Should I Apply Facial Moisturizer on Wet or Dry Skin?

I’ve gotten several questions from readers about various moisturizing tips, and on how to cultivate the best anti-acne skincare routine without inadvertently causing breakouts. One question I’ve seen popping up recently is about hydration, and whether or not you should apply moisturizer on a wet or dry face. Hydration is absolutely essential for keeping down oil production in acne-prone skin, so today I decided to write an article about moisturizing acne-prone skin, the right way. 

In this article, I’m going to explain how to moisturize your skin to get the best out of your skincare products, whether to apply moisturizer on wet or dry skin, and how to keep acne-prone skin hydrated while keeping breakouts at bay. 

Although a good moisturizing routine will increase overall skin health and can clear up some types of acne the best thing you can do for your skin is eat a healthy diet. As I explain in my guide Unmasking Acne, nothing works better for clearing your skin than treating it from the inside out with anti-inflammatory foods and steering clear of typically harsh, skin-stripping acne treatments. 

Does Moisturizer Work Better on Wet or Dry Skin?

When it comes to applying moisturizer, you might have typically dried your face after cleansing and directly applied a moisturizer to your dry skin. While this might seem the most logical process, experts have recently touted the benefits of applying your moisturizer to a slightly damp face, typically around 3-5 seconds after cleansing or toning. 

Why should I apply moisturizer to damp skin?

According to dermatologists, applying moisturizer to damp skin is the best way to ensure that your skin fully absorbs the topical ingredients in the product: the skin is more receptive when slightly damp, so applying a moisturizer directly after cleansing is the best way to ensure that your skin gets the full benefits of the product.

How damp should my face be when applying moisturizer?

Your face shouldn’t be dripping wet when applying moisturizer – the best way to ensure maximum product absorption is to apply moisturizer to a damp face, which is typically around 3-5 seconds after cleansing. 

Should I dry my face after cleansing?

You can lightly pat your skin to get rid of any excess water from cleansing, however if you incorporate a toner into your skin routine, the best time to moisturize is directly after applying the toner to your skin. Toner will leave your skin slightly damp and enable your skin to soak up all the nourishing ingredients from your moisturizer. You can also moisturize your skin directly after coming out of the shower (if you prefer to wash your face in the shower), although not if your face is dripping wet – pat any excess water for 1-2 seconds, then apply your moisturizer.  

How To Moisturize Skin To Avoid Acne

If you want to keep your skin supple, hydrated, and free from breakouts, try to adhere to the following instructions when choosing and applying a moisturizer to acne-prone skin: 

Use a Moisturizer Without Comedogenic Ingredients

When it comes to applying products that sink into your skin (absorbent products such as creams, oils and toners) you’ll want to make sure that the ingredients are non-comedogenic. Comedogenic ingredients can clog your pores and cause breakouts to erupt all over your skin, typically in the form of whiteheads but also in the form of cystic acne (if you’re already prone to cystic outbreaks.) Keep these types of breakouts at bay by using oil-free moisturizers and always checking the label before applying any manufactured moisturizer to your skin. 

Try Moisturizing With Natural Oils Instead of Creams

As acne sufferers, we’re almost conditioned to keep any type of oil at a minimum arm’s length from our skin. However, some natural oils are actually beneficial in helping acne: oils such as black seed oil, jasmine oil and safflower oil can help stabilize your skin’s oil production while providing nourishing benefits such as omegas 3 and 6, vitamin E, B and various amino acids. Certain natural oils work better than manufactured moisturizers when it comes to hydrating acne-prone skin: the amino acids and calcium in certain oils protect the skin’s oil barrier and prevent the skin from overproducing sebum.

Avoid Skincare Products With Lots Of Chemical Ingredients

When it comes to treating acne-prone skin, it’s best to keep things simple. When it comes to hydration, you can try skincare oils, or simply opt for moisturizers without any heavy, clogging ingredients. You’d be surprised how many supposed acne-fighting skincare products are full of pore-clogging oils and inflammatory ingredients. 

Apply Moisturizer To Damp Skin

To finalize your skincare routine, make sure to apply your moisturizer to slightly damp skin for the reasons I explained above, ideally a couple of seconds after cleansing or directly after toning. If you have other skincare products or prescribed acne treatments to apply to your skin (meaning that you can’t directly apply moisturizer to damp skin) then you can always spray some hydrating face mist over your skin to keep it from drying completely. This is especially important if you suffer from dry or flaking skin. If you are dealing with a combination of dry skin and acne breakouts I recommend trying Mandelic acid to help nourish the skin barrier. One of my favorite Mandelic acid products for dry skin can be purchased from the Ordinary.

