The age-old dilemma of whether moisturizers and oils are interchangeable in skin care can’t get any more complicated. Moisturizers and oils serve different purposes, according to skin care experts.
While oils help keep the skin’s outermost layers supple, moisturizing creams can penetrate the pores and hydrate the dermis’ deeper layers. (1) Oils also serve as a moisturizer sealant, so both products are essential for optimal hydration and protection from environmental aggressors and free radicals. (2)
Moisturizers are needed for deep hydration. (1) Oils can be too heavy for the skin, so you can’t use them instead of moisturizers.
Why Oils and Moisturizers Cannot Be Interchanged
Experts have concluded that “moisturizers and oils are not interchangeable.” Many moisturizers contain oils because they “draw water into the skin with a humectant hydrating effect,” (3) and “face oils seal in moisture with an emollient effect.” (4)
Although face oils provide a pleasant sensation when applied to the skin, it does not hydrate the skin.
Moisturizers are skin care products that boost hydration by increasing the skin’s natural moisture levels and blocking the skin’s natural ability to lose water.
Oils are a form of moisturizer. They have a higher viscosity and greater thickness, making them inappropriate for some skin types. Although creams, lotions, gels, and emulsions are all standard traditional moisturizers, oils are unique.
Moisturizers Versus Oils
Here are the differences between moisturizers and oils in terms of functions and benefits.
1. Moisturizers hydrate the skin, whereas oils can be used as a moisturizer ingredient
By supplying water from their water phase, increasing occlusion, and reducing trans-epidermal water loss, moisturizers hydrate the skin and boost the stratum corneum’s water content (the outermost skin layer). They also seal off tiny cracks in the skin, soothe the skin, and prevent further damage from friction. (3)
Oils are helpful in moisturizers despite their inability to hydrate on their own because they can help seal in the moisture. Oils prevent water from escaping from the skin or evaporating by acting like a nutrient-rich plastic wrap. Thus, face oils do not hydrate but keep moisture locked in the skin.
Moisturizers typically contain natural oils. (3) There are no oils that increase the water content of the skin; they can only retain the existing water. Thus, face oils are moisturizing but not hydrating.
Oils have the general structure of a triglyceride, essentially a molecule of glycerin to which three different fatty acids are attached. (5)
Using oils moisturizes the skin by supplementing and strengthening the skin barrier, which aids in moisture retention, according to experts. But not all oils are equal when it comes to moisturizing, despite their structural similarities.
In one study, reduced baseline sebum levels in Caucasian skin after prolonged moisturization treatment may increase the skin’s vulnerability, including its susceptibility to irritants. The study’s findings are in line with those of a previous study that found that the skin’s hydration score drops rapidly after discontinuing moisturizer use, regardless of the season. (6)
2. Oils are healthier because they lack harmful chemicals, but they can be too heavy
Oils specialize in a variety of benefits, the effects of face oils last longer than those of moisturizers, as it lacks harmful ingredients than some cosmetic formulation of moisturizers.
There are some oils such as grapeseed (7) and marula oil (8) that are generally not very heavy and have moisturizing as well as anti-aging effects on the skin. Some cosmetic formulations of moisturization include them. But since applying too much oil can be heavy for oily skin, so look for moisturizers that contain natural emollients.
If your face is oily, the additional oil may clog your pores, increasing the frequency of your breakouts. (9) It will also make your face oily and greasy, worsening the condition and appearance of your skin.
3. Oils and moisturizers both aid in skin smoothing
When applied to the skin, moisturizers increase the amount of water in the stratum corneum, which has the effect of smoothing the skin. (10)
Applying face oils is a quick and easy way to improve the texture of your skin. Many face oils are also rich in beneficial nutrients such as fatty acids and antioxidants.
In addition, they provide protection to your skin cells safe by mending and protecting the skin barrier, which allows for the better absorption of other skin care products.
What Should I Use First, Face oil or Moisturizer?
Oil is actually one of the heaviest and most dense products you can use, and it is the oil that allows your moisturizer to penetrate the skin.
Emollients, which include oils and lipids that do not clog pores, are all the rage these days, but they can’t replace humectants and occlusives. However, applying a moisturizer containing (humectants and/or occlusive (10)) followed by a face oil can help maintain supple, hydrated skin.
