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Have you found that water-based products are more effective than oil-based ones?

Let me clarify the question a bit. When I mean water-based products, I mean ones that have water as the first ingredient, or second/third if the ingredients preceding water are water-soluble and/or are easily miscible with water (i.e butylene glycol).

Therefore, all other products that don’t fulfill the above-mentioned prerequisites are considered oil-based. This includes products that have silicones as the first few ingredients; not just traditional “oils” like olive or mineral oil.

Finally, in order to standardize the comparisons a bit more, think of only products you’ve tried where the primary or main ingredients are the same. For example, if you’ve tried both the nonaqueous Paula’s Choice RESIST Intensive Wrinkle-Repair Retinol Serum and the water-based FutureDerm Time-Release Retinol 0.5, which likely contain similar amounts of retinol and have received similar review scores too, which one was more effective for you?

Keep in mind that this discussion is not meant to muse upon the mechanisms of why group A is more effective than group B, though you can certainly share your rationalizations! If you are curious about some of my rationalizations in terms of silicones, consider reading through this discussion on “entrapment” and the entailing comments. THIS discussion is meant more for me to correlate whether or not my personal experiences line up with yours.

So yeah, if you’ve found that water-based products are more effective than their oil-based counterparts (that feature the same primary non-vehicular beneficial ingredients such as retinol, niacinamide, or L-ascorbic acid, etc.), please list the specific products names down below and let me know your experience. If you haven’t experienced this phenomenon, please inform me of that as well.

Thanks and I hope you guys understand my question!

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About John

The Triple Helixian is an unbiased science and research-based site that attempts to clarify and elucidate questions about skin care, while aspiring to be the most thorough and complete source of information.

Discussion

12 thoughts on “Have you found that water-based products are more effective than oil-based ones?

  1. Hi John,

    I have been an avid reader of your blog and future derm for some time. Thumbs up for the great information you have written so far here. (: Great question you have brought up here though, I’m the type who just looks at the ingredient list mostly and have never taken noticed to the delivery system of the products I purchase.

    But I do have a question in mind, I have noticed that you are using the PTR retinol serum, is there any reasons for that? Because I realized that the PTR serum is of silicon base. And are there any reasons for not preferring nicki’s time released retinol since it is a water based product?

    Thanks and I hope my question is of relevance! (: I hope to hear your replies soon.

    Regards,
    Yong

    Posted by Yong | July 2, 2013, 10:45 am
    • Hello there, and welcome!

      Actually, as I noted in both the Overview and Update History posts of My Story & Routine, I haven’t been using that exact routine since September of least year, which includes that product. One of the reasons why is the poor delivery system. I even updated my product review rubric to reflect this change in opinion.

      But like I said, my routine has changed significantly from the one shown on the website. I will be updating my skin care routine according to the updated publishing schedule I posted a few days ago. And no, it does not include Nicki’s retinol product, which again, will be discussed according to the same schedule.

      Posted by John | July 2, 2013, 8:50 pm
  2. I may be late to the party here, so forgive me. There was a time a many years ago, I was following some skin care advice, and that was to use a water-based “tonic” followed by a water-based serum, and then on top of that an oil-based moisturizer. I have to say, I think my skin was really nice back then. I do believe (although I have no scientific proof) that water somehow draws the active ingredients down into the skin, while oil-based products sit more on the top. Call me crazy. I’m still conflicted by what Paula B says – that somehow silicone “evaporates” and does not leave a barrier on the skin, nor trap the active ingredients…..that’s not a direct quote, but rather what my unscientific mind took away from her discussion.

    Posted by Brian | May 18, 2013, 7:37 am
    • Yes, I’ve since then figured out why water-based products tend to work better than oil-based ones. But I’ll get into that in the Ideal Routine Page.

      Also, silicones are not all the same. Some are volatile while others are not. Linear silicones tend to not evaporate (such as dimethicone), while cyclic ones (like cyclopentasiloxane) do tend to evaporate. Keep in mind that the evaporation rates don’t automatically occur and isn’t at 100%, at least not for all volatile silicones. Other ingredients can certainly affect this characteristic such as ethanol.

      Anyways, Paula basically oversimplifies the facts so more people can understand the gist of things. But that’s not what we’re about here. ;)

      Posted by John | May 18, 2013, 12:18 pm
  3. Well I’m not sure about regular skincare. But I have skin that tends to flake and to fix that problem I like oil based products.
    I like mixing too. Applying first a water based product so that it sinks in and then a oil based product so it will sit on my skin and help with flakes. Especially when I am using makeup.

    Posted by natepd | March 12, 2013, 2:15 pm
    • Mhm, it sounds like you know what you’re doing. You use a water-based moisturizer to bring hydration, and then to look that that in with an occlusive oil-based moisturizer. Nice work.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      Posted by John | March 12, 2013, 10:52 pm
  4. I very much prefer a water based product for at least 3/4 of the year. I live in Arizona and it’s very hot most of the time and have fallen in love with Paula’s new Resist Ultra-Light Serum. I have used both of the Retinols you mentioned and found FutureDerm’s too drying and Paula’s too emollient. I prefer Olay’s Pro-X Deep Wrinkle Treatment, which is water based, sometimes followed by CereVe PM, also water based, if my skin is feeling parched in the winter time.

    In the mornings, I use Timeless water based 20% C + E + Ferulic Acid. followed by Paula’s Resist Hand Cream SPF 30 as my sunscreen(also water based) because I can only use a mineral based sunscreen. Anything else and I get a bright red rash around my eyes. So for me on my face at least, I far and away think that water based work best. I also think the water is a better delivery system than oils. It seems to actually be absorbed into the skin rather than just sitting on top.

    I do use dry oils on my body and in my hair because I have extremely dry skin and hair. Arizona is very hard on hair.

    Posted by Jenn | March 4, 2013, 1:44 pm
    • Ooh great response! I too, have never liked either the FutureDerm or PC retinol poducts.

      Anyways, thank you for taking the time to write a comment! This helps me get a better idea of what you guys think of in terms of the importance of vehicular choice. :)

      Posted by John | March 5, 2013, 12:01 am
  5. What a great question! I don’t have the first clue how to answer it. I’ve had eczema since I was a kid. The Kenalog and Desonide ointments work much better for me than the cream versions, and I’ve always wondered why. Neither is water or silicone based but inactive ingredients seem to make a difference.

    Posted by Amy | February 28, 2013, 2:34 pm
    • Well Desonide is dispersed in petrolatum, making it “oil-based.” But I agree that inactive ingredients definitely make a difference! I’m just trying to draw a broad/general line between the efficacy of water- and oil-based products.

      If you think of anything else, I’d be grateful if you include the details.

      Posted by John | February 28, 2013, 4:50 pm
  6. what a thought provoking topic! I usually pay a lot of attention to the ingredients lists on my products but never have actually paid enough attention to consider them “water based” versus “oil-based”. So this has made me scour the lists of my all time faves and sure enough they are ALL water based.
    But since I want to play along today, i will recall for you when i switched from Skinceutical CE Ferulic (water based) to Skin Medica C+E Complex (oil based) because i heard that it provided a broader range of Vitamin C and that the silicone base was less irritating (not that my skin was at all irritated by the Skinceuticals). I went throught the entire bottle of SkinMedica and was less than impressed. I just didn’t feel like the product was really gettin’ in there and doing its job.
    So your question has now made me look back on all my faves (water based!) in my medicine cabinet and i can say that they have that status becuase i feel like they are truly penetrating and not just hanging out on the surface (oil based).

    Posted by janine | February 28, 2013, 2:25 pm

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