The right moisturizer is key to a quality skin care routine. Not only will it help hydrate your skin but it helps protect it from environmental damage. Even if you struggle with acne, the right moisturizer can help win the battle with breakouts
But how do you choose the best moisturizer for your skin—especially when there are so many options?
We spoke with dermatologists about the differences between moisturizers, what you’ll want to look for, and what you’ll want to avoid when selecting the best skincare for you.
When it comes to skincare, it’s not a one-size-fits-all. Everyone’s skin is different, and it’s important to learn your skin type when deciding on a moisturizer. But how do you find out your skin type?
Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a Board Certified Dermatologist, has a unique trick to help you figure out which type best describes your skin. First, you’ll wash your face as normal. However, you’ll skip your skin care for half an hour. After the time has elapsed, look at your complexion in the mirror.
A shiny complexion means you likely have oily skin, while zero shine means dry skin. If your skin is only shiny in the t-zone (your forehead, nose, and chin) you have combination-type skin. Lastly, if your face appears red, puffy, or itchy, your skin type is sensitive.
Revive your complexion with an oil-free, non-comedogenic moisturizer.
After you know your skin type, you’ll want to tailor your moisturizer to match. While there are moisturizers that work for a variety of skin types, others can specifically target issues like dryness or help your skin from becoming inflamed due to sensitivity.
“Your skin type should definitely play a role in your moisturizer selection,” said Dr. Lian Mack, a board-certified dermatologist. “Choosing a moisturizer that is not suitable for your skin type can have severe consequences.”
For dry or sensitive skin, Mack said fragrance-free moisturizers that help repair the skin barrier are best. While not everyone experiences immediate irritation from fragrance in skin care, it is somewhat common in those with sensitive skin and can lead to issues like contact dermatitis. Plus, it can actually damage your skin barrier even more!
Mack also said to look for formulations that use humectants, like ceramides and hyaluronic acid, which are great for barrier reparation and in turn, help prevent transepidermal water loss, which is the evaporation of water from your skin. She particularly recommended Monat’s Be Gentle Nourishing Moisturizer.
For oily skin, you should look for a lighter-weight moisturizer according to Dr. Bertha Baum, a Florida-based board-certified dermatologist.
Gel creams and lotions are both good options for those with oily skin, but most importantly, you should look for options that are oil-free (so as not to trigger excess sebum production) and non-comedogenic options. Moisturizers formulated with non-comedogenic ingredients won’t clog pores or lead to breakouts.
If you worry that your lightweight moisturizer isn’t doing quite enough, particularly at night when transepidermal water loss tends to occur, you can always opt for a second moisturizer—a night cream— that’s a bit thicker and more hydrating.
Dr. Jart Ceramidin Cream
Ceramide-based creams are perfect for those with dry, sensitive skin.
It’s important to know how different kinds of moisturizers provide benefits to each skin type. There are three major moisturizer categories: humectants, emollients, and occlusives.
Humectants have hydrating ingredients that bind water to your skin. These ingredients help your skin look plump and soft. They are also perfect for humid environments where they can pull moisture from the air to hydrate your skin.
CeraVe Moisturizing Cream
Moisturizers don't need to be expensive to be great.
Then, there are emollients and occlusives. While some occlusives and humectants are considered emollients, in general, these formulations are designed to add oil to the skin to help with smoothness and aid in repairing the skin barrier. Once you use an emollient, you can then use an occlusive if you have particularly dry or sensitive skin.
Occlusives form a protective barrier that locks in hydration and prevents moisture from leaving your skin. They’re the products you see being used in the process of slugging. Essentially, you’re putting a thin layer over your skin to prevent moisture loss.
Humectants, emollients, and occlusives aren’t always listed on the label but some key ingredients can tip you off as to which is which. Humectants are often formulated using hyaluronic acid, emollients utilize ceramides and fatty acids, and occlusives typically include petrolatum or lanolin.
First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream
Fast absorbing but ulra-hydrating? Yes, please!
“When it comes to moisturizer, you should select humectants such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and propylene glycol” Dr. Baum suggested.
These ingredients help your skin retain water to reduce fine lines and dryness. Emollients such as cocoa butter and shea butter are beneficial ingredients that can sink into your skin and seal in moisture.
Baum also mentioned looking for ingredients like lipids, ceramides, and squalene. These ingredients boost hydration in your skin and retain moisture, giving your face a youthful glow.
Of course, you should always add an SPF of 30 or more after using any moisturizer.
Vanicream Facial Moisturizer with SPF 30
Soothe sensitive skin with a protective SPF daily moisturizer.
In terms of what to avoid in a moisturizer, Dr. Mack suggested staying away from parabens and phthalates. Parabens are frequently used as preservatives, and for some, the usage is controversial.
There has been a small study of 20 patients that showed trace amounts of parabens in breast cancer tissue showing the preservatives’ ability to move from the skin barrier into the body. However, the small scale of the study wasn’t enough to create a link between parabens and increased cancer risk, though there are concerns about their ability to mimic estrogen and potentially interfere with reproductive wellness. For now, though, the FDA still says parabens in their current form are considered safe to use, so your decision to use or avoid them should be a personal choice.
Phthalates are typically used as solvents and stabilizers in beauty items, and much like parabens, the usage is controversial due to a belief that they could be potential endocrine disruptors. However, the FDA reports that the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel found that exposure levels in cosmetics were considered generally safe. However, if you have concerns, you can choose to avoid them as Mack suggested.
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair UV SPF Moisturizer
Nourish your skin with a non-comedogenic moisturizer to reduce those pesky pimples.
Baum recommended avoiding petrolatum and lanolin if you struggle with acne. Typically, those with active acne have oil and bacteria within that breakout, and when you apply an occlusive like petrolatum, you’re sealing that into the skin which could lead to worsening breakouts.
Youth To The People Superfood Air-Whip Moisture Cream
Many brands will add notations that they don't use specific ingredients.
“When trying a new moisturizer, you should make sure that you are not developing an allergic contact dermatitis from it,” Mack said.
She mentioned that if your skin becomes dry, red, or itchy, you might be allergic to the product. She recommended introducing one new product at a time to help narrow down what you might be allergic to. If you’re still struggling with your skin, though, the best option is to visit your dermatologist.
All three dermatologists agreed that the best way to find a moisturizer is by knowing your skin type. Whether you have oily, dry, sensitive, or combination skin, having the right skincare routine is essential for a healthy, glowing complexion.