From tried-and-true classics to new releases that promise to be the elixir of youth, face moisturizers make up a huge portion of the beauty market. But with so many different options out there, we had to know, once and for all: Who makes the best face moisturizer (and where can we buy it immediately)? So, we called in the experts — a dermatologist and a cosmetic scientist — to find out everything there is to know about choosing the right one.
Before getting into more details about each option, let’s talk about why face moisturizers are important. According to Howard Epstein, Ph.D., Director of Technical Services for EMD Performance Materials, proper moisturizing is imperative for the wellbeing of skin. As a cosmetic scientist with many years of experience formulating products for Estee Lauder, Maybelline, Max Factor, and others, Epstein says, “Water is critical for skin to retain its suppleness. If the skin’s water content drops too low, enzymes will not be able to function properly and this results in a compromised skin barrier. Eventually, one sees the appearance of [this through] excessive dryness and itchy or scaly skin.”
To prevent and treat dehydrated skin, Dr. Y. Claire Chang, MD, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist in New York City, recommends looking for a moisturizer with a few key ingredients — hyaluronic acid, glycerin, shea butter, and ceramides — which can also “hydrate, plump, and repair the skin barrier,” she says.
Epstein adds that the best moisturizers should include “a combination of emollients, humectants, and occlusives.” Here’s a breakdown of these three categories:
Another pro tip: Don’t just slap your moisturizer on at any old time of the day. “The best time to apply your moisturizer (and other skincare products) is immediately after cleansing your face or showering,” says Dr. Chang. “Pat dry and apply your products to moist skin, as this helps lock in the moisture.”
Without further ado, read on to learn more about the 15 best expert-approved face moisturizers for a variety of skin types.
“Pay attention to the season when choosing your moisturizer,” says Dr. Chang, who recommends choosing a “lighter-weight lotion for the warm, humid months and a thicker cream for the drier, winter months.” With nearly 22,000 five-star ratings on Amazon, this lightweight oil-free moisturizer by Cerave is one of the best-rated options out there. Formulated with ceramides and hyaluronic acid, it hydrates the skin and replenishes essential lipids to maintain the skin’s protective barrier and provide long-lasting moisture. Dr Chang suggests using this gentle lotion regularly, then switching to the Cerave Moisturizing Cream (the same formula in a thicker cream form) during the colder months if you have extra dry skin.
Shop now: $18; amazon.com
According to Dr. Chang, “there are a lot of effective moisturizers that are affordable and found at the drugstore.” One such dermatologist-recommended option is Cetaphil’s Daily Oil-Free Hydrating Lotion. It’s formulated with hyaluronic acid and other humectants for intense hydration. It’s also non-comedogenic and fragrance-free, making it great for daily use whether you have sensitive, dry, acne-prone, or combination skin.
Shop now: $15; amazon.com
This restorative anti-aging moisturizer from SkinCeuticals combines ceramides and fatty acids to replenish and repair the skin’s natural lipid barrier. It’s a tad more pricey than the other moisturizers on this list, but it’s worth the splurge as it’s packed with powerhouse ingredients including vitamin E, essential oils like rosemary and lavender, and antioxidants. In addition, the super hydrating formula is non-comedogenic (so it won’t clog pores) and free of any sulfates, parabens, or fragrances.
Shop now $128; dermstore.com
Neutrogena’s customer-favorite Hydro Boost cream is formulated with hyaluronic acid to lock in moisture and replenish skin. Its cooling, gel-like formula feels lightweight on the skin but still offers adequate hydration, making it great for the summer months. And since it’s non-comedogenic and fragrance-free, it’s also a great option for acne-prone or oily skin types to use year-round as a daily moisturizer. One of nearly 3,000 satisfied reviewers on Amazon raved, “It's as amazing as everyone says. It's so incredibly light and yet my face is so hydrated.” Its under-$20 price tag doesn’t hurt, either.
Shop now: $19; amazon.com
For patients with sun-damaged or dry skin (which is more prone to sunburn), Dr. Chang says to look for moisturizers with antioxidants — like vitamin C and niacinamide — to help repair the skin. EltaMD’s AM Therapy Facial Moisturizer is a non-comedogenic, lightweight formula fit for everyday use that includes these dermatologist-recommended ingredients, along with glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and allantoin to moisturize, brighten, and even out skin tone.
