Experimentation is part of the process when you’re on the hunt for your holy grail moisturizer. Not only are there countless creams, lotions, and gels for the job, but you also have to consider your skin type, any concerns you may be hoping to address, and the price tag.
So, where do you begin? We spoke with 2 dermatologists for their insights and rounded up 20 of the best face moisturizers for all kinds of skin types and budgets so you can zero in on what will work best for you.
According to board certified dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, moisturizers can benefit the skin in a few different ways. “A hydrating product draws moisture into the top layers of the skin,” she says.
Facial moisturizer can also help repair breaks in the skin barrier to minimize moisture loss and prevent irritants from getting into the skin. Finally, “a good moisturizer can provide an occlusive barrier to lock in moisture and skin care ingredients and prevent irritation from moisture and overwashing,” explains Shainhouse.
Some moisturizers even help protect your skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, which can be a benefit. “SPF in a moisturizer can be helpful for those who want to save time and money,” says Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky, MD, FAAD, and Dove partner. “However, it’s important to remember that these all-in-one products may not provide adequate sun protection if you aren’t applying the appropriate amount.”
Plus, sunscreen needs to be reapplied regularly (about every two hours), even if it’s a part of your moisturizer or makeup.
Zubritsky recommends using a separate moisturizer and sunscreen for the best UV protection.
Shainhouse seconds that idea. “It’s essential to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30+ daily to sun-exposed areas,” she says. “Sunscreen helps absorb and deflect UV rays that can cause damage to skin cells and collagen.”
For what she calls “nonbeach” days, when you’re going to work or running errands, moisturizers with SPF included can be sufficient. “Choose those with a higher SPF and apply enough to cover your entire face,” she says. “Tinted formulations will have the added effect of blocking blue light, which radiates from the sun and devices and contributes to skin aging and discoloration.”
To create our list of the best face moisturizers, we looked for products designed for specific skin types, like oily, dry, and sensitive. We also looked for moisturizers designed for particular skin concerns, like acne.
We narrowed down our list further by checking out the quality of ingredients in each product and scouring feedback from online reviewers. Then, we tested some of the products ourselves so we could provide hands-on insights.
Finally, we vetted each product to ensure it meets Healthline’s medical standards and aligns with our approach to well-being. Read more about our vetting process here.
Trial and error might need to be part of your hunt for a good moisturizer, but there are a few ways to better narrow down your options.
First, consider geography. “The climate and weather help dictate the correct moisturizer to choose,” says Zubritsky. “In humid climates, consider a lightweight moisturizer with ingredients like hyaluronic acid in a gel or cream-based formulation. For those in drier or colder climates, thicker creams and ointments work best.”
Here’s what else to keep in mind as you shop.
Moisturizers are typically formulated to meet the needs of specific skin types, so thinking about your skin type is a good place to start.
Common skin types include:
If you’re not sure about your skin type, think about how it feels after a shower. If it starts to feel tight, dry, or flaky, you probably have dry skin. If it feels slick or looks shiny, you probably have oily skin. Combination skin looks and feels like a mix between the two.
Once you’ve identified your skin type, check out the labels on the products you’re interested in. Most moisturizers will list which skin types benefit the most from using their product.
They might also call out other potential skin benefits too. Certain formulations can treat breakouts, calm irritations, even skin tone and texture, and help smooth fine lines and wrinkles.
Shainhouse advises sampling moisturizers while browsing if you can. “Look for a texture you like because you will use it if it feels good on your skin,” she says.
Ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid make great additions to facial moisturizers. “Ceramides are an excellent ingredient incorporated in moisturizers to protect the skin,” says Zubritsky. “These fatty acids help support the skin’s barrier to seal in moisture and keep out harmful elements.”
She also recommends acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid, which work well to reduce oil on the skin. “If you have oily or acne-prone skin, consider finding a moisturizer that is lightweight and noncomedogenic, like a hyaluronic acid-based gel formulation,” she says.
Make a point of scanning the ingredients label before purchasing. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t require cosmetics to be approved before going to market. However, it does require them to list all of the ingredients so customers can make informed decisions.
It’s not always easy to decipher ingredients, so consider looking up any unfamiliar ingredients in the EWG’s Skin Deep database.
In general, it’s best to steer clear of moisturizers made with a few specific ingredients. “Fragrances, essential oils, certain preservatives, and acrylates can trigger irritant and allergic contact dermatitis in some people,” says Shainhouse. “This may be more common in people with eczema and rosacea, who already have a compromised skin barrier.”
