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The Best Gel Moisturizers For All Skin Types (And They’re Cruelty-Free)

by Katie Muirhead

Sep 10, 2022

Gel moisturizers have become a go-to in skincare for those with oily skin, who live in hot or humid climates, or who just prefer that "barely there" feeling. With so many on the market, we've done the research to help you find the best cruelty-free option for you.

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What is a gel moisturizer?

Moisturizer is the foundation of any healthy skin routine; it delivers hydration to your skin with water-attracting ingredients (known as humectants), like aloe vera and hyaluronic acid.

There are two different types of moisturizers: cream and gel.

Creams can be lightweight or rich but generally have a lotion-like feel. Usually more sticky, they are formulated with more oils and emollients. (These sit on the surface of the skin to mimic your natural moisture barrier and keep the hydration in.)

Moisturizing gels, on the other hand, contain very little or no oils.

They have a lighter, watery texture, which is usually absorbed very quickly. Gel moisturizers deliver hydration within the skin, but have much lower emollient or occlusive properties than a cream. They won't last as long, but they also don't come with the risk of clogged pores or congestion. (Hello, acne-prone!)

Who should use a gel moisturizer?

Gel moisturizers can be used on any skin type, but the lightweight hydration may not be enough for especially parched skin.

Gel moisturizer is a great option for oily, combination, or acne-prone skin, those that live in hot or humid climates, or as a lightweight base for makeup. It is also suitable for those with sensitive skin.

If you're not sure if a gel moisturizer is right for you, try using it in the morning and switching to an oil-based cream in the evening. Within a few days, you will be able to tell if your skin feels dry, too greasy, or perfectly balanced.

How to use a gel moisturizer

Moisturizer should be used in your routine after any serums or treatments, and before SPF (in the morning). Apply it generously to your face and neck.

You will notice how quickly a gel formula sinks in. (A truly refreshing feeling!)

Best gel moisturizers

Gel moisturizers are rising in popularity; many skincare brands have developed their own oil-free formulas.

When choosing a gel moisturizer, make sure to consider your own skin concerns and goals. All of the gel moisturizers on this list are recommended for lightweight hydration, but we've also looked at what makes them different.

Of course, all of these products are cruelty-free. Many are also vegan, organic or clean. We believe that animal testing has no place in the beauty industry, and we want to make it easy for you to make conscious consumer choices.

Without further ado, here are our top gel moisturizers for lightweight, bouncy, hydrated skin:

Best Overall:

EthicsCruelty-free, vegan
IngredientsNiacinamide, vitamin C, centella asiatica
Good for All skin types, dullness
Parent company cruelty-free?Yes

This gel formula delivers it all: pore-smoothing niacinamide, skin-brightening vitamin C, and barrier-supporting Centella. All in a non-greasy formula that feels cool on the skin.

Its ingredients are "microencapsulated", meaning they are in small bubble-like concentrations that release the goods on contact with your skin. This ensures that the benefits of each active reach your skin to deliver the maximum benefits.

This is a great choice for those with stressed, dehydrated, congested skin, or anyone looking to plump and prep. Use this in the morning as a makeup base, or layer it on top of your evening skincare for overnight hydration.

Best For Acne:

EthicsCruelty-free, vegan, clean beauty
IngredientsSalicylic acid, aloe vera, green tea, niacinamide, vitamin C
Good for Acne-prone skin, blemishes
Parent company cruelty-free?Yes

This oil-free moisturizer is lightweight enough to use on congested, acne skin.

Salicylic acid helps relieve breakouts and calm inflammation. Aloe vera and green tea work to hydrate and soothe troubled skin. Niacinamide helps to regulate oil production, and vitamin C works to brighten skin and fight blemish-causing bacteria.

This non-comedogenic (aka non-pore-clogging) formula can be used twice a day to help soothe and balance acne-prone skin.

