Even the most basic facial skin care has two parts: cleansing your face and moisturizing it.
A moisturizer helps lock water in to your skin cells on your face, making your skin feel softer, smoother, and younger.
The right moisturizers might not be the same for everyone, depending on whether your skin is dry, oily, or sensitive, and depending on whether you are applying moisturizer in the morning or at night.
Our research team has looked into the best moisturizers on the market and come up with the ten best face moisturizers you can buy.
1. CeraVe Moisturizing Cream
CeraVe’s moisturizing cream has attained near-legendary proportions among skin care enthusiasts. Users are enamored by its unique hydrating ceramides, which are often recommended by dermatologists to hydrate skin and keep it healthy.
The newest breakthrough isn’t the product itself; it’s in the packaging. Long offered only in a tub, CeraVe Moisturizing Cream now comes in a pump-top jar that makes it much easier to dispense on a daily basis without worry about bacterial contamination from your hands.
Thanks to its moisturizing abilities, its excellent reputation, and its ability to function with a wide range of skin types, CeraVe is an excellent pick for just about anyone.
2. LilyAna Naturals Face Cream
LilyAna Naturals has an excellent, all-natural moisturizer that will surely appeal to people who want their cosmetics to come from a natural source instead of a chemistry laboratory.
Based around a rose water and aloe vera juice base, LilyAna Naturals Face Cream combines a whole slew of plant and herb extracts to create a hydrating facial cream with a light, vegetal scent that is a great solution for people with dry or sensitive skin. To top it all off, it does this without feeling wet or greasy.
3. EltaMD AM Therapy
EltaMD is the face moisturizer of choice for people with severely dry skin. While it’s called an “AM Therapy” moisturizer, it doesn’t include sunscreen in it (though EltaMD offers another broad spectrum sunscreen that goes well with their moisturizer).
Their AM Therapy does include niacinamides to brighten your complexion, as well as colubrina peel extract and willow bark extract to soothe and hydrate your skin. It interacts very well with sensitive skin, and it should be the go-to option for people with very dry skin on their face.
4. Olay Complete Daily Defense
Olay Complete Daily Defense is one of the best face moisturizers that also includes sunscreen to reduce skin damage and aging from sunlight. Olay combines skin hydration, sun protection, and skin healing thanks to the aloe vera extract included.
It goes on very smooth and blends flawlessly into your skin, though the liquidy texture isn’t to everyone’s liking. However, Olay Complete Daily Defense isn’t greasy or oily, nor does it block your pores–a big accomplishment for a moisturizing and sunblocking combo.
5. Paula’s Choice Skin Recovery
Paula’s Choice combines moisturizing agents with the antioxidant powers of vitamin C and vitamin E. It’s a good choice if you want an evening moisturizer that will help repair your skin as well as moisturize it.
Like some other moisturizers that focus on skin repair, Paula’s CHoice Skin Recovery includes peptides which prime your skin cells to start synthesizing new material to repair themselves. It’s not a bona fide anti-wrinkle cream, but it will still help if your skin is dry and starting to sag.
6. Neutrogena Hydro Boost
Neutrogena Hydro Boost is good for rejuvenating damaged skin that’s showing its age. The formulation includes the collagen-boosting compound hyaluronic acid to help increase the rate of skin repair, and it hydrates skin very well without being greasy or oily.
A very small minority of people find that it causes a rash and irritation, but in general, even people with sensitive skin have success with Neutrogena Hydro Boost.
7. Egyptian Magic
Egyptian Magic is about as natural as a face moisturizer can come. It’s only got six ingredients, and half of them are from bees–honey, royal jelly, and beeswax.
The formulation is incredibly simple and all-natural, so it’s very likely to function well with even the most sensitive of skin. However, one of the advantages that competitors have on Egyptian Magic is that their more advanced formulations can tackle dry skin more aggressively.
Egyptian Magic isn’t quite the weapon of choice when it comes to extremely dry skin, and it doesn’t have quite the penetrating and staying power of some other moisturizers. Still, if you put exclusively natural ingredients at a premium, it should be on your short list.
8. bareMinerals Bare Haven Moisturizing Soft Cream
bareMinerals offers a moisturizing cream that combines the moisturizing power of ceramides with peptides to nourish skin health and a bit of algae extract for antioxidant power.
The moisturizing ability is solid, but those with the driest skin might find that bareMinerals Bare Haven doesn’t quite cut it for them.
It also tends to feel pretty greasy immediately after you apply it, so using it along with makeup might be a pain. It does dry up, but it takes a few minutes, so it’ll prolong your routine if you are using it in the morning.
9. La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer
La Roche-Posay is typically known for great cosmetic products, but their face moisturizer is a bit off the mark. It’s got several different sun blocking components, as well as ceramides for hydration, which should make it an excellent morning face moisturizer.
