Best Dermatologist-Recommended Moisturizer

SKIN CARE REVIEWS

10.11.21DISCLAIMER
Best best. The Carrot & Stick skincare bundle worth up to $240 for $88. Details below

What does your skincare routine look like? Does it include a moisturizer? According to data calculated by Statista based on the U.S. Census data and Simmons National Consumer Survey (NHCS), 25.54 million Americans used moisturizer/cream/lotion for the face 14 times or more within a week in 2020 — and with good reason.

A moisturizer is a significant component of any basic daily skincare routine because it protects the epidermal barrier and replenishes its water content. Dermatologists use it as a part of their strategy to maintain the skin’s health throughout the natural aging process while treating various conditions associated with dryness, irritation, sensitivity, environmental factors, and more. 

Before choosing a moisturizer, you need to determine whether your skin is normal, dry, oily, or combination. You also have to consider additional factors such as sensitivity, acne, dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, dehydration, etc. With that said, choosing a moisturizer can feel a bit overwhelming. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of some of the best dermatologist-recommended moisturizers. But first, let’s take a deeper dive into why it’s vital to incorporate a moisturizer into your skincare routine.

Related: Best Moisturizers for Dry Skin

Best Dermatologist Recommended Moisturizers: The List

BEST OVERALL

BEST: Dermalogica Active Moist, $42

Best bet. The Carrot & Stick skincare bundle worth up to $240 for $88. Select 3 products, including our favorite Dermalogica Active Moist. Use code DERM20 for 20% off.

FULL LIST

Cetaphil Pro Oil Absorbing Moisturizer SPF 30, $17.99

U.SK Under Skin Young Glow Balm, $119

Aveeno Eczema Therapy Daily Moisturizing Cream, $15.92

Pai Skincare Avocado and Jojoba Hydrating Day Cream, $58

CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30, $10.99

SkinBetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream, $125

Augustinus Bader The Rich Cream, $265

First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream, $36

EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46, $37

Dr. Zenovia Skincare Aloe Vera Blemish Soothing Moisturizer, $38

NeoStrata Bionic Face Cream, $60

PCA Skincare Après Peel Hydrating Balm, $50

Murad Essential C Day Moisture Broad-Spectrum SPF 30 PA+++, $65

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel, $23.99

SkinCeuticals AGE Interrupter, $162

RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Night Cream, $24.99

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer, $20

Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream, $32

What Defines a Moisturizer? 

What is a moisturizer? Clinically speaking, creams are the most common delivery systems used for moisturizers. Creams are a two-phase system (emulsion) containing two immiscible liquids (oil and water), one of which is dispersed in the other in the form of microscopic or submicroscopic droplets. To be effective, the ratio between oil and water is essential, as well as the type of oil and the amount and type of other ingredients.

Despite what we’re conditioned to believe, there’s no true definition of a moisturizer. Marketers developed this term to promote its function to moisten the skin. The words moisturizer and emollient are considered one and the same, even when occlusives and humectants are included. 

A moisturizer may be considered a cosmetic or a therapeutic product to help overcome skin diseases associated with dryness. A typical formula contains a mix of actives, emulsifiers, antioxidants, and preservatives. Some ingredients improve skin barrier function and while others deteriorate skin condition. For example, emulsifiers may weaken the skin barrier while petrolatum provides an immediate barrier-repairing effect.

Related: Best Tinted Moisturizer

Moisturizer Constituents 

 

Emollients

Emollients are saturated and unsaturated hydrocarbons that vary in length. They improve skin barrier function, membrane fluidity, and cell signaling, improving skin texture and appearance. 

 

Humectants

Humectants are low molecular substances that attract water into the epidermis — the outer layer of the skin. 

 

Occlusives

Occlusives consist of oils and waxes. They form a layer on the skin’s surface to physically block water evaporation from the skin, also known as transepidermal water loss.

 

Protein Rejuvenators 

Protein rejuvenators are small molecular weight proteins that aid skin rejuvenation by replenishing essential proteins.

The Importance of a Moisturizer

Research suggests that unhealthy skin may result in reduced self-esteem. Moisturizers are commonly used to reduce fine lines, smoothen, and hydrate the skin, improving one’s psychological satisfaction and quality of life. Moisturizers also have several benefits aside from moistening the skin. For example:  

 

Wound Healing

Ingredients such as hyaluronic acid have been proven to promote wound healing acceleration.