Best For Sensitive Skin:

IngredientsSaccharide isomerate 1.84%, niacinamide 2%, heptapeptide blends 1%
Good for All skin types, blemishes
Parent company cruelty-free?Yes

If your skin feels unbalanced or reactive, this lightweight gel cream helps support the skin barrier and boost hydration.

To minimize shine, niacinamide helps to absorb excess oil and refine the appearance of pores. The peptide blend helps support a balanced microbiome for healthy, balanced skin. Plus, saccharide isomerate is a carbohydrate complex that has both humectant and emollient properties to soothe your skin and keep it hydrated.

A great choice for those with oily, combination or sensitive skin, this fragrance-free gel moisturizer can be used morning and evening.

Best Luxury:

EthicsCruelty-free, vegan
IngredientsJapanese botanicals (wild rose, leopard lily, green tea, rice, algae)
Good for Combo to oily skin, visible pores
Parent company cruelty-free?No - Unilever

If glass skin is on your skincare vision board, this pore-fighting formula may be for you.

This luxurious moisturizer provides intense hydration without feeling sticky or greasy. Loaded with botanicals, the gel will plump your skin and help minimize the appearance of those pesky pores.

Perfect for under makeup, this calming formula will make your skin feel fresh, plump, and smooth.

Best Budget:

EthicsCruelty-free, vegan
IngredientsSodium hyaluronate, aloe vera, green tea
Good for All skin types, acne-prone skin
Parent company cruelty-free?Yes

This lightweight moisturizer has a jelly-like texture that absorbs quickly to leave your skin feeling plump and hydrated.

Sodium hyaluronate and aloe vera have humectant properties that draw moisture into the skin, while the antioxidant effects of green tea help keep your skin protected from free radicals.

If your skin is oily and acne-prone, this non-comedogenic formula will keep your complexion feeling balanced but not greasy.

A tip for summer: try keeping it in the fridge for an ultra-cooling sensation.

Summer Fridays Cloud Dew Oil-Free Gel Cream Moisturizer

EthicsCruelty-free, vegan
IngredientsHyaluronic acid, ceramides, amino acids, pineapple extract
Good for All skin types, dullness
Parent company cruelty-free?Yes

This lightweight gel will quench thirsty skin without leaving it feeling greasy.

Three types of hyaluronic acid work to attract water molecules into the skin, leaving it plump and hydrated. Amino acids have antioxidant properties to help protect against environmental stressors, and pineapple enzyme works to gently brighten and smooth dull skin.

While this moisturizer is lightweight, its benefits are not. Try applying it to damp skin to really harness the hydration powers.

Goodness Water Gel Hydrating Cream

This product listing is sponsored.

EthicsCruelty-free, vegan
IngredientsHyaluronic acid, prickly pear extract, blackberry extract, kawakawa extract
Good for All skin types, irritated skin
Parent company cruelty-free?Yes

If you're used to a cream moisturizer, this product is a great introduction to gel formulas.

With a blend of humectants and emollients, this lightweight formula is impressively quenching. Prickly pear extract has an antioxidant effect, blackberry extract helps to even skin tone, and kawakawa extract helps nourish and soothe irritated skin.

Apply this morning and evening for hydrated, happy skin.

Fenty Skin Instant Reset Brightening Overnight Recovery Gel-Cream with Niacinamide

EthicsCruelty-free, vegan
IngredientsHyaluronic acid, niacinamide
Good for All skin types, visible pores
Parent company cruelty-free?No - LVMH

While many gel moisturizers are formulated for morning use, this luxe gel cream is rich enough for the evening.

It contains hyaluronic acid to deeply hydrate, and niacinamide to balance oil and even your skin tone.

This formula is especially suited to those with visible pores or oily skin who still want a deep overnight moisturizing treatment. Apply it at the end of your evening skincare routine to wake up feeling refreshed and hydrated.

Oh, and the packaging is refillable!

Biossance Squalane + Probiotic Balancing Gel Moisturizer

EthicsCruelty-free, vegan
IngredientsHyaluronic acid, probiotics, squalane
Good for All skin types, redness
Parent company cruelty-free?Yes

If your skin is feeling red, irritated, or unbalanced, this gel moisturizer will help calm it down while keeping it hydrated.

