Face Oil vs Face Cream: What’s Right For You?

Condition-specific face oils are having a major moment lately, but face creams are a classic fix: So who wins in the face oil vs face cream debate? This definitive guide from Free People’s BLDG 25 breaks it all down to help us find complexion perfection…

Taking care of your skin can involve all sorts of complex rituals but the most basic might be the most important of all: moisturize it well. In fact, dermatologists will tell you this simple habit is super critical, especially during this time of the year when the air is dry and cold (and then warm and humid the next minute).

“Every cell and component of our bodies relies on hydration in order to function properly,” says New York City dermatologist Julie Karen, M.D. Without it, your skin’s barrier breaks down, which makes you susceptible to chapped patches but also irritation and allergens—yikes. Another surprising fact: “You need adequate moisture because the enzymes that help exfoliate skin need that water,” says Manhattan dermatologist Sue Ann Wee , M.D. “So if you don’t have enough water, you will not shed dead skin normally—and that’s why people end up with dull-looking, dry skin.”

Ok, so bring on the hydration! But what’s your ideal quenching option: a moisturizing cream or facial oil? The latest formulas deliver plenty of skin goodness yet work differently depending on your complexion type. Here’s your cheat-sheet to figuring out your skin’s perfect match.

Go for a facial oil if…

Your skin is dry but not reactive.
Oils are usually rich in essential fatty acids, which are superhero nutrients for moisturizing your skin—they help repair your outer barrier to prevent moisture loss, says Dr. Wee. But all oils are not created equal: those containing saturated fats, like coconut oil, for example, can clog pores and aggravate acne. And highly fragrant essential oils, like neroli or lemon, can also irritate sensitive skin. A well-tolerated, ultra-healing option for most skin types? Reach for a pick with olive or argan oil, recommends Dr. Wee.

You want a product with a simple, natural list of ingredients.
Oils are usually derived from plants, seeds or fruits, and they typically have more active ingredients—like polyphenols and antioxidants—than petroleum or glycerin-based ointments, says Dr. Wee. You’ll typically find fewer (if any) preservatives in facial oils, but that means they’ll expire faster than traditional creams.

You want a moisturizer you can use on more than just your face.
Oils work amazing well on other parts of your body—dry elbows, the heels of your feet, your cuticles, you name it. Thanks to their easy-to-absorb texture and liquid nature, you can get tons of mileage out of one little bottle.

Go for a cream if…

You want to moisturize but also target other issues.
Creams are usually packed with “a host of ingredients that address multiple concerns, form acne to anti-aging,” says Dr. Karen. The major function of oil, on the other hand, is to hydrate the skin. If you want brightening agents, skin-firming retinol and plumping molecules along with moisture, a multi-tasking cream can be your best bet.

You’re sun-sensitive.
“Sometimes oils, because of the way they transmit light, can actually increase penetration of UV radiation,” points out Dr. Wee. If you have eczema, rosacea or just prefer not to have anything shiny on your skin, a lightweight cream can penetrate deeply without any greasy residue.

You want moisture that lasts and lasts.

Many of the latest creams contain next-level forms of hyaluronic acid, an ingredient that’s naturally found in your body and acts like a sponge to absorb and pull in water. The newest types sink in deeply to slowly release moisture throughout the day—meaning one application can keep your skin protected for hours.

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