However, something’s not quite right in the execution; users find that La Roche-Posay’s product is gritty and tends to aggravate sensitive skin.
Since it’s still got quality ingredients, it might make the cut if you are looking for a moisturizer with sunblock in it and haven’t had luck with other products on the market.
10. St. Ives Timeless Skin Facial Moisturizer
St. Ives Timeless Skin Facial Moisturizer is a widely popular face moisturizer, but despite its fame, its ingredients are more of a mixed bag than you’d expect.
It’s got some useful ingredients, like hydrolyzed collagen, which could be incorporated by your skin to help reduce wrinkles, but the presence of mineral oil and other petroleum derivatives high up on the ingredients list is a bit of a head scratcher.
These ingredients are actually pretty inert; they aren’t likely to provoke a skin reaction, but their moisturizing power isn’t very remarkable either. Most people should look elsewhere, at least at first.
Who should buy face moisturizer?
No matter who you are, a face moisturizer is one of the fundamental pieces of a healthy skincare routine. Ask any skincare expert where a beginner should start, and you’ll get two recommendations: first, wash your face using a face wash, then apply a moisturizer.
Face washes and moisturizers go hand in hand because a face wash helps take off dirt, grime, and makeup from your face, but also strip off the natural hydrating oils that your body excretes.
If you wash your face and don’t moisturize, you’ll find that your face feels tight, stiff, and perhaps looks a bit red. If you do this often, you might actually notice dryness and cracking starting to appear in your skin.
A moisturizer helps restore the natural protective barrier to your skin, locking in moisture and preventing dryness, which makes the wash + moisturize routine the foundation for skincare.
A face moisturizer can be used in the morning and in the evening. There’s a wide range of formulations available, from hyper-minimal moisturizers that are well-suited for people with sensitive skin to moisturizers that have fragrance and aroma added.
Regardless of where on this spectrum your preferences fall, a face moisturizer is an essential part of any skincare routine.
How we ranked
When considering products for our rankings, we restricted ourselves to products designed explicitly for your face.
There are plenty of general-purpose skin moisturizers out there, but facial skin has some special considerations that make it a trickier product to get right.
First off, breakouts on your face are a much bigger deal than breakouts on your back or shoulders. The skin on your face also tends to be a lot more sensitive and a lot less tolerant of harsh ingredients.
After eliminating products that were not specifically intended for facial skin, we selected the products that used powerful natural emollients, humectants, and occlusives, the three categories of moisturizers that either prevent water loss or increase water delivery to skin tissue.
We had a strong preference for products that used plant and seed oils, like jojoba oil and shea butter oil, as opposed to petroleum-derived ingredients.
Once we had identified the face moisturizers with promising naturally-derived moisturizing agents, we looked at the other ingredients.
We were on the lookout for potentially troublesome formulations, such as scent-heavy blends that use a huge amount of ingredients from different plants and herbs.
People with sensitive skin can get breakouts and acne from exposure to the wrong kind of plant proteins, so we dropped from consideration any products that looked like they might have a greater risk of adverse reactions.
We also examined the kind of packaging used for the face moisturizer. This may seem like a minor point, but scientific research suggests that certain types of packaging is better than others when it comes to preventing bacteria from infiltrating into your face moisturizer.
Avoiding bacterial contamination is important because bacteria are associated with breakouts and acne.
Because of this evaluation criteria, products that had a pump-top dispenser scored better than those that came in a tube with a flip-top lid, which in turn scored higher than products that came in a jar with a screw-off lid.
Finally, we evaluated whether the products are easily absorbed, or leave a greasy or wet feeling. The remaining products in our rankings all offer powerful moisturizing action in a simple and effective formulation and are great for everyday use.
A face moisturizer is a critical part of any proper face care routine. After washing and possibly exfoliating your face, it’s critical that you lock in moisture to keep your skin soft and smooth.
A successful face moisturizer will help skin retain water, while also not blocking your pores, which can cause breakouts, and while not irritating skin either.
Scientific studies don’t often look at improvements in skin quality in healthy people, but we can make inferences about potential benefits by observing the effects of face moisturizers in people with dermatological conditions.
One example is a 2005 study in the dermatological journal Cutis which described an experiment carried out by doctors at Wake Forest University School of Medicine (1).
The doctors were trying to find out how specific face moisturizer ingredients affect skin dryness in people with rosacea; they had a group of 50 subjects use a face moisturizer with niacinamides (which you can find in several top skin moisturizer brands) and apply it to half their face.
After four weeks of twice-daily applications, the subjects were evaluated by doctors who did not know which side of the body the moisturizer was applied to.
