Gel Moisturizer vs Cream: Know the Difference

Gel Moisturizer vs Cream: Know the Difference


Khadija B.
November 1, 2021

Whether you’re a regular gal or a beauty aficionado, you already know the importance of moisturizing your face every day.

What you might not realize though, is that gel moisturizers and gel creams each bring something new to the table, and one or the other is likely to be a better fit for you.

What’s the difference between a gel moisturizer and a cream moisturizer? The biggest difference is the base of the formulas used to create them, with gels being water-based and cream oil-based.

However, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, so you’ll need to inspect the ingredients and formula before committing to one.

Even without any other steps in your skincare routine, you should never miss out on moisturization, but with all of these features and ingredients to consider, it’s hard to know which is best.

This guide will look at the pros, cons, and differences of gel moisturizer vs cream, giving you an answer once and for all.

Why Moisturization Matters

Why Moisturization Matters

Ask any beauty expert and they’ll tell you that applying a daily moisturizer is one of the most important things we can do for our skin.

As we’re exposed each day to elements like wind and sunlight, plus the various other contaminants in the air and around us, we need to provide a barrier of protection, which moisturizer does.

When you apply a moisturizer each morning, you’ll not only protect it, but restore its balance and give back some of the hydration it might have lost.

Moisturizers come packed with ingredients like natural oils, shea butter, antioxidants, and SPF protection, so they’re a multipurpose skincare solution that can do it all.

Depending on your skin concerns, you might find moisturizer helps to prevent things like excess oil production or stops dry skin from flaking and itching.

Choosing a formulated moisturizer that tackles these skin types will give you more than just an average one does, and is essential at preventing further issues in the future.

What is Gel Moisturizer?

What is Gel Moisturizer?

Gel moisturizers have become huge lately, as more and more people are looking for another way to keep their skin hydrated without feeling oily.

The key ingredient in these is hyaluronic acid which contains a large portion of water molecules, and so they’re made with a water base that goes lightly onto the skin.

A gel moisturizer works from the inside out, and it activates the hydration process from within, rather than coating it and trapping the moisture.

These lightweight formulas are a good fit for people with problems or oily skin, those prone to acne, and anyone who finds regular moisturizers irritate them.

The Pros

  • Users report a much lighter feel when using a gel moisturizer, and there’s no greasy residue left behind that can cause oily skin and lead to breakouts. People with sensitive skin might also find a water-based product causes less irritation.
  • You can easily apply a layer of gel moisturizer underneath your regular makeup rather than using a primer. The thin consistency makes it perfect for gliding on foundation and other products.
  • Gel based moisturizers are cheaper to purchase than their cream counterparts, which makes them more accessible for everyday users. They might also feature fewer ingredients to give the same results, which is another selling point.

The Cons

  • The protective barrier from a gel type moisturizer isn’t as effective, and many people have to reapply it throughout the day. You can feel the difference that a thinner water-based barrier offers, and it may not be substantial.
  • If you have dry or normal skin, you may feel that gel products don’t offer enough coverage and can lead it to dry out even further. A thicker texture is best for protecting this type of skin.
  • A gel moisturizer won’t leave you with the soft and supple feeling that only comes from a cream moisturizer. If you want to feel a difference in your skin, a water-based product might not do enough.

What is Cream Moisturizer?

What is Cream Moisturizer?

Cream moisturizers are the most popular type sold on the market today, with most users finding them effective.

Their role is to create a protective moisture barrier on the skin that prevents it from drying out, so they work from the outside in.

Most cream moisturizers are created with an oil base, usually something natural and gentle, and they give a balanced effect to the skin that prevents it from creating an excess production of oil itself.

The most common users of cream moisturizers are those that have normal to dry skin, as it offers a much higher potency of hydration and moisturization.

Its rich texture keeps you protected all day, and they include ingredients like Vitamin E and essential oil extracts that aren’t usually found in gel types, so there are loads of benefits within.