It is, therefore, necessary to first apply a moisturizer and then oil to the skin to seal in the moisture and provide protection to the skin.
Can Oils and Moisturizers Be Used Together?
Face oils do not contain water or rehydrate the skin because, as already widely known, oil and water do not mix.
Most moisturizers have a hygroscopic base. Add oil(s) to your moisturizer, which won’t emulsify with the moisturizer (similar to when adding oil to vinegar or lemon juice when making a salad dressing).
You can use oil on top of a moisturizer if you let the moisturizer get dry and be absorbed first. Taking this approach is preferable.
What Ingredients Should I Look for in a Face Oil and Moisturizer?
Choose a face oil and moisturizer that works best for your skin by considering your skin type and the ingredients it responds well to.
Rosehip oil has been used for centuries because of its reputed ability to protect the skin, revitalize a tired appearance, and lessen the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. (11)
Sunflower oil has been used since time immemorial due to its emollient, antimicrobial, and antibacterial properties.
In addition to improving dryness and inflammation, grapeseed oil is excellent for oily and acne-prone skin.
Moreover, there’s a lot of buzz around jojoba oil’s abilities as a moisturizer, sebum regulator, and soothing agent. Olive oil, almond oil, coconut oil, lavender oil, argan oil, marula oil, (8) tea tree oil, and squalene also benefit the skin. (2)
What Are the Drawbacks of Using Oils and Moisturizers When You Have Acne?
Using too much moisturizers or heavy oils on the skin may lead to sensitivity, dullness, and a disruption of the skin’s natural hydration processes.
The additional oil may clog your pores (9) and increase the frequency of your breakouts. Using oil on your face will make it look oily and greasy, which you want to avoid at all costs.
Oils and moisturizers have their own unique ingredients and benefits for the skin. Face oils are not a good substitute for moisturizers, but they are praised for healing and preventing skin problems while keeping the skin soft and hydrated.
Both face oils and moisturizers are necessary to maintain the skin barrier and good skin health. Keeping your skin supple, smooth, and radiant can be as simple as using the right face oil and moisturizer.
- Bianchini JM, Zhang Q, Hanna G, et al. A unique gel matrix moisturizer delivers deep hydration resulting in significant clinical improvement in radiance and texture. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6489629/. Published April 15, 2019.
- Lin T-K, Zhong L, Santiago JL. Anti-inflammatory and skin barrier repair effects of topical application of some plant oils. International journal of molecular sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5796020/. Published December 27, 2017.
- Purnamawati S, Indrastuti N, Danarti R, Saefudin T. The role of moisturizers in addressing various kinds of dermatitis: A review. Clinical medicine & research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5849435/. Published December 2017.
- Hon KL, Kung JSC, Ng WGG, Leung TF. Emollient treatment of atopic dermatitis: Latest evidence and clinical considerations. Drugs in context. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5908267/. Published April 17, 2018.
- Libretexts. 17.2: Fats and oils. Chemistry LibreTexts. https://chem.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Introductory_Chemistry/Basics_of_General_Organic_and_Biological_Chemistry_(Ball_et_al.)/17%3A_Lipids/17.02%3A_Fats_and_Oils. Published September 15, 2022.
- Maul J-T, Maul LV, Kägi M, et al. Skin recovery after discontinuation of long-term moisturizer application: A split-face comparison pilot study – dermatology and therapy. SpringerLink. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13555-020-00453-0. Published October 7, 2020.
- (PDF) the effect of antioxidant of grapeseed oil as skin … – researchgate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/335964313/.
- Author links open overlay panelBaatile Komane a, a, b, et al. Safety and efficacy of Sclerocarya Birrea (a.rich.) Hochst (marula) oil: A clinical perspective. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378874115301963. Published October 31, 2015.
- Moisturizer: Why you may need it if you have acne. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/skin-care/moisturizer.
- Mawazi SM, Ann J, Othman N, et al. A review of moisturizers; history, preparation, characterization and applications. MDPI. https://www.mdpi.com/2079-9284/9/3/61. Published June 9, 2022.
- Guzmán E, Lucia A. Essential oils and their individual components in cosmetic products. MDPI. https://www.mdpi.com/2079-9284/8/4/114. Published December 3, 2021.