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When you first start learning how to find the best face moisturizers, you may not realize you might need more than one. While you could find one that works day and night, you may find that your skin thrives most when you have a day cream and a night cream.
No one moisturizer is perfect for everyone, but focusing on fragrance-free formulas and avoiding as many “dirty dozen” ingredients as possible, narrows the options down to a more manageable level.
Knowing your skin type will help you decide whether you need a lotion, cream, gel, or oil. From there, you can choose the formulation that has ingredients to address your specific skin concerns. There are layers to choosing the right moisturizer, but you’ll find your match soon by just keeping a few things in mind,
How to Find the Best Face Moisturizers for You
There are two main things you’ll need to consider when you’re trying to find the best face moisturizers:
- Skin type (oily, combination, dry, sensitive, normal), to narrow down to a few formula types to choose from
- What you’d like to address (acne, redness, aging, dullness, pores, or nothing more than simple hydration), to determine which additional ingredients to look for, as well as to decide whether you need to have separate moisturizers for day and night
Types of Moisturizers
There are several different moisturizer formulations on the market now, each one catering to a different group of skin types.
Lotions are generally the most versatile option for all skin types. They can be lightweight for oily or combination skin, heavier for dry or dehydrated skin, or somewhere in-between for normal skin.
Gel moisturizers can be good for all skin types. However, they’re especially good for oily skin. They tend to be lightweight and absorb more readily, without leaving what can feel like an extra layer of oil on the skin.
These are best for dry skin and tend to provide deeper hydration and do an excellent job of locking in moisture. There are also gel creams that combine the properties of gels and creams to fit a wider range of skin types.
Oils may show up when you’re searching for your best face moisturizer, but they are actually best when they’re used in conjunction with another moisturizer. This article in Harper’s Bazaar recommends using the oil on top of a lightweight moisturizer, never alone. Though your first impulse may be to think oils are just for those with dry skin, there’s an oil for almost everyone.
These are often heavier creams meant to be especially hydrating for dry or dehydrated skin, but you can find masks that treat acne, address wrinkles, brighten skin, or lighten dark spots. These are usually not for daily use, so keep them in the back of your mind for later, after you’ve nailed down your daytime and nighttime moisturizers.
How to Use Face Moisturizers
After you’ve cleansed your skin, apply any serums you want to use. Give those a chance to absorb, then apply your moisturizer, using your fingertips to massage it into the skin on the face and neck. If you plan to wear makeup, let the moisturizer absorb into the skin for a few minutes, then apply.
The Main Differences Between Daytime Nighttime Moisturizers
You could use the same moisturizer in the morning and at night in some cases, especially if you’re young and already have clear skin.
If you only need something relatively lightweight, wear a separate SPF, and don’t need any special treatments in your moisturizer that should only be used once a day or kept out of the sun, feel free to keep it simple. However, some people prefer to have daytime and nighttime moisturizers.
Here are some of the differences:
If you want the extra coverage of SPF in your moisturizer in addition to what’s in your makeup or a separate SPF, a daytime moisturizer with SPF could be a good solution. You wouldn’t want or need that at night, though, so you’ll need a separate nighttime moisturizer.
Keep in mind that this won’t add additional protection (so SPF 15 in your moisturizer plus SPF 15 in your makeup won’t give you SPF 30, but if you miss coverage in one area with one product, you may have covered it with the other).
In general, it’s better to use a separate sunscreen than a moisturizer with SPF, but a moisturizer with SPF is better than nothing.
Nighttime moisturizers can be richer and heavier and really hydrate the skin. You don’t have to worry about looking greasy or applying makeup on top of it. Feel free to look for heavier creams, with or without treatments specific to your skin type, to use as your overnight moisturizers.
We’re all trying to multitask these days—even with our moisturizers. Some moisturizers are pulling double-duty to treat skin, whether it’s acne, anti-aging, or something else.
Some ingredients used in those treatments are best used at night (and will increase your need for an SPF during the day). For example, retinol should be used at night, so you’ll want a separate daytime moisturizer.
Advantages of Face Moisturizers
You know you need to use moisturizers in the morning and at night, but why?
Skin Feels Less Tight and Uncomfortable
Though there are lots of perks to wearing moisturizers, the main one is hydration. If your skin is feeling tight and uncomfortable or looking dehydrated (which makes fine lines and flakes more obvious), a good moisturizer can save the day.
Smoother Canvas for Makeup
If you’ve ever tried to apply foundation to unmoisturized skin, you may have noticed tugging, streaking, flakes, and an uneven application of your makeup overall. Putting moisturizer down as a barrier will help create a smoother canvas for your makeup. Tip: Applying primer on top of the moisturizer makes the canvas even smoother.
