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Do I Really Really Need to Moisturize?

By Amalah

Since I rely on you for skincare advice, and have started using a number of Philosophy products religiously since you recommended them (for which my face totally owes you thanks and possibly a beer), I of course thought of you when faced with a skincare question no one else seemed to be able to answer. Could *everyone* benefit from a good moisturizer?
I am plagued with adult acne, which is mostly kept under control with prescriptions (antibiotics and Retin-A), but I still get the extra-shiny T-zone every day. My chin/cheeks aren’t particularly greasy (though I still break out there), but don’t appear dry either. I wear sunblock daily (the Neutrogena SPF 30 kind, which I think also came from your recommendation), and a little loose powder, and that’s usually it in the summertime. In the cooler months, I mix a little Laura Mercier foundation with the sunblock, and apply it with my fingers. I always assumed that the sunblock (or sunblock/foundation combo) provided some level of moisturizing, but lately I’ve noticed my skin seeming a little…dull. I don’t know if it’s just my age (almost 30), or if moisturizer would help. The obvious answer would be just to get some moisturizer already and try it out, but I’m nervous about making my skin break out. What would you advise?
Many, many thanks –

Oh my lands, you are me! Or, you are the me of a few years ago. In my mind moisture = oil = zits, and I refused to use any.
I was wrong, of course. Very wrong. It’s all about balance, and moisture is ESSENTIAL to the health of your skin. In fact, adding the right kind of (gentle, oil-free) moisture can actually REDUCE breakouts and shiny slicks because your skin is no longer overcompensating for a lack of natural moisture.
And I’m guessing, what with the antibiotics and Retin-A, that’s exactly what’s going on with your skin. I totally understand the need for a hard-line approach to adult acne, but the lack of balance in your skincare routine is probably what’s causing the greasy T-zone. I know it was for me, and I stupidly responded with MORE oil-control products, which only fouled things up even more.
You’ll notice that even the skincare regimen at includes a moisturizer as an essential step for just this very reason. (Speaking of which, has anyone tried out the founder’s new line of products? If so, what do you think?)
As for the SPF/moisturizer thing — only the combination moisturizer/sunscreen products actually contain a real facial moisturizer. The Neutrogena sunblock does not. It’s great for fighting the long-term damage of the sun (wrinkles!), and I’m thrilled to hear that it doesn’t make you break out, but it’s not a moisturizing product.
For a product that does it all (moisture + oil control + dullness fighting), you know I freaking love Philosophy’s Hope in a Bottle exfoliating moisturizer for oily skin. I probably tried dozens of oil-free moisturizers before this one — including the ones my dermatologist recommended — and never liked any of them. My only concern for you, however, is that it contains a small amount of salicylic acid. Which is great for fighting zits and blackheads, but I don’t know if it should be used in conjunction with Retin-A. It could irritate your skin, so maybe ask your doctor or test it out at Sephora before you buy.
While most people don’t have problems with Philosophy’s Hope in a Jar moisturizer (which is for all skin types and what I use on my cheeks and next), a couple people have emailed me to complain about breakouts.
So, I’m not sure I can provide you with the perfect specific recommendation here (I think Cetaphil’s moisturizer is greasy and I don’t like any of the drugstore brands I’ve tested). I mean, I love you guys, but I refuse to futz around with my own skin’s delicate balance just to increase my product repertoire and knowledge. But I can tell you what to look for, and then open it up to the peanut gallery for their recommendations. You want oil-free, but probably need to stay away from anything labeled “oil-control” while you use Retin-A. Your prescriptions make your skin sensitive, so look for products specifically for sensitive skin and fragrance-free.
Whatever you use, however, give yourself two weeks before deciding if something isn’t for you. There will be an adjustment period. If, after two weeks, your skin seems worse instead of better, by all means chuck the product and tell me to go to hell. Nicely, though. Please.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Rachel

    September 7, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    Hi. I have adult acne too. Isn’t it the best? Anyway, I use the Hope in Bottle moisturizer that Amy mentioned at night and for day I use Neutrogena Healthy Defense Daily Moisturizer SPF 45 (Jennifer Garner is in the commercials and I’ll buy whatever she’s selling cuz she’s so darn cute). I use the SPF moisturizer for daytime because layering many many products onto my face really freaks me out. The Neutrogena stuff is really light and doesn’t make me shiny and hasn’t caused a breakout yet…I love it. My skin looks amazing!
    That’s just what worked for me though, I think everyone has to find the right combination of products for them. Good luck!

  • JennyM

    September 7, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    I offered to send an eye makeup tutorial and then… no camera. R.I.P., camera. It is an ex-camera; if I hadn’t nailed it to its perch, it would be pushing up the daisies. Sigh.
    BUT, I can comment on this! With maybe something useful!
    Seconding the sentiment that everyone has to find what’s right for them — this summer I’ve had to cut back on the Philosophy routine because HUMIDITY and OMG SO OILY. I still wash with the Purity face wash, but what’s been working for me has been to ditch extra moisturizer and replace my regular foundation with the Laura Mercier oil free tinted moisturizer with SPF — and then a little translucent powder. The Laura Mercier seems pricey, but I’ve been using this tube since the beginning of May, so that’s worked out well. Anyway, for me, it’s been just the right amount of moisturizer (plus SPF – yay!) and I’m not layering a bunch of stuff on over it. And I’ve had several unsolicited comments (from strangers, even!) about how nice my skin looks, which has never happened before.

  • Susan

    September 7, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    I recently experienced a similar thing. I started breaking out and thought I’d decrease my usual moisturizing routine, and found out it was a BIG mistake. My skin became very shiny and oily. Then, I resumed moisturizing and Bammo! no shiny. I will never give up my moisturizer again.

