Do most moisturizers feel too heavy on your skin and leave you looking shiny—or even worse, broken out? If you said yes, then it’s time to lighten up. Gel moisturizer is the answer for anyone seeking sheer, non-greasy hydration that won’t clog your pores.
Unlike creams, gels are high in water-attracting agents called humectants (like aloe and glycerin), and low in thicker occlusives (like oils and butters). This gives them an ultra-lightweight texture that absorbs into your skin right away, and is less likely to trigger acne.
What’s more, the latest generation of gels do more than just moisturize. Many formulas also contain soothing, brightening and repairing ingredients, and are low in potential irritants (like fragrance and alcohol). Plus, they’re so weightless, you can wear them under sunscreens, face oils or even other moisturizers for an extra boost of hydration.
Here are the best gel moisturizers on the market, why I chose them, and what you need to know about each one.
Editor’s Picks (At a Glance)
Best Clean Beauty
Best for Acne
Best Dewy Finish
What to Look for in a Gel Moisturizer
For best results, I recommend using gel moisturizers that meet the following criteria:
- High in humectants: Gels should be primarily comprised of ingredients that help your skin to attract water. Glycerin, aloe, panthenol, gluconolactone and hyaluronic acid are all examples of humectants.
- Low in occlusives: Ingredients like oils, butters and fatty alcohols are occlusive and form a barrier on the skin. Gels are meant to be light and fast-absorbing, so these should be in lower concentrations.
- Low in silicones: Since they, too, create a film on top of your skin (which can trap acne-causing debris and slow down cell renewal), silicones are best avoided. I look for gels without silicones in the first five ingredients, which typically represent about 80% of the product.
- Low in PUFAs: Oils that are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are prone to rapid oxidation, which can generate aging free radicals. I skip any products with PUFAs in the first five ingredients.
- Low in fragrance: The number one culprit behind skin irritations is fragrance. If you can’t avoid it altogether, at least go for formulas with fragrance at the end of the ingredients list.
- Low in alcohol: While fatty alcohols are okay, drying forms (like denatured alcohol) should not be present at the top of an ingredients list, since they can strip too much moisture out of your skin.
The Best Gel Moisturizers of 2022
Best K-Beauty: Benton Aloe Propolis Soothing Gel
- What it does: Benton Aloe Propolis Soothing Gel is a light gel moisturizer that helps to soothe, cool, reduce inflammation and moisturize your skin.
- Key ingredients: Aloe, glycerin, propolis, cucumber.
- Editor’s notes: This cult-favourite K-beauty gel combines two of the best ingredients for all skin types—especially sensitive and acne-prone skin. Aloe is famously calming and hydrating, while propolis (a.k.a. “bee glue”) is prized for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Rest assured that it is non-sticky as well as fragrance-free, silicone-free and oil-free. Bonus: You can use it as an after-sun lotion, too.
Best Clean Beauty: Plenaire Droplet Lightweight Moisture Gel
- What it does: Plenaire Droplet Lightweight Moisture Gel is a lightweight, cool-to-the-touch moisture gel that absorbs instantly and hydrates without heaviness.
- Key ingredients: Glycerin, plant sugars, xanthan gum, lethicin, hyaluronic acid.
- Editor’s notes: Don’t let this clear jelly fool you. It’s actually one of the most hydrating gel moisturizers, and is made with only clean ingredients such as high-molecular-weight hyaluronic acid. It’s not heavy or sticky, and leaves a semi-matte finish thanks to the addition of oil-absorbing silica (not silicone). It’s also buildable, so you can add a second layer for even more moisture.
Best Multitasking: Rose Inc Hydration Replenish Microencapsulated Moisturizer
- What it does: Rose Inc Hydration Replenish Microencapsulated Moisturizer is a gel moisturizer with microencapsulation technology, which delivers both intensive moisture and brightening, anti-aging actives.
- Key ingredients: Capric triglycerides, glycerin, betaine, squalane, niacinamide, meadowfoam seed oil, Centella Asiatica, peptides, vitamin C (ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate).
