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Face Oil vs Moisturizer: How to choose the best product for you

Your face is one of the first things other people notice about you and one of the first things you notice about yourself when you look in the mirror. Your skin health has a powerful impact on your wellbeing and having unhealthy skin can negatively affect your self-confidence.

Having healthy skin helps boost your self-esteem which is key to being more sensual and experiencing life more deeply. The most important of all skin care rituals is keeping your skin well-moisturized.

There are two main players in the face hydration department; face oils and face moisturizers. If you are wondering which one is right for you, this article will answer all your questions.

Let’s dive right in.

The basics of face oils and face moisturizers

What are face oils and how do face oils work?

Put simply, face oils are oils you use on your face.

Face oils have been around for a LONG time. The Ancient Egyptians reportedly used Moringa Oil as early as 4500 B.C but it was only in recent years that face oils made inroads into the mainstream beauty market.

The basic idea is that putting oil on your face will help supplement the natural oils your skin is producing. Oils supposedly can add moisture to your skin, help repair the skin barrier that keeps that moisture in and as a result, reduces natural oil production.

The effects of some plant oils were studied and the researchers found that plant oils can promote a healthy skin barrier, have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and can promote wound healing.

What are face moisturizers and how do face moisturizers work?

Moisturizers are cosmetic preparations, often as a water-based cream, lotion or gel product.

Moisturizers mainly work in two ways; trapping moisture in your skin to keep it from evaporating, or restoring moisture to your skin.

On a basic level, there are three types of ingredients in moisturizers.

  1. Occlusives – these create a barrier over the skin to prevent water loss, much like facial oils do.
  2. Emollients – these penetrate the skin, making your skin feel soft and flexible.
  3. Humectants – these attract moisture to the skin and keep it there.

Most moisturizers contain a combination of all three ingredients. Many moisturizers also go the extra mile with added ingredients for specific skin issues.

What is the difference between face oils and face moisturizers?

Facial oils are made of oils. Many are pure oils but many commercial face oils have added ingredients to boost its benefits. Face oils are occlusive and lock in moisture. They don’t add hydration to your skin.

Moisturizers come in many formulations but they are mostly water-based and can contain anywhere from 60-90% of water. This allows the ingredients to absorb into deeper skin layers. Moisturizers can be occlusive but they also hydrate.

Face oils don’t add hydration to skin but moisturizers do

Olay Regenerist Luminous Facial Oil
Olay Regenerist Luminous Facial Oil



Tatcha Luminous Dewy Skin Mist
Tatcha Luminous Dewy Skin Mist

Should I use face oils or face moisturizers?

That is the million dollar question and the short answer is always ‘it depends’. I will delve into why you would choose one product over the other depending on your skin type later in the article but these are some of the reasons why face oils or moisturizers are used.

Should I use face oils?

  • You should use face oils if your skin is dry and moisturizer isn’t doing enough

Fatty acids are a key component of your skin outer layer.  Face oils are usually rich in many different fatty acids. The idea is that adding fatty acids to your skin could help improve your skin condition and function.

Special tip: Make sure your skin is well-exfoliated and mist your face with a hydrating toner first to get the best effect from face oils’ occlusive function.

  • You should use face oil if you hydrate after a face wash or shower

Oil works better when your skin is wet as it is occlusive and locks in moisture. But you should hydrate as soon as possible after a shower anyway no matter what product you use.

  • You should use face oils if you want a product with no added toxic ingredients

We are more aware than ever that what we put on our skin makes its way into our blood stream. Oils are usually derived from plants, seeds, or fruits. They don’t usually contain preservatives or added synthetic ingredients. Having said that, most commercial face oils now have added ingredients to target specific skin concerns so read the label before buying if you want a pure oil.

  • You should use face oils if you want a natural all-over glow

Lack of sleep, stress, age, and even what you eat can make your skin dry and dull. Using face oil can help you instantly fake a healthy glow. There are some face oils on the market that have luminous ingredients added into it like the Olay Regenerist Luminous Facial Oil, Aesop Fabulous Face Oil and Paula’s Choice BOOST Moisture Renewal Oil Booster, Ceramides & Argan Oil Serum.