  • heels

    September 7, 2007 at 1:51 pm

    Though I don’t have much of an oil problem, I do have extremely sensitive skin. I have had great luck with the Neutrogena moisturizer with SPF 15. One little squirt covers my whole face and part of my neck. It’s light and I never feel greasy or sticky.

  • Kaelak

    September 7, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    I have the same kind of skin and here are my secrets:
    use as few products as possible
    witch hazel as a toner once a day (very mild)
    Shishedo clean (or maybe its called clear?) mousturizer
    a mild facial scrub twice a week
    try to go without any makeup 1-2 times per week
    Hope that helps!

  • procrastamom

    September 7, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    I started using the Philosophy Makeup Optional for Congested Skin set in April of this year. Just when I thought I was going to go straight from zits to wrinkles (I’m 35) Philosophy saved the day! I can count on one hand how many times I’ve broken out (just a little) in the last four months. Awesome! I agree with you Amy, the Hope in a Bottle is magic…I actually feel like it soaks up the oil. It’s so great.
    Also, and I know you didn’t like it in your test/review, I now use the The Supernatural tinted moisturizer with spf15. It was one of the samples that came with the original kit and I just loved it. I don’t usually wear foundation, so I use it under my face powder as a base.

  • superblondgirl

    September 7, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    Everybody needs moisturizer!! I use Eucerin, which is nice and light and great for sensitive skin – but don’t get the SPF 30, get the SPF 15 if you want to try it. The 30 is definitely thicker and oilier-feeling than the 15. Oil of Olay’s complete with SPF 15 is great, too – very light, but they changed the scent and I hate the new one, so don’t use it anymore. (I am too cheap for anything but drugstore brands.)

  • rachelw

    September 7, 2007 at 6:24 pm

    I’m going to whole heartedly second heels’ recommendation of the Neutrogena moisturizer. It’s the moisturizer I started with years ago after I finally overcame my own unfounded fears of moisture=more oil. It still works, and I still love it. Funnily enough, I’m not allergic to anything, but Hope in a Jar turned me into a bright red, itchy (so itchy!) monster. I so wanted to love it, but it just didn’t love me. I think I’ll be sticking with the Neutrogena.


    September 7, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    Okay, I totally agree that everyone needs to moisturize; I, too, have oily skin, adult acne, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, I really like Philosophy Hope in a Bottle at night and On a Clear Day cream in the morning. Now, while I do love many of the Philosophy products (Purity, Hope in a Tube), I was still having trouble with breakouts and general dull skin and large PORES and last time I was at Sephora the sales guy walked me around the store and showed me some great new products to try and gave me samples. The samples were for Dr Brandt Pore Effect (LOVE!) and Poreless Moisture (HATE!); the PE actually made my pores look smaller! But the PM? Breakout City – I went back to Philosophy immediately. Now, he also recommended DDF Glycolic Exfoliating Wash (I’m 35, so fighting acne & wrinkles – fun!) but I held off on the DDF because, damn? Pricey. But I went back about a month later and bought a full size Pore Effect and the Glycolic cleanser and OMG my skin looks better than it has in years… seriously… my pores are clean, I no longer have those clogged-pore bumps (ew!), I only have one little spot on my chin (I had very stressful week) and I am now committed to spending entirely too much of my hard-earned dough on cleanser.
    (Oh yeah, Sephora guy also recommended Sephora brand primer saying it was comparable to Smashbox so I figured what the hell, I was already dropping 85 bucks on two products (I think I might be sick), what’s another 20? and I really, REALLY like the primer)

  • epoh

    September 7, 2007 at 10:22 pm

    I like the moisturizer w/spf from Boots.. I buy it at Target. I can’t say I have any particular skin problems though, so I know my advise probably doesn’t help much. However, it’s from Target, it’s cheap! Try it, lol.

  • Maggie

    September 8, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    Has anyone tried the Aveeno clear complexion moisturizer?

  • Hot Librarian

    September 9, 2007 at 1:58 pm

    Superblondgirl – try the sensitive skin version of Olay Complete. It’s unscented. That being said, I second that recommendation.

  • robin m

    September 11, 2007 at 9:30 am’s regimen has saved my ass over and over. The products are cheap and I love it.

  • Mindy

    September 11, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    Philosophy made my skin look beautiful for about three weeks then just stopped working. I’m glad to hear from robin m. about’s products. I was hesitant to buy because of the $11.00 shipping charge which I find outrageous.

  • umi

    September 13, 2007 at 6:27 pm

    So, I am that girl that used to use the shit out of salicylic acid. I eventually realized that using harsh products was keepin the acne going. Now, I use a prescription anti-bacterial gel with oil free moisturizer (sometimes Philosophy’s hope in a bottle or murad). It keeps my skin in line.

  • pauline

    April 23, 2009 at 10:11 am

    I tried many types of moisturizers (including oil-free type) but my face is somewhat oily, and they make me break out. I kept looking because my forehead and the sides of my face get dry (especially during winter), and I absolutely have to use a moisturizer.
    I was pretty happy when I found the Made from Earth Rosehip & Hibiscus Face Serum and I have continued to use it for at least two years now. It really works, and I love it! I do not break out from using it, plus it is a perfect moisturizer. The best thing about its also is that it is chemical free and organic…plus it firms the skin also!
    I guess it was all the chemicals in skin care products that was making me break out all these years. The sides of my face no longer itch during the winter, and the chemical free with anti-wrinkle formula is ideal for me, because I turned 49 this year! I looked at other moisturizers but have never found one that has both benefits together. You can kind them in Whole Food Stores, or at