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.