The Best Moisturizers to Deliver Hydration to Dry, Parched Skin

We like no frills CeraVe Moisturizing Cream because it instantly hydrates skin and has a gentle formula.

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Best Moisturizers for Dry Skin
Photo: Amazon/InStyle

There are a variety of factors that could be contributing to your dry, flaky skin. Whether it be the weather, over exfoliation, genetics or a side effect of aging, dealing with dry skin is never fun. Luckily, there are tons of moisturizers for every skin type and budget that can add some much-needed hydration back to your skin.

With such a saturated market, though, where does one even start? To make it easier for you, we researched some of the best moisturizers, creams, and lotions on the market and evaluated each product based on its ingredients, texture, and moisturizing properties. We also asked Joshua Zeichner, M.D., the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, and Sheila Farhang, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Avant Dermatology & Aesthetics, to weigh in on the best moisturizers for dry skin. One product that stood out was the Cerave Moisturizing Cream for its gentle, ultra-hydrating formula and lightweight feel.

Ahead, find the best moisturizers for dry skin.

Our Picks

Best Overall: CeraVe Moisturizing Cream

Beauty Face Cream
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What We Love: It has a gentle formula that works on all skin types

What We Don't Love: It can feel a bit greasy.

This CeraVe moisturizer is a perfect option for people with dry skin on both their face or their body. It contains powerhouse ingredients, like hyaluronic acid and ceramides— which Dr. Farhang says are "lipids that help with the integrity of the skin barrier." As a result, your skin will retain moisture more and keep impurities from getting in. The fragrance-free formula was developed with dermatologists and it is gentle enough for sensitive skin. This thick cream will even provide relief for anyone who struggles with eczema (It's even earned a National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance).

Size: 12 oz, 16 oz, 19 oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Fragrance-Free: Yes

Best Value: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream

Skin Recovery Cream
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Also available at Ulta

What We Love: It has a weightless, gel consistency and feel.

What We Don't Love: It can cause a burning sensation on sensitive skin.

This top-rated moisturizer from Neutrogena delivers all the benefits of a great moisturizer to dry, parched skin without the hefty price tag. It features hyaluronic acid to help draw water to your skin and dimethicone, which acts as a physical barrier so that the skin stays hydrated. The lightweight, gel formula absorbs quickly, so your skin instantly feels quenched, and it locks in moisture for 48 hours. The consistency also makes it perfect for everyday use and not too heavy, which comes in handy when layering makeup over it.

Size: 1.7 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Fragrance-Free: Yes

Best Splurge: SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2

Skin Recovery Cream
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Also available at SkinCeuticals

What We Love: It helps diminish signs of aging and has a very nourishing formula.

What We Don't Love: It's a bit dense and doesn't absorb into the skin as well as we would like.

Another top-notch option is this luxurious cream by SkinCeuticals that has tons of anti-aging benefits. It uses a combination of ceramides, natural cholesterol, and fatty acids to nourish and hydrate your skin while also improving its elasticity. The formula features vitamin E and tons of antioxidants as well, which supports cell repair and helps protect the skin from free radical damage (a main contributor to signs of aging). While it is pricey, your skin will look more full, supple, and more radiant, on top of being moisturized— making it worth the investment.

Size: 1.6 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Fragrance-Free: Yes

Best for Sensitive Skin: Eau Thermale Avène Tolerance Control Skin Recovery Cream

Skin Recovery Cream
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Also available at Amazon

What We Love: It helps to calm and soothe irritated skin.

What We Don't Love: It's very thick.

Specially formulated to be safe for super sensitive skin, Eau Thermale Avène's super rich cream will reduce redness, calm irritation, and most importantly, hydrate your skin. Compared to other moisturizers, it has very minimal ingredients — but that's one reason why it's a safer option for people with sensitive skin. One of the main ingredients is an innovative post-biotic, which calms any type of discomfort. The gentle formula also features nourishing shea butter and the brand's signature spring water, which is clinically proven to soothe the skin. It's free of preservatives and fragrances as well, making it an even better choice for sensitive skin types.

Size: 1.3 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Fragrance-Free: Yes

Best Anti-Aging: Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream

Skin Recovery Cream
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Also available at Ulta

What We Love: It helps firm and brighten the skin.

What We Don't Love: It can pill if you layer other products on top.

Not only is this moisturizer incredibly hydrating, but it's also packed with powerful anti-aging ingredients. In addition to hyaluronic acid, the Olay moisturizer uses amino peptides to smooth and firm your skin and niacinamide (a.k.a. vitamin B3) to reduce the appearance of dark spots. It provides just the right amount of moisture to keep your skin looking youthful without being too oily. Working this cream into your anti-aging skincare regimen will leave your skin looking firmer, smoother, and more supple.