Try Using Hyaluronic Acid on Acne Prone Skin

If you’re looking for a super hydrating serum for acne-prone skin, hyaluronic acid is a great alternative to other more chemical serums and can provide essential hydration without clogging your pores. Hyaluronic acid can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water and is completely non-comedogenic, meaning that it won’t cause breakouts when applied directly to the skin. Hyaluronic acid is also a great serum to apply before applying moisturizer, as the hyaluronic acid will leave your skin a little damp, meaning that not only will your skin better absorb your moisturizer, but as hyaluronic acid is a humectant, it will hold moisture in your skin

My Verdict: Should I Apply Moisturizer To A Wet Or Dry Face?

If you want to get the most out of your skincare products, the best way to apply moisturizer is around 3-5 seconds after cleansing or toning. The skin will better absorb the active ingredients in your product and will be even more effective when combined with an acne-friend oil or serum. 

However, it’s still important to remember that having an effective skincare routine is not the only step when it comes to clearing your skin and combating acne. If you’ve been trying for years to clear your skin and nothing appears to be working, you might want to investigate what’s causing your breakouts and get to the source of the problem. As I explained in Unmasking Acne, sometimes acne sufferers aren’t dealing with typical hormonal acne or cystic acne but are suffering from underlying health conditions which cause acne, such as fungal acne and candida. While your skincare routine will play an important role in the overall condition of your skin, the best way to overcome your acne is to treat it at the source. 

Originally Published: January 31, 2022

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sam wood is GoodGlow's Chief Editor
Analyzed by Sam Wood
Hi I’m Sam Wood. I’m the chief editor, lead acne expert, and health coach behind GoodGlow. I’m also an author of one of the top selling acne books on Amazon, a husband, father of two, and a pretty good cook!

I’m so glad you found GoodGlow and hope the information I have spent the last 10 years cultivating will help you clear your skin and improve your overall health.

I began experiencing acne breakotus as a sophomore in high school, but unlike most of my friends, my acne actually got worse as I got into my 20s. I exercised regularly, ate healthy (or so I thought) and spent hundreds of dollars a month on high end skincare products and supplements to help clear my skin. Despite these measures my acne breakouts and scarring only got worse as the years wore on.

This greatly wore on my self confidence and mental health. Simple things like taking pictures or going out with a large group made me feel self conscious. So I avoided these situations whenever I could help it.

As a last ditch effort I decided to try an extremely restrictive diet recommended by a close friend with an autoimmune disease. After following this diet for about two months my skin started to clear for the first time in over 8 years. The good news is that this restrictive diet is not actually necessary for 99% of people to permanently clear their skin, and over the course of a few months I was able to add back about 90% of my “normal diet”.

After clearing my skin I spent the next 4 years self experimenting on myself with different diets, supplements, skincare products to try and find a pattern for what was triggering my acne breakouts. I even tried different meditation, ice baths, and accupuncture to try and isolate the root cause of the breakouts.

In the end I realized that an extremely restrictive diet was not necessary for clear skin. The most important thing to do is to avoid inflammatory foods in your diet. Some common examples of this are fried foods, alcohol, sugar, and dairy.

Most impoirtantly I stopped reading trendy websites for skincare advice and began reading medical journals authored by dermatologists and nutritionists. Although the information in the articles was great the information was not easily understandable to most readers (including me). I spent hours dissecting individual posts and looking up terms I did not understand. Over the next 6 months I gradually began to understand these journals and started self experiemting some of the research on myself.

After experiencing quite a bit of success personally, I started sharing my research on forums and with close friends struggling with acne. When I shared the research it was in easy to understand, plain English. Everyone I talked to loved what I had to say and kept asking more and more questions. So I decided to start a blog so I could just send someone a link when they asked a question instead of rewriting something I had sent 100 times before 😅

While the same directional principles apply to everyone, acne is very personal and should be treated on an individual basis. That’s ultimately why I created GoodGlow. To help everyone reverse engineer the root cause of their acne and clear their skin permanently.

To date I’ve helped over 2,500 people clear their skin using a natural, holistic approach. If you are unable to find an answer to your question in any of the articles my team has written please reach out and I will do my best to guide you to the proper information and resources so you can make a thoughtful, informed decision. Read more of Sam's articles.

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