The results showed that the moisturizer was successful at restoring the integrity of the skin’s barrier against water loss, and improved both subjective and objective measurements of skin health in the patients.
From this, we can logically infer that such a moisturizer, with advanced hydrating agents like niacinamides, would be effective at treating dry skin and locking in moisture in healthy people too.
Further benefits come when a moisturizer is combined with a sunblock. For daily use in the morning, a face moisturizer combined with sun-blocking ingredients can work synergistically to combat and prevent skin aging.
According to a study published in 2006 in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, perhaps the most important environmental cause of skin aging in sun exposure (2).
It’s so important that scientists just call it “photoaging” for short. The ultraviolet light in sunlight causes damage to skin cells and hurts their ability to repair themselves.
Over time, as this damage accumulates and healing slows, skin starts to age by getting wrinkled and losing its elastic properties. While a wrinkle cream can help repair this to some extent, it’s far better to prevent it from happening in the first place.
A report in the New England Journal of Medicine describes how protection from ultraviolet light can help prevent the breakdown in skin integrity (3).
In addition to the wrinkles and lack of elasticity, photoaging can also cause discoloration–splotches and spots. Again, it’s much easier to prevent this damage to the skin than it is to repair it after it’s happened.
Face moisturizers that come in a pump-top dispenser are preferable to those that come in a tub or a flip-top tube. Beyond just what’s in a face moisturizer, the mechanism of delivery (i.e. its packaging) matters too. If you check out the face moisturizers on the shelf at any store, you’ll see a wide variety of packaging styles, but some research has raised concerns that certain types of packaging are better than others when it comes to the efficacy of your face moisturizer.
How can the packaging affect a moisturizer? It’s all about how hard it is for bacteria to get into the cream or lotion. Research indicates that a pump-top style dispenser makes it much harder for bacteria to contaminate a product after it’s been used compared to products that come in open jars or tubes with flip-top lids.
A study published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology (4). The researchers gave several different skincare products to a group of volunteers who took them home and used them for two weeks. The lotions themselves were identical, but the packaging was different.
After the volunteers had used the differently-packaged products for a full two weeks, they returned the products to the lab, and the researchers tested the products for bacterial contamination. After analyzing the different products, they found the lowest level of bacterial contamination in pump-style dispensers and concluded those offered the most protection against bacterial contamination.
Why is protection from bacteria important? Breakouts and acne can often be traced to bacteria that take root on the surface of your skin, so keeping your face moisturizer from getting contaminated could help prevent breakouts.
If you have a face moisturizer that comes in a tube or a tub, all is not lost: to limit the amount of bacteria that take hold in your moisturizer, you can make sure your hands are freshly washed before you apply your face moisturizer.
As with pretty much all cosmetics, there is a chance that a face moisturizer could cause a rash or a breakout of acne or cysts on your face, especially if you have sensitive skin.
Beyond knowing whether or not your skin is sensitive, it can be hard to predict whether a product is liable to cause irritation, though in general products with more ingredients are more likely to cause adverse effects, by simple probability.
Another worry related to a cosmetic product that you apply to your face every day is bacterial contamination. This is of particular concern in products that come in tubs or jars that do not have pump lids, as shown by a 1990 study in the journal Applied and Environmental Biology (4).
The study compared the likelihood of bacterial contamination in skin lotion stored in a jar versus skin lotion stored in a pump top container.
Approximately 20 samples of skin lotion in a jar and 20 in a pump-top container were given to volunteers, who used the products as directed for two weeks.
Afterwards, the volunteers returned the products to the researchers, who tested them for bacterial contamination.
They found that 71% of the jar-based skin lotions were contaminated, while only 10% of the pump top lotions were contaminated.
While this doesn’t have to be a main deciding point in which face moisturizer to buy, if you have continual problems with breakouts on your face, it might be worth considering if it’s not the product that’s causing your problems, but how it’s stored.
A pump top container (even if it’s not the original one the product came in, as long as you clean and sanitize it before using it) might be the solution to your problems.
Q: what kind of face moisturizer should men use?
A: Men tend to have (literally) thicker, rougher skin, which means that sensitive facial skin is less of an issue for many (though not all) men.
As such, men can generally be more flexible with what kind of face moisturizer they use, though they need to pay a bit closer attention to how they put it on.
Men who shave in the mornings will want to shave first, then use a face wash, then dry their face. Afterwards, they can apply their face moisturizer.
Most men will prefer a face moisturizer that’s not overloaded with fragrances and scents, which is all the better, as these products tend to cause irritation anyways.
Men may want to opt for a face moisturizer that comes in a pump top because shaving puts them at an increased exposure to bacteria-related breakouts and folliculitis: a freshly-shaved face is fertile ground for bacteria, and pump-top dispensers tend to have less bacterial contamination after a few weeks’ worth of use.
