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The 10 Very Best Moisturizers for Dry Skin

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

While every part of your skin-care routine matters, dry-skin types often need to pay more attention to the moisturizing step to avoid flaking and painfully tight, sandpapery skin. But not every moisturizer will work for severely dehydrated skin, especially in the colder months. You really do need that über-thick cream in order to properly soothe your skin; a thin lotion-type moisturizer just won’t cut it, especially if you’ve reached the cracked, scaly phase of dry skin.

I’ll get into what exactly you should look for in a moisturizer, like ingredients and texture, below, thanks to the help and recommendations of nearly a dozen dermatologists I spoke to. We even added some Strategist favorites as well. Below, you’ll find ten moisturizers recommended by our panel of experts and our own staff that should aid even the driest of skin. But if you’re in search of something particular, you can use our guide below to jump to a different section. (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 overall | Best for extremely dry skin | Best for sensitive dry skin | Best for dry acne-prone skin | Best gel-cream | Best clean | Best night cream | Best splurge-worthy | Best anti-aging | Best for eczema

What we’re looking for

A thick, goopy texture: “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,” says Noelani Gonzalez, the director of cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai West. You may be able to get away with using a lighter lotion in the summer, especially if it does have powerful hydrating ingredients, but typically for those who have year-round dryness or a condition like eczema, a thick moisturizer or ointment needs to be a staple in your routine.

A good moisturizer base: If you have dry skin, that typically means your skin lacks the ability to create enough oil to hydrate itself. An easy solution? An oil-based moisturizer, which will add back in that oil your skin needs. It’ll be easy to spot that in the ingredient list since you’ll quite literally see the word “oil.” But there are other options, too; one is using a moisturizer with a petroleum jelly base, which you probably know best as the gooey stuff that makes up Vaseline. Petroleum jelly seals in moisture and protects the skin from future environmental stressors, and it’s especially beneficial for people who suffer from eczema because the thick, protective layer helps to relieve itchiness and inflammation that occurs. Water is another common base for moisturizer, if you want something that’s oil- or petroleum-free — but if you’re using one of those, you want to keep a close eye on the added ingredients, since those will make the formula hydrating, rather than the base itself.

Some extra-hydrating ingredients: Ideally, your moisturizer should also have a mixture of emollients, like ceramides, to repair the skin barrier, and humectants, like glycerin and hyaluronic acid, to draw and seal moisture into the skin. They’re not necessarily required in order to have a high-functioning moisturizer — especially if you’re starting with an oil or petroleum base — but they sure do help and are easy to find in lots of formulas.

Best overall moisturizer for dry skin

Cream | Oil-based | Glycerin

Yes, this is technically branded as a body cream, but Dr. Hadley King, clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, says this is “a great cream for both face and body.” That’s because it’s packed with hydrating humectants like glycerin and skin-softening emollients like glyceryl stearate and sweet almond oil. Dr. Rachel Nazarian recommends it to her patients regularly and says that it’s “incredibly lightweight and comfortable for daily use throughout the year.” Plus, it’s readily available at the drugstore. “The price point on this line of moisturizers makes it a no-brainer,” says Dr. Rita Linkner. She recommends transitioning to Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion in the summer because it’s much lighter than the cream for those months when your sebum levels (your skin’s natural lubrication) have balanced out.

Best moisturizer for extremely dry skin

$16

Ointment | Petroleum-based | Glycerin

There are those with skin that tends to get parched and flaky, particularly in the winter months, and then there are those whose skin is so dry it can actually look scaly and, as a result, is exceptionally hard to nourish. If you’re in the latter category, Dr. Susan Binder and Dr. Katelyn Woolridge of Westlake Dermatology recommend Aquaphor. “Ointments are the best at fortifying the skin barrier and locking in moisture,” says Woolridge, and Aquaphor does just that. The added glycerin can also help repair a damaged skin barrier, a common culprit for a lack of moisture. Binder warns that “it can be a bit greasy” but thinks it’s “great when used immediately after the shower or bath to lock in moisture and help heal dry, cracked skin.” It’s also fragrance-free, making it a good option for those with sensitive skin as well.

Best moisturizer for sensitive dry skin

Cream | Petroleum-based | Ceramides

We’ve recommended Vanicream as a solution for extremely dry skin before, but it’s just as effective and gentle for your face. Dr. Ife Rodney, founding director of Eternal Dermatology + Aesthetics, calls Vanicream “ideal” because it’s formulated specifically for sensitive skin, so it’s “free of lanolin, formaldehyde, parabens, and fragrances that commonly irritate dry, sensitive skin.” That said, she notes that it’s “loaded with ceramides, which reinforce the skin barrier and seal in moisture.” Strategist writer Lauren Ro has tested and recommends Vanicream; she was “immediately impressed with how luxurious and rich the cream felt on my skin — and surprised by how easily it spread.”

Best moisturizer for dry acne-prone skin

Cream | Water-based | Glycerin, hyaluronic acid, ceramides

French drugstore brand La Roche-Posay has a cult following, and Dr. Hope Mitchell, a board-certified dermatologist in Perrysburg, Ohio, highly recommends the brand’s Toleriane line for dry skin because “with dimethicone, soothing niacinamide, water-attracting glycerin, and hydrating ceramides,” it’s “perfect for hydrating dry skin associated with redness.” She suggests this moisturizer for those with acne-prone skin, especially if you are treating your acne with drying ingredients like benzoyl peroxide. It’s also a nice option for those with combination skin, which can warrant multiple moisturizers.

Best gel-cream moisturizer for dry skin

Gel-Cream | Water-based | Glycerin and hyaluronic acid

Four of our dermatologists also love this Neutrogena gel cream formulated for extra-dry skin. And so do our readers; it has been on best-sellers lists over ten times. Gel textures are typically targeted toward those with normal or oily skin, but Mitchell says this cream is actually “perfect” for dry skin, and it works pretty quickly. “Give it a week. The hyaluronic acid and glycerin will quench the dryness and deliver soft, smooth, and hydrated skin,” she says. The gel texture also means that it “smoothly disappears into the skin, so it can be worn alone or under makeup,” says Rodney. We’ve also recommended this product for mature skin, sunburned skin, Accutane users, and even for pregnant women, because it’s so hydrating and gentle.

Best clean moisturizer for dry skin

Weleda Skin Food
$14
$14

Cream | Oil-based | None

For those looking to keep their skin-care routine as clean as possible with actually effective products, Weleda Skin Food, which contains all natural ingredients, comes recommended by everyone from makeup artists to former Strategist writers to author Stephanie Danler. “My skin was flawless, luminous even, and not at all greasy,” Danler told us after trying it for the first time. Weleda brands the balmlike cream as a natural remedy for excessively dry skin (though it does offer a light version for the summer or those who need less help). Although it doesn’t feature ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides that we’ve called out before, it is chock-full of fatty acids and vitamin E, which naturally moisturize and soften the skin. On top of that, pansy soothes irritation while the calendula flower extract helps to repair the damaged skin.