Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Apostrophe Team
Last updated 10/1/2023
When you deal with acne, everything you put on your skin matters — and that includes your moisturizer. But what if you’re prone to acne and deal with combination skin?
Well, it can get even more complicated when considering moisturizers.
The right acne facial moisturizer can be used as a tool in your fight to combat breakouts and neutralize your skin. But shopping for a moisturizer? Yikes!
With so many options, it can get pretty overwhelming.
We’re here to arm you with the information you need! Knowing exactly what to look for can make your shopping so much easier.
Some people have dry skin, others have oily skin. And then there are those with a combination skin type — which is a bit of both.
For many women who deal with combination skin, the “T-zone” (your forehead, nose, and chin) is oily and shiny, and your cheeks are dry.
Since you have oily areas, you might be wondering whether or not you even need a moisturizer. The answer is simple: “Absolutely.”
If you try to dehydrate the oily areas of your skin, your body will work to lubricate the skin by producing more oil, which can lead to more breakouts.
Plus, if you’re using other treatments for acne, they may be drying out your skin.
So, if you’re using things like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or retinoids, a dermatology practitioner will often recommend using a moisturizer alongside these things to keep skin hydrated.
One study even found that people who used a moisturizer along with a retinoid from the start yielded better results than those who waited until the retinoid dried out their skin before using a moisturizer.
Of course, finding a moisturizer that will help you deal with acne is key — not using stuff that’ll just cause more.
When it comes to moisture-boosting ingredients, you want to focus on things that prevent moisture from leaving your skin and that add moisture to it.
With that, there are three important categories of active ingredients: occlusive, humectant, and emollient.
So, what do these things actually mean? We’ll explain.
Occlusive ingredients act as a moisture barrier, preventing moisture from leaving your skin. Here are a few good occlusive ingredients to be on the lookout for:
Squalene. This oily substance is used in everything from face washes to moisturizers due to its ability to give skin a softer appearance. It’s also found naturally in human sebum (which is something your body produces to keep skin lubricated). It’s sometimes listed as squalane on ingredient lists.
Silicone Derivatives. Dimethicone and cyclomethicone are two silicone derivatives sometimes used in moisturizers. These synthetic ingredients work by creating a barrier on the skin so that moisture stays put.
Humectants are ingredients that draw water from the dermis to the epidermis. Your epidermis is the top layer of your skin and the dermis is the layer right underneath it. Common humectants to look for include:
Glycerin. This substance can be found naturally in sources like soybeans and cane, or manufactured for skincare products. When used in a moisturizer, it gives a boost of hydration and keeps skin smooth.
Hyaluronic Acid. This common ingredient can bind over one thousand times its weight in water. Translation: It can add serious hydration to your skin. Hyaluronic acid molecules come in a variety of sizes, and ideally, you want a moisturizer that contains molecules in a variety of sizes.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids There are many AHAs commonly used in moisturizers — including lactic acid. One study found that AHAs increased skin smoothness and improved elasticity. Some AHAs also do double duty, helping to exfoliate skin or treat dark spots.
Ingredients in this category smooth skin by dropping little bits of oil in the space between skin flakes to hydrate and smooth.
Dimethicone. Yes, this occlusive ingredient is also emollient.
Octyldodecanol. While some alcohols are drying, others help hydrate — and this one does the latter. This one acts as a lubricant for skin.
When shopping for a moisturizer for combination acne-prone skin, look for one that utilizes a combo of the above in its ingredient list.
Along with the above ingredients, there are a few other things you may want to look for when shopping for a daily moisturizer.
The term non-comedogenic denotes that something is specifically formulated not to clog pores. You can also look for an oil-free formula.
Anti-inflammatory ingredients like aloe vera are also sometimes used in moisturizers.
While aloe vera may not have hydrating benefits in concentrations under 10 percent, the anti-inflammatory properties can help soothe inflamed acne.
Finally, you may want to consider a lightweight moisturizer, which can prevent that greasy feeling.
While it’s tempting to skip the moisturizing step of your skin care routine when you have combination skin, it’s a big mistake.
Repeat after us: adding hydration will not give you greasy skin. In fact, the exact opposite is often true. When you add moisture, your skin is less likely to overproduce oil to lubricate your epidermis.
Plus, if you’re dealing with acne and treating it, many of those treatments can dry skin out. So, using a moisturizer is vital.
Using the above list of ingredients above or looking for a product labeled non-comedogenic and lightweight will help you find the ideal moisturizer for your skin type.
Youn, S., Na, J., Choi, S., Huh, C., et al. (2005, August). Regional and seasonal variations in facial sebum secretions: a proposal for the definition of combination skin type. Skin Research Technology, 11(3): 189-95. Retrieved from
Tran, D., Townley, J., Barnes, T., Grieve, K., (2015). An antiaging skin care system containing alpha hydroxy acids and vitamins improves the biomechanical parameters of facial skin. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, 8: 9-17. Retrieved from
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