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Best Oil-Free Moisturizer for Acne-prone Skin

Woman about to apply oil-free moisturizer to face

Whether you have dry, oily, or combination skin, finding the right moisturizer is key to achieving and maintaining clear, healthy, and glowing skin. But with a wide variety of moisturizers on the market—from face oils to heavy creams and lightweight gels—it can be tough to figure out what moisturizer you should be using for your unique skin.

In fact, for people with acne-prone skin, the wrong moisturizer choice can seriously exacerbate the condition (and potentially be causing it in the first place!). So what's one way to help narrow down the list of moisturizer contenders? Renowned Dermatologist Dr. Yoram Harth recommends that anyone with acne (or acne-prone skin) stick to oil-free moisturizers to help hydrate and protect the skin without causing breakouts.

Please read below to learn more about why it's important to use an oil-free moisturizer and which options are the best for acne-prone skin!

Does everyone need to use a face moisturizer?

Woman examining skin in the mirror

Dermatologists tend to agree that everybody—regardless of their skin type—should consider moisturizer an essential part of their skincare routine. This is especially true for people with dry skin and is strongly recommended for men and women with normal skin, combination skin, and even oily skin. The key is finding the right match for you.

Four main benefits of moisturizers

  1. Prevent skin dryness (help eating water and protect from pollution and extreme weather),
  2. Prevent acne. Skin dryness causes the skin to produce more oil and clog the skin pores. Active moisturizers help heal the skin and reduce inflammation.
  3. Protect and heal skin barrier function. Dry skin crack allows bacteria, fungi, and toxic substances to penetrate the skin. Good moisturizers, preferably with niacinamide, helps protect and restore the skin barrier.
  4. Help decrease the appearance of wrinkles. Retain the water in the skin and help plum the skin, smoothening and skin and reducing the appearance of wrinkles

What are the three basic types of moisturizing compounds?

Moisturizers will usually contain one or more essential ingredients: humectants, emollients, and occlusives. Humectants absorb water from the air and hold moisture in the skin. Emollients fill spaces between skin cells, replacing lipids and smoothing and lubricating rough skin. Occlusives are oily substances that form a film on the top of the skin, sealing in cracks and preventing moisture from escaping. Examples of humectants are hyaluronic acid and glycerin. The best emollients will be dimethicone, and the best occlusives would be cocoa and shea butter.

A good moisturizer should combine humectants, emollients, and occlusives.


They draw water from the lower layer of the skin (dermis) to the skin's superficial layer (epidermis0 when air humidity is > 80%. They can also draw water from the air.
Examples: glycerin, hyaluronic acid, propylene glycol, butylene glycol panthenol


Fill the gap between the skin cells and prevent water loss. Examples: Propylene glycol, Castor oil, Jojoba oil, Dimethicone, Isopropyl myristate


Prevent water from forming a layer of the surface f the skin. These are hydrocarbons, fatty acids, fatty alcohols, and waxes. Examples: Petrolatum (vaseline), Paraffin, Mineral oil, Squalene, Stearic acid, Cholesterol, Lanolin, Cetyl alcohol, Silicones, and Beeswax. Occlusive moisturizers can cause more acne breakouts and should not be used by people with acne or acne-prone skin. More info on slugging for acne

Why is it essential to use an oil-free moisturizer?

Most oils—even those considered "non-comedogenic"—tend to cause people with acne-prone skin by clogging pores and ultimately leading to more breakouts. For this reason, it's super important to opt for oil-free cosmetics if you struggle with acne. But what exactly does that mean? The definition of oil-free cosmetics is broad and simple.

It includes all of the products that do not have the word "oil" on their label. A more stringent interpretation would be that the product does not contain any fatty ingredients, including oils of any kind, such as butter or waxes. Many people don't realize that most moisturizers you see on the shelves and online are either oil-based or have sneaky hidden oils that might not be easily spotted on an ingredient list! This makes it super important to do your research and make sure you're using something explicitly labeled "oil-free" and "non-comedogenic."

Who can use oil-based moisturizers?

