Dry skin types often need more attention in the moisturizing department to avoid flaking and painfully tight, sandpapery skin. But not every moisturizer will work for severely dehydrated skin, especially in colder months. Noelani Gonzalez, the director of cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai West, says people with dry skin, especially eczema sufferers, have to be very mindful of the moisturizers they use. Generally speaking, “goopy and greasy creams and ointments are your best friend if you have dry skin because they are oil-based, have a thicker consistency, and provide more hydration than lotions,” she says. This can also depend on the seasons, though, in which case experts — like dermatologists Rita Linkner, of Spring Street Dermatology, and Marnie Nussbaum, a clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Cornell Medical School — mention that you can transition to a lighter lotion, gel-based moisturizer, or serum in summer.
Almost all of the experts we spoke to also mentioned that your moisturizer should ideally contain a mixture of emollients (like ceramides) that repair your skin barrier, and humectants (like glycerin and hyaluronic acid) that draw and seal in moisture to the skin. Here, four derms on the hydrating moisturizers that would be on their short list for dry skin — plus some Strategist favorites. (Note that we’re primarily referring to the skin on your face — if you have dry skin on your body, consult our guide to body lotions.)
Best drugstore moisturizers for dry skin in winter
If you’re on a budget, you can start with something like this Cetaphil moisturizing cream that came recommended by two experts. Linkner says “the price point on this line of moisturizers makes it a no-brainer.” It’s also packed with hydrating humectants like glycerin and skin-softening emollients like glyceryl stearate and sweet almond oil, explains dermatologist Hadley King, a clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University. “This is a great cream for both face and body,” she adds.
King also likes this Vichy Aqualia Thermal Rich Cream for dry skin, which has a thicker, creamier consistency and contains hyaluronic acid — “a powerful humectant that can hold over 1,000 times its weight in water to help hydrate and plump the skin” — plus emollients like shea butter. She notes that this cream does have a light fragrance, though, which might be something to keep in mind if you have any sensitivities.
And here’s a standby that a slew of makeup artists, writer Stephanie Danler, and many of our own writers and editors praise as an all-around excellent moisturizer, though many experts in the past have singled it out as excellent for dry skin types in particular. It contains a blend of natural oils and goes on greasier, so it’s best for winter, but also adds a natural glow to skin.
Best investment moisturizers for dry skin in winter
Since this creamy Dr. Roebuck moisturizer contains oils like rose hip and macadamia, it may go on too greasy in summer, but it’s ideal for cooler months — and a Strategist favorite of multiple writers for hydrating dry skin. It also contains hyaluronic acid for extra hydration, which does great things for the plumpness of skin.
This one’s on the pricier end, but contains a blend of hydrators and emollient oils for skin that’s super dehydrated. It would work especially well on aging or sun-damaged skin. Nussbaum says she really likes it because it contains niacinamide, which can have a brightening and tightening effect on skin, and glycerin to optimize absorption.
If your skin’s feeling especially taut and papery, you can pull out all the stops with this SkinMedica HA5 hydrator, which contains five different types of hydrators, including hyaluronic acid, and an antioxidant, vitamin E. Gonzalez says it’s an essential of hers when her skin is feeling extra dry because it “plumps the skin, softens wrinkles, and is noncomedogenic, which means it won’t cause pimples.”
Best drugstore moisturizers for dry skin in summer
In warmer months when your sebum (your skin’s natural lubrication) levels have balanced out, Linkner likes to transition from creamier ointments to lotions like this face-and-body option from Cetaphil. It’s ideal for a daytime moisturizer since it prevents dehydration while smoothing skin under makeup with vitamin E and B5.
Though if you’re looking for something at a more budget-friendly price point, Gonzalez also recommends this Neutrogena gel cream that’s formulated for extra-dry skin (which is a different version of the one that’s often recommended for acne sufferers). It contains hyaluronic acid and glycerin, which help lock moisture in, and feels airy and lightweight. “I’ve used it before, and it gives immediate relief to dry skin,” she says.
Best investment moisturizers for dry skin in summer
Nussbaum also likes this “rebalancing” moisturizer for dry skin because it contains emollients and ceramides that support the skin barrier and help with the plumpness of skin. Beyond its website, this stuff is sold exclusively at dermatologist offices, which is a good sign that there’s some clinical science behind it. We’ve tried it ourselves and can confirm that it’s an excellent hydrator for warm summer nights.
Best serum for dry skin
A serum might come in handy by itself on the hottest days of summer, or as a boost of hydration before smoothing on another layer of moisturizer. Gonzalez singled out this Skinceuticals Hydrating B5 Gel serum as a good one, given that its main ingredient is hyaluronic acid and that it also contains vitamin B5, a nutrient that helps bind and repair the skin barrier. “This is a great add-on for those who have very dry skin, and you can complement it with your own moisturizer,” she says.
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