Some Moisturizers Contain Anti-Aging (or Other) Treatments
Moisturizers aren’t just for hydrating the skin, though that’s their main purpose. A moisturizer can contain anti-aging ingredients, acne treatment, and ingredients that firm and plump the skin or soothe inflammation and redness.
Soothing to the Skin and Mind
When you find the right moisturizer(s) for your skin, applying it can feel soothing not only to dry, thirsty skin but to the mind. Take the time to massage your face, whether it’s just 20 seconds with your fingertips or via a gua sha stone or jade roller (oil as moisturizer works best with these).
Can Help Control Oil
Just as using a moisturizer can help balance out dry skin by adding moisture, it can help with oily skin by discouraging overproduction of oil.
Disadvantages of Face Moisturizers
As refreshing and important as face moisturizers are, there are some disadvantages to them, as well. These negatives usually have more to do with the pursuit of the best face moisturizer for your specific skin type and concerns than using moisturizer in general.
The Wrong One Could Cause Stinging, Redness, Rashes, or Breakouts
Moisturizers come in so many forms, with so many purposes other than just hydration. Choosing the wrong one could expose you to ingredients that irritate your skin. Even choosing the simplest moisturizer could lead to redness or a rash if you’re sensitive to an ingredient in it. When you first get the moisturizer, try it in a small area before you apply it all over your face, just to be sure you’re unlikely to react.
Some May Make Your Face Feel Greasy
This is a potential issue, especially if you have oily skin. A moisturizer that’s too heavy can leave you feeling greasy, wondering if you really even need a moisturizer at all. Any makeup on top of that will feel like it’s just sliding off of your skin as the day goes on. Try a lightweight gel or lotion face moisturizer for daytime unless you have dry skin (and sometimes even then), and save the heavier ones for nighttime treatments.
Could React with Another Skin Treatment
Always do your homework if you’re using a skin treatment and purchasing a moisturizer with retinol, AHA, vitamin C, or acne medication (like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide). These are the ingredients that are less likely to play well with others (and you probably won’t want to double up, either). Check the moisturizer’s list of ingredients to look for things that may not interact well with the products you’re already using.
Any time you layer products, there’s a risk that they won’t work well together. Once you’ve made sure the products are safe to use together in general, be sure to test them out together in a small spot (layering the products in the order you intend to use them) instead of diving right in and applying the combination to your whole face.
Can Be Expensive or Only Available Online
If you’re lucky, your favorite moisturizer will be inexpensive and easy to get your hands on when you need it. However, there’s a chance your dream moisturizer will be expensive and/or only available online. Don’t automatically assume that the more expensive a moisturizer is, the better it performs, though. Some fabulous drugstore moisturizer options are gentle enough to be used on most skin types.
Some Just Aren’t Great Under Makeup
Some moisturizers are just too heavy or oily for makeup to cling to and it could make it feel as if it’s sliding off of your face throughout the day. Others, on the other hand, may be so light that they’re not enough underneath makeup, and the foundation can look dry. This is easy to address–as mentioned above–with a good makeup primer.
Safety Tips for Face Moisturizers
There aren’t really a lot of safety tips for face moisturizers, but there are a few things to keep in mind.
Look for Fragrance If You Tend to Be Sensitive
An added fragrance is never a benefit for any type of skin when it comes to moisturizers. If you have sensitive skin, you should be especially careful to avoid it.
Don’t Get It in Your Eyes
Be careful to keep your moisturizer out of your eyes. If it does make it in, rinse immediately with water.
Don’t Try a New Moisturizer When You’re Trying Another New Product
When you’re learning how to find the best face moisturizers and discover the ones that work best for you, try to limit the product-testing to just moisturizers until you find the best fit for your skin.
Even within the same brand and same line, you could react to one product while the other one is fine for your skin, but you won’t know which one caused the breakout, redness, rash, etc.
Don’t Layer Too Many Acne-Fighting Products
You won’t fight breakouts harder by layering acne-fighting ingredients on top of each other (unless it’s something your dermatologist told you to do), so be cautious when you’re layering products that have ingredients meant to combat acne. Too much of a good thing could backfire, resulting in dry, flaky, red, angry skin.
My Top Recommendations
When you’re wondering how to find the best face moisturizers, a few suggestions to get you started can help, even if they’re just starting points that lead you to a different product that’s better for your particular needs.
