The 5 Best Alcohol-Free Moisturizers (Non-Drying) in 2020
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The 5 Best Alcohol-Free Moisturizers (Non-Drying)

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In a hurry? Here are our top picks:
BEST FOR CLEAN SKINCARE, ORGANIC, CHEMICAL-FREE, HYPOALLERGENIC ZELEN Life Moisturizer
BEST FOR COMBINATION AND MATURE SKIN Perricone MD Face Finishing and Firming Moisturizer

 

Alcohol, just like in a beverage, is also controversial in the skincare world. Some stand by its use in moderation and some absolutely detest it.

We have definitely come a long way from using alcohol-laden toners to dry the skin to using alcohol in low concentrations to make a product aesthetically appealing.

But in any case, the use of a potentially drying agent like alcohol in a product which is supposed to lend moisture to the skin is puzzling and not justified, and hence we will help you choose the best alcohol-free moisturizer.

Like I have always maintained, moisturizers can do more than just moisturize.

In the review that follows, we will help you differentiate good alcohol from bad, remind you of the things to keep in mind while choosing a moisturizer, and share our top picks of alcohol-free moisturizers.

We will share with you which product is the best fit for which purpose, a short ingredient analysis, and real-world feedback about each of them.

So let’s find the best alcohol-free moisturizer for you:

Quick summary

bb2-table__imageZELEN Life Moisturizer
  • Handmade with organic plants, alcohol and chemical-free
  • Non-greasy, lightweight, non-comedogenic, hypoallergenic
  • Packed with antioxidants, anti-acne and anti-aging properties
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bb2-table__imagePerricone MD Face Finishing and Firming Moisturizer
  • Stimulates collagen and improves fine lines
  • Hydrates while having a light texture
  • Brightens skin, evens out skin tone
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bb2-table__imagePeter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Cream
  • Loaded with moisturizing ingredients, contains hyaluronic acid
  • Free from pore clogging ingredients
  • Suitable for allergy prone and sensitive skin
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bb2-table__imageLa Roche Posay Hydraphase Intense SPF 20
  • Budget option, 2-in-1 product
  • Contains SPF, UVA protection
  • Non-greasy hydration, soothes skin
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bb2-table__imageEmbryolisse Hydra-Mat Emulsion
  • Suitable for oily and acne-prone skin
  • Gives a mattified look, fast absorption
  • Provides a good base for make-up
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Before you buy: 4 Things to consider before purchasing an alcohol-free moisturizer

1. Learn to differentiate between good alcohol and bad alcohol

When we talk about alcohol in skincare, it is important to understand that all alcohols are not bad! There are drying alcohols that need to be avoided when possible, and then there are good or emollient alcohols.

The alcohol ingredients to avoid include ‘simple alcohols’: Alcohol denat, SD alcohol, Ethanol, Ethyl alcohol, methanol, isopropyl alcohol, etc.

The alcohol ingredients which actually moisturize the skin by trapping the water(3) and hence are beneficial in skincare (as well as haircare) are: Fatty alcohols derived from coconut like Cetyl alcohol, Stearyl alcohol, Cetearyl alcohol, etc.

2. Keep your entire skincare routine in mind before choosing a moisturizer

When choosing a moisturizer, look at the other skincare products you currently use and your skin’s current behavior. If you are using a relatively drying face wash and toner, you may need an extra-strong moisturizer to compensate for the lost water content.

Similarly, if your other products like sunscreens and serums contain astringents like alcohol or witch hazel, you may need double the moisture kick than you usually do.

3. Choose the moisturizer according to skin type but also keep in mind your current skin concerns

Your oily skin may suddenly start to detest a matte moisturizer in winter that it usually loves in the summers due to sudden dehydration of skin due to cold winds and heating.

Or someone whose skin usually behaves itself can suffer from a bout of acne due to hormonal changes and may need anti-inflammatory help from the moisturizer.

So choose a moisturizer not just according to the skin type, but also the current skin needs. Don’t hesitate to switch from your favorite moisturizer if your skin demands it.

4. You can use different moisturizers for different times of the day, and a moisturizer with SPF is a sunscreen

Since you need to look fresh and non-greasy through the day, choose a lighter moisturizer for the day- like a gel or a lotion, especially if you layer different products and/or makeup on it.

