Late fall signals the time when most people begin their hunt for the coziest blanket, warmest coat, and all the other fixings to keep warm in the winter. While I definitely partake in that frenzy as well, my “winter is coming” panic mainly involves finding the perfect oil-free moisturizer for winter. I’m a summer baby (born in June) and so it makes sense (at least to me) that every part of my being thrives in the summer, especially my skin. But when winter hits, both me and my skin face the dreaded issue of colder temperatures and the dry air that comes with it. The worst part of it all is how dry the combination of my heater and the cold makes the air — this always results in the inevitable nightmare of peeling skin.
As a member of the oily skin squad, having my skin peel due to dryness always comes as a bit of a shock — this is supposed to be an issue for dry skin types, and my task is usually to keep my face from being the shiniest thing in the room. I’ve spent most of my skin care journey trying to find products that will mattify the natural shine that my skin produces. Much to my frustration most oil-control products only strip my skin of the moisture it needs or give it superficial hydration that doesn't last which leaves me with a — you guessed it — a compromised skin barrier, which is often identified by shiny or oily skin that is dry to the touch, sensitive to products, and tight, to name a few indicators.
A healthy skin barrier is the starting point for fixing any and all skin care issues — trying to treat acne, hyperpigmentation, or texture is virtually impossible if your skin is unable to retain moisture. Once I really grasped this and stepped away from the matte products, I was met with yet another issue: though mattifying products do more harm than good for me, products that boast deep moisturization can often be thick, comprising of heavy oils that, though great for some skin, are disastrous for my acne-prone dermis.
The remedy to my dilemma? Deep penetrating, highly hydrating oil-free moisturizers. My entire skin care routine has been oil-free for some time now which helps keep my pores unclogged. During the summer I often forgo moisturizer and skip straight to SPF after my serums, but in the winter my skin requires that extra step — many people turn to facial oils in the colder months and I do want that glowy finish that oils can provide; these water-based moisturizers allow me to have that without compromising my pores.
In these types of creams hyaluronic acid is usually the star but recently I’ve been finding that moisturizers that feature glycerin high up on the ingredient list actually do a better job of helping my skin retain moisture and in turn keep my skin soft, supple, and hydrated all day —even in the coldest of temperatures.
“As a humectant, glycerin draws in moisture from the surrounding air and helps skin retain that moisture, delivering an immediate boost of hydration. It also strengthens skin’s barrier and helps shield it from environmental sources of irritation,” Paula’s Choice Senior Research and Education Manager Desiree Stordahl tells TZR. “From a formulary standpoint, it can enhance the penetration of other ingredients for greater efficacy.”
Much like hyaluronic acid, glycerin is naturally occurring in the skin, Stordahl explains. As we age and are exposed to environmental stressors, the levels of glycerin in skin decline, which is why adding this ingredient back topically has such a great impact. Simply put, you’re replenishing skin with a substance it needs to function at its best.
While hyaluronic acid gets more acclaim, in reality, glycerin works just as well for hydrating skin. “It’s difficult to pit one against the other because they both work really well. Each has copious amounts of research backing their ability to draw moisture into skin and hold it there,” Stordahl tells me.
Though my skin care issues may sound hyper specific, having oily skin that’s prone to dryness and peeling in the winter is a fairly common predicament. So if you’re anything like me — in need of a moisturizer that will protect you from the dry winter air while giving you glowing skin and keeping your acne at bay — see below for the 10 oil-free moisturizers for winter that feature the unsung star of hydration: glycerin.
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Paula’s Choice products (namely the 2% BHA Exfoliating Solution) were my saving grace while I was dealing with my cystic acne breakouts a few years ago so it’s no surprise that its products are continuing to hold me down now that my skin is more stable. “The Water-Infusing Electrolyte Moisturizer takes a unique approach to addressing dehydrated skin,” Stordahl explains. “The mineral electrolytes go beyond the surface to supercharge aquaporins within skin so they’re able to deliver vital hydration more efficiently. The formula also contains antioxidants, ceramides, and B vitamins that work throughout skin’s uppermost layers, optimizing that ability to stay moisturized over time.” The result? A steady flow of moisture that keeps skin hydrated, which in turn gives skin a dewy, plump look.
I discovered this product through its sunscreen iteration (which is *chefs kiss* by the way). The regular face moisturizer is just as good as the sunscreen, with ingredients like glycerin, everyone’s favorite niacinamide, and the brand’s own prebiotic thermal water. Though this cream has a thicker consistency and technically isn’t a water gel, it’s still oil-free and doesn’t feel heavy when applied — plus it provides next level hydration that lasts all day.
Peter Thomas Roth
Peter Thomas Roth is a household name in skin care at this point. With a different product going viral every few months, the hype around the brand’s offerings is real and this water-based gel cream is no exception. Like with most of my moisturizers, I apply this on damp skin and it leaves my skin feeling supple and looking dewy but not shiny. Though the product boasts a Hyaluronic Acid Complex 30% which drenches skin with moisture for a smooth, supple look, the second ingredient glycerin is undoubtedly at work to help the skin hold on to all the moisture.
This cream truly lives up to its name and feels like a cloud on my skin. The gel, cream hybrid texture is light but very moisturizing — not to mention it’s fragrance free, which is always a plus for my sensitive skin.
Clean beauty brand Farmacy is best known for its highly effective cleansing balm, but my favorite product is this oil-free gel moisturizer. The Moringa Seed Extract and Moringa Water supports and refreshes skin by removing impurities caused by pollution and the not one, not two, but four types of hyaluronic acid plus glycerin make this gel ultra-hydrating.
Anyone who knows me knows that I quite literally never go anywhere without a tube of Aquaphor. Known for its all-purpose usage, this petroleum jelly based healing balm includes glycerin to enhance the healing properties of the 41% petroleum. My favorite way to use this is as an occlusive at the end of the my nighttime skin care routine — after applying my niacinamide serum and Retin-A, I squeeze and rub a dime size of Aquaphor into my palm, and press into my face to seal in the moisture, and every morning I wake up with glowing skin.
I was beyond ecstatic when Buttah dropped this product. I love the brand and founder Dorian Renaud’s backstory and its mission to cater to melanated skin; I’ve been using the body products for some time, however, due to how averse my skin is to oils I couldn’t use too many of the label’s skin care offerings until this came out. The oil-free formula is both hydrating and nourishing and it happens to be fragrance-free as well, which is always a plus for me.
Any product with squalane and glycerin, and, hyaluronic acid is a “yes” in my book. Squalene and probiotics work together to calm and soothe while also supporting the skin’s natural barrier. This is one of my go-to moisturizers when my skin is irritated from testing one too many products and needs a little extra TLC.
Alicia Keys has gotten a lot of things right in her life but this has to be top two (at least for me). When the brand released a fragrance-free version of its popular skin transformation cream, I knew it would be the perfect addition to my skin care routine. This is one of those creams that initially has a thick, rich texture but feels super light and melts into the skin.