Which gel moisturizers are best?

Gel moisturizers are great for many skin types because they’re lightweight, not oily and readily 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

Because the skin absorbs them more readily, it’s particularly important to make sure the ingredients in your moisturizer are pure and free of harsh chemicals and fragrances.

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, like butters and oils we see in heavier creams, and 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. No need to spend a long time waiting for a heavy cream to soak in before applying primer. A good gel absorbs in minutes, making you ready 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 fine for night wear as well, 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 non-greasy 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, basic building blocks of all the proteins in our bodies. The addition of peptides gives your skin 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

Murad Nutrient-Charged Water Gel 

What you need to know: Murad’s science-based formulas are cutting-edge, and 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

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Water Gel

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Water Gel 

What you need to know: Celebrities, influencers and makeup artists sing the praises of this drugstore gem, which hydrates skin with hyaluronic acid.

What you’ll love: This gel goes on clean and absorbs easily for soft, supple skin with minimal breakouts. This line also includes a cult-favorite sheet mask you may want to try in conjunction with the moisturizer.

What you should consider: Customers with open cuts report some stinging, so if you’re actively breaking out, you may want to refrain from use.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Tarte Sea Drink Of H2O Hydrating Boost Moisturizer

Tarte Sea Drink Of H2O Hydrating Boost Moisturizer

What you need to know: This vegan, dermatologist-tested cream is soothing and suitable even for sensitive skin.

What you’ll love: This cooling moisturizer is formulated with antioxidant-rich algae and soaks into your skin quickly, leaving no film. 

What you should consider: Although there are no artificial fragrances added to this gel, it does have a noticeable scent, so be sure you like it before purchase. 

Where to buy: Sold by Sephora


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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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