 

Anti-inflammation

Some moisturizer components, such as glycyrrhetinic acid, palmitoyl-ethanolamine, and telmesteine, have many anti-inflammation properties, providing a soothing effect on inflamed skin as in dermatitis.

 

Antipruritic

Water-based moisturizers provide a cooling effect caused by water evaporation on the skin surface. Some formulas may contain menthol, which also provides a cooling sensation that reduces itchiness.

 

Antimitotic 

Mineral oils possess low-grade epidermal antimitotic properties, making them beneficial for skin conditions with increased epidermal mitotic activity such as psoriasis.

How to Properly Use a Moisturizer

Timing and application are the keys to obtaining optimal benefits from your moisturizer. After rubbing a nickel-sized amount of moisturizer in both palms, gently apply it along the direction of the hair follicles to prevent folliculitis. 

Moisturizer distribution depends on consistency. Thick ointments are more evenly distributed compared to lower viscosity formulations and more volatile ingredients. Transfer of active ingredients to the skin is easier for creams and ointments than lotions and tinctures. After application, ingredients may stay on the epidermis, absorb deeper into the skin, metabolize, or disappear from the body via evaporation, shedding, or contact with other materials. 

Note that only approximately 50% of the moisturizer remains on the skin’s surface after eight hours. With that said, you should reapply it one to three times a day, depending on dryness severity. 

What Dermatologists Look for in a Moisturizer

 

Active Ingredients

The best moisturizers, according to dermatologists, include active ingredients such as hydrating hyaluronic acid, brightening niacinamide, skin-barrier-protecting ceramides, and wrinkle-fighting retinol. While not every moisturizer will contain all of these ingredients (and not every person needs all of them), most pros agree that these ingredients will provide the most significant difference in the skin’s health.

Related: Best Wrinkle Cream


The Ability to Treat and Prevent Dryness

Be it climate changes, indoor heat, air conditioning, certain medications, sun exposure, or using the wrong facial products, the skin can be depleted of vital moisture. A good moisturizer will not only replace lost moisture but also prevent further loss. 

 

Anti-Aging Benefits

There’s no such thing as a miracle cream that’s going to erase all signs of age. While a moisturizer is a crucial component of any skincare routine, applying it daily won’t prevent wrinkles. However, what a moisturizer will do is protect your skin’s lipid barrier and prevent crucial moisture loss, both of which make wrinkles less prominent. 

 

The Ability to Soothe Sensitive Skin

Those with sensitive skin need a little extra TLC because there tends to be dry patches, itchiness, redness, and irritation. A moisturizer formulated with skin-soothing ingredients like oatmeal, chamomile, aloe vera, azulene, etc., can substantially reduce these symptoms. There are even moisturizers that target those with specific acute skin conditions like eczema and rosacea. 

 

Helps Battle Oil and Acne

A moisturizer may be the last product one with oily, acne-prone skin would reach for. Still, the reality is, when the skin is dry or becomes stripped of its natural oils due to over-cleansing or the use of harsh products, it only produces more oil to compensate for the loss — it’s a self-defense mechanism. The right moisturizer will balance oil production and help keep clogged pores and breakouts at bay. 

Best Moisturizer for Skin Dermatologist Recommended 

Dermalogica Active Moist, $42
“As a dermatologist, I prescribe powerful treatments to correct aging, acne, hyperpigmentation, and rosacea, so for moisturizers, I recommend products that do just that, moisturize, leaving the corrective portion on the regimen to the prescription,” says board-certified dermatologist and Docent medical advisor Dr. Farhaad Riyaz. “For acne and oily skin types: Dermalogica Active Moist aligns with our “free-of” approach, refraining from mineral oil, parabens, and other controversial ingredients and practices. It doesn’t clog pores or compete with prescription treatments and has calming, healing anti-inflammatory ingredients (burdock root, ivy, mallow, and allantoin) to support healthy skin.”

Cetaphil Pro Oil Absorbing Moisturizer SPF 30, $17.99
Formulated specifically for oily skin types, this mattifying moisturizer with SPF won’t trigger breakouts or irritate existing acne. Glycerin pulls and locks in moisture, dimethicone prevents water loss without clogging pores, and an SPF 30 provides broad-spectrum sun protection.

