Beauty Editor's Guide to Gel Moisturizers

The next gen of gel-based moisturizers quench every thirsty skin type. Here's how to choose the right one for you!
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Michelle Villett
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The next gen of gel-based moisturizers quench every thirsty skin type. Here's how to choose the right one for you!

Just when we all got used to incorporating oils in our beauty routines—from oil cleansers to moisturizers to makeup—there's a new texture trend emerging, and it couldn't be more different.

I'm talking about gels, a.k.a. the new, hot (or should I say cool?) consistency in skincare.

As you know, gel moisturizers have long been a standby for the summertime and oilier skin types, as they're much lighter than creams, water-based, and won't leave skin feeling greasy.

While all that's still true, there's a new generation of gel-based moisturizers arriving, which incorporate that same lightweight feel with even more hydration power. That means a broader range of skin types can use them, even all year-round.

Gel moisturizers

Seven types of gel-based moisturizers.

If you're wondering why moisturizers are lightening up lately, I think the Asian beauty (AB) movement probably plays a big part. 

In Korea, moisturizer textures are drastically different from those in North America, sought-after for being light, refreshing, watery and jelly-like, and described using terms like "bouncy" and "moist." With all things AB having a major moment right now, it's no surprise that Western brands are following suit with their latest formulations.

Not sure how to navigate this section of the moisturizer aisle? Here's your guide to every type of gel: 

1. Basic Gel Moisturizer

Derma E Vitamin A Oil-Free Gel

Derma E Vitamin A Oil-Free Gel.

Best for: Oily and acne-prone skin.

What it does: Basic gel moisturizer gives you the lightest layer of hydration without any oils. Usually, water and glycerin will be the key ingredients, but there's nothing occlusive (like dimethicone) to lock the water in the skin. That means this type of gel can be drying once the water in it evaporates, if your skin doesn't produce enough natural oil to keep you hydrated. On the other hand, they're the least likely to be pore-clogging.

Gel moisturizers to try

2. Gel-Cream Moisturizer

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Cream

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Cream.

Best for: All skin types, even dry.

What it does: Gel-cream moisturizer combines the lightweight texture and quick absorption of a gel with the longer-lasting hydration of a traditional cream. Usually, they are oil-free, but will contain ingredients such as silicones or polymers to prevent the moisturizing agents (like glycerin and hyaluronic acid) from quickly evaporating. That means they can work for even dry skin types.

Gel-cream moisturizers to try

3. Brightening Gel Moisturizer

Clinique Turnaround Daytime Revitalizing Moisturizer

Clinique Turnaround Daytime Revitalizing Moisturizer.

Best for: Normal to oily skin lacking radiance.

What it does: Brightening gel moisturizer contains subtle light-reflecting pigments that work with its hydrating ingredients to give skin a more glowing, luminous appearance. It may come in gel format (like Clinique's) or gel-cream (like NARS').

Brightening gel moisturizers to try:

4. Moisturizing Jelly

Indeed Labs Hydraluron Moisture Jelly

Indeed Labs Hydraluron Moisture Jelly.

Best for: All skin types.

What it does: Moisturizing jelly is a clear gel moisturizer with a thicker, more gelatinous texture that may even have a "shape memory" like Jell-O. A popular texture in Korea for not only skincare but also makeup, it is usually hyaluronic acid-based, and may contain occlusive silicones or oils that make skin feel more nourished than a regular gel (though not always). In winter months, you can layer a jelly underneath a creamy moisturizer.

Moisturizing jellies to try:

5. Gel Toner

Osmia Organics Active Gel Toner

Osmia Organics Active Gel Toner.

Best for: All skin types except sensitive.

What it does: Gel toner is similar to basic gel moisturizer, but contains specific (usually botanical) ingredients that soothe and soften the skin, and reduce redness. Unlike acid-based liquid toners, which go on a cotton pad, gel toner is applied as a light layer of gel moisture, but is intended to be worn as a layer between your bare skin and serum, regular cream or face oil. 

Gel toners to try:

6. Overnight Gel Mask

Olay Regenerist Luminous Overnight Mask Gel Moisturizer

Olay Regenerist Luminous Overnight Mask Gel Moisturizer.

Best for: All skin types.

What it does: An overnight gel mask, also known as a "sleep pack," has a thicker gel or cream-gel texture that absorbs into the surface of the skin throughout the night, to deliver intensive hydration and repair while you sleep. Wear the mask in a light layer as the last step of your nighttime skincare routine; its occlusive properties will seal in all the other products, allowing them to work harder for you.

Overnight gel masks to try:

7. Emulsion

Shu Uemura Tsuya Skin Youthful Bouncy-Fine Emulsion

Shu Uemura Tsuya Skin Youthful Bouncy-Fine Emulsion.

Best for: Normal to oily skin.

What it does: An emulsion is a water-based light moisturizer that feels like a cross between a lotion and a gel. Expect slightly more nourishment than a basic gel, but less than a gel-cream; you can wear one on its own for light hydration or layered as a serum under a richer cream.

Emulsions to try:

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Have Your Say

Do you use a gel moisturizer? Tried any of these types? Which product do you swear by?