Q: How do you choose a good face moisturizer?
A: The first priority when choosing a face moisturizer is the actual moisturizing ingredients. We recommend opting for plant-derived ingredients first, and avoiding petroleum-derived ingredients.
Fragrances and scents derived from natural plants can be smell nice, but they do carry a greater risk of irritation if you have sensitive skin.
Lastly, considering the type of dispenser is an important consideration too: pump tops tend to be somewhat more resistant to bacterial contamination after extended use.
These were the criteria our research team used when selecting the best face moisturizers on the market, and we recommend that you use the same ones.
Q: What is the best face moisturizer for aging skin?
Alongside these products, you should also look for a face moisturizer that has sunscreen as one of the ingredients, since protecting your skin from sun damage is one of the best steps you can take to prevent further aging.
Using sunscreen on your face is also important if you are using an anti-aging product that uses retinol, since it can increase your skin’s sensitivity to ultraviolet light.
Q: When should you put on a face moisturizer?
A: Most skincare experts recommend putting on a face moisturizer in the morning and at night, right after washing your face with a face wash and patting to a damp dry with a (clean!) towel.
Putting on moisturizer in the morning keeps your face hydrated during the day as you are exposed to the elements, and at night, it’s important to wash off the dirt and grime that accumulate on your skin during the day.
Of course, every time you use a face wash, you’re also removing the natural oils that keep your skin moisturized, hence the need for using a face moisturizer again at night.
Q: What is the best face moisturizer for very dry skin?
A: You can combat skin on two fronts: first, use a very gentle face wash, so you don’t strip away so much of your body’s natural oils. In the morning, you may want to use only water to moisturize your face as opposed to a face wash.
Second, choose a moisturizer that is heavy on powerful moisturizing agents, like ceramides and natural plant oils. You may need to moisturize more often as well.
Q: What is the best face moisturizer for oily skin?
A: People with oily skin should strive for a moisturizer that is specifically formulated to be non-comedogenic, meaning it does not block or clog your pores.
You’ll also want to seek out moisturizers (such as those in our rankings) that do not have a greasy or oily finish. There are plenty of great products out there that provide a light, smooth, and clean moisturizing coating without clogging pores or causing oily skin.
Q: Does a face moisturizer need SPF?
A: A face moisturizer with SPF is a good way to condense your skincare needs from two products into one. A product that provides an SFP-rated sunscreen is important for protecting your skin from aging, since ultraviolet light is the biggest source of aging-related skin damage.
When it is combined into a face moisturizer, you can get the benefits of sun protection alongside the moisturizing benefits of a face moisturizer.
In fact, the advantages of an SPF rated moisturizer are so good that they were incorporated as two of the three primary constituents of the cosmetic product category of BB cream (the other one being a makeup foundation).
Q: How should you apply face moisturizer?
A: According to dermatology experts, you should integrate face moisturizer into a comprehensive skin care routine. The first thing to do is to wash your hands to make sure they’re clean.
After washing your hands, wash your face using a face wash / cleanser or, in the morning, potentially just plain water. Then, pat your face with a clean towel, but make sure you leave a little moisture—you don’t want your face to be completely dry.
While your face is still a bit damp, rub in your face moisturizer, being sure to work it into your entire face. Let it “soak” for a few minutes before you apply any additional facial products, like sunscreen or makeup foundation. You can repeat the same process at night.
Q: What is the best kind of face moisturizer for sensitive skin?
A: If you have sensitive skin, there are two categories of ingredients in face moisturizers that you want to avoid. The first is scents and fragrances.
Even if they come from natural sources, compounds from the plant or herbal extracts can cause adverse skin reactions like rashes, breakouts, dryness, or itching if your skin is sensitive or if you have an underlying allergy.
Second, try to avoid petroleum-based ingredients in face moisturizer as best you can, as some peoples’ skin reacts poorly to some trace chemicals found in petroleum-based carrier compounds.
Finding the right face moisturizer will set the foundation for a great face care routine. Depending on whether your skin is dry or oily, you may need a different moisturizer. Fortunately, we’ve ranked a wide range of moisturizers that fit everything from oily to dry skin and everything in between.
Further, if you want to protect your skin from the aging and damaging effects of sun exposure, think about using a moisturizer in the morning that has sunblock in it.
Be extra judicious if you know you have sensitive skin, and if you want to take extra precautions against bacterial contamination, either buy a face moisturizer that comes in a pump top container or transfer your favorite skin moisturizer into a clean and sanitized pump top container. Make sure you wash your hands before applying your moisturizer, and don’t dry your face all the way for best results.
With the right skin care routine, your face will be looking younger, smoother, and healthier in short order.
For BodyNutrition‘s #1 face moisturizer recommendation, click here.