In contrast to what most people think, a moisturizer with SPF 30 is just the same as a sunscreen with SPF 30!

Just make sure to use a lot of it to get adequate protection (again, just like a sunscreen).

Evening skincare is treating and pampering. The ideal time to use a thicker and oilier moisturizer, like one with plant oils, to lock in the active ingredients with moisture.

The 5 best alcohol-free moisturizers in 2020

1. ZELEN Life Moisturizer

ZELEN Life moisturizer

Best features:

  • Rich with plant oils but still non-greasy and light
  • Anti-aging as well as skin barrier strengthening

The best moisturizer for:

For all skin types and clean skincare enthusiasts.

Overview:

ZELEN Life packs a punch with this moisturizer. If you go through the main ingredients, you may hold back a little reading the word ‘alcohol’ in the ingredient list.

But don’t worry, as I mentioned in ‘things to keep in mind’ above- they are good alcohols. Cetyl and Cetearyl alcohol trap moisture in the skin and is extremely beneficial to dry skin.

Sunflower oil has been shown to preserve the skin’s integrity by repairing damaged skin due to various environmental factors and other skin diseases.(4)

Jojoba oil is an excellent alternative to alcohol denat, which increases the penetration of active ingredients without drying the skin. Jojoba oil also possesses a structure similar to skin’s sebum, thus regulating the activity of the oil glands without clogging the pores, making it a great moisturizing ingredient for oily and acne-prone skin.(5)

Rose geranium essential oil is anti-inflammatory and also shows antioxidant activity against free radicals generated by ultraviolet rays.(6)

Main Ingredients:

Sunflower seed oil, Cetyl alcohol, Cetearyl alcohol, Jojoba oil, Rose Geranium oil, Clary sage

The good:

  • Antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and sebum regulating properties for oily skin
  • Antioxidant (and thus, anti-aging) ingredients
  • Lightweight texture sinks easily in the skin and does not clog the pores
  • Contains good ‘moisturizing’ fatty alcohols like cetyl alcohol

Things to think about:

  • Natural fragrance of essential oils like Limonene, Linalool may sensitize skin prone to allergies

Bottom line:

An all-round moisturizer containing the right mix of hydrating, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory natural ingredients for all skin types to address many skin concerns with one product.

2. Perricone MD Face Finishing and Firming Moisturizer

Best features:

  • Improves the skin quality by reducing fine lines and lightening pigmentation
  • Powerful antioxidant

The best moisturizer for:

Combination and mature skin.

Overview:

This bestseller from Dr. Perricone’s range has all the reasons to be widely loved. Glycerin may sound very basic, but it is one of the best humectants found in skincare, which attracts moisture from the environment and from the deeper layers of skin to bring it to the surface resulting in hydrated, supple skin.(7)

Also, kukui nut (moluccana seed) oil further increases the skin’s moisture-binding capacity and improves skin softness.

Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate is a stable form of Vitamin C, which improves the skin tone by fading dark patches, stimulates collagen formation, and decreases aging signs.(8)

Vitamin C and Vitamin E are also two of the most potent antioxidants known in skincare to neutralize the damage caused by free radicals.

DMAE has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and, in small studies, a reduction in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Main Ingredients:

Ethylhexyl palmitate, Glycerin, Moluccana seed oil, DMAE, Vitamin E, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate

The good:

  • Lightweight but still hydrating
  • Brightening agents to even out skin tone
  • Antioxidants, anti-wrinkle, and collagen-stimulating ingredients make it a great anti-aging moisturizer
  • Good makeup base for dry skin

Things to think about:

  • Pretty pricey
  • May prove to be a little too rich for oily skin
  • Contains natural essential oil fragrance- runs a risk of allergic reaction for very sensitive skin

Bottom line:

If your pocket doesn’t hate it, your skin will most probably love it. The creamy yet lightweight moisturizer improves the skin texture, hydrates, and gives it a dose of youth by reducing the fine lines and correcting the uneven skin tone.

3. Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Cream

Best features:

  • Can be used by all skin types
  • Fragrance-free

The best moisturizer for:

Dry, sensitive, or acne-prone skin. Also, those looking for a makeup base.

Overview:

A real moisturizing dynamo with a line up of some of the best moisturizing ingredients is the holy grail for many and has received both critic and user love over the years.

Glycerin and hyaluronic acid (sodium hyaluronate) are the most powerful humectants,(9) they bring water from everywhere to the skin’s surface, and ceramides supplement the skin’s lipid layer to keep that moisture tightly bound to the skin.(10)

The result is soft, supple, and hydrated skin. Even though it is super hydrating, it does not make the skin greasy or cause breakouts.

Owing to its silicone (cyclopentasiloxane and dimethicone) content, it feels like a smoothening primer on the skin and goes very well under the makeup.

Since all the ingredients in this product have very less allergic and irritating potential, it is especially suitable for sensitive skin.

Main Ingredients:

Glycerin, Dimethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane, Yeast extract, Sodium Hyaluronate, Ceramides

The good:

  • Hydrating without being greasy- contains tons of amazing moisturizing ingredients
  • Does not clog the pores
  • No artificial or natural fragrance- ideal for allergy-prone and sensitive skin types
  • Silicone content makes for an ideal base for makeup

Things to think about:

  • Not moisturizing enough for dry skin in winters
  • Comparatively pricey for ‘just’ a moisturizer

Bottom line:

If it is a super hydrating but lightweight moisturizer you are looking for to wear AM and PM and most of the other moisturizers don’t suit your skin, Peter Thomas Roth cloud cream could become your go-to. If it is worth spending so much money on just a good moisturizing cream is arguable, but user experiences suggest you won’t regret it.

4. La Roche Posay Hydraphase Intense SPF 20

Best features:

  • Contains SPF as well as UVA protection

The best moisturizer for:

Dry and sensitive skin type. Those looking for daytime wear.

Overview:

La Roche Posay is a brand loved universally by dermatologists because of the consistent quality of its products. Hydraphase intense is also one of them.

It is a moisturizer with sunscreen with SPF of 20, which means UVB protection and also decent UVA protection. I am generally a high SPF advocate, but if you apply an adequate amount, SPF 20 should be able to cover you well for some daily outside chores and commute.

It is hydrating and suitable for sensitive skin types. The ingredient list is no fluff- contains chemical sunscreen ingredients that don’t leave a white cast, hyaluronic acid to attract moisture to the skin, and fill up fine wrinkles making the skin look plump and supple.

It also has La Roche Posay hallmark spring water to calm down mild inflammation.

Main Ingredients:

Chemical sunscreens (Avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene), glycerin, dimethicone, sodium hyaluronate, hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid.

The good:

  • Broad-spectrum sunscreen and moisturizer in one
  • Hydrating but non-greasy. Would layer well with other skincare products
  • A budget buy for a two in one product
  • Thermal spring water is antioxidant and soothing

Things to think about:

  • Not enough sun protection for sunny outdoor days
  • Not ideal for oily skin

Bottom line:

Even though I would not tout LRP hydraphase intense as an alternative to wearing sunscreen on an outdoor day, it is a great two in one option for either wearing alone on a short sun exposure day or layering the sunscreen on a sunny day for dry and sensitive skin type.

5. Embryolisse Hydra-Mat Emulsion

Best features:

  • Matte yet hydrating moisturizer for oily skinned

The best moisturizer for:

Those with oily skin.

Overview:

Embryolisse Hydra-Mat Emulsion has corn starch, which absorbs all the extra oil making the skin look matte and non-greasy for a long period of time after application, and thus, it is recommended by many makeup artists for oily skin use to keep the makeup looking fresh for a longer time.

Apricot kernel oil has nourishing fatty acids to moisturize and Vitamin E to fight the free radicals. Additionally, it also has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.(11)

Squalane is a natural component of human sebum and acts like an emollient improving skin’s softness and smoothness. Even though it is technically like an oil, it does not feel oily. It is also a natural antioxidant, antibacterial, and safe for acne-prone and sensitive skin.(3)

Other beneficial ingredients include allantoin and shea butter, which are anti-inflammatory and soothing.