Here are some of my recommendations:
Cetaphil Rich Hydrating Night Cream with Hyaluronic Acid
This one is heavier than your average lotion, but not by that much.
- Inexpensive and available at drugstores
- Good for most skin types (even sensitive skin)
- Comes in a jar, not the most sanitary option
Josie Maran Argan Oil
Some people may be fine using this one alone as a moisturizer, but others may wish to use it on top of a separate moisturizer to really seal in the hydration.
- Good for most skin types (there’s also a lighter version)
- Absorbs well for an oil
- Comes in mini and value sizes
- Can also be used in hair
- Bottle may leak sometimes
- Some people don’t love the nutty scent
TULA 24-7 Moisture Hydrating Day & Night Cream
This choice is good for most skin types, as well, including sensitive skin. It has clean ingredients and a variety of additions that help calm irritation and smooth the skin.
- Good for all skin types
- Not much of a risk that it’ll irritate the skin
- Brightens, smooths, and nourishes the skin
- Comes in a jar
Clean & Clear Essentials Dual Action Facial Moisturizer
This moisturizer has salicylic acid in it to help combat acne. It doesn’t feel greasy and absorbs quickly.
- Good for acne-prone, oily, and combination skin
- Could be drying
Here’s another good-for-your-skin oil that can help seal in moisture. Almost any skin type can benefit from it since it’s lightweight, antibacterial, full of antioxidants, and good for everything skin-related, from eczema to acne.
- Similar to the oil your skin produces naturally
- May help with acne, wrinkles, eczema, scars, collagen production, and more
- It may not work for everyone, at least not without a separate moisturizer
- Could cause an allergic reaction in some individuals
Youth to the People Superberry Hydrate + Glow Dream Mask with Vitamin C
This isn’t one you’ll want to use under makeup. It may not even be something you want to use every night. It’s an overnight mask, so it’s heavier than a regular moisturizer. It’s recommended for dry-to-oily skin types.
- Plumps the skin, disguising fine lines
- Clean ingredients
- It won’t be your only moisturizer; you’ll need one or two more–one for daytime and then another nighttime moisturizer if this one is too heavy for you to use every day
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Cream
This gel-cream option is somehow lightweight and capable of delivering intense moisture at the same time.
- Absorbs well with no greasy film
- Inexpensive and available at drugstores
- Some reviewers say this burns sensitive skin
Neutrogena Healthy Defense Daily Moisturizer with SPF 50
Even though a moisturizer with SPF isn’t as good to use as a separate moisturizer and SPF, the combo is better than nothing. This option makes a good choice if you know yourself well enough to know a moisturizer/sunscreen combo product is the only way you’ll wear sunscreen daily.
- Combines SPF 50 with moisturizer
- Lightweight and can be worn under makeup
- The combination isn’t ideal, but it’s better than no SPF at all
- Recommended for normal skin, so it may not be the best solution for all skin types
Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Cream Hydrating Moisturizer
This moisturizer is incredibly lightweight, but it delivers a ton of moisture, thanks to hyaluronic acid and a few other key ingredients.
- Feels like nothing on the skin (in a good way!)
- Holds moisture in your skin for up to 72 hours for a more youthful appearance
- Good choice for those with oily skin
- Comes in a jar, which isn’t the most sanitary option (tubes and pumps are better)
- It May not be the best choice for those with dry skin
Clinique Moisture Surge 100 Hour Auto-Replenishing Hydrator
Here’s another gel-cream option that’s lightweight but still manages to do an amazing job at moisturizing the skin.
- Effective enough even for very dry skin
- Contains ingredients like hyaluronic acid and aloe water to really lock in moisture and nourish the skin
- Also comes in lotion form
- Not available at drugstores
- Comes in a jar
Conclusion: How to Find the Best Face Moisturizers
Finding the best face moisturizers doesn’t have to be completely intimidating when you get to the store (online or in-person) as long as you’re prepared with a few tidbits of information. Know your skin type and have a general idea of whether you’d prefer a lotion, cream, gel, etc. Decide ahead of time how you’d like your face moisturizer to improve your skin beyond supplying or locking in moisture.
Do you need a daytime moisturizer, night cream, overnight hydrating mask, or something that’ll work morning and night? Keep in mind that your needs may shift over time. What works well for you in the summer may not be your go-to in the winter, and as your skin changes with age, your needs will change, too.
Don’t be afraid to ask for samples if you’re shopping in Sephora or at a beauty counter. If samples are available, it’ll give you a low-commitment option for trying out different textures, formulas, and ingredients without the hassle of purchasing and then returning what didn’t work (or wasting time and money).