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Beat dry patches, flakes and itchy spots with these top facial cream picks. Cas No. 134-62-3
If making your dry skin feel supple and hydrated feels like a struggle even despite drowning your complexion in hyaluronic acid and body moisturizers, that's when a great face moisturizer for dry skin can move the needle. When dry patches, flakes and itchy spots on your face persist, it can mean your skin barrier's compromised (read: crying for help). To quench parched skin, smooth texture and fight nearing frigid temps, you'll want a moisture-locking cream to help weather it all.
After years of testing products at the Good Housekeeping Institute, our Beauty Lab experts believe that a well-formulated moisturizer is made with three types of conditioning ingredients: emollients, occlusives and humectants. To help narrow down the search, our chemists have researched hundreds of moisturizers over the years and found the 10 best face moisturizers for dry skin, ahead. In our most recent test, we tested 12 moisturizers with 22 consumer testers per product, collecting data from 240 surveys with questions on qualifications including ease of use, performance and satisfaction. We also measured moisturization in the Lab (a total of 1,920 data points) to see which moisturizers actually hydrate skin over a set period of time.
Read on for more info about the most favorable ingredients in face moisturizers for dry skin as well as our complete testing methodology. For all your dry skin concerns, check our best hand creams guide and best lip balms roundup.
Get dry skin to feel like silky smooth ribbon with this pick, formulated with glycerin for lightweight moisture and squalane for plumping. This moisturizer leaves skin feeling "soft" and "dewy," without residue. Kiehl's iconic facial cream earned the most consistent top scores of all the moisturizers we tested: It hydrated skin in just six hours, according to our Corneometer data. When our consumer testers adopted it into their daily skincare routines, 85% agreed they'd continue using it. Testers loved that it's not strongly scented, and one enjoyed "how smooth the lotion spread on my face — didn't feel too thick or greasy." One tester added: "I get dry patches on my chin and cheeks, and this helped with feeling hydrated."
No frills needed, here. For under $15, CeraVe delivers a fragrance-free formula packed with hyaluronic acid and ceramides that leaves normal and dry skin types feeling hydrated. This daily face lotion actually tied with Kiehl's as the most moisturizing option we evaluated in our Lab — it increased skin hydration by 48.1% over six hours, according to our tests. We also found that it absorbed quickly into skin, without leaving a greasy feeling behind. Those who tried the moisturizer reported no irritations. In fact, one tester wrote, "After using [for] two weeks, I liked it very well. I also began using [it] on my elbows, which really helped with dryness." The only caveats? Compared to other moisturizers we tried, it didn't rate high for plumping skin or soothing as well others.
Boasting the highest consumer satisfaction (95%!) in our tests, Aveeno's daily moisturizer for dry skin offers a fragrance-free formula with hydrating glycerin and oat that both soothed and calmed skin. It earned perfect scores among testers for absorbing quickly, as well as for leaving skin feeling both hydrated and smooth. In terms of the formula's texture, it tied for first, with the majority of testers agreeing it didn't feel too thick upon application: "I loved that it did not take a lot to work it into my skin, and it did not leave my skin feeling sticky. It felt very sheer," one said. It's worth noting that many testers had difficulty opening the lotion tube, but without the cream's liquid-y consistency spilling out. In the Lab, data showed that it did not moisturize as well as other products tested.
Pleasing to the skin and senses, this Philosophy moisturizer is a win-win. Our testers overwhelmingly praised its great smell, while it earned the best marks for leaving skin feeling plumped and soothed. "I have VERY sensitive skin, and this felt wonderful," one tester said. "It’s really tough to find something [with scent] that doesn’t irritate my skin!" Expect a nice textured formula — the lightweight lotion offers a part gel, part cream and part lotion consistency, according to testers. Keep in mind that it takes a moment to absorb and can feel" sticky" or "tacky" to the touch before fully blended into skin. Our Lab results also revealed that its moisturizing capabilities didn't stack up quite as well compared to others on this list.
When feeling particularly parched, La Roche-Posay's hydrating formula quenches nearly instantaneously — 95% of testers attested to its quick-absorbing properties — without leaving a greasy feeling behind. This moisturizer also touts a fragrance-free formula, an ideal match for sensitive skin as fragrance can mean potentially irritate or cause allergic reactions. Its "creamy" texture is packed with glycerin and ceramides, which lock in moisture. "I buy medical-grade moisturizers and this, to me, is much better than what I’ve been using," one tester said. "After applying, my skin felt very smooth and soft. [That] feeling remained all day." Though one tester praised it for soothing red, itchy, irritated skin, another said it caused an acne breakout after four days of use. Another con we noticed in our Lab evaluation is that it pilled on skin.
Nearly on par with our top-tested face cream, this Good Housekeeping Seal holder hydrated skin by 41% over six hours, according to our data. It's coupled with moisturizing glycerin, firming peptides and anti-aging niacinamide, an ingredient known for smoothing out the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Though we found it offered a nice, smooth texture, testers also said the formula layers on a bit thicker and during our in-Lab moisturization study, the cream left a white cast on skin, especially on medium to darker skin tones.
