Woman applying facial moisturizer

Face moisturizers are important for keeping your skin healthy, preventing skin disorders, and maintaining as well as restoring the skin barrier. Moisturizers add moisture to the skin, and they come in different forms such as oils, creams, ointments and lotions.

Besides the obviously reason (to add moisture!), there are several other reasons to use a moisturizer in your routine. You might want to camouflage wrinkles and fine lines, or use it as a makeup base or primer. You may be required to use a moisturizer if you need to treat irritation in the skin or contact dermatitis.

To get the most out of your moisturizer, it is most effective when applied right after showering/bathing and before bedtime when the skin barrier is restored and heals.

What to Look for in a Moisturizer

Ingredients to look for in a moisturizer

The active ingredients of moisturizers are humectants. Sometimes they contain other ingredients such as fragrances, preservatives and surfactants (non-soap cleansers). Humectants increase the water binding capacity in the epidermis, within the stratum corneum or the uppermost layer of the skin. Typical ingredients include: urea, glycerin, salicylic acid and alpha hydroxy acids such as glycol acid and lactic acid.

Ingredients to look out for certain skin conditions

Moisturizers are susceptible to bacterial and microbial contamination, thus preservatives are often added to preserve shelf life and ensure durability and viability. However, these preservatives can lead to an allergic contact dermatitis in people who are prone to allergies or who have sensitive skin.

Moisturizers that are too occlusive, greasy or contain large amounts of oils may aggravate acne, folliculitis, boils, cysts, and cause perioral dermatitis or acne mechanica. For people prone to acne or any of the skin conditions listed, it is best to use a moisturizer that says “oil-free” and “non-comedogenic.”

Thermal burns may also occur if a moisturizer is high in paraffin-containing ointments, particularly if the area it was applied on is exposed to fire, cigarettes, etc. It is thus best to avoid paraffin within your moisturizer for this reason.

Irritant dermatitis typically occur in people with sensitive skin, eczema, atopic dermatitis and rosacea. They tend to have an irritating reaction on occasion to moisturizers and emollients and sometimes experiencing burning or stinging when in contact with a moisturizer. If the symptoms are transient, it can be continued however if a rash or dermatitis develops or unbearable symptoms occurs, the inciting product/moisturizer should be discontinued promptly.

Although an allergic contact dermatitis with moisturizers is rare, it can certainly occur to moisturizers as well as any other substance. If a contact allergy is suspected, it can be confirmed through patch testing, in which patches with the substance in question are placed on the back for testing. The most common contact allergies in moisturizers include fragrances and preservatives.

Best Drugstore Face Moisturizer for Dry Skin: Vaseline Petrolatum

Best drugstore face moisturizer for dry skin
Vaseline petrolatum
The most affordable and convenient to find option for dry skin.

Vaseline healing jelly (original) helps to protect the skin and lock in moisture for particularly dry or itchy skin. It is simple, and contains 100% pure petrolatum jelly. It is also very affordable and found everywhere. It is my favorite go-to whenever I need to restore my skin barrier after a bad rash or skin eruption, or even a sunburn. It has been recommended and clinically proven to help heal damaged and dry skin, it also assists with wound healing after surgery, small burns, or minor trauma. It is ideal for stressed, dry or sensitive skin. The main active ingredient is simple: it contains 100% white petrolatum and nothing extra or unnecessary.

Best Face Moisturizer for Dry, Sensitive Skin: Aquaphor Healing Ointment

Best face moisturizer for dry skin and sensitive skin
Aquaphor healing ointment
With a short list of gentle ingredient, this is a perfect choice for dry and sensitive skin.

Aquaphor healing ointment is a multi-purpose ointment that serves to soothe very dry skin, chapped lips, cracked or fissured hands and feet, cracked cuticles, minor wounds or burns, and other irritated or inflamed skin conditions. The main active ingredient is 41% petrolatum. Other inactive ingredients include: lanolin, mineral oil, glycerin, bisabolol, panthenoel, and ceresin. It has been proven to restore skin to look smooth and healthy. It includes natural humectants such as glycerin and pantheon to nourish, moisturizer and protect the skin to boost healing. In addition, it protects dry, irritated, cracked, and chipper skin on the mucosa or hair-bearing skin as well. It can be used daily from home, at work, when traveling or on the go. It is preservative and fragrance free. It also helps to protect against drying effects from cold weather and wind.

