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Which moisturizer is best for you?

Hint: It depends on your skin type.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Feb 28, 2024 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Melissa Hunter, NP-C
Best Moisturizer
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Feb 28, 2024 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Melissa Hunter, NP-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

How moisturizers work
More

Your skin naturally produces its own moisturizer: sebum (oil). But when sebum production gets thrown off, all sorts of skin concerns can pop up, from dryness to breakouts. That’s why regular moisturizing is considered one of the best practices for your standard skincare routine.

That said, a good moisturizer can be hard to find. Your skin is unique, and so are your specific skin needs. To make it even more confusing, many lotions contain ingredients that can make acne, irritation, and oily skin worse. We’re here to help!

How moisturizers work

Many moisturizers hydrate temporarily, but then the water simply evaporates. Some of the best lightweight moisturizers promote healthy skin by delivering moisture to skin cells and holding it in.¹

Facial moisturizers are topical products with ingredients that help hydrate skin. Hydrating ingredients have different properties, i.e. different ways of keeping your skin looking fresh. A moisturizing ingredient can be an humectant, occlusive, or emollient (or a combination):²

  • A humectant—such as hyaluronic acid or glycerin—absorbs quickly into the skin. It draws moisture from both the environment and from beneath deeper layers of skin.

  • An occlusive moisturizer forms a hydrating protective barrier that can help prevent water loss in dry and dehydrated skin. Occlusive ingredients with skin barrier functions include oils like mineral oil, jojoba oil, and evening primrose oil.

  • An emollient softens and smooths the skin, helping to smooth tiny cracks.³ Emollients are often used in anti-aging creams that leave the skin supple and feeling soft. They add a barrier that retains moisture.⁴

The best moisturizers often contain a combination of these different properties to help balance your skin’s water content and prevent moisture loss.

Taking skin type into consideration

Your skin type is based on the amount of oil your skin produces. Here’s how to identify yours:

  • Dry: Dry skin produces less natural oils, and may appear flaky and rough. It may feel tight and get itchy or easily irritated.

  • Oily: Your skin produces excess oil and may look shiny or greasy. Oily skin may be prone to enlarged pores, blackheads, and whiteheads.

  • Combination: Most people have a combination of dry and oily skin. This means there are some areas that are dry and others that are oily or normal. The T-zone is commonly oily. This is across the forehead and down the nose, sometimes including the chin.

  • Sensitive: Sensitive skin is more vulnerable to external irritants and can be triggered by certain skincare ingredients.

Non-comedogenic moisturizing ingredients

The following moisturizing ingredients can be included in an effective skin care regimen and aren’t known to contribute to clogged pores and acne breakouts.

  • Hyaluronic acid attracts water and is moisture-binding, delivering water into the skin and keeping it there.⁵

  • Dimethicone forms an occlusive barrier over the skin that reinforces your moisture barrier.⁶

  • Ceramides are naturally occurring lipids in the skin that are crucial to skin barrier function and are often depleted in inflammatory conditions such as atopic dermatitis.⁷

  • Shea butter is a natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant⁸ that can help soothe certain skin conditions like eczema.⁹

  • Squalane is an emollient that doesn’t contribute to clogged pores, is safe for sensitive skin, and has antibacterial properties—great for oily skin that’s acne-prone!¹⁰

  • Glycerin (aka glycerol and glycerine) is a natural humectant that attracts and binds water to maintain skin moisture.¹¹

  • Lanolin is an emollient moisturizer that is used to protect the skin and seal in moisture.¹²

  • Petrolatum or pure petroleum jelly is a heavy-duty occlusive moisturizer that reduces moisture loss through the skin by nearly 99%, thereby protecting your skin’s moisture barrier.¹³

If you want to do more research on which ingredients to avoid, check out our list of pore-clogging ingredients.

Moisturizers for acne-prone skin

If you’re acne-prone, you may be tempted to skip moisturizer—but your skin still needs hydration. Plus, if your acne treatment is drying you out, you may need something heavy-duty to repair your skin.

Here are some of our favorite moisturizers for acne-prone skin:

Moisturizers for dry skin

Dry skin is extremely common. It has many triggers, such as seasonal changes. Sometimes, dry, flaky skin can be a sign of a skin condition like eczema. A good moisturizer can provide relief for dry skin symptoms like itchiness. Though it may be tempting, consider skipping exfoliating if you have dry skin as it may damage your skin barrier or make existing damage worse.

Here are some of our favorite moisturizers for very dry skin:

Moisturizers for oily skin

If you have oily skin, you may be wary of greasy facial lotions and using a moisturizer is not a requirement for everyone! That said, oily skin can still benefit from an extra boost of hydration.

If you have oily skin, consider facial moisturizers with a gel-water consistency. You can also opt for skin care products with niacinamide (vitamin B3), which may help with oil control.¹⁴

Here are some of our favorite moisturizers for oily skin:

Moisturizers for combination/normal skin

If your skin can’t make up its mind in terms of whether to be oily or dry, then welcome to the combination skin club! Most people have a combination of skin types, so you’re in good company.

If you’ve got combo skin, you probably have an oily T-zone, with dryness everywhere else. Sound familiar? If so, opt for quick-absorbing moisturizers with quality ingredients like hyaluronic acid and aloe vera.

Here are some of our favorite moisturizers for combination skin:

Moisturizers for sensitive skin

Does your skin tend to… overreact? People with sensitive skin often experience dryness and may also have mild reactions to certain ingredients. If your skin commonly feels tight or tingling after applying skincare products, you may have sensitive skin.