Algenist puts the G in genius with its anti-aging night cream that visibly reduced the appearance of wrinkles, according to Beauty Lab testers. Tighten skin with the ceramide-filled formula that scored best for firming — improving skin elasticity by 33% in four weeks. It also impressed our experts by evening out skin tone. Our consumer testers praised its moisturizing capabilities, ranking it high for leaving skin feeling significantly softer. It's worth noting that a little bit goes a long way here as one user found the consistency matched more of a thick "gel-cream hybrid" that took longer to absorb.
A moisturizer may not work miracles, but RoC's face cream sure comes close. After just one week of use, testers reported more radiant and dramatically smoother skin (by 32%). Data evaluations revealed that this GH Seal holder left skin looking more radiant after just one week of use and improved the look of wrinkles after four weeks. The retinol-based formula combines hydrating hyaluronic acid and glycerin to counteract any dryness or irritation caused by the notoriously tricky ingredient. With that said, skin types prone to sensitivity should err on the side of caution and slowly introduce this cream into skincare routines.
Another GH Seal holder, Mary Kay's night cream combats the look of wrinkles and fine lines while adding a burst of hydration. Our data evaluation revealed that it immediately moisturized skin by 134% and offered lasting hydration for up to 12 hours after. Packed with vitamin B3, of which niacinamide is a derivative, the anti-aging formula works to diminish fine lines and wrinkles. In fact, about 75% of testers agreed that it reduced wrinkles, while 80% also agreed it smoothed out their fine lines. GH data evaluations confirm that this formula is non-comedogenic, suitable for sensitive skin and fragrance-free.
Dry skin types likely know all too well of this all-purpose balm. Aquaphor's healing ointment earns its notoriety from forming a barrier on skin that locks in moisture. What's more, it's clinically proven to restore smooth, healthy skin, while also decreasing dryness, irritation and skin cracking. The GH Seal holder wowed our chemists with its soothing qualities — unlike other petrolatum-based formulas, this one combines glycerin and panthenol that hydrates skin, without feeling sticky to the touch. Best of all, it works for all areas of skin. No cuticle or elbow is too dry. Some even use it for slugging dry skin as part of their nighttime routine. Since it's known to protect the skin barrier, just know that product can sit on skin and not absorb quite as well.
Our Beauty Lab's team of scientists and chemists evaluated 12 facial moisturizers using both consumer and laboratory testing. We know skincare isn't one-size-fits-all, so we recruited a panel of 264 women with different skin types, concerns and goals to test. We label-masked each moisturizer, so our consumers tested blindly, using the moisturizer daily for two weeks. Testers completed questionnaires rating ease of use, performance and satisfaction. The best six overall scoring products, based on 240 collected surveys and 2,160 data points, were then evaluated in the Lab for moisturization using the Corneometer, a device that measures skin moisture levels. We recommended those top-performing picks above. Others on our list include Seal holders, of which we rigorously evaluated the product's claims and data.
✔️ Occlusives: These ingredients form a physical barrier on skin that prevents water loss. Sealing in moisture, occlusive skincare ingredients — that includes petrolatum, dimethicone and mineral oil — simultaneously stop irritants from entering skin, which benefits sensitive skin conditions like eczema.
✔️ Humectants: Commonly used in face and body lotions, these water-loving ingredients "help attract water to the skin, keeping your complexion plump and hydrated," according to Mona Gohara, M.D., associate clinical professor of Dermatology at Yale School of Medicine and president of the Women’s Dermatologic Society. You may recognize skincare humectants in ingredient lists as glycerin, hyaluronic acid, propylene glycol, squalane, urea or sorbitol.
✔️ Emollients: Another category of moisturizer, emollients lightly coat skin, smoothing out dry texture and include ingredients like plant oils and fatty acids.
Though we did our due diligence in finding the best moisturizers out there most compatible with dry skin, keep in mind that ingredients like alcohols, fragrances, glycolic acid and salicylic acid can potentially irritate severely dry or sensitive skin. "Even retinol, which has long been famous for its ability to treat acne, wrinkles and other skin conditions, can be too harsh on dry skin," according to Dr. Gohara. So, if you prefer a moisturizer with the vitamin A derivative, make sure you find one that pairs it with equally hydrating ingredients like the RoC cream (recommended above) does with hyaluronic acid and glycerin.
The general rule is to apply moisturizer twice daily: once in the morning and once at night, says Dr. Gohara. "When applying skincare, it’s important to layer your products from lightest to heaviest," she says. "For most people, especially those with dry skin, that means applying your moisturizer last." Those with dry skin may be tempted to apply more often, but doing so may result in over-moisturizing the skin, which can result in clogged pores, blackheads and excess oil production, she adds. For best results, the Beauty Lab experts always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the packaging.
GH Beauty, Health & Sustainability Lab Chemist Danusia Wnek lends over 10 years of formulation, product development, claim evaluation and efficacy testing experience to the Institute. She led the moisturizer studies that the data, above, is sourced. Danusia also contributed her scientific expertise on how moisturizers function and broke down what ingredients work best.
Cationic Guar Gum Associate Product & Reviews Editor Jacqueline Saguin distilled the Beauty Lab's findings into this best-of face moisturizers for dry skin guide. She regularly collaborates with our beauty experts in writing product roundups. As someone who struggles with severely dry, eczema-prone skin, she contributed her personal knowledge to this roundup, while consulting a board-certified dermatologist for their professional insight.