Face Oil Vs. Moisturizer: What Does Your Skin Need?

Glowing, hydrated skin is a goal for many. But with the myriad skincare products available, it can be confusing to know whether your skin needs a simple moisturizer, a nourishing facial oil, or maybe both.

Moisturizers and face oils are often lumped together as hydrating treatments. But they work in distinct ways to impart skin benefits. Understanding the differences between moisturizers and oils allows you to build an effective skincare routine tailored to your skin’s needs.

This article explores the function of each product, how to use them together, and when one may be better than the other depending on skin type. Read on to learn whether your skin needs a moisturizer, face oil, or the ideal combination of both.

What Does A Moisturizer Do?

Moisturizers provide hydration and help combat dry, flaky skin. They work by increasing the skin’s water content and preventing moisture loss.

Hydrated Skin

There are three main types of moisturizing ingredients:

Occlusives: These create a protective film on the skin’s surface to seal in moisture and prevent water evaporation. Common examples include petroleum jelly, mineral oil, dimethicones, and waxes.

Emollients: These fill the spaces between skin cells and smooth the skin. Emollients add a soft, flexible cushion and make skin feel smoother. Common emollients are fatty alcohols, fatty acids, triglycerides, and ceramides.

Humectants: Humectants attract and bind moisture from the air and deeper skin layers. They pull hydration into the outer skin. Glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and sorbitol are typical humectant ingredients.

The best moisturizers contain a combination of these ingredients to hydrate and help repair the skin’s protective barrier.

The richer the moisturizer, the more occlusive ingredients it contains to seal in moisture. Lighter moisturizers rely more on humectants and emollients to bind water to the skin.

Moisturizers are beneficial for all skin types, but particularly critical for dry, sensitive skin prone to flaking and itching. They provide immediate hydration and soothing relief.

Even oily and acne-prone skin needs moisture as excessive stripping can cause oil overproduction and inflammation. Gel-based, oil-free moisturizers are ideal for these types.

Overall, moisturizers are essential for maintaining healthy skin moisture levels. Daily use provides lasting hydration that oils cannot achieve on their own.

What Does Face Oil Do?

Face oils take a different approach to hydration and skin nourishment. Whereas moisturizers focus on surface protection and water binding, facial oils moisturize by mimicking the skin’s natural oils.

The outer skin layer contains sebaceous glands that secrete sebum, an oil mixture of fatty acids, waxes, and other lipids. Sebum lubricates and waterproofs the skin.

Face oils are primarily comprised of fatty acids and lipids similar to natural sebum. When applied topically, they reinforce the skin’s lipid barrier, lock in moisture, and improve skin texture.

Additionally, many plant-based oils contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds like vitamins and polyphenols.

These nourish skin cells, stimulate collagen production, and help repair UV damage or acne scarring. Common antioxidant oils include jojoba, rosehip seed, pomegranate, and marula.

Since face oils have a lipid composition similar to the skin’s own sebum, they are highly compatible and absorb well, leaving a smooth, glowy finish.

They excel at softening rough patches and smoothing fine lines. Face oils are especially beneficial for restoring suppleness to dry, prematurely aged skin.

Difference Between Face Oil And Moisturizer

While both provide hydration, the main differences between moisturizers and face oils are:

  • Mechanism of action: Moisturizers primarily bind water and seal it into the skin via occlusive barriers. Face oils nourish by supplementing the skin’s natural lipid oils.
  • Penetration: Many moisturizers sit heavier on the skin surface while oils absorb deeply. This gives them more intensive, long-lasting effects.
  • Finish: Moisturizers impart a matte, velvety feel. Face oils have a satiny finish and distinctive glow.
  • Richness: Facial oils are richer in lipids similar to natural sebum. Moisturizers also contain humectants and emulsifiers.
  • Ingredients: Moisturizers use more synthetic compounds while oils derive from botanical sources.
  • Benefits: Moisturizers excel at short-term hydration and barrier repair. Oils replenish lipids for deeper, lasting effects.

Neither is inherently better. Moisturizers provide instant hydration while oils nourish skin on a cellular level. Using both allows each product to work synergistically to enhance skin health and radiance.

How To Use Face Oil And Moisturizer For Best Results?

To maximize benefits, cleanse the skin and apply treatments in the following order:

  1. Serum – Serums with active ingredients like vitamin C or retinol absorb best applied directly to clean skin before any oils or creams.
  2. Face oil – Dispense a few drops of oil, warm in palms, and gently pat into skin. Apply to damp skin for better absorption.
  3. Moisturizer – While face oil soaks in, smooth moisturizer over the entire face and neck. The oil buffers the cream and boosts penetration.
  4. Eye cream – Gently dab rich cream around the sensitive eye area to hydrate fine lines.

Use this routine AM and PM for enhanced moisture and a dewy glow. Those with very dry skin may also benefit from layering a thicker night cream over oil and moisturizer for maximum overnight replenishment.


Should your skincare routine contain a simple moisturizer, nourishing facial oil, or both? While moisturizers and oils take different approaches, using both together provides optimal hydration and skin health benefits. Moisturizer seals in water-based moisture while face oil’s lipids replenish the skin barrier.

Combining the superficial hydration of moisturizers with the deeper fatty acid nourishment from oils gives a potent one-two punch to revive thirsty, dull skin. With this dynamic duo, you can achieve a radiant complexion that appears plump, smooth, and luminous.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can you use face oil as a moisturizer?

Yes, but face oil alone may not provide enough hydration, especially for dry skin types. Use oil under moisturizer for better moisture balance.

2. Should I use moisturizer before or after face oil?

Apply oil to damp skin after cleansing, and before creams. This allows better absorption of the oil so it can reinforce the moisturizer barrier.

3. Is face oil good for oily skin?

Yes, choose a lightweight oil like grapeseed. Oils seal in hydration to prevent overproduction of sebum. Avoid heavy, comedogenic oils.

4. Will face oil clog pores?

Non-comedogenic oils like marula or jojoba are fine for acne-prone skin. Heavier oils may trigger breakouts in some.

About the Author

Nicole Carter is a dedicated and passionate nutritionist, committed to helping individuals achieve their health and wellness goals through the power of proper nutrition. With a Bachelor's degree in Nutritional Science and years of practical experience.

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