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What is an Oil Free Moisturiser?

June 9, 2010

I often get funny looks from people when I say that you can make a perfectly fab moisturiser by using either Macadamia or Jojoba Oil NEAT on the skin.  The common reaction is “won’t that make my skin even more greasy?”  OR  “but I have acne and oil is bad” and for some people who may well be true but not everyone has that experience so why not give it a go?  However, personal care is…. well personal and we should respect that so we will look have a little look at the alternatives.

So how do you add moisture without adding oil?

Well, when it comes to moisturisers  ‘oil’ is usually taken to mean vegetable or animal  oils (Olive, Macadamia, Jojoba, Avocado, Sweet Almond, Wheatgerm, lanolin oil etc)  or mineral oils  (things like petrolatum & petroleum jelly). These oils help to give the cream its consistency, spreadability and appearance as well as some of its moisturising ability.   Moisturisers are a mixture of oily ingredients plus watery ingredients that are held together by emulsifying agents – rather like the way you would make mayonnaise.  If you have more oily stuff than watery stuff the cream will usually feel quite heavy and tacky and will form a barrier on the top of the skin and it is this physical barrier that brings about most of the moisturising.  If the watery part predominates the creams will usually feel lighter and will be more likely to rub in quickly.  These creams do most of their moisturising by supporting and boosting the skins own natural moisturising factor while still letting it ‘breathe’.   Both types have their uses and limitations!

So when you can’t use vegetable, animal or mineral oils you have to turn to silicon’s to make your moisturisers and these formulations are generally known as ‘oil free’.

The main difference between silicone oils (yes they are oils but we won’t dwell on that) and vegetable/animal and mineral oils is that they are based on the element Silicone instead of Carbon.  As our bodies are made of carbon (plus some other stuff) these silicone oils are pretty inert which means that our bodies don’t generally react with them.  On a practical note as silicone oils are man-made they come in a wide range of viscosities (thicknesses) and volatilities which means that formulators like myself can make creams that feel cooling on the skin OR feel silky OR are instantly absorbed for an invisible feel OR are thick and heavy.    So to sum up silicones are less likely to cause reaction than other oils and their skin feel can be changed to suit the customers skin-type – light for oily skin, heavier for dry skin and soothing for acne-prone skin. Excellent!

In addition to that many oil-free formulations also contain humectant ingredients which bind water from the environment and keep it close to the skin – look out for ingredients like glycerine, sorbitol, Sodium PCA and hyaluronic acid.

So who makes Oil Free Moisturisers?

Lots of people make oil-free formulations but I particularly like the feel of the Neutrogena “Combination Skin” product as it is also fragrance free and non-drying (alcohol free), this makes it great for us sensitive souls!  If you are interested the ingredients are listed below for this product:

Neutrogena Oil Free Moisturiser for Combination Skin

Water, Cetyl Ethylhexanoate (Skin-Feel Active to give a light feathery feel), Glyerin (humectant), Cyclotetrasiloxane (Silicone Oil), Stearyl Alcohol (Emulsifier), Cetyl Ricinoleate (skin friendly emollient suitable for acne prone skin), Cyclopentasiloxane (Silicone Oil), Glyceryl Stearate (Emulsifier), Peg-100 Stearate (Emulsifier), Lysine Carboxymethyl Cysteinate (Sebum Regulating Active), Methyl Methacrylate / Glycol Dimethacrylate Crosspolymer (thickener), Xanthan Gum (thickener), Silica (sebum sucker-upper), Tocopherol (vitamin E), Lysine Thiazolidine Carboxylate (Sebum Regulating Active), Diazolidinyl Urea (Preservative), Methylparaben (Preservative), Propylparaben (Preservative), Benzalkonium Chloride (Preservative).

The Last word

Oil free moisturisers are great for those who are oil phobic for whatever reason BUT they are NOT a ‘green’ option as silicones (while they come from sand) take a loooong while to biodegrade and take a lot of energy to make and that won’t suit everybody!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 13, 2010 12:00 am

    Thanks for the informative article. I think everyone should try different lotions to see which one works best for her skin type. You might actually need something that won’t clog pores (non-comedogenic) rather than oil free. Also, as you point out, oil-free lotions aren’t always a green choice. I’m focused on reducing my exposure to potentially harmful chemicals so the ingredient list on the Neutrogena product you recommend is a “deal breaker” for me. Thanks for the info. M’lou Arnett

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      June 13, 2010 12:22 am

      Hi there,
      Yes the Neutrogena product has a lot of stuff that people like to avoid such as silicones and mineral based oils but others find this sort of formulation really soothing. Different strokes for different folks as long as we are aware of the environmental and health benefits/ risks I guess.

  2. June 14, 2014 11:51 pm

    Hi, I am thinking of ordering Nutribiotic Antioxidant Face Creme, 2 Ounce, Its ingredient list is as follows:
    Purified water, certified organic aloe vera gel, glycerin, emulsifying wax, octyl palmitate, certified organic sunflower seed oil, glyceryl stearate, cetyl alcohol, rice bran oil, alpha lipoic acid and lecithin, DMAE, vitamin C ester, tocotrienol, cocoa butter, vitamin E acetate, vitamin A & D3, vegetable squalene, panthenol (vitamin B5), xanthan gum, dimethicone, allantoin, rose hip oil, evening primrose oil, green tea extract, chamomile extract, cucumber extract, …

    Can you please let me know if it is oil free! I am really grateful for this!

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      June 15, 2014 9:45 am

      It has sunflower oil, ricebran, rose hip and evening primrose in it so no, this isn’t oil free. Looks like a nice formula though.

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