Moisturizers for dry skin

The ultimate guide to face moisturizers for dry skin

10 minute read

We’re here to tell you what we know, but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider about your specific health concerns.

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 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 moisturizer, too: a simple, gentle, lightweight gel-cream hybrid that’s suitable for any skin type. We’ll recommend you plenty of other options, too — because we’ll always keep it real, and we know that everybody’s skin is different — but our moisturizer clocks in at under $10 per bottle when you subscribe to the Curology set, so it won’t hurt your skin (or your wallet) to try it out.

What causes dry skin?

Dry skin is typically lacking in 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.

Dry skin can be more common at certain times of year. The sebaceous (oil-producing) glands in our skin sort of ‘hibernate’ 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 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 (sk)individual 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 or 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 dry out your skin temporarily, but you may not have a dry skin type. If your skin is temporarily dry, try drinking more water (always a good idea!), moisturizing, wearing sunscreen every day to protect it from sun damage, 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 more likely have dry skin, as in your skin type!

Best moisturizer for dry skin

The Curology moisturizer The best face moisturizer for dry sensitive skin and even acne-prone skin, our in-house dermatologists developed this nourishing gel-cream hybrid with Curology members in mind. It’s the perfect everyday indulgence for any skin type, infused with soothing extracts and hyaluronic acid to lock in hydration all day long. Our moisturizer is formulated to be non-comedogenic and free of parabens, common allergens, sulfates, fragrances, dyes, or any other common skin-irritating ingredients.

We’ll always be honest with you, though: our moisturizer might not be for everybody. What’s important to us is that we help you find what’s right for your unique skin! Who doesn’t love finding that special something that works well and makes their skin feel great? So here are some more Curology-approved moisturizers to try if you’ve got dry skin.

Pai Skincare Chamomile & Rosehip Calming Day Cream

  • Chamomile, matricine, and chamazulene help soothe the skin

  • Rosehip oil nourishes the skin with omega 3, 6, 7 and 9

  • Nut allergy alert: contains sweet almond oil

Acure Seriously Soothing Cloud Cream

  • Hyaluronic acid effectively locks hydration into the skin

  • Nut allergy alert: contains sweet almond oil

e.l.f. SuperHydrate Moisturizer

  • Provides fast-absorbing hydration to reveal bouncy, plump skin

  • Contains squalane to hydrate, vitamin E to nourish, and niacinamide to clarify skin tone

Dr. Jart Water Drop Hydrating Moisturizer

  • Brightens and provides long-lasting moisture

  • Formula bursts into water droplets on contact with skin

Vanicream Moisturizing Skin Cream

  • Non-comedogenic, gentle formula

Aveeno Ultra-Calming Nourishing Night Cream

  • Oil-free

  • Fragrance-free

  • Contains ceramides, which nourish the skin and help it retain moisture

  • Oat extract and feverfew can help soothe inflamed or irritated skin

Avene Xeracalm A.D. Lipid-Replenishing Cream

  • Formulated for dry, sensitive skin suffering from redness, irritation, or dry patches

Cetaphil PRO Night Moisturizer

  • Great for dry, sensitive skin, as it rehydrates while soothing redness

Clinique Turnaround Overnight Revitalizing Moisturizer

  • Works overnight to plump and smooth skin, revealing a more luminous complexion

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 moisturizer for VERY dry skin

Our moisturizer locks in hydration, but since it’s lightweight, those with extra-dry skin might want to give it some extra love. You can use a thin layer of a heavier moisturizer, such as Cetaphil Rich Hydrating Night Cream or even pure petrolatum (Vaseline), to protect your skin.

Look for products with replenishing ingredients like ceramide and hyaluronic acid, two components of the skin that might need replenishing.

We also recommend starting with a face oil or serum underneath your Curology moisturizer if your skin’s 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. The right oils or oil-based moisturizers can soothe sensitive skin while replenishing much-needed moisture.

Cetaphil Rich Hydrating Night Cream

  • Contains hyaluronic acid to help the skin retain moisture

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream with Hyaluronic Acid for Extra-Dry Skin

  • Water-gel cream 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

  • Cream-gel consistency easily absorbs into the skin, providing 24-hour moisture with hyaluronic acid

CeraVe Healing Ointment

  • Ideal for extremely dry, cracked, or chafed skin

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

Olay Age Defying Advanced Hydrating Moisturizer with Hyaluronic Acid SPF 15

  • Contains soothing aloe and hydrating hyaluronic acid, plus SPF 15

  • Lightweight, non-greasy formula

Face oils for dry skin

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. Pai Skincare Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil is a popular option ($40 per 30ml bottle).

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 supple, glowy, and hydrated. It’s an effective carrier oils as well, used in serums such as Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 40 and Sangre de Fruta Solis balancing 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.

More face oils we recommend for dry, sensitive, and/or acne-prone skin

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 can soothe your skin while protecting it! So for sensitive skin, we recommend physical sunscreen with broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher.

TATCHA Silken Pore Perfecting Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF35

  • lightweight creamy formula

  • protects without clogging pores

  • gives skin a smoother appearance

  • doubles as a primer, perfect for wearing under makeup!

DR. JART+ Cicapair ™ Tiger Grass Color Correcting Treatment SPF 30

  • hides redness by turning from green to pale beige when applied

  • visibly evens skin tone, concealing redness and blemishes

  • thick, rich, creamy texture; less is more!

Drunk Elephant Umbra™ Sheer Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30

  • ultra-gentle

  • lightly hydrating

Drunk Elephant Umbra Tinte™ Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30

  • same as above, but lightly tinted

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”! Luckily there’s a (free!) tool that makes it easy to check any product for ingredients that can clog pores or irritate your skin. It’s called CosDNA.com, and it’s a must-have for your Bookmarks. Check out our quick-and-easy guide to checking products for pore-clogging ingredients!

Ingredients to avoid

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

Avoid…

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 ingredients 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 dries 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 labelled 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 which 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. It’s so safe, in fact, that we use coconut alcohol in our Curology cleanser — it was tested for comedogenicity (pore-clogging potential) and passed with flying colors!

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 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 can work against dry or sensitive skin. 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 free trial of Curology (you just pay $4.95 for shipping and handling) and opt into the full set, including your own custom cream and our simple, gentle cleanser.

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