February 25, 2024

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Define Beauty Yourself

12 Best Moisturizers for Dry Skin 2023

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’ve become a dry-skin hydration expert thanks to years of hands-on testing since I also experience seasonal dryness. I’ve also spoken to nearly a dozen dermatologists to discover their recommendations. I’ll get into what exactly you should look for in a moisturizer, like ingredients and texture, below. And after that, there are the 12 very best dry-skin moisturizers I could find — you’ll definitely see some Strategist classics in the list. If you’re already clear on what you’re looking for, use our guide below to jump to a specific section. (Note that I’m primarily referring to the skin on your face; if you have dry skin on your body, consult our guide to body lotions.)

“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.

CeraVe Moisturizing Cream

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. This protects it from the cold while also keeping my peeling, flaky skin moisturized. The texture is thick but not super-rich, and the creamy texture feels luxe given the price point. But at $18 a tub, it’s affordable enough that you don’t have to be precious about how much you slather on. It’s also beloved by dermatologists because of its well-tolerated ingredients (glycerin, hyaluronic acid, ceramides), which work for most skin types.

Dieux Instant Angel

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.

Aquaphor Healing Ointment

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 beloved Aquaphor, which has carried me through many winter eczema flares. It’s the go-to for occlusives, slightly edging out in moisturizing over the similarly formulated Vaseline because it also contains glycerin, which can help repair a damaged skin barrier.

Aquaphor is also frequently recommended by dermatologists, who have suggested it for everything from Accutane–induced dryness to eczema. “Ointments are the best at fortifying the skin barrier and locking in moisture,” says Woolridge, and Aquaphor does just that. 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.

Vanicream Moisturizing Skin Cream

Texture: Cream | Base: Petroleum-based | Active ingredients: Ceramides

For the ultrasensitive, I often recommend Vanicream, which formulates without anything sensitizing without sacrificing moisture. The main active in the skin cream is ceramides, which help to fortify the barrier and lock in moisture. Dr. Ife Rodney, founding director of Eternal Dermatology + Aesthetics, calls this Vanicream moisturizer “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.” Even though I’ve recommended Vanicream as a solution for extremely dry skin before, it’s just as effective and gentle for your face. My fellow Strategist writer Lauren Ro has this to say: “I was immediately impressed with how luxurious and rich the cream felt on my skin — and surprised by how easily it spread.”

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer

Texture: Cream | Base: Water-based | Active ingredients: Glycerin, hyaluronic acid, ceramides

French drugstore brand La Roche-Posay has a strong following (I am an acolyte), and every product is formulated with selenium-rich spring water, known for helping with skin damage and inflammation. As a sensitive-skin type, I’ve known about its Toleriane line for years. It’s great for dry skin, and the double-repair moisturizer is a classic for a reason. It’s a bit lighter than Cerave’s moisturizing cream and less rich than Dieux Skin’s Instant Angel, but this is actually a good thing if you have acne-prone skin, which can be triggered by too-heavy products. Dr. Hope Mitchell, a board-certified dermatologist in Perrysburg, Ohio, also likes Double Repair for acne-prone skin, especially if you’re treating your acne with drying ingredients like benzoyl peroxide. “With dimethicone, soothing niacinamide, water-attracting glycerin, and hydrating ceramides,” it’s “perfect for hydrating dry skin associated with redness,” she says. It’s also a nice option for those with combination skin. Another bonus, it contains SPF 30 to help protect skin from environmental damage and UV rays.

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Moisturizer for Dry Skin
Very Good Deal

Texture: Gel-Cream | Base: Water-based | Active ingredients: Glycerin, hyaluronic acid

The Hydro Boost moisturizer is a house classic here at the Strategist. I’ve written about it in posts for oily skin, Accutane users, and now dry skin. (Our readers love it too: it has been on best-sellers lists over ten times.) This product is good for everyone because it has universally-beneficial star ingredients: hyaluronic acid and glycerin. Gel textures are typically targeted toward those with normal or oily skin, but this cream is actually perfect for dry skin, and it works pretty quickly according to dermatologists. I’ve been told it delivers hydrated skin after about a week of use. The gel texture also means that it smoothly disappears into the skin, so it can be worn alone or under makeup. We’ve also recommended this product for mature skin, sunburned skin, and even for pregnant women, because it’s so hydrating and gentle.

Weleda Skin Food Original
Best Seller

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, was recommended to me 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 I’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.

CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM
Very Good Deal

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.

Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer with Sunscreen, SPF 50+

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.

SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2

Texture: Cream | Base: Oil-based | Active ingredients: Glycerin, ceramides

This SkinCeuticals moisturizer has an ultrathick, rich feel, which felt a bit heavy on my skin but was perfect for my mom, who has dealt with increased dryness as she ages. She loves this stuff and has told me her skin feels supple, healthy, and smooth. It makes sense, given that it’s specifically designed to target signs of aging. 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.

Aveeno Eczema Therapy Itch Relief Balm

Texture: Cream | Base: Oil-based | Active ingredients: Glycerin, colloidal oatmeal, ceramides

Dermatologists 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 me by multiple dermatologists for body lotions and eczema-specific treatments, especially this itch-relief balm. I’ve found that the key difference betweek products for simply dry skin, and those designed for eczema is that the latter typically include calming and anti-inflammatory ingredients. A “core characteristic” of eczema is skin inflammation, Nazarian 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.

EADEM Cloud Cushion

Texture: Cream | Base: Water-based | Active ingredients: Glycerin, niacinamide, peptides, ceramides

Fading hyperpigmentation can be difficult, which is why I always recommend a multipronged approach — a mix of brightening and exfoliating actives that encourages cell turnover and lighten dark marks. I’ve gone through a tub of this niacinamide-infused moisturizer from Eaden, which helped to lighten some post-acne scarring around my chin. It also contains ceramides (great for supporting the skin’s barrier) and peptides, which help to fortify the skin and combat everything from wrinkles to inflammation.

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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