The Best Face Moisturizer for Every Skin Type According to a Dermatologist

by Riverchase Dermatology
May 9, 2022

Are you still searching for your “holy grail” face moisturizer? The one that makes your skin soft and supple and not greasy or irritated? It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sea of options when you’re trying to figure out the best choice for your skin type and concerns, yet the right face moisturizer can do wonders for the health of your skin barrier as well as your appearance.

Whether you’re looking for the best drugstore moisturizer or you’re willing to splurge a little, read on to find your perfect moisturizer match with advice from Mary-Margaret Kober, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology.

Best moisturizer for dry skin

Dry skin isn’t just a cosmetic issue. It indicates that your skin barrier, the outermost part of the skin’s top layer, is weakened and less effective at retaining moisture and blocking the entry of bacteria, pollution and allergens.

“To repair the skin barrier, one of the best ingredients to look for in a face moisturizer is ceramides,” Dr. Kober said. Ceramides are fats naturally found in the skin barrier. When levels decrease — which tends to happen with age — skin can become dry and easily irritated.

The consistency of the moisturizer is also key. Creams are best, since lotions and gels might not provide enough hydration. If your skin is very dry, you may want to bypass creams and choose an occlusive balm or ointment. Occlusives create a protective seal over the skin that traps water and keeps it from evaporating. Occlusive ingredients include lanolin, mineral oil and squalene.

Top picks

Here are Dr. Kober’s top picks for dry skin.

Creams

Balms and ointments

  • SkinCeuticals Hydra Balm hydrating occlusive ointment for traumatized or severely dry skin
  • Aquaphor Skin Soothing Balm
  • Vaseline Healing Jelly

Best moisturizer for acne-prone skin

If you’re prone to pimples, you might be tempted to steer clear of moisturizer for fear it could make your acne worse. But using a lightweight face moisturizer designed for your skin type is an important part of an acne-fighting skincare routine.

“If you have acne, your skin barrier is compromised, and this can be worsened by products you use to treat pimples that make skin dry and more irritated,” Dr. Kober said. “By keeping your face moisturized, you can better tolerate acne medications.”

The best face moisturizer for you is one with a light consistency, such as a water-based gel cream labeled “non comedogenic,” meaning it won’t clog pores. These products often contain hyaluronic acid, which acts as a humectant — an ingredient that draws moisture into the upper layer of skin. Or you may prefer to use a hyaluronic acid serum. Avoid products with heavy ingredients that can exacerbate acne, such as mineral oil and coconut oil.

Top picks

Here are Dr. Kober’s top picks for acne-prone skin.

Best moisturizer for oily skin

Like people who have acne-prone skin, those with oily skin also sometimes hesitate to use moisturizer. But unless your skin is extremely greasy, it’s a good idea to make moisturizer part of your skincare routine, especially since many moisturizers also contain anti-aging ingredients that can keep your skin looking youthful, Dr. Kober said.

She recommends many of the same types of lightweight moisturizers for oily skin that she does for acne-prone skin, such as water-based gel creams. “However, many people with oily skin find they really like mattifying moisturizers, which are formulated to absorb some of the extra oil you produce,” Dr. Kober added.

Skip heavy creams and any moisturizer that promises to give your skin a “dewy” look, which can make your face shinier. 

Top picks

Here are Dr. Kober’s top picks for oily skin.

Best moisturizer for combination skin

“When you have combination skin, finding the best moisturizer is particularly tricky,” Dr. Kober said. “It can take a lot of trial and error to see what works best.”

To avoid making oilier parts of the skin worse, she recommends lightweight moisturizers such as water-based gel creams. If your skin has more dry patches than oily ones, look for a moisturizer that contains glycerin, a more powerful humectant than hyaluronic acid.

Top picks

Here are Dr. Kober’s top picks for combination skin.

  • Vichy Aqualia Thermal Water Gel hydrating gel moisturizer
  • Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel with hyaluronic acid
  • SkinCeuticals Daily Moisture lightweight pore-minimizing moisturizer for normal or oily skin

Best moisturizer for sensitive skin

If you have sensitive skin, “the simpler, the better” should be your motto when you’re shopping for moisturizer. Ideally, the ingredient list is short and the product doesn’t contain any fragrance, which is a common irritant. Avoid moisturizers with exfoliating alpha-hydroxy and beta-hydroxy acids such as salicylic, lactic and glycolic acid. These may be helpful for other skin types but they can disrupt the skin barrier in people with sensitive skin.

“Look for calming ingredients, including colloidal oatmeal and soy,” Dr. Kober said. “They’re both generally well tolerated, whereas some people’s skin is so sensitive that they may develop a contact allergy to other ingredients that are normally soothing, such as aloe.”

Top picks

Here are Dr. Kober’s top picks for sensitive skin.

  • CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion
  • Aveeno Calm + Restore Oat Gel Moisturizer for sensitive skin
  • LaRoche-Posay Toleriane Fluide lightweight moisturizer for sensitive skin

Medically reviewed by Mary-Margaret Kober, MD

Written by Jessica Brown, a health and science writer/editor based in Nanuet, New York. She has written for Water’s Edge Dermatology, Prevention magazine, jnj.com, BCRF.org, and many other outlets.