12 Moisturizers That Will Bring Your Extremely Dry Skin Back to Life
Whether you’re dealing with colder weather, using a particularly harsh skin care product, or have to spend way too much time in an airplane, it’s very likely you’ve experienced the conundrum that is very dry, flaky skin.
Part of it has to do with your skin type—some people just naturally have drier skin than others, which largely depends on genetics. Skin disorders like psoriasis and eczema, chlorine in pools, and simply getting older can also make your complexion feel dry and dull. “Your skin becomes thinner as you age, so it retains less moisture,” says Dr. Meghan Feely, MD, FAAD a dermatologist practicing in New York and New Jersey.
But even those with oily skin have probably felt the moisture being zapped from their face from time to time. If your forehead, nose, and chin tend to get a bit shiny (with the occasional breakout) you can still have dry skin on your cheeks. “There are different numbers of sebaceous glands (which produce oil) in different areas of your face,” says Dr. Yoram Harth, MD, San Francisco-based dermatologist and co-founder of MDacne, an acne-treatment app.
That’s where a seriously hydrating moisturizer comes in—but not all of them are created equal.
How to pick the best moisturizer for your dry skin:
Avoid alcohol.“Alcohol-based toners dry out your skin,” says Dr. Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. And unlike retinoids and benzoyl peroxide, which might be drying but have added benefits—like fighting the signs of aging and acne, respectively—dehydrating toners probably aren’t worth the trade-off. “They haven’t been shown to help the skin,” she says.
Choose the right ingredients.There are a plethora of ingredients that work wonders for dry skin for their own reasons. It may take some trial and error to find the ones your skin responds to the most, but some to look for include: hyaluronic acid, ceramides, urea, lactic acid, plant oils, aloe vera, shea butter, glycerin, squalene, and B vitamins.
Know your skin type.If your skin is really dry and sensitive (or you’re dealing with a condition), a richer cream or lotion will probably give you the results you’re looking for. People with oily or acne-prone skin will benefit from lighter gel formulas instead.
Now that you know the basics, you’re ready to bring your extremely dry skin back to life. Here, 12 options—from drugstore to high-end—that will have you glowing in no time.
Humectants are substances that help your skin retain moisture. “They draw water up from the dermis (the inner layer of skin) to the epidermis (the outer layer of skin) and absorb moisture from the air,” Dr. Harth says. Hyaluronic acid is a humectant that derms love, because it holds a thousand times its weight in water and seriously plumps up skin (it’s commonly used in cosmetic fillers for this reason). This lightweight face moisturizer from Garnier contains the superstar ingredient, along with brightening vitamin C.
“Ceramides are an emollient that can help repair the skin barrier in conditions like eczema,” Dr. Feely says. They’re the foundation of all CeraVe products, including their AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion. It also contains hyaluronic acid and SPF 30 for built-in sun protection. This is also a great option if you have acne-prone skin, because the formula is lightweight, fragrance-free (to minimize irritation), and noncomedogenic, so it won’t clog your pores.
“Use products without fragrance if you have conditions like eczema or sensitive skin,” Dr. Feely says. We love this fragrance-free face cream by Olay for what itdoeshave: skin-plumping hyaluronic acid and wrinkle-reducing niacinamide.
“Glycerin, another humectant, is non-irritating and less comedogenic than natural oil-based moisturizers,” Dr. Harth says. You’ll find the gentle, yet ultra-moisturizing ingredient in this cream from Avène. It’s particularly perfect for sensitive skin since it’s also soap- and fragrance-free.
With 4.5 stars and nearly 1,400 reviews on Amazon, we can see why this gel-cream from Neutrogena has become somewhat of a cult favorite. Tested by dermatologists, this oil and fragrance free noncomedogenic formula delivers rich hydrating power with hyaluronic acid. One reviewer wrote: “I was impressed with how smoothly it went on and was completely invisible. Even better, my skin didn’t feel tight or coated. Then the miracle: A couple of hours later, I looked in the mirror, and surprise—no dry, flaky skin.”
Dr. Harth says dimethicone is one of best moisturizing ingredients for acne-prone skin. “It’s a man-made compound known to reduce transepidermal water loss without leaving a greasy feel or clogging pores,” he says. First Aid Beauty’s Ultra Repair Cream features the ingredient, along with a hydrating ceramides, soothing colloidal oatmeal, and rich shea butter. Free of fragrances and alcohol, it’s great for those with sensitive skin—even those who suffer from eczema, or extremely dry itchy skin, can use it.
If you’re looking for a lightweight face moisturizer that has all the power of a heavier formula, look no further. This classic cream from Kiehl’s contains squalene, an emollient that leaves skin feeling hydrated and soft without that super greasy feeling. Avocado, apricot kernel, olive fruit, and sweet almond oils join forces to rejuvenate any dullness.
Dealing with that tight, paper-y skin feeling? This reparative formula from Lancôme may be just what your face needs. Squalene and shea butter work together to help moisturize extremely dry skin, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. The rich formula leaves your face feeling soft and supple, but is noncomedogenic and maintains a non-greasy feeling.
Dr. Zeichner also recommends this moisturizer from Clarins, since its use of botanical extracts helps super-thirsty skin retain its hydration while calming and soothing the face. One Sephora reviewer raved: “I have dry skin that flakes and peels if I go even one day without a really good moisturizer and this stuff is amazing! One use and the dry patches are gone.”
If it seems weird to use an exfoliating ingredient like lactic acid to moisturize, it’s not. “This alpha hydroxy acid helps exfoliate skin, but it’s also moisturizing since it enhances the barrier function of the skin,” Dr. Feely says. This brightening vitamin C serum from Dermalogica also contains moisturizing chia seed oil. You won’t seeinstant hydration as you would a more classic face moisturizer, but this one pays off in the long-run.
If you’re looking for a more luxe option, Tata Harper has you covered. Its Repairative Moisturizer is designed to target the dullness that accompanies colder, dry climates. Thanks to an expert blend of hyaluronic acid, aloe leaf juice, jojoba seed oil, mango seed butter, calendula flower extract, and more, this product delivers a potent shot of vitamins and essential fatty acids straight to your dry skin for an overall healthy glow.
Another luxe option, Sisley’s Black Rose Skin Infusion Cream boosts radiance with the power of botanical ingredients. “This rich moisturizer both hydrates and brightens using black rose extract,” says Dr. Zeichner, along with magnolia, camelina, geranium, and shea oils. Its silky smooth formula will leave your face feeling plump, soft, and rejuvenated.
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