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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.)
What we’re looking for
“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.
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.
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
Texture: Rich cream | Base: Water-based | Active ingredients: Glycerin, hyaluronic acid, ceramides
Our top pick for dry skin is also our overall pick for body lotion (and my personal go-to). My skin is sensitive to fragrance and I struggle with seasonal eczema due to dryness, and this protects my skin from the cold while also keeping my peeling, flaky skin moisturized. It’s a dermatologist favorite because of its ingredients (glycerin, hyaluronic acid, ceramides) and the fact that it’s well tolerated by most skin types. Its thick, creamy texture feels luxe given the price point, and at $18 a tub, it’s affordable enough that you don’t have to be precious about how much you slather on.
Best splurge-worthy moisturizer for dry skin
Texture: Cream | Base: Water-based | Active ingredients: Glycerin, urea, amino acids, ceramides, plant-derived lipid complex
If I had to pick a single moisturizer to bring with me to a desert island, it would be Instant Angel from Dieux. It’s impressively good, striking the hard-to-achieve balance of being rich but not greasy and imparting a telltale glow to my skin. It has kept me moisturized longer than some of my heavier creams and carried me through the coldest days of winter and warm summery days, too. I also like the cocktail of ingredients: Instant Angel contains a blend of ceramides, glycerin, fatty acids, urea, squalane, and peptides, all of which work together to support a healthy skin barrier. The convenient squeeze tube crinkles attractively the more you use it, and it comes with a little metal tool to help you get out every last drop of product.
Best moisturizer for extremely dry skin
Texture: Ointment | Base: Petroleum-based | Active ingredient: 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
Texture: Cream | Base: Petroleum-based | Active ingredients: Ceramides
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.” It’s “loaded with ceramides, which reinforce the skin barrier and seal in moisture,” says Rodney. Even though we’ve recommended Vanicream as a solution for extremely dry skin before, it’s just as effective and gentle for your face. 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
Texture: Cream | Base: Water-based | Active ingredients: 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
Texture: Gel-Cream | Base: Water-based | Active ingredients: Glycerin, 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
Texture: Cream | Base: Oil-based | Active ingredients: 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.
Best night cream for dry skin
Texture: Cream | Base: Water-based | Active ingredients: Glycerin, hyaluronic acid, ceramides
We named this our best overall drugstore moisturizer once before because it’s full of the ingredients needed to soothe dry, irritated skin, such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid. “These ingredients hold cells together and strengthen the skin’s barrier, protecting it from water loss and influx of irritants as well as offer continuous 24-hour maximum hydration while soothing the skin,” says Mitchell. It also includes niacinamide, which acts as an anti-inflammatory to calm down any redness and tenderness in the dry areas of skin. On top of healing the skin, it’s also “lightweight, noncomedogenic, so it won’t clog pores, and oil-free,” which Mitchell calls “a triple bang for your buck.” And though it’s labeled as a nighttime moisturizer, you don’t necessarily have to just use it at night, but that’s when you’ll probably see the most results.
Best moisturizer with SPF for dry skin
Texture: Lotion | Base: Water | Active ingredients: Octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, glycerin
While a moisturizer with SPF doesn’t stand in for a standalone sunscreen, a little extra protection doesn’t hurt. This one from Cetaphil (which has an SPF of 50) comes recommended by dermatologist Dr. Karan Lal, a director of cosmetic and pediatric dermatology at Affiliated Dermatology, who says it works well for dry skin. It’s a bit lightweight in comparison to some of the thicker formulas on this list, but Lal says it delivers on hydration despite the thinner consistency.
Best splurge-worthy moisturizer for dry skin
Texture: Cream | Base: Oil-based | Active ingredients: Glycerin, hyaluronic acid
We’ve written about this luxury (fine, expensive) cream many times before. Kathleen Hou, beauty director of the Cut, calls it the “secret to rich-person skin,” while Strategist beauty columnist Rio Viera-Newton once said it was “the most coveted cream in the industry.” It comes highly recommended by dermatologists and skin experts alike, too. Kim Zimmerman, of Rescue Spa in Philadelphia, recommends it for those who prefer a one-and-done product, especially on “the laziest nights when you don’t have time to slather on a million serums, but you still want all the anti-aging benefits.” It’s particularly excellent for dry, aging skin because it contains the brand’s proprietary TFC8 blend, which is a complex of natural amino acids, vitamins, and synthesized molecules that are actually naturally found in the skin. This then guides the ingredients into the cells to help restore the skin. On top of that, it also includes vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B5, and hydrolyzed rice protein, all of which improve the appearance and texture of the skin as well as deeply hydrate it.
Best anti-aging moisturizer for dry skin
Texture: Cream | Base: Oil-based | Active ingredients: Glycerin, ceramides
Technically, the Augustinus Bader cream also works as an anti-aging moisturizer, but this SkinCeuticals moisturizer is specifically designed to target signs of aging. That’s because it’s infused with specific lipids — like natural cholesterol, pure ceramides, and fatty acids — that are naturally depleted in the skin over time. Adding these lipids back in can “help reinforce the skin’s barrier and help the skin retain moisture,” says Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson, a partner at Modern Dermatology and an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale New Haven Hospital.
Best moisturizer for eczema
Texture: Cream | Base: Oil-based | Active ingredients: Glycerin, colloidal oatmeal, ceramides
Dermatologists also liked Aquaphor and Vanicream for those with eczema, because it’s unlikely they will trigger any sort of reaction. But for a more dedicated product, Aveeno’s eczema-therapy line has been recommended to us by multiple dermatologists for body lotions and eczema-specific treatments, especially this itch-relief balm. “Rather than just hydrating, I recommend people with eczema also use calming and anti-inflammatory ingredients,” says Nazarian. A “core characteristic” of eczema is skin inflammation, she notes, so this Aveeno cream with colloidal oatmeal, which is “naturally anti-inflammatory,” will help soothe any flare-ups. It also contains ceramides “to improve the quality of skin with continued use,” she adds.
Some more skin-care products for dry skin we’ve written about
• Dr. Susan Binder, founder of Binder Dermatology
• Noelani Gonzalez, the director of cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai West
• Dr. Hadley King, clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University
• Dr. Rita Linkner, founder of RVL Skincare
• Dr. Hope Mitchell, a board-certified dermatologist in Perrysburg, Ohio
• Dr. Rachel Nazarian, assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai Hospital
• Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson, a partner at Modern Dermatology and an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale New Haven Hospital
• Dr. Ife Rodney, founding director of Eternal Dermatology + Aesthetics
• Dr. Katelyn Woolridge of Westlake Dermatology
• Kim Zimmerman, of Rescue Spa in Philadelphia
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