Zubritsky advises that moisturizers are best applied to damp skin, so this step should follow cleansing and any toners or serums you may be using.
“However, if you’re using a medicated product that has the potential to cause skin irritation, you may choose to apply your moisturizer first to protect the skin and then layer the medication on top,” says Shainhouse. “This can be extremely helpful for acne and anti-aging topical creams, like retinoids.”
To apply moisturizer, start with a nickel-sized amount. Dot the moisturizer on the damp skin of your forehead, cheeks, and chin. Then, gently rub using upward strokes. If you’re using a separate SPF, it should be applied after your moisturizer.
Many people find success moisturizing twice a day, in the morning and before bed. However, depending on your skin type, you may need to apply moisturizer more or less frequently to see the desired results.
“Prior to seeing a dermatologist, try minimizing your skin routine,” advises Zubritsky. “Stick to fragrance-free, moisturizing products and avoid any unnecessary or active skin care. If skin issues persist even with eliminating anything that may be triggering your skin, it’s best to see a dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment.”
The same is also true if you’re finding that moisturizers irritate your skin or trigger breakouts.
“If specific ingredients in a moisturizer irritate your skin, schedule an appointment with your board certified dermatologist, who can perform an allergy patch test to help figure out what those might be and show you how to avoid them in the future,” says Shainhouse.
A dermatologist can also recommend which moisturizers are designed for your skin type and discuss any other skin concerns you may have.
Consistency goes a long way, and a great moisturizer is just one piece of a good skin care routine. For a basic, well-rounded skin care routine, Shainhouse recommends the following:
In the morning: cleanser, antioxidant serum, moisturizer, sunscreen
Before bed: cleanser, topical retinoid (if using), moisturizer
If dryness is an issue, you might consider switching to oil cleansing. It’s a gentle way to wash away grime, make-up, oil, and SPF without disruption the skin’s microbiome, which can help strengthen its protective barrier.
It’s also important to pay attention to how your skin responds to anything you use. “The most important thing to note is to stop using a skin care product if it’s irritating your skin,” says Shainhouse. “Irritation is never the goal. Sometimes it means cutting back frequency, and sometimes it means avoiding the product altogether.”
Most experts recommend moisturizing your face in the morning and again at night as part of your daily skin care routine. By moisturizing twice per day and after working out or swimming, you’re ensuring that your skin’s moisture content stays largely consistent.
What should you look for in a moisturizer?
Moisturizer ingredients will vary depending on your skin type.
Dry skin types benefit from heavier, oil-based options. Oily skin types benefit from lighter, water-based moisturizers.
Mature skin types tend to do well with oil-based products. Sensitive skin types benefit from soothing ingredients, such as aloe and fragrance-free formulas.
Combination skin types often do well with lighter, water-based formulas.
Should you moisturize if you have oily skin?
Yes. Oily skin needs proper hydration, too, just like any other skin type. Look for lighter formulas with water bases. Gel moisturizers are a good option for oily skin.
Can you use face oil instead of moisturizer?
Facial oil can work as a supplement to your skin care routine, but it shouldn’t necessarily replace your moisturizer.
For some people, oil-based moisturizers can clog their pores and potentially trigger acne breakouts. Applying facial oil over your moisturizer can be a good way to lock in the hydrating ingredients from your moisturizer, but use it with caution if you have acne-prone skin.
Do you need a serum to go with a face moisturizer?
Serums and moisturizers serve different purposes on your skin, so including both can be a good idea. While serums are a great source of specific nutrients, some skin types will also need a moisturizer for proper hydration, especially when it’s cold outside.
Do you need SPF in addition to a face moisturizer?
Yes. Your morning skin care routine should always include an SPF to help protect against damaging UVA and UVB rays. Using an SPF on your face every day can significantly reduce your risk of skin cancer, while also minimizing premature wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and dark spots.
Keep in mind that sunscreen wears off after about 2 hours, so for best protection, it’s recommended to reapply every 2 hours, especially if you’re out in the sun all day.
Everyone’s skin is different, so it can take some time to find a moisturizer that works well for you. There are lots of options on the market, but you may find the most success with a moisturizer that’s designed for your skin type.
If you’re not sure where to start, try one of our top picks and see whether it’s a good match for your skin.
Last medically reviewed on August 29, 2023
How we reviewed this article:
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