Why Water Creams Are the Moisturizers You’ve Been Waiting For

(Photo: Sunday Riley/Yahoo Beauty)

“Moisture is the essence of wetness,” as any good Zoolander fan knows, “and wetness is the essence of beauty.” So it makes sense that water creams — arguably the wettest moisturizer to hit the skincare market yet — are getting props for their serious beauty benefits.

After slowly growing in popularity over the past few years, the hydrating gels are having a full-on moment. And for good reason: The creams hydrate and plump skin without suffocating your pores — perfect for the transition to warmer weather. 

Water creams, sometimes called “water packs” or “water masks,” are aptly named. They’re both H2O-based — which makes them feel kind of like soft Jell-O — and moisture-locking, for a dewy, just-spritzed-my-face look. But while the name sounds simple, the way water creams work is actually pretty complex, explains Ni’Kita Wilson, cosmetic chemist and founder of skinects.com. Think of the creams as multi-layered, she explains, working in a few different ways to moisturize. 

“The [water] base, by itself, does deliver instant hydration to the skin,” Wilson tells Yahoo Beauty. “But what really matters is what’s left behind, after the water evaporates.” That means you have to look at the active ingredients of any water cream. Many will use high levels of hyaluronic acid, an ingredient that pulls water from the environment and creates a barrier that seals moisture into your skin. “It’s almost like putting a sponge on top of the skin,” Wilson says.

(Photo: The Estée Edit)

Beyond hyaluronic acid, most water creams have additional active ingredients that prep skin to absorb it, and to reduce other signs of aging. In Sunday Riley’s Tidal Water Cream, company founder Sunday Riley tells Yahoo Beauty, “alpha-arbutin [from the Bearberry evergreen bush] helps brighten the appearance of hyperpigmentation, while light exfoliation from papaya enzymes sloughs away dead skin cells and clears congested pores.” All of these results add up to skin that looks smoother, dewier, and healthier than before. 

As moisturizing as the creams are, they’re also oil-free. Ten years ago, convincing someone to put oil on their face was nearly impossible — now, of course, parting with oil-rich moisturizers seems almost sacrilegious. But if you’re hell-bent on hanging onto your face oil, don’t panic — both Wilson and Riley say the two can work together. 

To figure out how to use a water cream for your skin type, Wilson explains, “you have to look at the underlying issue. Dry skin — truly dry skin — is a condition. If you have dry skin you need to do something with that every day.” Such skin doesn’t produce enough oil, allowing natural moisture to escape. And if that’s the case for you, you’re going to need something with oil that will help with retain moisture by enforcing the lipid barrier, Wilson says. Try layering a water cream with an oil, or heavier cream, Riley suggests: “Used together [by patting on a little oil after the water cream], they synergistically improve performance and seal in moisture for more immediate effects.”

(Photo: Laneige)

Dehydration, on the other hand, is a different beast. You can have oily or normal skin that looks dry, flaky, and wrinkled — likely due to dehydration. “Since most people experience skin dehydration, that means that regardless of your skin type, everyone benefits from the hydration boosting (and skin plumping) power of a water cream,” Riley explains. “Dehydration causes a plethora of skin issues, from fine lines to a sebum imbalance,” all of which can be abated by water creams. 

If hydration isn’t at the top of your list of #skingoals, water creams can still work their magic for you. Want to banish wrinkles? Hyaluronic acid plumps as it hydrates, smoothing out skin and making everything look tighter. Look for a cream with active ingredients that target other issues, such as brightening and evening skin tone. You can also try layering a serum or essence under a water cream to effectively lock in whatever treatment you’re using. 


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