3 Ways to Prepare Combination Skin to Really Soak Up Your Moisturizer

These products are all lightweight, balancing, and contain humectants to attract moisture.

Makeup "aha!" moments always dominate my beauty memory. They include the time I figured out my brows were sisters, not twins, the moment I learned the how-to-hide-your-eye-bags -trick, and the day I realized red lipstick was fantastic and not scary at all.

As for skincare "aha!" moments? Not so much. In fact, I've only recently gotten the hang of moisturizing my skin.

Growing up in the US, I've always gotten the feeling that low-maintenance skincare was the way to go and that less is more. Kind of related: my mom, who has perfect skin and has never had a pimple in her life, does nothing to it all and suggests I do the same (I don't). But thank goodness for one star product, which helped me understand it's not so bad to indulge my skin: my Sulwhasoo Essential Balancing Water.

By now, you are probably extremely tired of hearing me talk about this product, which wets my face in just such a way that my moisturizer has an easier time softening my skin. But it really is THE product that showed me how important it is to layer my skincare. My face always feels more hydrated when I use it before my regular moisturizer. It is so crucial to my skincare routine that I now separate my skincare beauty memory into two parts: pre-balancing-water (the gloomy period of not moisturizing at all) and post-balancing-water (my current happy period of taking better care of my skin).

But as much as I love it, I sometimes wonder what else is waiting for me in the pre-moisturizer realm — the realm of serums, essences and waters.

To find out, I started testing out some products that can also help prep my combination skin for moisturizer. Below are my new faves. Though their names suggest they fall under different skincare categories (essences vs. serums), the bottom line regarding all of them is that they're all lightweight and contain humectants, such as hyaluronic acid or glycerin, to attract moisture.

If you want to balance your skin the no-frills way: First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Hydrating Serum

This is a simple yet effective glycerin-based moisturizing serum that also contains another humectant — hyaluronic acid — and collagen to plump up the skin. It's fragrance-free, clear, and has a gel consistency.

You'll need to rub this in for a few seconds, and you'll definitely feel this on top of your skin at first. I like it because it makes my skin immediately damp for my moisturizer. It's also surprisingly good at balancing the oil production on my skin.

If you want a dewy look: Caudalie Vinosource S.O.S. Thirst Quenching Serum

This serum contains grape water (which is supposed to be very moisturizing), glycerin and hyaluronic acid. It has a milky consistency and absorbs very quickly. Despite being thin, it was nicely hydrating and left a dewy look to my skin, even when I wore it underneath a mattifying sunscreen.

If you want to understand why I love Sulwhasoo's Balancing Water so much: Clinique Even Better Essence Lotion

This glycerin-based essence comes closest to my beloved Sulwhasoo Balancing Water consistency-wise and performance-wise. It's the thinnest of all three products and feels like you're applying a lightly moisturizing version of water on your skin.

You're supposed to pat it in — as opposed to rubbing it in — since it absorbs lightning-fast, making it ideal for layering if you're always in a rush to get out the door or fall asleep. It also doesn't make my skin look greasy or dry at the end of the day.

  • Do you layer your skincare?
  • What's your favorite thing to apply before moisturizer?