Oil-based moisturizers can be a good option for people with eczema (atopic dermatitis) or dry, aging skin that is not acne-prone. Oil-based moisturizers will typically include petroleum (vaseline), lanolin, or mineral oil. These help to seal the skin's surface very effectively and prevent water from evaporating and causing dryness.

How do oil-free moisturizers work?

Woman about to apply MDacne oil-free moisturizer

Oil-free moisturizers use ingredients that work to hydrate the skin similarly that oil does, without the pore-clogging and acne generating effects. It provides a thin barrier layer spread on the skin surface to seal in the moisture.

Oil-free moisturizers also use humectants, such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and aloe vera extracts. As mentioned before, these ingredients work by pulling and accumulating moisture from the surrounding environment.

Best ingredients in oil-free moisturizers

Dimethicone is a type of silicone gel regarded by dermatologists as one of the best oil-free moisturizing ingredients for face moisturizers. It is a great option for both oily and normal skin types. This compound is known to reduce trans-epidermal water loss without leaving skin greasy. Like oil, dimethicone can still function how emollient and light occlusives seal in moisture to the skin. Because it is both non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic, it is an excellent choice for people with sensitive and acne-prone skin (which is why we included the MDacne Soothing Moisturizer!).

What is the best oil-free moisturizer for people with acne?

If you have acne or acne-prone skin, it's super important to use an oil-free facial moisturizer to provide sufficient hydration. A good oil-free moisturizer will restore the delicate balance of the bacteria on the skin's surface, repair the skin barrier, and help the skin heal faster without worsening the acne condition.

The best moisturizers for acne-prone skin use a combination of the oil-free humectants and emollients listed above and botanical extracts like aloe vera or witch hazel for additional anti-inflammatory and skin-soothing properties. Other ingredients, such as antioxidants, can capture and neutralize damaging-free radicals that can prevent and fade post-acne dark spots.

We're biased, but we believe the best oil-free moisturizer for acne-prone skin is this Soothing Moisturizer from MDacne, which uses dimethicone and hyaluronic acid essential hydrating ingredients combined with plant-based extracts such as licorice root, aloe vera, green tea, shea butter. It is designed to work synergistically with topical acne treatments (from MDacne or elsewhere) to provide effective, lightweight hydration.

The magic of Niacinamide based acne moisturizers

Niacinamide is regarded as one of the top skincare treatment ingredients. It minimizes and tightens enlarged skin pores, strengthens the skin's natural protective layer, and helps balance oil production. In addition, it improves uneven skin tone, reduces skin redness, and diminishes skin dullness. Applying niacinamide around the eyes reduces the appearance of under-eye dark circles and wrinkles on the sides of the eyes (crow's feet). Suitable for all skin types, including sensitive or rosacea-prone skin.

What is the best alcohol-free moisturizer for people with acne?

In addition to its hydration and moisturizing properties, MDacne's niacinamide 2% active moisturizer protects the skin barrier layer, reduces skin redness and post-acne hyperpigmentation.
It minimizes and tightens enlarged skin pores, strengthens the skin's natural protective layer, and helps balance oil production. In addition, it improves uneven skin tone, reduces skin redness, and diminishes skin dullness. Applying the Niacinamide 2% active moisturizer around the eyes reduces the appearance of under-eye dark circles and wrinkles on the sides of the eyes (crow's feet). Suitable for all skin types, including sensitive or rosacea-prone skin.

Can you use oil-free sunscreen as a daily moisturizer?

Man applying MDacne oil-free sunscreen as a moisturizer

The summer months are always a good time to lighten up your skincare (and makeup!) routine. Instead of using both a moisturizer and sunscreen, you can also opt for a good oil-free sunscreen that provides broad-spectrum SPF while also offering hydration throughout the day. Also, look for a daily sunscreen with SPF 30 that's water-resistant, such as this one.

Curious about how to find the other right products for your unique skin? Take the free MDacne skin analysis by clicking here and get your first full customized acne treatment kit for free (just pay for shipping)!

To find the right acne treatments for your unique skin, take the free skin assessment by clicking here.

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