Size: 1.7 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Fragrance-Free: Yes

Best for Extremely Dry Skin: Aquaphor Healing Ointment

Beauty Face Cream
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Also available at Walmart

What We Love: It heals rough, cracked skin and has versatile uses.

What We Don't Love: It's better suited for the body.

If you have extremely dry, cracked skin, then you need a heavy-duty moisturizer that can restore your skin without irritation. The Aquaphor Healing Ointment will do the trick and it is clinically-proven to make your skin smooth and healthy again. Since it's made of 41 percent petrolatum, the ointment creates a barrier over dry skin to prevent it from losing hydration. It's great for chapped lips, and it's gentle enough to help heal minor cuts and burns (that's why it's often recommended for tattoo aftercare). It is dermatologist-recommended, so it is safe to use on sensitive skin, but note that it is designed for the body.

Size: 14 oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Fragrance-Free: Yes

Best With SPF: EltaMD UV Facial Moisturizing Sunscreen SPF 30+

Beauty Face Cream
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Also available at Dermstore

What We Love: It has built-in sun protection.

What We Don't Love: It could be more moisturizing, so you may want to add hydration in your other skincare steps too.

We love when beauty products can do multiple things, and this cream by EltaMD doubles as sunscreen. It comes in tube and jar containers, and both boast a broad-spectrum SPF 30+ to keep your skin protected from sun damage. It also features hyaluronic acid to give your skin a much-needed boost of hydration and to help it retain moisture. Unlike some SPF products, this cream uses transparent zinc oxide, so it won't leave behind a white cast or dull your skin's glow. The oil-free formula won't clog your pores either.

Size: 4 oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Fragrance-Free: Yes

Best Lightweight: Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Cream

Skin Recovery Cream
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Also available at Ulta

What We Love: It feels silky, smooth and light on the skin.

What We Don't Love: The luxurious experience comes with a high price tag to match.

If you're looking for a super lightweight moisturizer, then the Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Cream is for you. Just as the name implies, the cream has a very light, fluffy texture— you'll hardly even notice it's there. The moisturizer is packed with hyaluronic acid as well as Pentavitin, which is an ingredient that claims to keep skin hydrated for up to 72 hours after washing. The oil- and alcohol-free formula also includes hydrolyzed silk, which leaves the skin feeling silky and soft. This cream is the perfect way to prep your skin before applying makeup and your dry skin is sure to appreciate it.

Size: .67 oz, 1.7 oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Fragrance-Free: Yes

Best Cooling Option: Korres Greek Yoghurt Nourishing Probiotic Gel-Cream

Skin Recovery Cream
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Also available at Dermstore

What We Love: It makes your skin glow and has a cooling effect.

What We Don't Love: We wish it was a bit thicker.

This Korres moisturizer proves that skincare can be cooling, too. The formula's main ingredient is Greek yogurt (yes you heard that right), which boasts tons of probiotics and prebiotics that benefit the skin in a number of ways. This cream can help promote a healthy microbiome, boost your skin's collagen, and leave your face totally refreshed. What's not to love? The formula also includes sea water for added hydration and passion flower to make the skin bouncier. The best part is that it provides a soothing, cooling sensation that feels great on the skin.

Size: 1.35 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Fragrance-Free: Yes

Best for Acne-Prone Skin: La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer

Skin Recovery Cream
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Also available at Amazon

What We Love: The formula contains glycerin, niacinamide, and prebiotic ingredients.

What We Don't Love: It pills easily.

La Roche-Posay's face moisturizer is practically magic in a bottle. The formula is made up of glycerin and niacinamide, which delivers 48 hours of hydration and helps soothe the skin. It also features the brand's signature spring water, which has tons of prebiotic benefits. Because the formula is oil-free and incredibly lightweight, it won't clog your pores or cause breakouts. There's even a version with SPF 30 so you don't have to apply a separate sunscreen. It doesn't leave behind any residue or oily look as some creams do and it's dermatologist-approved for sensitive skin.

Size: 2.5 oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Fragrance-Free: Yes

Best K-Beauty: Belif The True Cream Aqua Bomb

Skin Recovery Cream
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Also available at Sephora

What We Love: It's super hydrating and lightweight.

What We Don't Love: It can irritate sensitive skin.

Korean beauty is very popular all over the world, and for good reason. If you want to get in on the trend, try this ultra-hydrating cream from the Korean brand, Belif. It is designed to feel like a "drink of water" for your skin and has a weightless, gel-cream feel. Instead of hyaluronic acid, it uses glycerin and ceramides to moisturize the skin and help it retain water. It is also clinically-proven to boost the skin's hydration levels by 70 percent. For even more moisture and nourishment, the formula features a blend of herbs like squalane, Lady's mantle, calendula extract, and oat kernel extract.

