Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel Vs. Gel-Cream: Is There a Difference?

Neutrogena has two moisturizers in their hydro boost line—the water gel and the gel-cream. The thing is, they look identical to each other.

But, they’re NOT the same product.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? Take a gander at the products pics below.

This is the water gel:

neutrogena water gel

This is the gel-cream:

neutrogena gel cream


Me too.

Naturally, I did some investigating.

Here’s the bottom line:

There are two key differences between the Water Gel and the Gel Cream First, the Water Gel contains fragrance (the Gel Cream doesn’t). And second, the Water Gel contains dyes (again, the Gel Cream doesn’t). Since both fragrances and dyes can be extremely irritating on skin, it’s recommended that sensitive skin types use the Gel Cream in lieu of the Water Gel.

Let’s get into the details.

Key Difference #1: The Water Gel Contains Fragrance, The Gel-Cream Doesn’t

The water gel and the gel-cream might feel the same, cost the same, and have the same container.

But, they sure-as-heck don’t smell the same.

The simple fact is that the water gel contains fragrance, while the gel-cream is fragrance-free.

Okay. So, what does the water-gel smell like?

It has a clean scent. Not cleaning supply “clean,” obviously. It’s more of an after-shower, sophisticated sort of clean. And, beyond that, most people wouldn’t consider the scent to be strong or offensive.

If fragrance is your thing, then the water gel might be your pick.

On the other hand, fragrances in skin care products are generally frowned upon. That’s because they’re extremely sensitizing. So, even if you’ve never had an issue with a particular parfum, you’re still at risk of developing an issue. And, since nobody wants to deal with allergies (like redness, breakouts, etc.), it’s always a good idea to stay away from fragrance-ladled products.

Key Difference #2: The Water Gel Contains Dyes, The Gel-Cream Doesn’t

These two products have yet another noticeable difference between them.

The water gel contains dyes, while the gel-cream is dye-free.

Admittedly, the dye-factor isn’t such a big deal.

As you would guess, the only thing it does is turn the product blue. Side eye: I’m pretty sure Neutrogena added dyes to compete with Laneige’s ever-famous sleeping mask.

Nevertheless, some people find dyes to be irritating—you might want to patch test the water gel before slapping it onto your beautiful face.

Or, you can go with the gel-cream and avoid any potential hiccups.

They Have Different Ingredients

Reading the ingredients for both of these products was a trip.

At first glance, they seemed identical.

So, I had to sit down and really look into it.

I don’t want you to go through what I went through, so I’ve bolded the ingredients that are unique to each product in the lists below.

Water Gel Ingredients

Water, dimethicone, glycerin, dimethicone/vinyl dimethicone crosspolymer, phenoxyethanol, polyacrylamide, cetearyl olivate, sorbitan olivate, dimethiconol, C13-14 hyaluronate, ethylhexylglycerin, fragrance, C12-14 pareth-12, sodium hydroxide, blue 1

Gel-Cream Ingredients

Water, dimethicone, glycerin, cetearyl olivate, polyacrylamide, sorbitan olivate, phenoxyethanol, dimethicone/vinyl dimethicone crosspolymer, synthetic beeswax, C13-14 isoparaffin, dimethiconol, dimethicone crosspolymer, chlorphenesin, laureth-7, carbomer, sodium hyaluronate, ethylhexylglycerin, C12-14 pareth-12, sodium hydroxide

Dimethicone (found in both products)

Otherwise known as silicone oils, dimethicones have both occlusive and emollient properties. Which is to say that they lock-in moisture and lubricate the skin. And, despite popular opinion, they’re non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic, making them a great ingredient for even the most sensitive of skin types.

Cetearyl Olivate/Sorbitan Olivate (found in both products)

These are emulsifiers (i.e. substances that keep products from separating) derived from olive oil. Apart from being emulsifiers, these two ingredients are also pretty darn moisturizing.

Glycerin (found in both products)

Along with dimethicone, glycerin is another ingredient that’s found in virtually all moisturizers. And for good reason—it’s a really strong humectant, meaning it binds water (i.e. moisture) to your skin’s surface.

Hyaluronic acid AKA the Hyaluronates (found in both products)

Despite being a selling point for the hydro boost line, hyaluronic acid is positioned pretty low on the ingredient list. Either way, hyaluronic acid is a humectant (like glycerin), so it’ll plump-up your skin via moisture binding.

Fragrance (found in the Water Gel only)

While fragrances might impart a nice smell to your product, they often cause allergic reactions and, generally, sensitize the heck out of your skin.

Blue 1 (found in the Water Gel only):

One study concluded that Blue 1 can be absorbed through broken skin (source). I honestly don’t know if this is a bad thing. What I do know is that it’s labeled as a skin and eye irritant by the European Chemicals Agency (source).

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel Vs. Gel Cream: The Winner

neutrogena hydro boost gel cream

Sometimes, it’s hard to pick a winner. I mean, there are so many good products on the market today. And choosing just one can be uber-difficult.

But, that’s not the case here.

Drumroll, please.

The winner is…the GEL-CREAM (check it out here on Amazon).

Why is the gel-cream better?

That’s easy, it doesn’t contain fragrances or dyes. So, it’s the obvious pick for anyone with sensitive skin.

Final Thoughts

As someone with oily/dehydrated skin, I love the hydro boost line because it contains a bunch of skin-soothing ingredients. And I’ll continue using the gel-cream as my daytime moisturizer because it hydrates my skin without making me look like an oily mess.

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