It contains hyaluronic acid to attract water into the skin, probiotics to support a healthy microbiome, and plant-based squalane to condition the skin. Ginger extract and red seaweed work to further soothe and reduce any redness, leaving you with a clear, glowing, fresh complexion.

Use morning and night, but if your skin is feeling irritated, consider skipping any active serums or treatments.

Farmacy Daily Greens Oil-Free Gel Moisturizer with Moringa and Papaya

EthicsCruelty-free, vegan
IngredientsHyaluronic acid, niacinamide
Good for All skin types, pores
Parent company cruelty-free?No - Procter & Gamble

Even oily skin needs reliable hydration, and this gel moisturizer will keep your skin feeling plump and fresh without the greasy feel.

Hyaluronic acid and polyglutamic acid have moisture-attracting humectant properties to draw water into your skin, keeping it quenched. Galacturonic acid and niacinamide absorb excess oil to prevent shine and help maintain an even skin tone.

For skin that is bright and clear, moringa and papaya work to fight off environmental stressors such as pollution.

This fragrance-free formula is hydrating enough for even dry skin. Use it morning and evening for a balanced, refined complexion.

Glow Recipe Watermelon Pink Juice Oil-Free Moisturizer

EthicsCruelty-free, vegan
IngredientsHyaluronic acid
Good for Oily, combination skin
Parent company cruelty-free?Yes

As the name suggests, this pink lightweight gel formula is packed with the goodness of watermelon extract to help soothe skin for a healthy glow.

Hyaluronic acid hydrates, while antioxidants help to protect your skin from environmental stressors.

This serum-like moisturizer is a great choice as a base for your makeup in the morning or for the summer months, when you may not want to use heavier creams.

Korres Greek Yoghurt Nourishing Probiotic Gel-Cream

IngredientsGreek yoghurt, seawater
Good for All skin types, redness
Parent company cruelty-free?Yes

You may have heard of using greek yoghurt as a face mask, but now you can enjoy its skin benefits every day with this lightweight gel.

Greek yoghurt contains prebiotics and probiotics, which help to support your natural microbiome and moisture barrier. Seawater is added for the full Greek experience, as it works to hydrate and plump your skin.

This formula is a great choice for those with sensitive skin that tends to overproduce oil. Use it morning and evening for balanced, soothed skin and long-lasting hydration.

Dermalogica Calm Water Gel Moisturizer

EthicsCruelty-free, vegan
IngredientsApple extract, cactus pear, glycerin
Good for All skin types, sensitive skin
Parent company cruelty-free?No - Unilever

When you apply this formula, it turns from gel to fluid. This makes absorption super fast, leaving your skin feeling weightlessly hydrated.

Apple extract helps soften the skin, cactus pear soothes sensitivity, and glycerin works as an emollient to support your skin barrier. Your skin is left balanced and hydrated without being shiny or weighed down.

Use this formula twice a day. If your skin is feeling extra sensitive, try skipping any other active ingredients and just apply this on damp skin.

The Inkey List Omega Water Cream

EthicsCruelty-free, vegan
IngredientsNiacinamide 5%, betaine complex 3%
Good for All skin types, dullness
Parent company cruelty-free?Yes

This affordable formula is a great introduction to gel moisturizers and supports healthy skin hydration without oil or silicones.

A mixture of glycerin (an emollient), omega fatty acids (to support the skin barrier), betaine (to reduce moisture loss), and niacinamide (to minimize excess oil) create a blend that is perfect for oily or combination skin.

Your skin will stay hydrated throughout the day without looking shiny. (Yes, please!)

The verdict

While all gel moisturizers have one thing in common - a lightweight, hydrating formula - they are not all the same. All skin types can benefit from a gel moisturizer in their routine, but oily, combination and acne-prone skin will find these barely-there formulas the most valuable.

For lightweight moisture that doesn't feel greasy or heavy, here are our faves:

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