Water-based or oil-based moisturizer for you?

I was going through some of the comments and noticed that a number of readers have mentioned that it’s hard to find the right moisturizer that works for their skin type. In fact, when asked, I often find it hard to recommend moisturizers due to the different skin types. Should you be using water-based moisturizing creams containing mostly water with some oil or oil-based moisturizing creams containing more oil and some water?

So for those who have asked me this question, I thought I’ll share this information I’ve come across on skin types. Typically, most information just tells us about the four skin types – normal, dry, oily and combination – but this resource on DermTV.com takes it further and tells us that we should be looking at our oil and water skin type instead when choosing our moisturizers. Plus, I think this article may also answer Grace’s earlier question of why is it necessary to moisturize after applying oil to her face, which is combination type.  Grace had also mentioned that oil had clogged her skin and that it doesn’t make her skin suitably moisturized.

According to Dr Neal Schultz, our skin has water glands that make water and oil glands that make oil and they have nothing to do with each other. It’s the relative balance of oil and water on the surface of our skin made by each type of gland that determines which of the four facial oil and water skin types we have.

Dry skin
Your skin lack water, not oil.  So you should be using an oil-free, water-based moisturizer that restore and correct the deficient water content without risking collateral damage to the oil glands.

Oily skin
Your skin has too much oil and enough water.  So you should not use oil-based moisturizer but an oil-free moisturizer.

Combination skin
Too much oil usually at the t-zone and insufficient water usually on the cheeks.  So you should not never put oil put on your face because of the oily component of combination skin and you need a moisturizer that is water based to restore the missing water caused by the “dry component” of combination skin.

Normal skin
Just enough water and oil.  Dr Schultz suggest that you need not use a moisturizer.

While most of these make sense, but I’m also wondering if the rules apply rigidly. I would think it’s also important to consider the weather for example.  If it were in winter and it’s freezing, it may not be a good idea to use water-based moisturizer.  In addition, I am currently using a moisturizer that works for all skin types so I wonder where that one falls into. Finally, I find the suggestion of not using moisturizer for normal skin rather strange. Perhaps someone else can verify if this is true that moisturizer is not required for those with normal skin.

So are you using an oil-based or water-based moisturizer.  And is it suitable for your skin type based on Dr Neal Schultz’s suggestion of moisturizer based on oil and water skin type?


  1. pf1123 says:

    I think Normal skin is not Normal anymore. Nobody I know have Normal skin that doesn’t need anything. The norm are oily skin, oily-dry combi, etc ahahahahha….

    From the analysis above, seems like there is no room for oil based moisturiser.

    I think the level of oil and water also depends on age. When we’re younger, there is more sebum production due to hormones and when we get older, there is less. So, probably I will use an oil-based moisturiser when I get older.

    Currently, in my regime…..I don’t have a proper moisturiser at night…

    After cleansing/double cleansing…
    1. Toner
    2. Hydrating essence (some essential oils and water in there)
    3. Sebum gel
    4. Whitening serum
    5. Eye serum and cream
    6. Day moisturiser/Collagen cream (my beautician says the cream not a moisturiser)
    7. Sunblock in the morning

    Seems like I’m putting on loads of stuff…but this regime is a saver for my dry spell.

  2. sesame says:

    Ya, I was wondering who has normal skin and how does it feel like – no oil, no perspiration? A bit unthinkable. Must be perfect looking I guess.

    W.r.t. oil moisturizers, I think most pple use this on their body and seems that more pple prefer oil free on face or at least non-rich ones. Dr Schultz’s stand is that most pple with dry skin tends to go for oil-based moisturizer and it shouldn’t be the case. Don’t know. I don’t think it’s absolute and applies for all cos I’ve used oil and it was okay for my combi skin. When I tried those water-based ones, I feel my dry areas insufficiently moisturized so I double up with oil. Probably depends on the formulation.

    Plus dry skin could be an internal issue – like hormonal imbalance causing it so probably what we apply can only help by a certain fraction and not totally.

    Your hydrating essence is the same one you reviewed before? Or a new one. Actually, I fnd toner or essence like these helpful.

  3. Sherry says:

    yeah me having combination skin, oil based just makes it more oily.

  4. ann says:

    Thanks, this is a great article and really food for thought. Been having a dry skin spell and didn’t think to switch to a water based moisturiser instead of oil.

  5. zhenling says:

    i have been very confused about what defines a moisturizer. i have heard that it is s combination of oil and water. or humectant and emollient. either way, by that definition, that would mean that my toner is actually a moisturizer! is it possible that a product marketed to be a toner can actually be a mosturizer?