- Editor’s notes: This rose-tinted jelly was created by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who has high standards for skincare due to her own finicky, acne-prone skin. So it’s totally weightless and non-comedogenic—yet it’s also extremely hydrating, thanks to the addition of ingredients like squalane and niacinamide. The latter helps to even skin tone, too, along with vitamin C to brighten and peptides to target signs of aging. All the actives are kept in high-tech microspheres to maintain potency.
Best Hydrating: Indeed Labs Hydraluron Moisture Jelly
- What it does: Indeed Labs Hydraluron Moisture Jelly is a jelly moisturizer that combats dehydration, dryness, dullness and signs of premature aging by providing your skin with instant and long-lasting hydration.
- Key ingredients: Glycerin, trehalose, serine (amino acid), algae, biosaccharide gum, pullulan, hyaluronic acid.
- Editor’s notes: With the texture of a fast-absorbing clear jelly, this moisturizer acts like a big drink of water for dry, thirsty skin. But the results aren’t just short-term. It also forms an invisible, protective layer on your skin surface to keep hydration locked in longer and prevent it from evaporating. It’s also silicone-free, oil-free and fragrance-free.
Best Calming: Epicuren Discovery Aloe Vera Calming Gel
- What it does: Epicuren Discovery Aloe Vera Calming Gel is a gentle, aloe vera-based gel that moisturizes all skin types.
- Key ingredients: Aloe, green tea, cucumber, allantoin, provitamin B5 (panthenol), glycerin.
- Editor’s notes: This gel is a favourite of Kate Bosworth—and have you seen how flawless her skin looks?! She uses it to calm her sensitive skin, although it’s suitable for any and all skin types. The brand uses the pure, whole leaf of the aloe vera plant and few other ingredients (no fragrance, silicone or oils!), so it is incredibly gentle and soothing. You can use this one on your body, too.
Best Brightening: Éminence Organic Skin Care Stone Crop Hydrating Gel
- What it does: Éminence Organic Skin Care Stone Crop Hydrating Gel is a hydrating gel that soothes, heals and evens skin tone to minimize the appearance of fine lines and pigmentation.
- Key ingredients: Stone crop juice and extract, aloe, bearberry, glycerin, arbutin, vitamin C (magnesium ascorbyl phosphate), provitamin B5 (panthenol).
- Editor’s notes: This award-winning gel is packed with all-natural botanical extracts, vitamins, antioxidants and brightening agents to soothe, repair and even out your skin tone. The arbutin, vitamin C and bearberry are particularly effective for pigmentation, while the stone crop (for which it is named) is soothing and moisturizing. You can even customize your level of hydration by emulsifying it with water or applying it in a thicker layer. It leaves a smooth, matte finish despite being completely silicone-free.
Best for Acne: Pyunkang Yul Acne Cream
- What it does: Pyunkang Yul Acne Cream is a gel moisturizer that soothes irritated and inflamed skin and delivers deep moisture.
- Key ingredients: Glycerin, niacinamide, willow bark, Centella Asiatica, skullcap root, green tea, chamomile, rosemary, copper peptides.
- Editor’s notes: The name “Acne Cream” is a bit of misnomer, as this moisturizer is a translucent gel (not a cream), and it can be used by an array of skin types. It was developed by the Pyunkang Eastern Medicine Clinic in Seoul, which specializes in treating sensitive and acne-prone skin with simple formulas and no unnecessary ingredients. As such, it is fragrance-free, silicone-free and oil-free, and works to hydrates and reinforce the skin barrier. If you have acne, it will also help to prevent bacterial growth and control excess sebum.
Best Dewy Finish: Peach & Lily Glass Skin Water-Gel Moisturizer
- What it does: Peach & Lily Glass Skin Water-Gel Moisturizer is a light-as-air gel moisturizer that hydrates, balances and strengthens your skin, leaving it with a healthy, “glass skin” glow.
- Key ingredients: Glycerin, calendula water, hyaluronic acid, kiwi extract, peach extract, chamomile water, probiotics.
