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The best moisturizers for dry skin, according to dermatology experts

Everything you need to know about the right formulas and ingredients to help keep your skin looking and feeling hydrated.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Mar 29, 2024 • 11 min read
Medically reviewed by Elise Griffin, PA-C
Birds-eye-view of a prickly cactus in a terracotta pot.
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Mar 29, 2024 • 11 min read
Medically reviewed by Elise Griffin, PA-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

In this article

What causes dry skin?
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Summary

  • Dry skin is generally caused by a lack of water or lipids in the skin.

  • Some of our favorite moisturizers for dry skin include our Cream Moisturizer and Cetaphil Rich Hydrating Cream.

  • For an extra boost of hydration, you may want to try using a face oil under your moisturizer.

  • If you want to double up on hydration and sun protection, opt for a moisturizer with SPF.

  • Avoid pore-clogging ingredients, including coconut oil, in your moisturizer.

If your skin is drier than Death Valley and you feel like you’ve tried everything, you’re not alone. The good news is that we’ve got a guide to the best moisturizers to replenish and rehydrate your skin and help give you that coveted healthy glow.

We review all of the products we recommend here to make sure they’re non-comedogenic—or, don’t have any pore-clogging ingredients—and that they won’t irritate most skin. You’d be surprised by just how many skincare products can do more harm than good! That’s why we designed our own Gel Moisturizer: a simple, gentle, lightweight daily hydration option that’s designed to be suitable for all skin types.

What causes dry skin?

Dry skin typically lacks water and/or lipid content, but no worries—you can replenish these with the right ingredients. The skin’s hydration station managers, ceramides and hyaluronic acid, are building blocks that your dry skin might be missing out on.

A figurine of a skiier sitting on a smear of Curology cream

Dry skin can be more common at certain times of year. The sebaceous (oil-producing) glands in our skin hibernate, so to speak, in the winter, leaving it even thirstier for hydration. Skin tends to produce more oil when it’s warmer, but unprotected sun exposure and dry, hot air can damage the skin’s surface, leaving it feeling and looking dry, flaky, or red and irritated.

If you tend to exfoliate often or use anti-acne or anti-aging skincare products that may leave your skin feeling tight or dry, you might want to avoid those steps if your skin is suffering from too much dryness. It can be helpful to give your skin a break during seasonal transitions, too. Let it adjust at its own pace to help it maintain a healthy balance of its moisture levels.

How to tell if your skin is dry or dehydrated

Is your skin dry (as in, your skin type) or is it just temporarily dehydrated? Your skin may look and feel dry now (or some of the time), but it might not be dry all the time. Your skin might be dehydrated at certain times of year—cold, dry air in winter, or hot, dry air in summer can contribute to this, and so can certain ingredients in skincare or cosmetics, such as alcohol.

These factors temporarily dry out your skin, but you may not have a dry skin type. If your skin is temporarily dry, try moisturizing, wearing sunscreen* every day to protect it from sun damage (like the Everyday Sunscreen), and shielding your skin from the wind with a scarf when it’s cold out. If your skin seems to be dry year-round, you are more likely to have dry skin, as in your skin type!

Closeup on the side of a face. A bottle of water is being lifted toward a mouth wearing red lipstick.

Best moisturizer for dry skin

Curology Gel Moisturizer

A great face moisturizer for dry, sensitive skin, and even acne-prone skin, our in-house dermatologists developed this nourishing gel with our customers in mind. It’s the perfect everyday indulgence for any skin type, infused with glycerinand hyaluronic acid to lock in hydration. Our moisturizer is formulated to be non-comedogenic and free of parabens, sulfates, fragrances, dyes, or other common skin-irritating ingredients.

If you have another favorite moisturizer that your skin likes (especially if it’s labeled non-comedogenic or formulated for sensitive skin), feel free to keep on using it! But if you’re breaking out, you’ll want to check the ingredients (more on this, below).

Best facial moisturizer for VERY dry skin

A dry sponge

Our Gel Moisturizer locks in hydration, but since it’s lightweight, those with extra-dry skin might want to give it some extra love. That’s why we also offer our Cream Moisturizer, which features six hydrating ingredients to give your skin a rich boost while working to restore your skin barrier. Hyaluronic acid, glycerin, aloe vera, shea butter, squalane, and allantoin all work together to provide deep hydration, without clogging pores.

