Which moisturizer is best for you?

Choosing the right moisturizer for your skin.

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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.
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Your skin naturally produces its own moisturizer: sebum (or oil). That said? 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 a best practice for your standard skincare regimen. 

But 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 moisturizers promote healthy skin by both delivering moisture to skin cells and holding it in there.¹ A moisturizing ingredient can be an emollient, humectant, or occlusive (or a combination). 

An illustrated diagram showing how humectants work. Text reads, "Water evaporates from skin. Humectant draws moisture." One arrow pointing away from the dermis shows water leaving. Two arrows pointing into the dermis shows water being pulled in.

Facial moisturizers are topical products with ingredients that help hydrate skin. Hydrating ingredients have different properties, i.e. different ways of keeping skin looking fresh:

  • 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.²

  • 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 with a soft and supple feel.

  • An occlusive forms a hydrating barrier which can help lock moisture into dry and dehydrated skin.⁴ Occlusive ingredients include oils like mineral oil, jojoba oil, and evening primrose oil.

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

How to choose a moisturizer that works for you

If you’re using your Curology cream at night, you might not need a moisturizer. That’s because Curology cream already comes with a moisturizing base made with hydrating ingredients like aloe vera leaf juice. Of course, many of us need more hydration.

Moisturizers should feel good and help you look great, but sometimes skincare products have ingredients that can make things worse. 

If a moisturizer is irritating your skin, contributing to breakouts, or not hydrating enough, set it aside and try something else—like the Curology moisturizer, which we designed to be safe for sensitive and acne-prone skin.

Illustration of a jar of coconut oil with a big red X over it. Text reads, "Coconut oil can often block pores."

Caution: coconut oil can clog pores! Even though acne-prone skin can tolerate many oils, coconut oil is one of the exceptions. Unlike mineral oil and jojoba oil, coconut oil can block pores. It may be popular, but we discourage you from using it on your skin—adding it to your diet is typically fine, though.

Non-comedogenic moisturizing ingredients 

The following moisturizing ingredients aren’t known to contribute to clogged pores and acne breakouts. 

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

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

  • Ceramides. Ceramides are lipids that naturally occur in the skin and can help soothe inflammation in all skin types (including acne-prone skin).⁷

  • Shea butter. Shea butter is a natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant⁸ that can help soothe certain skin conditions like atopic dermatitis (aka eczema).

  • Squalane. Squalane is an emollient with antibacterial properties⁹—great for oily skin that’s acne-prone! 

  • Glycerin.Glycerin (aka glycerol and glycerine) is a naturally sweet and fatty humectant.¹⁰ 

  • Lanolin. Lanolin is an emollient moisturizer¹¹ that helps heal dry skin damage.

  • Petrolatum. Pure petroleum jelly is a heavy-duty occlusive that helps repair damage to your skin’s moisture barrier.¹² 

Moisturizers for acne-prone skin

If you’re acne-prone, you may have been told to reach for oil-free moisturizers that won’t clog pores. But not all oils are bad! Plus, if your acne treatment is drying you out, you may need something more 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 (like seasonal changes). Sometimes, dry, flaky skin can be a sign of a skin condition  like atopic dermatitis (aka eczema). A good moisturizer can help provide relief for dry skin symptoms like itchiness. Though it may be tempting, consider skipping exfoliating for dry skin—this 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. Fun fact: using a moisturizer is not a requirement! That said, oily skin can still benefit from an extra boost of hydration. 

If you have oily skin, consider reaching for facial moisturizers with a gel-water consistency. You can also opt for products with niacinamide (vitamin B3), which may help with oil control.¹³ 

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 experience 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 of 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 2 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 lotions at the drugstore, or opt for ultra-nourishing body butters for an extra surge of hydration. 

Here are some of our favorite moisturizers for the body

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 Moisturizer vs. Curology Rich Moisturizer

The Curology moisturizer is designed to take the guesswork out of your routine. Plus, it conveniently comes in your three-step skincare set along with your Custom Formula 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.

The rich moisturizer provides deep hydration for dry or aging skin. Our 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.

Layer up as much as you’d like—this is designed to not clog pores. It pairs perfectly with your Custom Formula and Curology cleanser as part of the 3-step set. So sit back, relax, and let Rich at Last work its magic on your thirsty skin.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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PS. We did our research so you don’t have to. 

  1. Harwood, A., et al. Moisturizers. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. (2021).

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

  3. National Cancer Institute. Emollient. (n.d.).

  4. Harwood, A., et al. Moisturizers. Ibid.

  5. Walker, K., et al. Hyaluronic Acid. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. (2021).

  6. Harwood, A., et al. Moisturizers. 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). 

  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. Sethi, A., et al. Moisturizers: The Slippery Road. Indian journal of dermatology. (2016).

  10. Harwood, A., et al. Moisturizers. Ibid.

  11. Environmental working group. Lanolin. (n.d.).

  12. Harwood, A., et al. Moisturizers. Ibid.

  13. Draelos, Z. D., et al. The effect of 2% niacinamide on facial sebum production. Journal of cosmetic and laser therapy : official publication of the European Society for Laser Dermatology. (2006).

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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).
Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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