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!). 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.

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

Does everyone need to use a 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 but is also strongly recommended for men and women with normal skin, combination skin, and even oily skin. The key is finding the right match for you.

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

Most oils—even those considered “non-comedogenic”—tend to cause issues for 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 essentially 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 butters or waxes

What many people don’t realize is 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 “noncomedogenic”.

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 are typically are based on petrolatum (vaseline), lanolin, and/or mineral oil. These help to seal the skin’s surface very effectively and prevent water in the skin 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 in a similar way that oil does, without the pore-clogging and acne generating effects. It does so by providing a thin barrier layer spread on the skin to seal in the moisture.

Humectants: Some oil-free moisturizers also use ingredients called humectants, such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and aloe vera extracts. These ingredients work by pulling and accumulating moisture from the surrounding environment as opposed to simply sealing in the existing water content of the skin. These humectants, often found in water-based gels, are generally used as a hydration “boost” intended to be used under an oil or another moisturizer because additional ingredients are still needed to seal in the moisture and prevent water from escaping the skin. This means that only people with very oily skin should use a humectant as a standalone moisturizer.

Best ingredients in oil-free moisturizers

If you’re unsure what to look for when purchasing an oil-free moisturizer, keep an eye out for these dermatologist-approved ingredients: dimethicone, hydrogenated polyisobutene, isodecyl laurate, and trisiloxane.

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

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

A point that cannot be stressed enough, is if you have acne or acne-prone skin, it’s super important to use an oil-free facial moisturizer to provide sufficient hydration, 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 as well as botanical extracts like aloe vera or witch hazel for additional anti-inflammatory and skin-soothing properties. Additional ingredients such as antioxidants can capture and neutralize damaging-free radicals can help 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 combined with plant-based extracts such as licorice root extract, aloe vera extract, green tea extract, shea butter, and other powerful boosters. It is designed to work synergistically with topical acne treatments (from MDane or elsewhere) to provide effective, lightweight hydration.

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 applying using both a moisturizer and sunscreen, you can also opt for a good oil-free sunscreen that provides both broad-spectrum SPF while also offering hydration throughout the day. 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 $9 for shipping)

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