Shop now: $35; dermstore.com
This moisturizer by Obagi Medical has some serious hydration power but is still gentle enough for everyday use. Designed to tackle dryness, dehydration, fine lines, and crow’s feet on mature skin, the formula is packed with shea, avocado, and mango butters, as well as hydromanil to retain the skin’s natural moisture throughout the day.
Shop now: $52; dermstore.com
According to Dr. Chang, patients with acne-prone skin type should choose a moisturizer that’s oil-free and non-comedogenic (so it won’t worsen acne) and made with blemish-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid, azelaic acid, and tea tree oil. The Burt’s Bees Natural Acne Solutions lotion is designed to soothe irritated skin and redness, as well as help prevent future breakouts. In addition to naturally derived salicylic acid, it has other natural spot-busters like witch hazel, lemongrass, hops, and goldenseal extract. One Amazon reviewer raved that this product “saved” them because it “destroyed” their cystic acne.
Shop now: $17; amazon.com
Dr. Chang recommends choosing “a day cream that functions as an antioxidant, moisturizer, and sunscreen all-in-one to get the best benefit from one product” — and this option from La Roche Posay does just that. The oil-free daily moisturizer uses glycerin and ceramides to replenish moisture in the skin, while the inclusion of SPF 30 protects against UV rays. It even includes niacinamide, an antioxidant that repairs and brightens the skin.
Shop now: $20; amazon.com
For extra dehydrated or mature skin, Dr. Chang advises using moisturizers with skin-repairing ingredients, like ceramides and peptides, as well as retinoids to prevent fine lines and wrinkles. This treatment cream from SkinMedica checks all of these boxes, with a ceramide-rich formula that helps repair severely dry or compromised skin. It also packs peptides and vitamin A to promote collagen production and prevent fine lines.
Shop now: $69; dermstore.com
To make the most of your beauty sleep, a multi-tasking night cream is a must in your before-bed skincare routine. This Triple Action Night Cream from No7 contains a hydrating mixture of glycerin, shea butter, triglycerides, and hyaluronic acid — as well as anti-aging peptide technology — to restore the skin’s moisture and reduce signs of aging as you sleep. "This cream is amazing!" said one shopper. "I use it nightly after washing my face. In the morning I can tell a huge difference. It gives amazing moisture."
Shop now: $27; ulta.com
Another great choice from No7, this rich anti-aging moisturizer helps improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while also providing sun protection with SPF 30. It’s formulated with all expert-recommended ingredients, including humectants (glycerin and hyaluronic acid), emollients (ceramides and shea butter), and occlusives (dimethicone). This nourishing day cream also contains No7’s signature anti-wrinkle peptide technology for even more anti-aging benefits. One shopper called it a "great value" while another said, "God is a woman and she created this."
Shop now: $27; ulta.com
This lightweight, water-based moisturizer by Tata Harper is made with organic ingredients that help the skin absorb maximum moisture and lock it into place. Pomegranate spheres, orange blossom peptides, and hyaluronic acid work together to support the skin’s moisture barrier, resulting in a soft, hydrated, and healthy glow.
Shop now: $68; sephora.com
Almost 280,000 Sephora shoppers love the vegan Drunk Elephant Protini moisturizer, and it’s not hard to see why. With peptides, antioxidants, and nutrients that moisturize and replenish, you can say farewell to lines, wrinkles, and sun damage, and hellur to plump, firm, healthy, strong, and youthful-looking skin. What’s more, it’s vegan, cruelty-free, and silicone-, and fragrance-free.
Shop now: $68; sephora.com
Dr. Chang’s eco-friendly moisturizer of choice is Youth to the People’s Superfood Air-Whip Moisture Cream. This lightweight, refreshing moisturizer uses extracts of superfoods (hence the name) like kale, spinach, and green tea, along with hyaluronic acid and antioxidants to support and replenish the skin. What’s more, the ultra-hydrating formula is vegan, cruelty-free (meaning the brand never tests on animals), and is made with recyclable packaging.
Shop now: $48; nordstrom.com
For moisturizing on the go, the shopper- and celebrity-loved Mario Badescu facial spray is a purse staple. Any time your skin feels a little tight or dehydrated throughout the day, a quick spritz of this refreshing mist — made with aloe, herbal extracts, and rosewater — will provide an adequate dose of hydration and a dewy glow (and yes, it can be used on top of makeup).
Shop now: $19; amazon.com