The Pros

  • The thicker feeling of these moisturizers makes skin feel softer and more supple, which is what people are ultimately looking for in this type of product.
  • A cream moisturizer is the better fit for aging skin or those looking to prevent the signs of aging. As it gets deeper into fine lines and wrinkles, and usually contains some sort of preventative product, it can be more effective here.
  • One application of cream moisturizer in the morning is enough to hydrate and protect for the whole day. Although sometimes more expensive, you can get a lot of use out of this type of product.

The Cons

  • Using products that contain oil can leave a residue on your skin that feels uncomfortable, and some people might find the feeling to be akin to smothering their face. If you’re looking for breathability or live in a warm climate, it can be too much.
  • People with oily skin and those prone to breakouts will only irritate their skin further used oil-based products like cream moisturizers, and it’s not a good fit.
  • Having a layer of cream-based moisturizer underneath your makeup can make it look too thick and not blend as well. You’ll need to add another water based priming product on top of the moisturizer if you plan on wearing makeup and are after a smooth complexion.

Their Main Differences

Their Main Differences

Both gel and cream moisturizers are effective at hydrating the face and protecting it from the elements, but the textures of each are their biggest differences.

As their names suggest, a gel moisturizer goes on with a lighter, watery feel, and the cream feels thicker and heavier as it’s applied to the face.

Once the moisturizers are on, they also differ, and how they feel throughout the day will be unique.

A cream moisturizer will stay put for the entire day and that heavier, oil-based feeling keeps your skin hydrated, compared to a gel moisturizer that might need to be applied more than once to keep you protected.

Which Type Is Best For My Skin?

Which Type Is Best For My Skin?

Any time you’re choosing a new skincare product, you should think about whether it’s a good match for your skin type and the concerns you have.

When it comes to the gel vs cream debate, these are the types of people who would benefit from using each of them:

  • Gel Moisturizer: As a water-based formula, gel moisturizer immediately feels lighter when you apply it, and you can feel that it’s a thinner type of coverage. If you have oily skin or are prone to acne and pimple breakouts, you’ll want to keep it under control by using a gel moisturizer.
  • Cream Moisturizer: This thicker type of moisturizer is ideal for people who find their usual moisturizer too lightweight. If you find that your skin is flaking, feels tight, or is still dry even after applying a moisturizer, swapping to a cream formula will hopefully solve that.
  • Lotion moisturizer: This type falls somewhere in between the cream and gel types, being absorbed faster and easier than both of them. A lotion-type moisturizer can be used on the body or face and is especially ideal for drier climates where more intense hydration is needed but spreads more easily without the heavier feeling of cream.

Some people find that they need to switch between a gel and cream moisturizer depending on what their skin requires, and the weather.

During winter, a thicker cream moisturizer will give you the moisture barrier you need, and when summer rolls around, a lightweight moisturizer will help you stay cool and give you the best coverage.

Smooth and Supple Skin For All

Moisturization is the key to softer and smoother skin, protection against the elements, and the premature signs of aging, and it deserves your attention every day.

With the right choice of either a gel or cream moisturizer, you’ll have something that complements your skin type, requirements, and concerns, making it the most effective one.

Related Questions

Choosing a moisturizer is no easy feat and one quick look at the saturated skincare market today will show you why.

If you’re still feeling lost about this skincare product and don’t know what to shop for, check out some commonly asked questions that others have had to give you the basics.

How Often Should I Moisturize My Face?

To keep skin hydrated and protected, you should apply a facial moisturizer in the morning and one again at night after cleaning.

The roles of each of these moisturizers differ, with the AM one being to protect against the elements and the night to repair and recover, so choose one formulated for that specific time.

Do I Need a Separate Body Moisturizer?

Do I Need a Separate Body Moisturizer?

Yes, you should have a separate product for a body moisturizer to get the best results and save money.

Body moisturizers are usually more affordable and formulated for these less-sensitive areas of the body, whereas a facial moisturizer has more specific concerns that it deals with.

Can I Use Oil Instead of Moisturizer?

It’s not recommended to use night oil in the place of moisturizer but rather in conjunction with it.

Oil products can be too excessive for the skin and create a greasy or oily feeling which leads to breakouts, and they usually require another product to complement them.


Khadija B.