U.SK Under Skin Young Glow Balm, $119
Omega-rich wheat byproducts and colloidal oats work synergistically to lessen the deterioration of collagen and elastin fibers responsible for giving the skin elasticity and tone. Also, hexapeptides stimulate the production of proteins responsible for the integrity of the skin. The balm is lightweight, non-sticky, and absorbs quickly into the skin. As it’s hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic, it’s suitable for all skin types.  

Aveeno Eczema Therapy Daily Moisturizing Cream, $15.92
“This drugstore buy is a good general moisturizer for all patients,” says Toni C Stockton, MD, FAAD. “It provides long-lasting hydration, and it’s great for sensitive skin. It contains colloidal oatmeal – a soothing agent — and ceramides to repair the skin barrier and protect the skin.” 

Pai Skincare Avocado and Jojoba Hydrating Day Cream, $58
This dermatologist-recommended day cream is Pai’s best-selling product, as it’s non-greasy and provides long-lasting hydration, leaving the skin calm, supple, and soft. It’s formulated with jojoba oil, which mimics the skin’s natural sebum more closely than any other oil, improves the skin’s barrier function, and helps to prevent transepidermal water loss. It also has proven anti-inflammatory effects and can impart soothing effects upon application. 

CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30, $10.99
Recommended by the National Skin Cancer Foundation, this non-comedogenic face moisturizer with SPF is also oil- and fragrance-free, so it’s also suitable for sensitive skin types, as well as those with oily and acne-prone skin. Hyaluronic acid and ceramides work together to restore and moisturize the skin, niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3) soothes, and zinc oxide provides broad-spectrum protection. It’s considered the best face moisturizer with SPF recommended by dermatologists.

Related: Best Face Moisturizers

SkinBetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream, $125
As the name suggests, this intense, results-driven night cream harnesses the power of an alpha hydroxy acid and a retinoid to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while improving elasticity and tone. Thanks to SkinBetter’s proprietary retinol technology (and a blend of skin-soothing ingredients), you’ll reap all the benefits minus any irritation. 

Related: Best Retinol Creams

The addition of glycolic acid visibly improves the skin’s texture while stoking the other components to increase efficiency. “Retinols (and their prescription counterparts) are still, in my opinion, the gold-standard product for softening wrinkles, says Dr. Laura Fine, MDFAAD. “These products can be drying and irritating at first, so it is crucial to choose one that is right for your skin type and not to overuse. This formula is one of my favorites.”

Augustinus Bader The Rich Cream, $265
This dermatologist, celebrity, and beauty editor’s favorite moisturizer was created by Augustinus Bader, a world-renowned physician and researcher in the biomedical field. This ultra-hydrating face cream (an upgrade to the original formula, The Cream) stimulates the skin’s natural rejuvenation process to reduce the signs of aging, including the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation. It also reduces redness, calms stressed skin, evens skin tone, and promotes a glowing complexion. 

First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream, $36
This best-selling nourishing cream is ideal for those who are prone to sensitivity, redness, and dryness. It’s formulated with nourishing emollients like shea and jojoba, which create a protective layer on the skin to help prevent trans-epidermal water loss while you’re sleeping. Colloidal oatmeal (5%) and licorice soothe and reduce redness, hyaluronic acid hydrates, and peptides soften the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and texture. It’s an excellent choice for those with extra dry skin or eczema.

EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46, $37
Sun exposure is the number one cause of aging skin, so it should be included in your skincare routine daily. The sunscreens from EltaMD are favored by dermatologists and the Skin Cancer foundation alike. This particular version is formulated with niacinamide (vitamin B3), hyaluronic acid, and lactic acid, promoting healthy-looking skin while protecting it from harmful UVA/UVB rays. It’s lightweight and suitable for even the most sensitive skin types. 

Dr. Zenovia Skincare Aloe Vera Blemish Soothing Moisturizer, $38
This results-driven moisturizer is formulated with a proprietary REG-ulate360 Complex, a potent cocktail of medical-grade actives including resveratrol, vitamin E, green tea, bakuchiol, and a cutting-edge, plant-derived phytoestrogen known as geinstein that helps balance hormones at the skin level. By regulating hormonal fluctuations at the skin level, you experience fewer acne flare-ups.

“This moisturizer is amazing for patients with acne because it doesn’t add a ton of oils onto the skin but serves as a very effective hydrator,” explains Dr. Zenovia, MD, FAAD. “Having acne is not a reason to skip moisturizing. No matter what skin type you have, the epidermis requires moisture!” 