When you’re on the hunt for a moisturizer to help with your ultra-dry skin, look for products with replenishing ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid, two components of the skin that might need replenishing. The right oils or oil-based moisturizers can help soothe sensitive skin while replenishing much-needed moisture. Here are a few more that we love:

Cetaphil Rich Hydrating Cream

  • Contains hyaluronic acid to help the skin retain moisture

  • Designed to strengthen the skin barrier for healthier skin

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel with Hyaluronic Acid

  • Water gel is quickly absorbed into the skin

  • Infused with hyaluronic acid to provide long-lasting yet lightweight hydration and strengthen the skin’s barrier

Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Cream Hydrating Moisturizer

  • Helps provide hydration for up to 72 hours

  • Contains three molecular sizes of Hyaluronic Acid

CeraVe Healing Ointment

  • Ideal for extremely dry, cracked, or chafed skin

  • Contains petrolatum, hyaluronic acid, and ceramides for long-lasting, intense hydration

Close-up on a face with a stern expression. They are smooshing their cheeks with one hand.

Face oils for dry skin

You may also consider starting with a face oil or serum underneath your Curology moisturizer if your skin is feeling thirsty—even if your skin is sensitive, dry, and acne-prone! Contrary to popular belief, many oils are well-tolerated on acne-prone skin; in fact, acne has been associated with low levels of essential fatty acids (EFAs) in some studies, and many oils used in skincare are loaded with skin-nourishers such as omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E.

Rosehip seed oil

Packed with omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, rosehip oil provides anti-inflammatory effects, which can help improve acne. It’s found in many face oils, but you can get it on its own and add a drop or two to your everyday moisturizer for extra hydration.

Meadowfoam seed oil

Made from a flower native to Northern California and Oregon, meadowfoam seed oil is lightweight, non-comedogenic, and sinks right into the skin. It’s great at locking in moisture, leaving skin looking supple, glowy, and hydrated. It’s an effective carrier oil as well, used in serums such as Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 40 and Solis Flower Nectar Face Serum.

Sea buckthorn oil

Sea buckthorn has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties: it’s rich in anti-inflammatory omega fatty acids, including omega-3, -6, -9, and -7. A 2010 study of sea buckthorn fruit extract applied as a cream showed a decline in sebum (oil) production—this may point to some anti-acne benefit separate from fighting inflammation. It may be helpful for inflammatory skin conditions like acne, rosacea, and eczema.

See more face oils we recommend for dry, sensitive, and/or acne-prone skin here.

Best face moisturizer with SPF for dry skin

Moisturizers with built-in sun protection make a great one-step solution to your morning skincare routine, but not all moisturizers with SPF are created equal. Chemical sunscreen vs. physical sunscreen is an important difference to be aware of for dry and sensitive skin. The chemical kind can be irritating to sensitive skin, but physical sunscreen like zinc oxide may help soothe your skin while protecting it! So for sensitive skin, we recommend physical sunscreen with broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher.

One finger smearing a big dab of sunscreen onto a forearm

Paula’s Choice Calm Redness Relief SPF 30 Mineral Moisturizer for Normal to Dry Skin

  • Mineral-based sunscreen

  • Contains soothing plant extracts, antioxidants, and peptides

How to check if a product has pore-clogging or skin-irritating ingredients

Some common ingredients in cosmetics and skincare products can irritate sensitive skin, even if the label says it’s “gentle”! Check out our quick-and-easy guide to checking products for pore-clogging ingredients!

Ingredients to consider avoiding

Some ingredients found in moisturizers can irritate the skin or clog pores, so here are the key ones to avoid:

A person facing the sun while holding a broken umbrella above their head

Products that may clog pores

Products not labeled with terms “non-comedogenic”, “non-acnegenic”, “does not clog pores”, or “won’t cause breakouts.” The label “non-comedogenic” (or similar) indicates that the product has been designed with acne-prone people in mind. It’s no guarantee of safety, but it can be a useful guideline! We still recommend checking products labeled non-comedogenic for pore-clogging or irritating ingredients.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil is a popular ingredient in skincare and cosmetics, but if your skin is prone to pimples and clogged pores, you’ll want to avoid it. It’s also called “cocos nucifera oil,” so keep an eye on those ingredient lists. Coconut oil clogs pores slowly but surely, so you might not notice right away, but take it from the experts—it gets in those pores and clogs up the works!