  6. pf1123 says:

    The hydrating essence is a new one. I bought it last year. Used it in late summer and find it a tad oily. However, its just right for my skin now. In fact, I think its the main hero in saving my skin.

    Actually, its a cheap one from BeautyEasy. A taiwanese brand. But surprisingly, it works really well. Looking at the ingredients list, seems like a no frills product.

  7. heather says:

    sesame, you using the day creme on the picture ah? hahas, yeah i’m using the sweetsation moisturizer with spf one.

  8. Jyoan says:

    So far, anything that is oil-based doesn’t seem to suit my skin. So am sticking to water-based ones.

  9. pf1123 says:

    Sesame, I read in one of your comments/posts which you say that the oils you used diminished fine lines at the eye area. I’m quite keen to try because eye serum and cream I use doesn’t really help at all.

  10. pf1123 says:

    Please let me know what oil you’re using ?

  11. Stephanie says:

    Thanks for letting me know in advance then that the Badger is oily. I may just keep using my Elta MD then….

    As with the moisturizers, my face is so oily that I used to not use any. But due to the climate in Austria, I have needed to use one. I find that a 10% Urea (which is a popular ingredient moisturizer here but I’ve never heard or seen in the U.S.) really helped combat dryness.

    I now use the Seabuckthorn oil as a treatment for my face at night. Should I use emu oil before for better absorption. Currently I use a hyaluronic acid.

  12. pf1123 says:

    Stephanie, the climate of our country is very humid. So while Badger is oily for us, it might not be for you.

  13. stephy says:

    i used to think i have combi skin.. but lately, i realised actually my cheeks are abit oily too.

    well, for moisturiser, including toner, i started to look for those which are oil and alcohol free.

    my latest regime is ahava smoothing moisturiser in the day, and h20+ ultra hydrator ( works lk a prep) & the same ahava moist at night ? i was hoping that this way, i will have enough water and yet get the combating pimples properties from ahava moisturiser =p glad that this combi is doing well for my skin currently.

  14. sesame says:

    Especially the t-zone I think. Probably the dry areas also secrete more oil if the oil-based can’t moisturize sufficiently too.

  15. sesame says:

    I’m now adding a squirt of mist to my moisturizer to dilute it a little before application. Not exactly water-based but it cuts down the richness.

  16. sesame says:

    Interesting point you raised!

    I am aware that some toners contain ingredients that act as humectants to attract water from the dermis into the epidermis, eg, glycerin but still, I think toners are more to balance the pH levels of our skin. In fact, cos they’re liquid and evaporates, so it’s advisable to use a moisturizer right after you tone to trap the moisture and reduce evaporation. Also, toner doesn’t make the skin softer and more pliable, like how a good moisturizer should.

  17. sesame says:

    Oh okay, the one you reviewed as a toner but it’s very thick like a serum so I thought it’s also the essence. But I was looking through the list you wrote and if I’m not mistaken, you have 6 products applied to your skin (excluding eye) every day?

  18. sesame says:

    No. That was a sample sent to me to test but I tried it once only. Texture is good but I don’t really like the cucumber smell.

  19. sesame says:

    Ah…out of curiosity…what’s your skin type? You might have mentioned it but I forgot apart from remembering your skin is also sensitive.

  20. sesame says:

    Yes, I was using only the grapeseed oil. Actually, I find that most oils have that effect. It could be transient as when there’s oil, the lines are not so visible. Another product I came across but not tried with similar effects is the Flaxseed oil from Living Nature.

    For eye cream, I’ll recommend you to try Organic Apoteke one if you don’t mind the redness. For the price point ($50+), it works. But I can only use this at night. I was recently told the stock is out and the customers are on the wait list.

    The other one I use is $200+ from True Beauty for the day. Good, but expensive so I reckon it doesn’t appeal to all.

  21. sesame says:

    Oh..I was using the seabuckthorn one first before using the grapeseed oil. Seabuckthorn as I told you causes temporary stain.

  22. sesame says:

    Is your Seabuckthorn oil the transparent one or the yellow one? Emu is good to aid penetration but it depends on the quality. I tried two – one was good, the other no effect.

    For Badger, like pf1123 mentioned, it might work in colder climate. Not sure. I think cos it’s oil-based, it can be really greasy. So get a tester before buying it would be the ideal way to check.

  23. sesame says:

    That’s great! It’s good to find the combination that works for you.

  24. Stephanie says:

    My Seabuckthorn is very yellow; claims to be 100% pure Russian seabuckthorn. Is this good?

    What was the difference in the quality of emu oil that one would work and the other one not?

    The one I’m looking to try claims it is 100% unrefined Australian emu oil.