Best Face Moisturizer for Dry, Acne Prone Skin: Elta MD AM Therapy Facial Moisturizer

Best face moisturizer for dry, acne prone skin
Elta MD AM therapy facial moisturizer
Elta MD is a popular dermatologist recommended brand that can help with acne/maskne prone, dry skin.

Elta MD AM therapy moisturizes while it smoothes skin texture and evens out skin tone and texture. It is a lightweight moisturizer that stimulates the skin to moisturize without the use of heavy oils or emollients that can be occlusive. It also contains hyaluronic acid which increases moisture and water retention. It is oil-free and non-comedogenic, meaning it does not cause pimples or acne. It is also fragrance free and safe for sensitive skin types.

The main active ingredients include: willow bark extract, niacinamide (vitamin B3), caffeine, piptadenia colubrina peel extract, vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid. Willow bark extract helps with cell turnover as it is a natural source of salicylic acid. Niacinamide is an anti-inflammatory that reduces redness, minimizes appearance of dry/damaged skin ad restores supple skin texture. Piptadenia colubrina extract helps with moisture retention as it stimulates aquaporin. Caffeine reduces flaking, restores suppleness, improves dry/damaged skin and stimulates aquaporins to retain moisture. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that decreases signs of aging by reducing free radicals. Hyaluronic acid restores suppleness, also reduces flaking and retains moisture throughout the skin.

Best Face Moisturizer for Dry, Aging Skin: Retinol Multi-Correxion by Roc

Best face moisturizer for dry, aging skin
Retinol multi-correxion by Roc
Retinol combined other other moisturizing ingredient for dry skin with fine lines.

Retinol multi-correxion by Roc enhances the skin’s natural night-time renewal and reduces signs of aging through the activity of a topical retinoid. It takes several weeks to see a positive effect. Through the action of retinol, it leads to the appearance of healthier looking skin that appears rejuvenated and with less discolorations or blemishes. It is a versatile night cream that promotes renewal of the skin; improves dull tone, wrinkles, dryness, and discoloration; can be used daily as it is gentle; and has a Hexyl-R complex technology as its main active ingredient. This technology was developed to target aging with a unique approach before they become evident. It improves a wide range of anti-aging goals including correcting uneven skin tones and promoting radiance.

Best Face Moisturizer for Dry Skin with SPF: Coola Full Spectrum 360° Mineral Sun Silk Creme Organic Sunscreen SPF 30

Best face moisturizer for dry skin with SPF
Coola Full Spectrum 360° Mineral Sun Silk Creme Organic Sunscreen SPF 30
Our top pick is packed with moisturizing ingredients and SPF.

This moisturizer by Coola uses rich organic products to protect the skin with a silky finish. The formula contains white peony, jasmine and sacred lotus for its illuminating, moisturizing and anti-aging properties. There is a full spectrum 360 technology complex that extends beyond UV light exposure with UVA/UVB but helps decrease pollution and blue light. The active ingredient is zinc oxide, a physical blocker present in many sunscreens. It also provides mineral broad-spectrum protection against UVA/UVB. It has a plant derived complex to help decrease secondary effects to pollution and is dermatologist tested. In addition, it is vegan, gluten-free, paraben-free, non-GMO, and coral reef-friendly.

Best Natural Face Moisturizer for Dry Skin: Poppy Austin Sea Buckthorn Oil

Best face moisturizer for dry and maskne
Poppy Austin Sea Buckthorn Oil
Rich in Omega Fatty Acids, sea buckthorn oil is a great natural moisturizing ingredient for dry skin.

Sea buckthorn oil is extracted from the seeds and fruit of sea buckthorn. Vegetable oils can be obtained through mechanical extraction or cold pressing of various plant parts including fruits, seeds or drupels. Sea buckthorn oil has a variety of properties and has many active ingredients which are useful in medicine and the cosmetic and skincare industry. It has become a valuable homeopathic remedy to give the skin a beautiful and healthy-looking appearance. What helps it benefit dry, flaky or aging skin is its balanced composition of fatty acids and vitamins the oil contains such as omega 7, omega-6, giving it repair and skin regenerating properties. It also improves oxygenation of the skin, removes toxin, improves circulation, and easily penetrates the epidermis. It also helps to prevent inflammation, inhibit aging, prevent allergies and protect against infections. It has close to 200 properties, sea buckthorn has become a valuable essential addition to health, beauty products, and a good moisturizer to use that is a natural option. If you’re looking for a thick cream that contains sea buckthorn oil, the PURITO Sea Buckthorn Vital 70 Cream is a good option.

Dr. Anna H. Chacon