. Creams are most beneficial for those with dry or sensitive skin. They can also be especially useful if you are in temperature extremes, whether sitting in a room with a roaring fire, spending time outside in the wind, or being positioned under a heater all day.
“Gel moisturizers are typically oil-free and have more of a light, water-like feel,” says Halim. “They hydrate without clogging pores,” making them ideal for acne-prone or oily skin types that want an oil-free option but still need that internal hydration to prevent further oil production. (Quick reminder: Oily skin still needs a moisturizer. Otherwise, it will over-produce sebum to hydrate the skin.) Gels absorb quickly, while some creams might take time to soak in, depending on their ingredients. So if you tend to rush in the morning, bemoaning the time skincare takes to absorb before you can apply the next layer or your makeup, gels might be for you.
Hybrids, Layering, and Application
However, let’s not feel like we must tick either the “cream wearer” or “gel wearer” box. You can be both. Maybe the forecast dictates our skincare. “Just as the weather changes, so do our skin needs,” says Halim. “Summer heat and humidity usually increase sweat and oils. Therefore one should opt for a lightweight gel moisturizer, and in the fall and winter months, you can switch to a cream.”
Maybe you have a morning and night switcheroo. In the morning, you might apply a gel. Says Dr. Halim: “Because gels absorb quickly and are oil-free, they can allow for better makeup application without the heavy, greasy feeling.” And then, at night, when your skin is a bit thirstier and does its repair work while you sleep, you can opt for a nourishing cream.
If you have combination skin, you can also cocktail your moisturizers depending on the needs of the specific areas of your face. For example, wear a moisturizing gel on your T-zone if it’s prone to oil and cream on your cheeks if they’re drier.
To simplify your routine, there’s a hybrid option with Sunday Riley C.E.O. Afterglow Gel-Cream. This moisturizer is designed for all skin types — even oily or acne-prone — and has a gel-like consistency that absorbs immediately. It leaves the skin feeling quenched. Plus, it works well under makeup, helping foundation glide on more smoothly and preventing any cakey- or powdery-looking dryness we all despise.
Application-wise, whether you choose a gel, cream, or a hybrid option like Afterglow, the way you layer your skincare remains the same. First, cleanse your skin, use a toner or essence, apply your serums and oils, then moisturize before you apply your eye cream and SPF. If you’re using both a gel and a cream moisturizer, start with the gel and layer the cream on top once the gel is absorbed. “This is beneficial for dry, dehydrated skin that is still dry despite using a cream moisturizer alone. Gel moisturizers boost hydration, and cream moisturizers help lock in moisture. Therefore, both help address both aspects of dry skin,” says Halim. And when it comes to moisturizer application, fingers or a roller? Halim says, “I recommend you blend into the skin first with your fingers, and rollers are optional based on preference.” After all, you’ve got choices.