    Let me know, thanks! =#k8SjZc9Dxk~#k8SjZc9Dxk=

  25. Yiting says:

    Although they are the experts, but i tend to have a different interpretation of skin conditions. Even as a teenage, we’ve been told that our oil glands tend to go into overdrive partially to make up for the lack of water in our skin. Hence, I usually use moisturizers that are water based yet still contain a certain amount of oil (ie no oil free moisturizers for me). This is because I’ve used oil free moisturizers with hydrating serums and I realise that at the end of the day, my skin still feels dehydrated. It dawned on me that my skin has difficulty keeping water in, even if I use hyaluronic acid serums.

  26. sesame says:

    I can’t tell the difference really. The one I bought claims to be unrefined but it wasn’t as effective as another I was given. I have no idea where the one I was given came from but was told it’s so good, it can be drank. *eek*

    Okay, I tried that Seabuckthorn Berry Seed Oil. Leaves a temporary yellow stain. Actually, the oil is quite good as it helped with my small pigmentation but, the smell. Woah!

  27. sesame says:

    I know what you mean cos that’s what I feel too. Plus, I use 100% pure oil and it worked well for me. Not all types of oil though…some made my skin more oily.

    But what interest me in this topic is what’s said about the two different glands and how they’re not connected. It also seems that the oil glands hate water and the water glands hate oil. So it’s quite a curious thing that when our skin isn’t hydrated enough, it gets oilier for some of us.

  28. pf1123 says:

    Yes. I’m using many products now.

    I was hesitant at first…and tried to cut down my products use when I had clogged pores. Only cleanse, tone and collagen cream. Then I find that my skin becomes very dry.

    Subsequently, I dug out the hydrating essence to use, my skin become better. Clogged pores are clearing. Only a patch of stubborn ones left.

    Then I find that the hydrating essence could have helped me to absorb other products and plump my skin more. Thats why I end up putting on so much. hahahhaa….

  29. pf1123 says:

    Oooh….and I find that the more I cut the products, going without anything on certain nights, cause me more clogged pores.

  30. yay says:

    never even know there’s water base moisturizer…i haven’t been reading the ingredit enough…but off the topic, i love ur site…u r doing such a good job…believe it or not…the 1st thing i do when i got to work is look @ ur site…lol….make mine long/boring job better =) thanks….

  31. TheUndercoverGypsy says:

    That was a wonderfully informative post, thanks for that.
    Apart from the debate about normal skin and using oil-free moisturiser, there is also the issue of being able to find these kinds of moisturisers in everyone’s favourite price point. On my last trip to Watsons, I discovered that almost every popular brand of moisturiser has glycerin, or alcohol amongst their first 3 ingredients, which limits our choice to a great extent. Since I was shopping for a glycerin-free moisturiser at the time, it got really difficult and my choice got down to Avene or Juice Organics neither of which had these ingredients in the top three. Phew!!! And to think moisturiser is only the basic step in skincare. ?

  32. Sarah says:

    that’s really great information.
    i’ve been trying to use oil based moisturiser thinking it’ll help combat the oil on my t zone and even out skin tone. but it havent seemed to work.
    i’ve tried EVOO, jojoba oil and lavender oil. i think the best was still lavender oil which didn’t break me out.
    would you have any good water based moisturiser to recommend?

  33. sesame says:

    Well, if it works for you then that’s great. But they’re all mostly serum and liquid based, so still quite lightweight!

  34. sesame says:

    Thank you for reading my blog! Your comments made my day! ?

    Yes, water based moisturizers are getting more popular these days with companies coming up with hydrating formulations. I’ve seen some in the pharmacies too (forgot the brand though).

  35. sesame says:

    Oh glycerin is very very common…I think more so than alcohol! Oh tell me about Juice Organics when you’ve tried it…I’m keen to know more about that range!

  36. sesame says:

    I hardly use the water based ones…hmmm…the only one I’ve tried is Living Nature’s Hydrating Gel (hope the name is right) and it was quite nice except for the smell. But they’ve tweaked their formulation slightly to improve the smell now…

  37. TheUndercoverGypsy says:

    @ comment # 18: I’ve been using the Juice Organics Pompeptide facial moisturiser (hydrating facial moisturiser) for almost 2 weeks now. It comes in a pretty, very handy tube (flip top) dispenser.

