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The Best Gel Moisturizers For Oily Skin, This Summer And Beyond

An esthetician, a dermatologist and two skin care gurus weigh in.

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Is gel moisturizer the secret to your summer skin care routine? 
Is gel moisturizer the secret to your summer skin care routine? 

When summer rolls around, you probably swap out your full-coverage foundation for a lighter tinted moisturizer and get a fresh tube of waterproof mascara that won’t smudge in the humidity ― but what about your daily moisturizer? You might be tempted to avoid greasy skin by skipping that step altogether, but you’d actually be making things worse. When your skin starts to get dehydrated, it can start producing more oil to make up for the lack of moisture.

Unfortunately, slathering on a thick, creamy moisturizer in the middle of a heat wave and following up with a layer of SPF is less than ideal. If you’ve spent months curating your perfect skin care routine only to have products slide off your face once you step outside, it might feel like it was all a waste. A gel moisturizer might be exactly what you need this summer ― and maybe even all year round if you have oily skin. We spoke with experts to find out.

What Is Gel Moisturizer?

A gel moisturizer serves the same purpose as any other moisturizer ― to hydrate and replenish your skin ― but it is formulated to be lightweight, water-based and usually oil-free, said Dr. Michele Farber of Schweiger Dermatology Group NYC. A cream is thicker and more moisturizing because it’s an emulsion of water in a high concentration of oil, whereas lotion is thinner because it’s a few drops of oil in a mixture that’s mostly water, Farber explained. Besides texture, a big difference between gel moisturizers and a cream or lotion moisturizer is often the percentage of preservatives.

“The higher the proportion of water, the more likelihood of bacterial growth, requiring preservatives as prevention,” Farber told HuffPost. “This is not generally an issue, and these are skin-safe but something to keep in mind for more dry or eczema-prone skin.”

Ingredients To Look For

Since most gel moisturizers don’t contain oil, there need to be other hydrating ingredients in its place to ensure what you’re getting is worth its weight in, well, moisture. According to Christine Chang and Sara Lee, co-founders and co-CEOs of Glow Recipe, it’s important to pick a gel moisturizer that can deliver this hydration with humectants (moistening agents) such as hyaluronic acid (which can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water) or glycerin.

“Also, having antioxidants in every step of your skin care can help ward off the effects of free radicals,” Chang told HuffPost. “Some of our favorite fruit extracts, such as watermelon and pineapple, have powerful antioxidant properties. Having a gel moisturizer with soothing and cooling ingredients such as peony, cica, aloe can also help keep skin balanced.”

Celebrity esthetician Joshua Ross of SkinLab also said hyaluronic acid and glycerin are great, gentle hydrators to look for in a gel moisturizer, but he warned against fragrances and alcohol. Alcohol, which can irritate skin, is found in a lot of gel-based products, including sunscreens, because it serves as a delivery system to help the product penetrate the skin faster, Ross said.

Who Should Use A Gel Moisturizer ― And When?

Those with an oilier skin type might stand to benefit the most from a gel moisturizer, but anyone can use one any time of the year. It really depends on what your skin needs that day. If you’re feeling oily or know you’re going to be sweating all day, it might be a good idea to swap out your thick, emollient moisturizer for something more lightweight.

“Choosing a gel moisturizer is less about the season and climate and more about what your skin needs,” Ross said. “Your skin’s needs will continuously shift, so pay close attention and adjust your skin care regimen accordingly.”

Lee of Glow Recipe suggested applying a gel moisturizer in the morning after cleansing, toning and using a treatment. Those with oily and combination skin types should pat on a single thin layer, while those who fall on the drier side should double up to keep skin plump and hydrated, she said. Lee also recommended using a lightweight gel moisturizer as a mid-afternoon hydration boost by gently pressing it into skin, even on top of makeup.

“Everyone can use a gel moisturizer. It’s all about how you layer hydration,” Lee said. “I also love to use a pump of my favorite gel moisturizer and use it to ‘skin care strobe’: gently tapping into the brow bone, cheek bones and cupids bow to subtly highlight the skin.”

The Best Gel Moisturizers, According To Experts