- Editor’s notes: This gel was inspired by the K-beauty “glass skin” trend, which is all about skin that looks poreless, luminous and translucent. So in addition to replenishing moisture with weightless humectants, it also supports your microbiome to help calm and prevent irritation, redness and breakouts. Rather than silicones, it uses a silicone alternative to instantly blur imperfections and give your skin a subtle radiance. It’s free of oil and fragrance as well.
Best Clean Beauty: Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Pink Juice Moisturizer
- What it does: Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Pink Juice Moisturizer is a silky gel moisturizer that plumps, soothes and seals in hydration while guarding against free radicals.
- Key ingredients: Watermelon fruit and extract, wheat protein, soy protein, corn protein, glutamic acid, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, peony, licorice, jasmine.
- Editor’s notes: Unlike most moisturizers, which are mostly water, this gel is comprised of 90% watermelon and other botanical extracts (including jasmine and peony). That’s why it’s so hydrating despite its light, fast-absorbing texture. Watermelon is high in amino acids that help to maintain hydration, and also acts as an antioxidant to counteract oxidative stress. Hyaluronic acid plays a supporting role, with no need for oils or silicones (although there is less than 1% fragrance).
Best Calming: Dr. Alkaitis Organic Soothing Gel
- What it does: Dr. Alkaitis Organic Soothing Gel is a comforting, soothing and hydrating antibacterial treatment that leaves your skin soft, supple and revitalized.
- Key ingredients: Aloe, witch hazel distillate, grape alcohol, nettle, chamomile, myrrh, seaweed, natural vitamin B complex, natural vitamin C complex.
- Editor's notes: Dr. Alkaitis—a chemist and molecular biologist trained in plant-based medicine—formulates with only the highest-quality organic and biodynamic ingredients, and that includes this multi-purpose gel. It acts as both a lightweight moisturizer and as a skin-soothing treatment for conditions such as eczema, rosace and acne. You can also use it on your skin post-hair removal. Naturally, it’s made without silicones or fragrance.
Best Splurge: Dr. Barbara Sturm Aloe Vera Gel
- What it does: Dr. Barbara Sturm Aloe Vera Gel is a refreshing gel that provides your skin with intensive soothing, cooling and hydrating benefits.
- Key ingredients: Aloe, glycerin, purslane, betaine, provitamin B5 (panthenol).
- Editor’s notes: It’s definitely a splurge, but this aloe-based gel is the most elegant, non-sticky and effective one that you’ll ever find. It consists of 90% certified organic aloe vera leaf juice (all hand-selected to ensure the ultimate freshness and purity). Dr. Sturm added antioxidant-rich purslane to give skin protection from free radicals, plus provitamin B5 for additional soothing. You can use this as either a daily face moisturizer or (if budget allows) on your body as a moisturizer, post-hair removal treatment or after-sun lotion.
Best Drugstore: La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Matte Moisturizer
- What it does: La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Matte Moisturizer is a lightweight gel moisturizer that provides all-day hydration without shine, and repairs the skin barrier after one hour.
- Key ingredients: Glycerin, silica, betaine, niacinamide, corn starch, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, perlite.
- Editor’s notes: Contrary to most gel moisturizers at the drugstore, this one is free of silicones, oil, alcohol and fragrance. It’s also packed with surprisingly skin-friendly ingredients—like niacinamide to calm redness, support the skin barrier and fade discolourations, and ceramides to retain moisture and heal barrier damage. The base is the brand’s signature soothing thermal water, and there’s silica and perlite to mattify and absorb oil.
Best Dewy Finish: OTZI Hydro Crystal Lightweight Gel Moisturizer
- What it does: OTZI Hydro Crystal Lightweight Gel Moisturizer is a lightweight gel moisturizer that hydrates, visibly plumps and softens your skin.
- Key ingredients: Glycerin, capric triglycerides, xanthan gum, lethicin, silica, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, sodium PCA.
- Editor’s notes: If you love the look of glowing skin, then you’ll love the subtle iridescence of this light, refreshing gel. It gives you a dewy (not shimmery or glittery) finish, courtesy of the light-reflecting mica particles running through the formula. It’s also packed with skin-softening floral extracts and humectants, plus ceramides and lethicin to keep them locked in. This moisturizer is also free of alcohol and silicones, and less than 1% natural fragrance.
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