What Are The Best Moisturizers For Dry Facial Skin?

Cynthia Bailey, MD|May 13, 2011

Aloha Dr Bailey, In your recent blog, (which was great by the way) you recommended products for hydrating oily skin, which products to you recommend for hydrating dry skin? Even though we do not have a dry climate in Hawaii we are constantly battling dry skin. Most of my friends are menopausal and curious as to what you suggest for our age group. Much Aloha, Devra Hello Devra, This is such a great question that I decided to devote an entire blog post to my answer! The bottom line is that best moisturizers for people with dry skin have:

  1. Water holding ingredients
  2. Rich oils or oil-like ingredients that prevent the loss of water through evaporation

Remember, moist and well-hydrated skin is skin that's loaded with water.  Your body is made up mostly of water.  The inside of your body regulates your water content for optimal health.  Your skin tries to do the same thing but it’s on the outside and it's constantly exposed to air and harsh chemicals (including some soaps!).  People with dry skin need to help their skin hold water if they want it to look fabulous by today’s standards. That means using the right skin care for your dry skin, and figuring this out is the fun part that I love. To understand your goals, the easiest analogy is to think of your skin like a sponge.  You wet it when you expose it to water making it soft and pliable.  Just like a sponge, that water will dry out, leaving a hard rough surface, unless you do something.  That’s where moisturizer comes in. Water Holding Ingredients In Moisturizers: These are ingredients that use cleaver chemistry reactions to keep water inside the layers of your skin.  Some of these ingredients are the result of modern scientific advances.  Others are actually natural substances that the the ‘old wives’ have known about for years.  These ingredients do things like draw water into the skin or bind it there with chemical bonds etc. I think that the best and most effective water holding ingredients in facial skin creams include:

  1. Hyaluronic acid (also called sodium hyaluronate)
  2. Glycerin
  3. Lanolin (and wool alcohol), which you can’t use if you’re allergic to wool
  4. Alpha Hydroxy Acids (lactic acid and glycolic acid are the best AHA water binders)

Oil and Oil-like Ingredients In Skin Care Products Oils in your skin care products layer on the skin, gradually entering the outer layers.  They trap water by preventing evaporation.  If you have dry skin you don’t naturally produce large amounts of your own oil meaning it’s a good idea to use a moisturizer that offers the right amount of oil to fit your skin's needs. Dry skin will soak up some amount of oil without leaving an oily or shiny film, but oils can still clog pores even if you have dry skin.  This is easy to fix and I have good advice on deep pore cleansing in my post How To Unclog Your Clogged Pores.  If you're one of us 'lucky' ones that are really prone to both dry skin and clogged pores then consider regular deep pore cleansing facials and products with glycolic acid or tretinoin that help keep pores cleaner (I personally need these tricks to keep my dry post-menopausal skin looking its best!). There are many great oils that are added to moisturizing facial creams and lotions.  The creams and lotions contain other ingredients that can be of value, or can actually cause problems like allergy or irritation.  For this reason, people with really dry skin may want to use a pure oil from time to time (I often do this on nights when I’m not using my tretinoin/Retin A). Some of my favorite skin oils to use directly on the skin or to look for as ingredients in facial moisturizers include:

  1. Jojoba oil
  2. Shea butter
  3. Extra virgin coconut oil (one study showed it has some antibacterial properties)
  4. Extra virgin olive oil (also has some antibacterial properties)
  5. Canola oil (surprisingly, scientific studies have found that canola oil is a uniquely effective oil for skin hydration!)
  6. Sesame oil
  7. Almond oil

Other oil-like ingredient options include dimethicone, ceramides and squalene among others.  Mineral oil and petrolatum (also called petroleum jelly or Vaseline) are petroleum products that contain oil (derived from the refining of petroleum) as well as some other components.  They have been added to products for years and are highly effective moisturizing ingredients proven to by scientific studies to benefit dry skin.  They are currently not so popular because they are petroleum products.  I also find that petrolatum/Vaseline can actually sting some sensitive skin types. With the natural oils, the less refined the better.  These oils are complex, with mother nature's brilliant balance of different components.  Refining the oil or extracting a particular component will alter this balance and it’s my opinion that you want them all.  Some of the components impart additional benefits when you apply the oil to your skin such as killing germs and helping to control inflammation.   Olive oil, coconut oil, canola oil and shea butter in particular have interesting compositions that I like to see used in their entirety. Specific product recommendations for facial moisturizers I actually find this difficult because there is no ‘one size fits all’ here.  I tell patients to take this list of my favorite active ingredients to the store and try different products.  Find one that fits your budget, feels good on the skin and that you would enjoy using.  Some people like drug store brands, others department store products, others want entirely natural products and others like boutique store products. I find that Daily Moisturizing Face Cream for Dry to Normal Skin works beautifully for my patients with dry skin, combines well with all the products I recommend and is reasonably priced.  It’s what I use when I’m not using pure Jojoba Oil or testing a new product.

Click here to read more about Daily Moisturizing Face Cream for Dry to Normal Skin

Other reliable facial moisturizing products for dry skin that either I or my patients have liked and that have a nice combination of ingredients include: Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream and Lotion Eucerin Daily Replenishing Lotion or Original Moisturizing Cream DML Forte Cream and Moisturizing Lotion Dr. Hauschka’s Rose Day Cream Light or any of their other facial moisturizing creams or oils Weleda Pomegranate Firming Day Cream or their other facial moisturizing creams or lotiions Estee Lauder facial moisturizers like Verite Moisture Relief Cream Clarins Multi-Active Day Early Wrinkle Correction Cream Multi-task by using a richly hydrating professional strength alpha hydroxy acid face cream as your moisturizer; you'll get the anti-aging benefits of lightening uneven pigment and age spots while softening wrinkles all at the same time you're hydrating your skin.  The best deeply hydrating facial AHA cream that I've found is Glytone Face Cream (with glycolic acid).

Click here to see if Glytone Face Cream might be a good choice for your skin

dermatologist recommended glycolic acid face cream

 Final notes on dry facial skin care Aside from trapping water, the most important point about your facial moisturizer is that it needs to work well with the therapeutic products you’re using for your skin problems (ie antiaging, rosacea, facial dandruff, acne).  Where does your moisturizer fit into your skin care regimen? I tell my patients to apply their moisturizer after applying their therapeutic products and before their mineral sunscreen. Remember, dry skin care starts with the cleansing step of your skin care regimen; it’s important not to use a cleansing product that strips too much skin oil or irritates your skin causing a break in your skin barrier function.  That's the reason that I recommend people with dry skin avoid the sodium laurel sulfate family of ingredients in cleansers.  These are the main cleanser foaming agents. They can irritate sensitive, dry skin and they just remove too much oil.  Instead use a non-foaming cleanser like Toleriane Cleanser, which I love. the best facial cleanser for dry skin References Verallo-Rowell VM, Dillague KM, Syah-Tjundawan BS, Novel antibacterial and emollient effects of coconut and virgin olive oils in adult atopic dermatitis, Dermatitis, 2008 Nov-Dec;19(6):308-15 Loden M, Andersson AC, Effect of topically applied lipids on surfactant-irritated skin Br J Dermatol. 1996 Feb;134(2);215-20 Huang ZR, Lin YK, Fang JY Biological and pharmacological activities of squalene and related compounds: potential uses in cosmetic dermatology. Molecules 2009 Jan 23;14(1):540-54

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