Main Ingredients:

Glycerin, Prunus Armeniaca Kernel Oil, Isononyl Isononanoate, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate, Sodium Acryloyldimethyl, Squalane, Butyrospermum Parkii Oil, Polymethylmethacrylate, Corn Starch Modified, Allantoin

The good:

  • Provides a matte finish for oily skin, gets absorbed quickly
  • Layers well with makeup and other skincare product without making the skin greasy
  • Antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory- suitable for acne-prone skin

Things to think about:

  • Not for dry skinned
  • A rather noticeable scent

Bottom line:

A nail on the head product for oily and acne-prone skin looking for a matte moisturizing cream, especially for daytime use under makeup, offering oil control for a long duration while simultaneously hydrating the skin.


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How we chose these products

To choose the best alcohol-free moisturizer, our main criteria were to exclude products with bad alcohols like alcohol denat and SD alcohol, NOT to exclude the ones with beneficial alcohols like cetyl or cetostearyl alcohols, products which have great moisturizing ingredients, and the trusted brands that consistently produce high-quality skincare.

To have an option for everyone, we included products for people with different needs (like anti-aging, anti-inflammatory), textures (matte vs. thick creamy), and different times of the day.

Comedogenic or non-comedogenic is generally not applicable as a blanket concept as before, but we still tried to choose products that were reported to not clog pores by most.

We performed an ingredient analysis of the products and shortlisted a few products that would fit the needs of most of the reader base across gender, skin type, and budgets.

Last but not least, we know that often ingredient analysis is not always 100% reflective of real-world experience, so we went through reviews of products across all platforms, and according to volume and reliability of the feedback, we picked our top 5 alcohol-free moisturizers.

Frequently asked questions

frequently asked questions

What function does alcohol serve in topical and skincare products?

When we talk about skincare, alcohol serves the function of improving the consistency of a product, dissolving ingredients that are not water-soluble, making the lotion or serum thin and weightless, and to facilitate it sinking in the skin quickly.

In addition, it also improves the penetration(1) of active skincare ingredients like vitamin C or niacinamide into the skin.

How does alcohol in skincare products affect the skin?

It is known that alcohol dissolves fat.(2) In high concentrations ( >30%), it can affect the lipid barrier of the skin. In concentrations of 10% and less, in which it is usually present in skincare products, it just dissolves the sebum and the bridge between ceramides (lipid molecules which hold water), thus drying out the skin.

Usually, the skin recovers from this effect in around 24 hours, however regular use of alcohol-containing products does not allow the skin enough time to recover and regenerate.

Is a product containing alcohol always bad for the skin?

If the presence of alcohol denat is compensated by the use of a lot of other moisturizing agents in the product or as an additional product, the dryness will not be as striking.

So if you are using a serum or a sunscreen with alcohol denat and less or no moisturizing ingredients, always layer it with a moisturizer. But I would not personally approve of a product marketed as a ‘moisturizer’ with drying alcohols in it.

Since alcohol denat is drying for the skin, would it benefit someone with oily or acne-prone skin?

Alcohol will definitely dissolve the sebum sitting on the face, temporarily giving a ‘matte’ appearance, but the oil glands will remain just as many and just as active, and sebum production will cause the skin to become oily again in a few hours.

Also, alcohol can not differentiate between oil sitting on the skin, and the lipid inside the skin, which holds water and so, excessive use of alcohol will cause the skin to be dehydrated, showing dry patches and lustreless.

What skin types should absolutely avoid alcohol denat/SD alcohol?

People with dry and dehydrated skin, very sensitive skin (it can increase the penetration of irritant ingredients in addition to drying the skin), and active inflammatory rosacea should better keep a distance from anything that contains ‘bad alcohol,’ especially in the top 5 in the ingredient list.

Conclusion

Bad alcohols (or simple alcohols) in skincare are not necessarily the devil but also avoidable. They temporarily dry out the skin and compromise the skin barrier.

A moisturizer is supposed to do just the opposite!

Thus it is wise and advisable to choose a moisturizer free of the drying alcohols. Irrespective of your skin type and concern, I hope we were able to help you choose an alcohol-free moisturizer.