Size: 1.68 oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Fragrance-Free: Yes

Best With Ceramides: Sunday Riley Ice Ceramide Moisturizing Cream

face moisturizers
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Also available at Amazon

What We Love: It has ultra-nourishing, rich ingredients.

What We Don't Love: The price may be too much for some.

This rich cream from Sunday Riley is packed with ceramides— an ingredient that dry skin loves. Ceramides help strengthen your skin's natural moisture barrier, which will improve fine lines, wrinkles, and skin elasticity for a more youthful appearance. The formula is also supplemented with vitamin F to replenish lipid levels and antioxidants (like coconut and beetroot extracts) for added moisturization. It has a very rich, creamy texture that is still lightweight and will leave your skin glowing without any stickiness.

Size: 1.7 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Fragrance-Free: Yes

Best for Itchy Skin: First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream Intense Hydration

Skin Recovery Cream
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Also available at Sephora

What We Love: It provides instant relief.

What We Don't Love: Unless you're having a flare up, it's too thick for daily use.

This moisturizer from First Aid Beauty is a must-have for anyone dealing with dry, itchy skin or eczema. It was designed with sensitive skin in mind and it provides immediate relief for parched skin. The gentle formula contains colloidal oatmeal, a skin protectant that relieves eczema and itchy skin, as well as shea butter for nourishment and added moisture. It also features allantoin, which helps calm and soothe irritated skin. It even got the Clean at Sephora seal for its clean ingredients and its vegan-, gluten-, and cruelty-free formula. Sensitive skin types will really benefit from this cream, especially in the harsh winter months.

Size: 2 oz, 6 oz, 8 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Fragrance-Free: Yes

Best Firming: Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Moisturizer

Skin Recovery Cream
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Also available at Ulta

What We Love: It plumps and tightens skin while smoothing wrinkles.

What We Don't Love: It has a bit of an oily texture.

This protein-packed moisturizer from Drunk Elephant is top-rated and it definitely lives up to the hype. The vegan and cruelty-free formula uses a peptide complex and folic acid to noticeably firm, plump, and restore bounce to your skin. On top of its firming abilities and anti-aging benefits, it also provides much-needed moisture to your dry skin thanks to a blend of antioxidants and nutrients that also soothe and calm the skin. Plus, the airless pump-style packaging dispenses the perfect amount of moisturizer, which means you don't need to stick dirty fingers into the jar.

Size: .5 oz, 1.69 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Fragrance-Free: Yes

What to Keep in Mind

Ingredients

The most common types of ingredients in moisturizers are occlusives, emollients, and humectants, and they all work in different ways. "Occlusives are ingredients that form a physical barrier over the skin to prevent loss of hydration," says Dr. Zeichner. "Common occlusives used in skincare products are petrolatum, waxes or dimethicone." Like the slugging skincare trend.

Then, there are emollients like natural oils, ceramides, and shea butter, which he says "directly hydrate and soften rough cells on the outer skin layer." They can also be very nourishing and can fill in cracks in the skin barrier.

Humectants, like the popular hyaluronic acid, aren't actually moisturizing on their own, which is why they need to be paired with an actual moisturizer to hydrate dry skin. Instead, these molecules "pull in water to hydrate and plump the skin," according to Dr. Farhang.

Texture

You want to make sure you choose the right type of product when picking out a moisturizer. "For a good moisturizer, choose a cream over a lotion. Lotions are more water-based, so more lightweight but not as moisturizing," says Dr. Farhang. Next, you'll want to consider the thickness of the cream, which will depend on your personal preference, skin type, and when you plan on using your moisturizer. A thick cream works for nighttime use, but it may be too heavy for the day and hard to layer makeup over it. Heavier creams could also clog your pores more and may not be the best choice for acne-prone skin. They can be very nourishing, though, and feel luxurious and rich to apply.

Your Questions, Answered

How do moisturizers work?

The main function of a moisturizer is to repair your skin's natural moisture barrier. "Your outer skin layer is designed to maintain hydration, but in some people, this system is weaker than others," says Dr. Zeichner. "Skin barrier function also weakens with age. Someone who did not need a moisturizer when she was young may find it is necessary as she gets older." And if your skin's barrier is defective, he says you might find super tiny cracks and increased inflammation. But the good news is that slathering on a good moisturizer can help restore that damaged, dehydrated skin.

When should you apply a moisturizer?

To make sure your skin absorbs every drop of moisturizer, Dr. Farhand recommends applying moisturizer within a minute of getting out of the shower or washing your face every day. It also helps to apply it when your skin is still a bit damp to help seal the moisture in. Since moisturizer has such a big job when it comes to your barrier and the health of your skin, apply a moisturizer a.m. and p.m. for best results. Make sure to top your morning routine with a sunscreen.

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