The problem with gel moisturizers

Why do they all seem to contain fragrances and dyes?

At first glance, gel-based moisturizers seem like a virtuous choice for oily/combination skin. They tend to market themselves with appealing terms like oil-free, non-comedogenic, lightweight, and hydrating. But beneath that innocuous messaging lives a dark, untold truth…many of them contain fragrances and dyes, making them less than ideal for those of us with sensitive skin.

Let’s take a look at the ingredients of three types of gel moisturizers from Neutrogena, Garnier, and Olay.

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel ingredients

water, dimethicone, glycerin, dimethicone/vinyl dimethicone crosspolymer, phenoxyethanol, polyacrylamide, cetearyl olivate, sorbitan olivate, dimethiconol, c13_14 isoparaf_n, dimethicone crosspolymer, chlorphenesin, carbomer, laureth_7, sodium hyaluronate, ethylhexylglycerin, fragrance, c12_14 pareth_12, sodium hydroxide, blue 1

Like: sodium hyaluronate, glycerin
Don’t like: fragrance, blue 1

Garnier SkinActive Moisture Rescue Face Moisturizer ingredients

aqua/water, glycerin, alcohol denat., dimethicone, isononyl isononanoate, carbomer, dimethiconol, chlorphenesin, caprylyl glycol, sodium hydroxide, vitis vinfera extract/grapefruit extract, xanthan gum, tetrasodium edta, tocopheryl acetate, ascorbyl glucoside, menthoxypropanediol, magnesium gluconate, sodium citrate, benzyl salicylate, linalool, calcium gluconate, biosaccharide gum-1, hydroxyisohexyl 3-cyclohexene carboxaldehyde, butylphenyl methylpropional, ci 19140/yellow 5, ci 42090/blue 1, parfum/fragrance, phenoxyethanol

Like: glycerin, grapefruit extract, ascorbyl glucoside (vitamin C stabilized with glucose)
Don’t like: yellow 5, blue 1, fragrance, alcohol denat. (denatured alcohol)

Olay Age Defying Advanced Gel Moisturizer with Hyaluronic Acid Ingredients

water/eau, glycerin, cyclopentasiloxane, niacinamide, dimethicone, butylene glycol, propylene glycol, sodium hyaluronate, tocopheryl acetate, panthenol, lonicera japonica (honeysuckle) flower extract, aluminum starch octenylsuccinate, glycereth-25 pca isostearate, polyacrylamide, acrylates/c10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, aminomethyl propanol, phenoxyethanol, dimethiconol, c13-14 isoparaffin, methylparaben, laureth-7, propylparaben, fragrance/parfum, ethylparaben, disodium edta, iodopropynyl butylcarbamate, red 33, blue 1

Like: glycerin, niacinamide, sodium hyaluronatetocopheryl acetate (vitamin E), panthenol (vitamin B5)
Don’t like: red 33, blue 1, fragrance

Common ingredients in water-based gel moisturizers

All three of these gel moisturizers contained beneficial ingredients like glycerin and sodium hyaluronate (hyaluronic acid). However, they also all contained two (in my opinion) unnecessary types of ingredients: dyes and fragrances.

In fact, these three all happened to contain Blue 1, which is the shortened name for FD&C Blue No. 1, according to the Personal Care Products Council. Perhaps the blue dye helps tricks your mind into thinking they’re more moisturizing…like cartoon water, which is quintessentially portrayed in a blue hue.

Hopefully someday cosmetics developers will start creating more gel moisturizers that don’t contain dyes or fragrances. These ingredients don’t add anything beneficial, in my opinion. The Garnier Moisture Rescue product was definitely the most affordable out of the three, but it listed denatured alcohol as the third ingredient (after water and glycerin) which seems rather perplexing. Between the ever-popular Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel and the Olay Age Defying Advanced Gel Moisturizer, I’d opt for Olay, since it contains more beneficial ingredients like niacinamide, vitamin E, and vitamin B5. But I still don’t like that Olay adds perfume to many of its products, so I probably wouldn’t buy it.

Gel sells

Bottom line? If you have sensitive skin, or if you just have an aversion to products that contain extraneous ingredients that don’t actually add anything beneficial (or both), make sure to look closely at the ingredients of a gel moisturizer before buying it.

I did come across at least one gel moisturizer that’s fragrance-free: Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel (maybe that’s what makes it dramatically different?). I’ve tried it before and I found that it had a neutral effect on me (neither good nor bad), so I didn’t feel like it justified the high price point, at least for my skin.

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