Paula's Choice BOOST Moisture Renewal Oil Booster
Paula’s Choice BOOST Moisture Renewal Oil Booster

Should I use face moisturizers?

  • You should use face moisturizers if you want a product that multi-tasks

Face moisturizers are usually packed with lots of ingredients that can address multiple skin concerns, from acne to skin brightening to anti-aging. They have skin-restoring ingredients like retinol, niacimide and peptides or hydration-boosting ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid.

  • You should use face moisturizers if you are in the sun a lot

Some oils can actually increase penetration of UV radiation. If you are planning to be in the sun a lot, it is probably better to stick with moisturizer for the day.

  • You should use face moisturizers if you have skin issues like eczema or rosacea

People with eczema or rosacea often have dry and sensitive skin which is easily irritated by skin care products. Moisturizers hydrate and are usually not as pore-clogging as some face oils. Having said that, there are some face oils that have been specially formulated for women with rosacea.

  • You should use face moisturizers if you prefer not to have anything shiny on your skin

Facial oils can leave a shiny residue whereas a light-weight face moisturizer can absorb quickly and leave no trace on the skin.

  • You should use face moisturizers if you have dehydrated skin

This is because moisturizers are more of a humectant and can draw water in. Facial oils don’t hydrate.

  • You should use face moisturizers if you want a product that lasts through the day

Face moisturizers now have next-level ingredients like hyaluronic acid and slow-release beads that can slowly release moisture throughout the day. For most of us with makeup on, reapplying moisturizer throughout the day just isn’t practical.

How to choose the best product for my skin type and specific skin concerns?

I have oily skin

External factors such as pollution and UV rays, as well as excessive cleansing can cause loss of moisture and increased oil production. Using a light-weight, non-comedogenic, highly absorbent moisturizer in gel or lotion form can restore hydration and prevent over-compensatory oil production.

Best moisturizers for oily skin: L’Oreal Paris Hydra Genius Daily Liquid Care, Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Water Gel, La Roche-Posay Toleriane Sensitive Fluide Protective Moisturizer

Some dermatologists actually recommend trying out face oil when you have oily skin as some oils are thought to balance your skin’s oil production and minimize the appearance of pores.

Personal experience, I’ve found face oils to be just that… oily. And pore-clogging. If you would still like to try face oils, make sure you go for light-weight, non-comedogenic ones.

Best oils for oily skin: The Ordinary 100% Cold-pressed Virgin Marula Oil, Cliganic USDA Organic Jojoba Oil

Avoid: Heavy oils like coconut oil and olive oil

Verdict: Face moisturizers are better than face oils for oily skin

I have dry skin

Whether your dry skin is weather-dependent or a year-round concern, you need to attract moisture to your skin and keep it there. That is exactly what face moisturizers do.

Go for a cream-based moisturizer with added ingredients like hyaluronic acid.

Best moisturizers for dry skin: Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream with Hyaluronic Acid and B3, Caudalie Resveratrol Lift Night Infusion Firming Moisturizing Cream,Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Gel-Cream for Extra-dry Skin

Face oils can be a major part of your skin-care routine as well due to their ability to prevent skin moisture loss. Use heavier oils that are more occlusive in nature.

Best face oils for dry skin: Desert Essence 100% Pure Jojoba Oil, Clinique Smart Treatment Oil, good quality extra-virgin cold-pressed coconut oil or olive oil

Avoid: Astringent oils like grapeseed oil and tea tree oil, products with retinol or anti-acne ingredients

Verdict: It’s a close one but if I had to choose just one, it would be face moisturizers.

I have combination skin

In essence, combination skin refers to having oily skin in some areas of your face and dry skin in other areas.

You can’t treat combination skin as a whole, you need to treat the dry and oily areas of your face differently. For your dry areas, use a face oil or face moisturizer for dry skin and for the oily areas, use a face moisturizer for oily skin.

Or if you are lazy, use a moisturizer made to target combination skin, although that’s a bit like 2-in-1 shampoos – useful when you’re in a hurry but definitely not a long-term solution.