    The moisturiser itself comes out looking thick and creamy (imagine the Neutrogena hand cream if it was not a clear balm) and smells very fruity (expected, given the high concentration of fruit juices in its ingredient list) but the fragrance does not linger on the face, since it absorbs rather well and fairly quickly, however, there is a smooth, slippery feel to the skin soon after, kind of like after wearing a silicone based primer (which I attribute to the aloe leaf juice, which is the 2nd ingredient on the list). I have very dry, sensitive skin that started overcompensating for the winter dryness and I’d have an oil slick on my face my midday. I noticed a difference in around a week of using the Pompeptide moisturiser, when my skin got noticeably smoother gaining elasticity without the oilies and in week 2, the faint (really very faint) blemish spots I had are lightening/disappearing. Overall, I am very satisfied with this product – I believe in its anti-oxidant properties since I’ve been using this w/out any serum in the previous step and still this has helped with my skin issues.

    P.S. Since it’s not integrated with sunscreens, it might be seen as a drawback by some. Also, I recommend washing your hands after use, since the fruity fragrance lingers on your hands, but not on the face!

  38. Mi says:

    Sesame, you have raised some hood questions here. I have always had great skin since I was young. Always normal, but always used moisturIser since I was a child, my mom made us. I am in my fifties now and still have good skin, normal combination but now tens to be on the dry side because of aging factors. I still attribute my good skin not just to genes but how my mom taught us to take care of ours since we were very young, so I can’t relate to not needing any moisturiser for normal skin!
    I use alcohol free toner with my serum prior to sunscreen moisturiser in the morning and the same at night but with a different moisturiser at night. I have to add I read your blog about the grapeseed oil and tried using that under my morning moisturiser, sometimes I feel my skin needs that extra hydration, it works great fior me!! Does not make my skin feel oily but smooth and hydrated! Thanks for the tip!

  39. Mi says:

    Oops, sorry for all my typo’s, was typing on my iPhone….

  40. sesame says:

    Hi Mi: Thanks for sharing your experience! I’ve always wonder how it’s like for normal skin. So a moisturizer is still good then.

    Also glad to learn that the grapeseed oil has worked for you. This is so far, the one that I like very much because it does not make my skin greasy and works nicely with my other products. The only problem I found later is that it can go rancid pretty quickly!

  41. sesame says:

    That’s good to know. I can’t test that many products these days but I’m still very curious about some of these brands out there. Juice Organics is one I’ve been checking out at the store even though I haven’t planned on buying…

    If it does not leave a greasy film, then it should work for some who likes to use a sunscreen on top instead.

  42. pf1123 says:

    Yes. All in all my stuff are mostly serums and liquids. All easily absorbed. In fact, I think its difficult for me to use anything thicker. When I use paper masks and I don’t wash away cleanly and promptly after, I get pimples. Immediately. The next morning. Sighhhh….

    Seems like I can’t cut my whitening serum as well. I was lazy for a while and didn’t apply. Now a new dark dot appeared just above my cheekbone. Sighhhh….

  43. NT says:

    Thanks for your post. It will be really useful for my dry skin too. My skin become dry I have tried a lot of products but no use. I think your product will solve my problem. I’ll try it and I won’t miss it.

  44. sesame says:

    Ya, I’m also leery of creams…I dilute them with a mist of evian water nowadays. Otherwise, some days I have these small bumps too.

  45. siao says:

    How could I know if the moisturizer is oil-based or water-based?

  46. sesame says:

    Sometimes it’s stated on the moisturizer. If not, you have to look into the ingredients. Usually water is the first ingredient and if you do not see a lot of oil ingredients, especially not listed right on top, chances are it’s most probably water-based. Also, when you feel the texture, it’s more lotion like and less oily.

  47. Andrea @ Mineral Cosmetics says:

    I use water based moisturizer during summer and the oil based one during winter.

  48. Mark M says:

    Hey there, I have combination skin (T zone) as well.. The moisturizer I use is from Shielo.. It’s called Shielo Complexion AntiAging Moisturizer .. I don’t know if you’ll find the similar one where you stay.. But this moisturizer from Shielo is for oily or combination skin .. I really like this brand.. It doesn’t cause me any break outs.. Hope this helps!!

  49. taso says:

    Well dry skin is a skin type and this type of skin does not produce enough oil and dehydrated skin is a condition when skin lacks water. Any skin type can be dehydrated even oily.
    taso last post is: Review of Une Olive en Provence skin care range

  50. Sesame says:

    Interesting point!

  51. Eman Jamal says:

    How do you know if the product is oil based or water based? I know that if its water based it usually says oil free or it has (aqua) in the ingredients but all products have aqua wether oil or water based.

  52. Sesame says:

    You can go by the 1st 5 ingredients and also the consistency. If there are little oil content on the ingredients or they’re listed way down, chances are they’re water-based.

  53. Bilel Riley says:

    Very informative!
    This answers a lot of questions!
    But what I see nowadays that a lot of people cannot even define their skin type. Another point is that there is a dehydrated skin condition and dry skin type, and the skin may be dehydrated and dry at the same time.

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