Gel or Cream Moisturizer for Acne-Prone Skin?

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Got zits? Most teens, and many adults, struggle with acne-prone skin. It’s so frustrating when that big zit pops up front and center just before picture day or the morning of your wedding! Your skin still needs to be moisturized daily, but surely there is something you can use that won’t make acne worse, right? Fortunately, there are gel and cream moisturizers available, but which is better for acne-prone skin?

The best moisturizer to use on acne-prone skin is a water-based gel moisturizer. Water-based gels are typically oil-free and consist primarily of water. They feel light on the skin, absorb quickly, and hydrate the skin on the surface and at deeper levels.

If you’re trying to decide between gel or cream moisturizer for skin that succumbs to acne regularly, this is the article for you. Read on to see what’s best for acne-prone skin and why.

Should I Use Gel or Cream Moisturizer for Acne-Prone Skin?

There are two types of moisturizers to choose from for your skin:

  • Gels: Gels are usually water-based, meaning the primary ingredient is water.
  • Creams: The active ingredients in creams are dissolved in oil, giving them a more rich, slippery texture.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), the best moisturizer for acne-prone skin is water-based, oil-free, and non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog pores.

Often, traditional, oil-based moisturizers leave your skin feeling greasy, heavy, and prone to clogged pores. If your moisturizer makes your skin feel this way, chances are you won’t use it regularly as you should.

Benefits of Using Gel Moisturizers for Acne-Prone Skin

The following are a few benefits to opting for gel moisturizers instead of creams:

Gel Moisturizers Are Lighter

Compared to creams, gels just feel lightweight right out of the container. They don’t contain the richer, oiler ingredients you often find in creams. That feeling carries over to a feeling of airiness and weightlessness as you apply it to the skin.

Gel Moisturizers Quickly Absorb into the Skin

A gel moisturizer soaks into the skin much quicker than a cream. This allows you to apply foundation and other makeup sooner since you don’t have to wait for the moisturizer to absorb.

Gel Moisturizers Offer Deep Levels of Hydration

Even though a gel feels light and airy, it is still very effective at increasing the water content at deeper skin levels and drawing that moisture to the surface for improved hydration of all skin cells, especially since it is usually oil-free. (Note: Most gels are oil-free, although you may find some containing a small amount of oil. Read labels carefully.)

Below are a few examples of the most popular gel moisturizers for acne prone skin that are getting some good reviews.

First Aid Beauty Skin Rescue Oil-Free Mattifying Gel: Daily Moisturizer for Acne-Prone Skin.

Face Moisturizer by the makers of Differin Gel, Soothing Lotion for Face and Body, Gentle Skin Care for Acne Prone Sensitive Skin.

Neutrogena Soothing Clear Gel Facial Moisturizer with Calming Turmeric, Hydrating Oil-Free Face Cream for Acne Prone Skin, Paraben-Free, Not Tested on Animals,

Clean & Clear Aloe Vera Calming Gel Acne Facial Moisturizer for Acne-Prone & Sensitive Skin, Oil-Free Daily Moisturizing Gel, Vegan, No Animal Testing, Paraben- & Dye-Free

One study published in 2019 found that certain components of gel moisturizers encouraged skin hydration from within, drawing moisture to the surface helping to hydrate all the skin, not just the top layer. The study concluded that participants had better-hydrated skin, increased moisture barrier on the skin surface, and an enhanced, more radiant skin appearance.

Why You Should Avoid Cream Moisturizers for Acne

The Mayo Clinic says that acne rears its pimply head when skin pores are clogged with oil and dead skin cells. Keeping your skin clean and not adding any unnecessary oils can help combat acne.

Cream moisturizers should not be used on acne-prone skin because they are oil-based products.

Creams are richer and more emollient (softer and more soothing) on the skin than gels. This rich, oily feeling comes from a higher concentration of fatty substances like butters and oils. A rich cream moisturizer can feel heavy on the skin while it is slowly absorbed.

Creams work in a fairly simple way: Applied to the skin, they rest on the outer layer of skin to provide a protective coating that holds moisture in. Unfortunately, this barrier prevents your skin from sloughing off dead cells, and coats skin pores with heavy oils, clogging them up. This combination is a breeding ground for acne.

Should I Moisturize at All If I Have Acne?

Sometimes those who suffer from acne mistakenly think that they shouldn’t moisturize at all. Nothing could be further from the truth! All types of skin, including problem skin like acne, should be regularly moisturized.

The trick is choosing the right type of moisturizer and applying it correctly!

Benefits of Moisturizing Any Type of Skin

Your skin is the largest organ of your body. It’s important to treat it correctly to keep it in the best possible shape, just like you exercise to stay fit or eat well to stay healthy. One of the ways to maintain healthy skin is to moisturize regularly.

There are three basic skin types, and all of these can experience that annoying acne at one or another:

  • Oily skin: Skin feels slightly greasy to the touch.
  • Dry skin: Skin feels dry and tight to the touch and may look parched and rough.
  • Combination skin: Skin is usually oily in the T-zone (forehead, nose, and chin areas) and dry everywhere else.

Regardless of your skin type, moisturizing benefits your skin in several ways:

  • Hydrates the skin
  • Helps maintain a thin layer of moisture that protects the skin from acne-producing bacteria
  • Decreases flakiness and dullness
  • Slows down aging of the skin
  • Slows down the onset of wrinkles

Tips for Caring for Acne-Prone Skin

WebMD offers these tips for taking care of your acne-prone skin:

  • Use a cleanser that is specifically formulated for acne. An acne cleanser contains special ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide that help treat pimples.
  • Gently wash your face using clean hands. Avoid scrubbing your face roughly with a terry cloth or abrasive material.
  • Use a water-based, oil-free gel moisturizer that won’t clog pores.
  • Choose oil-free foundation makeup to keep from clogging pores and aggravating acne.
  • Keep your hands off your face. Don’t pick or pop pimples.


Whatever you do, if you have acne, don’t neglect your moisturizer. It may seem counterintuitive to put a moisturizing product on skin with acne, but that’s just what you need to do.

The key to moisturizing acne-prone skin is to choose a water-based gel that goes on smoothly and lightly to give your skin a healthy glow without adding to your acne problem.