Read the sections above on both dry skin and oily skin.

Verdict: This is a tie because both face oils and face moisturizers can have important roles in different areas of your face. Use face oil on the dry areas and face moisturizer on the oily areas.

I have normal skin

Aren’t you lucky? (note the hint of jealousy) You can basically use any moisturizer or face oil you want, especially if there are no special skin concerns. If you really want to amp up your skincare routine, go for products with added ingredients to give you an extra boost.

Best moisturizers for normal skin: Weleda Skin Food Original Ultra-Rich Cream, Tatcha The Water Cream, Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Cream Hydrating Moisturizer

Best face oils for normal skin:  The Ordinary 100% Cold-pressed Virgin Marula Oil, Biossance Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Oil

Avoid: There’s not too many products out there that you need to avoid but as a general rule, avoiding heavy products that can clog your pores or ones that can dry your skin out is a good idea.

Verdict: It’s a tie! You can use both face oils or moisturizers, or both at the same time! More on that later.

Skin with specific issues

I have acne-prone skin

Most people with acne-prone skin also have oily skin. But don’t assume. You can have acne-prone skin and dry skin as well. Regardless, be gentle with your skin care routine and don’t pick or pop that pimple!

You can have acne-prone skin and dry skin as well

I’ve found moisturizers to be more helpful than face oils for prevention of acne. Look for light-weight, non-comedogenic moisturizers and if they have added ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide or retinoids, even better.

Anti-acne ingredients can dry your skin out so if you have dry skin, use these moisturizers sparingly. I use my Proactiv Repairing Treatment every alternate day (less often during winter) and a hydrating moisturizer the rest of the time.

Best moisturizers for acne-prone skin: Proactiv Repairing Treatment, Neutrogena Oil-free Daily Facial Moisturizer,La Roche-Posay Effaclar Mat Face Moisturizer

If you must try a face oil, you need to pick the right oil and only apply face oil sparingly. Look for light-weight oils with anti-bacterial and acne-fighting properties.

Best oils for acne-prone skin: Rosehip Seed Oil by Leven Rose, The Body Shop Tea Tree Oil

Avoid: Heavy oils like coconut oil and olive oil

Verdict: Hands down, face moisturizers are better than face oils for acne-prone skin

I have dehydrated skin

Contrary to popular belief, dehydrated skin does not equate dry skin. You can have dehydrated skin even if you have an oily skin type. It means your skin is lacking in water. Here’s how to tell if you skin is dry or dehydrated.

The best thing you can do is drink more water and eat lots of vegetables and fruit. Read about more tips to hydrate your skin.

Go for rich moisturizers with hyaluronic acid to plump your skin up. You should also be thinking about using a hydrating serum (another article for another day).

Best moisturizers for dehydrated skin: Vichy Aqualia Thermal Mineral Water Gel Moisturizer, Laneige Water bank Moisturizer Cream, Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Cream Hydrating Moisturizer, Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Gel-Cream

Oils would work wonders too to prevent moisture loss. You can use heavier oils like avocado oil, macadamia, argan or almond oil.

Best face oils for dehydrated skin: Josie Maran 100% Pure Organic Argan OilThe Body Shop Oils of Life Intensely Revitalizing Facial Oil

Avoid: Products with astringent properties like tea tree oil or salicylic acid.

Verdict: Both face oils and moisturizers would help your skin health but if you had to choose one, moisturizers win for its multi-tasking properties.

I have sensitive or inflamed skin like eczema and rosacea

You need to be very careful with what products you use on your skin. The gentler the better. Go for natural products with minimal added ingredients. Some synthetic ingredients can be irritants and cause a flare of rosacea or eczema. Do a patch test before you use any products.

If you have sensitive or inflamed skin, do a patch test before using any facial products

Best moisturizers for sensitive or inflamed skin: Cetaphil Redness Relieving Daily Facial Moisturizer, SkinMedica Redness Relief Calmplex,Eau Thermale Avene Skin Recovery Cream 

Best face oils for sensitive or inflamed skin: Japanese Organic 100% Camellia Seed Oil, Darphin Essential Oil Care

Avoid: Tea tree oil, products with synthetic fragrances

Verdict: Both face oil and face moisturizers can work for you but you’ll probably need to test a few products before finding the right one. Go for the purest, most natural products possible to reduce your chances of skin irritation.