Let us know in the comments what moisturizer you have been using till now, with alcohol or without?

Do you know someone who is using a lot of drying alcohol in their skincare routine? Share this article with them and help them find their ideal alcohol-free moisturizer.

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References

  1. Fujii M, Ohara R, Matsumi A, Ohura K, Koizumi N, Imai T, Watanabe Y. Effect of alcohol on skin permeation and metabolism of an ester-type prodrug in Yucatan micropig skin. Eur J Pharm Sci. 2017 Nov 15;109:280-287. doi: 10.1016/j.ejps.2017.08.012. Epub 2017 Aug 15. PMID: 28821439.
  2. Kwak, Sungjong & Brief, Elana & Langlais, Denis & Kitson, Neil & Lafleur, Michel & Thewalt, Jenifer. (2012). Ethanol perturbs lipid organization in models of stratum corneum membranes: An investigation combining differential scanning calorimetry, infrared, and H-2 NMR spectroscopy. Biochimica et biophysica acta. 1818. 1410-9. 10.1016/j.bbamem.2012.02.013.
  3. Sethi A, Kaur T, Malhotra SK, Gambhir ML. Moisturizers: The Slippery Road. Indian J Dermatol. 2016;61(3):279-287. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.182427
  4. Lin TK, Zhong L, Santiago JL. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;19(1):70. Published 2017 Dec 27. doi:10.3390/ijms19010070
  5. Pazyar N, Yaghoobi R, Ghassemi MR, Kazerouni A, Rafeie E, Jamshydian N. Jojoba in dermatology: a succinct review. G Ital Dermatol Venereol. 2013 Dec;148(6):687-91. PMID: 24442052.
  6. Wei A, Shibamoto T. Antioxidant activities of essential oil mixtures toward skin lipid squalene oxidized by UV irradiation. Cutan Ocul Toxicol. 2007;26(3):227-33. doi: 10.1080/15569520701224501. PMID: 17687687.
  7. Fluhr JW, Darlenski R, Surber C. Glycerol and the skin: holistic approach to its origin and functions. Br J Dermatol. 2008 Jul;159(1):23-34. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2008.08643.x. Epub 2008 Jul 1. PMID: 18510666
  8. Fitzpatrick RE, Rostan EF. Double-blind, half-face study comparing topical vitamin C and vehicle for rejuvenation of photodamage. Dermatol Surg. 2002 Mar;28(3):231-6. doi: 10.1046/j.1524-4725.2002.01129.x. PMID: 11896774.
  9. Milani M, Sparavigna A. The 24-hour skin hydration and barrier function effects of a hyaluronic 1%, glycerin 5%, and Centella asiatica stem cells extract moisturizing fluid: an intra-subject, randomized, assessor-blinded study. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2017;10:311-315. Published 2017 Aug 11. doi:10.2147/CCID.S144180
  10. Meckfessel MH, Brandt S. The structure, function, and importance of ceramides in skin and their use as therapeutic agents in skin-care products. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2014 Jul;71(1):177-84. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2014.01.891. Epub 2014 Mar 20. PMID: 24656726.
  11. Lee HH, Ahn JH, Kwon AR, Lee ES, Kwak JH, Min YH. Chemical composition and antimicrobial activity of the essential oil of apricot seed. Phytother Res. 2014 Dec;28(12):1867-72. doi: 10.1002/ptr.5219. Epub 2014 Sep 15. PMID: 25219371.

About The Author

Dr. Rashmi Singh DDVL
Dr. Rashmi Singh DDVL

Dr. Singh studied dermatology from one of the most prestigious medical colleges of India – Stanley Medical College, Chennai. After finishing her post-graduation she went on to work as a consultant dermatologist in one of the largest cosmetology clinic chains in India – Kaya skin clinic. Working alongside expert aesthetic dermatologists of India, she worked extensively with customized skincare as well as lasers and injectables. Alongside, training under famous hair transplant surgeon – Dr. Venkataram Mysore, she learnt the nitty gritties of hair treatments. After doing two traveling fellowships in dermatology in Germany, she decided to settle there. Currently dividing her time between practicing dermatology and aesthetic medicine, she finds immense joy in educating people about the science behind skincare and haircare.

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