Oil vs Oil / Water- based Skincare

There are two major types of skincare products: the ones based on oil and the ones that are based on water. However, products that contain water usually include some portion of oil as well so there is further distinction of the products. Following table will cover the differences:

Anhydrous products
Formulation base Oil

(no water present at all)


Oil + Water / Water + Oil

(Naturally, oil and water do not mix together. As such, Oil / Water product formulations also include emulsifiers in order to ensure the mix of the two ingredients and emollients to thicken the texture)

Reasons to use


 –          Easily break down dirt and grime on the skin

–          Give glow without the use of harsh chemicals

–          Strengthen protective barrier

–          Trap moisture


 Oil as a leading ingredient in the product formulation:

–         Gently cleanse the skin without striping the surface

–          Many bio-active ingredient are water soluble

–          Oils help to retain moisture throughout the day


Water as a leading ingredient in the product formulation:

–          Light texture

–          Fast absorption

–          Do not clog pores

–          Many bio-active ingredients are water soluble

–          Easy to layer


 Stability  Oil is considered to be more stable compared to oil / water based products. However, exposure to air causes oxidation which makes oil products go rancid. Antioxidants added to oil based products slow down oxidation process


I personally consider coconut and squalene oils to be the only truly stable oils that I use as part of my skincare routine


Water based formulas are considered to be fairly unstable due to the presence of waterborne bacteria and large number of bio active ingredients that need to be stabilized. Exposure to air and light causes ingredient breakdown.


Also, water based products are prone to microbal contamination

Preservative / Shelf Life


 Coconut and squalene oils need no preservatives


Bio – active ingredients can be added to the oil formulation; however, the list is very limited since many botanical extracts and antioxidants are water soluble only

 Since water based products tend to be unstable, they need preservatives to protect the potency of the formulation.


Antioxidants can be added. That said, antioxidants must be added in addition to a preservative not instead of a preservative


Be aware No product is invincible so protect your oil skincare from accidental contamination: If you introduced water or bacteria to the oil based product, it is prone to going rancid


Water and oil might differ in proportion within the product. However, when the product formulation includes the mix of water and oil, people tend to refer to water based products as products where main (first listed) ingredient is water. Also, people refer to oil based products as skincare products where main (first listed) ingredient is oil. The rest of the ingredients in the formulation might be exactly the same.



If you anything like me, then while reading the post you already started wondering which side of the skincare formulation should you take. It is all about balance which is why I would like to point out a few things here:

1)      Dry skin (skin type) lacks oil. Dehydrated skin (skin condition) lacks water.

!!!!Do not mistaken chronically dehydrated skin for dry skin


2)      If you want to create a balanced skin care, you should consider two key factors:

–          You need to incorporate hydration as well as lipid barrier protection in your routine

–          You need to identify which active ingredients you need and their solubility (whether they dissolve in water or oil)



Thank for reading,




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s