I have damaged skin

The sun with its UV rays is usually the biggest culprit here. But pollution, acne and just pure, natural aging can cause damage to your skin. Go for products with anti-oxidant and healing properties like vitamin E and aloe vera.

Best moisturizers for damaged skin: Olay Total Effects Anti-aging Moisturizer, Neutrogena Rapid Tone Repair Night Cream

Best face oils for damaged skin: Clarins Booster Repair, Rosehip Seed Oil by Leven Rose,Caudalie VineActiv Organic Detox Oil

Avoid: Avoid using face oil in the day as some oils can increase skin UV penetration and damage

Verdict: Both face oils and face moisturizers could work well on damaged skin. Use your repairing agents at night as that is the best time for your skin to heal. During the day, focus skincare on protecting your skin from further damage.


I have aging skin

Ahh.. another ‘benefit’ of aging. We can’t pull back time but we can try our best to prevent the skin side effects of aging. Nothing beats having a great attitude, learning to manage stress, and having a healthy lifestyle.

As you age, your skin produces less oil which can cause dryer skin and exaggerate the appearance of wrinkles. Both face moisturizers and face oils with plumping (collagen), anti-oxidant and healing properties can help. The key is to keep your skin well-hydrated.

Best moisturizers for aging skin: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Regenerating Cream, RoC Multi Correxion 5 in 1 Anti-aging Daily Face Moisturizer, Caudalie Resveratrol Lift Night Infusion Firming Cream

Best face oils for aging skin: Kora Organics Noni Glow Face Oil, Caudalie VineActiv Organic Overnight Detox Oil, Origins Plantscirption Youth-Renewing Face Oil

Avoid: Anti-acne products that can dry skin out further, like tea tree oil

Verdict: It’s a tie! Both face oils and moisturizers with added anti-aging ingredients can help with keeping your skin hydrated and giving it a plumper appearance to reduce the look of wrinkles.

Remember that your skin type will change with the different seasons, aging, hormonal changes and life events. You will need to constantly reassess your skin needs and don’t be surprised if a product used to work but doesn’t work anymore. Just go with the flow and look for a different product that addresses your current skin needs.

Can I use both face oils and moisturizers?

Of course you can! Some people use face oil at night and a moisturizer in the daytime.

Do I use face oil first or moisturizer first? How do I use both together?

That depends on what type of face oil you are using. Oils with small molecular size like argan, squalene and jojoba oil will sink into your skin quickly without clogging pores. These oils can be used first before moisturizer.

You can also mix a drop or two of oil into your moisturizer to give your skin a lit-from-within glow.

But if you are using both face oil and moisturizer at the same time, the rule of thumb is to use moisturizer first, then face oil. Due to the occlusive nature of oils, your moisturizer will not be properly absorbed if you layer moisturizer on top of face oil.

When should I apply face oil or face moisturizer?

The best time to apply face oils or moisturizer is right after washing your face so you can lock in as much moisture as possible.

To wrap up

As you can see, it all comes down to your personal preference, skin type and skin concerns. To add on to the complexity, your skin is a living organism that evolves, sometimes day by day. You should have different products to target your most common skin concerns in your arsenal.

I don’t think face oils can replace moisturizers. I think of face oil as a supporting player while the face moisturizer is the quarterback. But every team member plays a part in keeping your face well-hydrated and healthy.

So the ultimate verdict is… using both face oils and moisturizer together (not necessarily at the same time or on the same area) is like a double whammy for your best possible complexion 🙂

What is your experience with face oils and face moisturizers? Which do you prefer? Let me know in the comments below.

Now that you know about face oils and moisturizers, head over to my article on how to build a personal basic makeup kit (with special tips).

For more helpful articles like this and a personal invitation to the Sensual Mom Tribe, sign up for my newsletter.

Sharon James

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