Alcohol

If you’ve got dry skin, take care to avoid ingredients that can dry it out even more! Alcohol is unfortunately used in a lot of skincare products, even though it may dry out the skin and can damage its protective barrier! Watch out for alcohol (usually listed as “denatured alcohol” or “alcohol denat.”) on the ingredients list of your products, especially if your skin seems dry, red, tight, itchy, or irritated after using it. However, some products have alcohol at the end of the ingredients list, likely meaning there’s not too much of it—in that case, it may not irritate the skin as much. But it’s best to avoid it whenever possible.

The exception: Coconut alcohol

Even though coconut oil is not good for acne-prone skin, and alcohol (usually labeled denatured alcohol) can be irritating, coconut alcohol is actually fine. Coconut alcohol is a gentle surfactant (i.e. emulsifier) that the skin tolerates just fine (unlike sodium laureth sulfate, a surfactant that can cause breakouts). Coconut alcohol comes from coconut acid, which is derived from coconut oil; but unlike coconut oil, coconut alcohol doesn’t clog pores, because it’s a smaller molecule. In fact, we use coconut alcohol in our Gentle Cleanser—it was tested for comedogenicity (pore-clogging potential) and passed with flying colors!

The Curology set on the edge of a pink bathtub

Keep your skin calm and carry on

Dry skin just needs a little extra care, so keep it simple and gentle. Let your moisturizer simply be a great moisturizer; avoid moisturizers that claim to do other things such as exfoliate or treat acne (the exception is a moisturizer with sunscreen in it!). Chances are, in order for the moisturizer to do extra work, it contains some type of active ingredient or irritant that may work against dry or sensitive skin.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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curology bottle

For a reliable, go-to daily moisturizer, we really can’t recommend our own enough. Sure, we’re a little biased, but our dermatologists developed this gel-cream hybrid, lightly hydrating moisturizer specifically to be gentle enough for the most sensitive of skin. Try it for yourself when you sign up for a trial** of Curology and opt into the full set, including a personalized prescription formula and our simple, gentle cleanser.

FAQs

What is the best facial moisturizer for extremely dry skin?

We love our Cream Moisturizer, which uses 6 ingredients to hydrate and restore your skin barrier.

Why do you need moisturizer for dry skin?

Moisturizers can help restore lipids and water that your skin may have lost.

Which facial moisturizer is ideal for your skin type?

You may want a gel moisturizer if your skin isn’t overly dry, or a cream one if it is. You can also use oils to add even more hydration, and products with SPF for sun protection.

Can you suggest a face moisturizer for sensitive and dry skin that's also affordable?

Our Gel Moisturizer is designed to provide lightweight daily hydration for all skin types.

Is hyaluronic acid good for dry skin?

Yes! Hyaluronic acid can bind 1,000 times its volume in water and can hydrate the outer and inner layers of your skin.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association. DRY SKIN: WHO GETS AND CAUSES. (n.d.).

  2. Ray Jalian, H., et al. Selective Cryolysis of Sebaceous Glands. J Invest Dermatol. (September 2015).

  3. Downing, D.T., et al. Essential fatty acids and acne. J Am Acad Dermatol. (February 1986).

  4. Marmol, I., et al. Therapeutic Applications of Rose Hips from Different Rosa Species. Int J Mol Sci. (June 2017).

  5. Zielińska, A. and Nowak, I. Abundance of active ingredients in sea-buckthorn oil. Lipids Health Dis. (2017, May 19).

  6. Akhtar, N., et al. Formulation and evaluation of antisebum secretion effects of sea buckthorn w/o emulsion. J Pharm Bioallied Sci. (January 2010).

  7. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Sunscreen FAQs. (2023, October 19).

  8. Bravo, B., et al. Benefits of topical hyaluronic acid for skin quality and signs of skin aging: From literature review to clinical evidence. Dermatol Ther. (2022, October 21).

Elise Griffin is a certified physician assistant at Curology. She received her Master of Medical Science in physician assistant studies from Nova Southeastern University in Jacksonville, FL.

**Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary. Restrictions apply. See website for full details and important safety information.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on affiliate links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Though some of the links in this post are for paid affiliate partners, all of the products recommended are researched and medically fact-checked to meet our standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Our thoughts on sun protection: *Sunscreen is only one part of UV protection—cute sun hats and shades are also recommended.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Elise Griffin, Physician Assistant Curology

Elise Griffin, PA-C

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