Here are some of our favorite fragrance-free moisturizers for sensitive skin:

Moisturizers with SPF

Just ask a dermatologist: no matter your skin type, sun safety is a crucial factor in your skin’s overall health. A broad-spectrum moisturizing sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher is a great multi-tasking skincare product that can save you time and money. Just be sure to apply enough (and to re-apply it as needed—once for every two hours of sun exposure).

Here are some of our favorite facial moisturizers with SPF:

Moisturizers for the body

When you’re focused on skin concerns like acne and facial redness, it’s easy to forget the skin on the rest of your body. The skin below your décolletage is often thicker than your facial skin, and (typically) less sensitive. You can find quality body moisturizers at the drugstore, or opt for ultra-nourishing body butters for an extra surge of hydration.

Here are some of our favorite body moisturizers:

The key takeaways

  • Types of moisturizers include emollient, humectant, or occlusive, although they can also be a combination of these types.

  • It’s best to avoid pore-clogging ingredients in moisturizers, and focus on non-comedogenic ingredients like hyaluronic acid, shea butter, and glycerin.

  • Choose a moisturizer based on your skin type, whether it’s acne-prone, dry, oily, combination, or sensitive.

  • You may benefit from a multitasking product by choosing a moisturizer with SPF.

  • Curology offers a Gel Moisturizer and Rich Moisturizer, which are both designed to hydrate the skin without clogging pores.

Curology moisturizers

We know it can be a headache —certain prescription skin treatments can make your skin dry, which may mean harming the skin barrier. Curology moisturizers are designed to combat that.

Curology Gel Moisturizer vs. Curology Rich Moisturizer

The Curology Gel Moisturizer is designed to take the guesswork out of your skincare routine. Plus, it conveniently comes in your 3-step skincare routine set along with your Custom FormulaRx and a gentle cleanser when you subscribe to the full package. Its gel-cream hybrid texture hydrates deeply with ingredients like hyaluronic acid, yet it feels soft and lightweight on the skin.

Curology’s Rich Moisturizer provides deep hydration for dry or mature skin. Our board-certified dermatologists formulated this creamy moisturizer to work hard. First, it adds moisture to the skin, then it traps that moisture in. Your skin stays soft and protected all day (or night) long, thanks to 6 key hydrating ingredients, including hyaluronic acid and shea butter.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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Layer up as much as you’d like—this is designed not to clog pores.

We encourage you to try Curology for yourself. Signing up is easy—answer a few questions and snap a couple of selfies. If Curology is right for you, you’ll partner with one of our licensed dermatology providers who will prescribe a personalized formula to meet your needs.

FAQs

What is a good face moisturizer?

Everyone’s skin is different, so what works for you may not work for someone else! To find the most effective moisturizer for you, look for ingredients that benefit your skin type and avoid pore-clogging ones.

Are expensive moisturizers worth the money?

Whether an expensive moisturizer is worth the money depends on the ingredients, which are far more important than the price of the product in the end.

Is Vaseline a good face moisturizer?

Vaseline can be an effective moisturizer for those with dry skin. It’s an occlusive, meaning it forms a barrier over the skin to help restore skin lipids and prevent dryness.¹⁵

How do I choose a good face moisturizer?

The first step is to understand your skin type. In other words, whether it’s oily, dry, combination, acne-prone, or sensitive. Then choose a product with active ingredients that can benefit your skin type, and avoid moisturizers with pore-clogging ingredients.

What is the best hyaluronic acid moisturizer?

We love our Gel Moisturizer and Rich Moisturizer, both of which feature hyaluronic acid to deeply hydrate and plump the skin.

• • •

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

  1. Harwood, A., et al. Moisturizers. StatPearls Publishing. (2022).

  2. Harwood, A., et al. Moisturizers. StatPearls Publishing. Ibid.

  3. Araviiskaia, E. et. al. The Role of a Novel Generation of Emollients, ‘Emollients Plus’, in Atopic Dermatitis. Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology. (December 14, 2022).

  4. Araviiskaia, E. et. al. The Role of a Novel Generation of Emollients, ‘Emollients Plus’, in Atopic Dermatitis. Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology. (December 14, 2022).

  5. Walker, K. et.al. Hyaluronic Acid. StatPearls. (July 3, 2023).

  6. Harwood, A., et al. Moisturizers. StatPearls Publishing. Ibid.

  7. Meckfessel, M. H., & Brandt, S. The structure, function, and importance of ceramides in skin and their use as therapeutic agents in skin-care products. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2014, July).

  8. Jones, V. A., et al. Complementary and alternative medicine treatments for common skin diseases: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAAD international. (2020).

  9. Belibi, S. et.al. The use of shea butter as an emollient for eczema. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. (2009, February).

  10. Sethi, A. et. al. Moisturizers: The Slippery Road. Indian Journal of Dermatology. (May-June 2016).

  11. Harwood, A., et al. Moisturizers. StatPearls Publishing. Ibid.

  12. National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Summary for Lanolin. (n.d.).

  13. Harwood, A., et al. Moisturizers. StatPearls Publishing. Ibid.

  14. Draelos, Z. D., et. al. The effect of 2% niacinamide on facial sebum production. Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy. (June 2006).

  15. Hamishekhar, H., et al. A comparative histological study on the skin occlusion performance of a cream made of solid lipid nanoparticles and Vaseline. Res Pharm Sci. (September-October 2015).

Melissa Hunter is a board certified family nurse practitioner at Curology. She received her MSN from George Washington University in Washington, DC.

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• • •
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 product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Melissa Hunter

Melissa Hunter, NP-C

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