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Expert Shopper Beauty & Personal Care

Best gel moisturizer

Which gel moisturizers are best?

Gel moisturizers are great for many skin types because they’re lightweight, not oily and easily absorbed into your skin. When you need to apply a moisturizer and go, or if your skin is prone to breakouts, a good gel moisturizer hydrates without leaving a film or feeling heavy. If you’re looking for a quality gel moisturizer, Murad Nutrient-Charged Water Gel is the top choice.

What to know before you buy a gel moisturizer

Rich in humectant ingredients

One of the main reasons to choose a gel moisturizer is to hydrate your skin without a heavy, greasy formula. Gels achieve this through humectant ingredients: those that attract and retain moisture. Hyaluronic acid, glycerin and aloe are popular choices.

Low in artificial additives and fragrances

Some people prefer to buy beauty products that are free of harsh chemicals and fragrances. This is especially beneficial for people with sensitive skin, as these types of ingredients can cause irritation. 

Low in occlusives

A common ingredient in many moisturizers, an occlusive is a substance that helps keep moisture in. Most occlusives, however, tend to be on the oilier side. For example, the butters and oils we see in heavier creams can cause breakouts in blemish-prone skin. If you want a lightweight gel, look for one low in occlusives to keep it feeling light on your skin and stop it from blocking your pores.

What to look for in a quality gel moisturizer

Low in alcohol

When you’re looking at ingredient lists, be sure to check that alcohol, in any of its many forms, is not at the top. Ingredients are listed in the order of greatest amount to least, so having alcohol too near the top means that the moisturizer could be harsh or drying on your skin.

Made for sensitive skin

Gels tend to be more soothing and less irritating than other types of moisturizers, so they’re a great choice if your skin is sensitive or inflamed. Even if your skin isn’t particularly sensitive, it’s always a good idea to treat it with as much care as possible to not put undue stress on it.

Quick absorption

One of the key benefits of a gel moisturizer is that it absorbs quickly, making it a great choice for people on the go. There’s no need to spend a long time waiting for a heavy cream to soak in before applying primer. A good gel absorbs in minutes, preparing you to go on to your routine’s next step in record time.

Natural ingredients

Another benefit of gel moisturizers is that they add hydration without some of the chemical composition of heavier creams. Look on labels for natural ingredients such as aloe, vitamins and algae to help your skin get its moisture from healthy, sustainable sources.

How much you can expect to spend on a gel moisturizer

A great drugstore product costs $15-$20. A premium brand with a more complicated formulation can run upward of $50-$70.

Gel moisturizer FAQ

Can I use a gel moisturizer as a night cream?

A. Most gels are formulated for quick absorption, which is why they’re ideal as a day moisturizer to seal in moisture before you apply your makeup. They’re also fine for night wear, but if you prefer a thicker product for deep hydration, nighttime is the time to apply that.

Is gel moisturizer enough?

A. For most skin, it is. Don’t let the fact that it’s lightweight and nongreasy fool you; gel moisturizers can seal in as much moisture as their heavier counterparts. The only skin that may need a thicker, heavier moisturizer is one with dry, flaky patches or with a condition such as eczema that requires specialty ingredients.

What are the peptides listed in the ingredients of so many gel moisturizers?

A. Peptides are amino acids, the basic building blocks of all the proteins in our bodies. Peptides give your skin the building blocks for a healthy, refreshed complexion, so they’re a great ingredient to look for in a gel. Peptides support the production of collagen and elastin, basic to bright, youthful skin.

What are the best gel moisturizers to buy?

Top gel moisturizer

Murad Nutrient-Charged Water Gel 

What you need to know: Murad’s science-based formulas are cutting-edge. This is one of its most sought-after and respected products.

What you’ll love: Various B vitamins, along with hydrating and skin-repairing vitamin E, make a foundation for this light, effective gel. Peptides and minerals round out the formula, which will leave your skin visibly refreshed. 

What you should consider: This is not recommended for acne-prone skin.

Where to buy: Sold by Ulta Beauty

Top gel moisturizer for the money

Fourth Ray Beauty Good Mood Gel Moisturizer

What you need to know: This oil-free gel moisturizer hydrates skin without leaving it greasy. 

What you’ll love: It contains watermelon seed, rose water, hyaluronic acid and marshmallow extract to nourish skin, so it feels soft and can more easily retain water. You can use it morning and night. 

What you should consider: A handful of buyers don’t like the scent. 

Where to buy: Sold by Ulta Beauty

Worth checking out

Dermalogica Calm Water Gel Moisturizer 

What you need to know: This vegan, cruelty-free gel is soothing and suitable even for sensitive skin.

What you’ll love: It hydrates, softens and soothes skin. It’s suitable for all skin types, from dry to oily. The cactus pear extract is soothing for sensitive and irritated skin. 

What you should consider: Some people with very dry skin didn’t find it hydrating enough. 

Where to buy: Sold by Sephora and Ulta Beauty

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Maria Andreu writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money. 

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