NeoStrata Bionic Face Cream, $60
This medical-grade moisturizer provides intense hydration while helping to soothe and revitalize the look of stressed skin. It’s rich, soothing, fragrance-free, and specifically designed for dry, sensitive skin. A few key ingredients include PHAs (a form of acid exfoliation that lifts off dead skin and promotes cell renewal), meadowfoam seed oil, and several different silicones.

PCA Skincare Après Peel Hydrating Balm, $50
This balm features an advanced formula designed to restore moisture while fighting the visible signs of aging. After all, it was designed to be used as a chemical peel. Phytohormones, soy isoflavones, and chasteberry extract rebuild collagen for skin that feels softer, younger, and more resilient.

Related: Best Collagen Cream

Murad Essential C Day Moisture Broad-Spectrum SPF 30 PA+++, $65
Vitamin C helps brighten minor cases of melasma, but the added sun protection keeps dark patches from getting out of hand. Of course, C is also a powerful antioxidant that helps protect against environmental stressors. Lastly, it provides the perfect amount of moisture that all skin types can benefit from.

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel, $23.99
Hyaluronic acid is a great way to instantly plump up and hydrate skin; there are lots of options, but Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel is a favorite of mine,” says Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, FAAD. This super ingredient acid acts like a sponge that draws water into the outer layer of the skin to help hydrate, plump, and improve the appearance of fine lines. The gel-based formula is lightweight and suitable for both dry and oily skin types. 

SkinCeuticals AGE Interrupter, $162
This dermatologist-recommended moisturizer is perfect for those whose dry skin is also accompanied by itchiness and irritation; that’s a surefire sign that the skin’s barrier is compromised. AGE Interrupter is formulated with ceramides, lipids, and blueberry extract to improve crepey skin and other visible signs of aging triggered by advanced glycation end products (AGEs), proteins, or lipids that become glycated as a result of exposure to sugars. 

RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Night Cream, $24.99
This popular drugstore night cream (and derm favorite) was designed explicitly for retinol newbies or those with sensitive skin. Thanks to a milder yet effective form of retinol, it targets fine lines and wrinkles with minimal (or zero) irritation. It’s clinically proven to show noticeable results in as little as eight weeks with regular use, more so over time. Additionally, it’s dermatologist tested, oil-free, and non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog your pores.

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer, $20
This gentle yet effective moisturizer is suitable for even the most sensitive skin types. It’s formulated with glycerin and ceramide-3, a vital protein for skin rebuilding. Additionally, this drugstore buy is formulated with niacinamide and tocopherol, anti-inflammatories that calm the skin while protecting against oxidative damage. 

Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream, $32
The brand’s best-selling moisturizer is a derm favorite because it’s void of parabens, formaldehydes, formaldehyde-releasing agents, phthalates, mineral oil, retinyl palmitate, oxybenzone, coal tar, hydroquinone, sulfates SLS and SLES, triclocarban, triclosan, and fragrance. Despite having an ultra-lightweight texture, it provides long-lasting hydration for up to 24 hours, thanks to squalane, glycerine, and glacial glycoprotein. It’s clinically tested to smooth and soften dry skin on contact and more so over time. 

Dermatologist Recommended Moisturizer: The Final Word

A moisturizer is a significant component of any basic daily skincare routine because it protects the epidermal barrier and replenishes its water content. Dermatologists use it as a part of their strategy to maintain the skin’s health throughout the natural aging process while treating various conditions associated with dryness, irritation, sensitivity, environmental factors, and more. 

Despite what we’re conditioned to believe, there’s no true definition of a moisturizer. Marketers developed this term to promote its function to moisten the skin. The words moisturizer and emollient are considered one and the same, even when occlusives and humectants are included. Before choosing a moisturizer, you need to determine whether your skin is normal, dry, oily, or combination. You also have to consider additional factors such as sensitivity, acne, dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, dehydration, etc. 

The best moisturizers, according to dermatologists, include active ingredients such as hydrating hyaluronic acid, brightening niacinamide, skin-barrier-protecting ceramides, and wrinkle-fighting retinol. While not every moisturizer will contain all of them (and not every person needs all of them), most pros agree that these ingredients will provide the most significant difference in the skin’s health. Additional factors dermatologists look for include anti-aging benefits and the ability to treat and fight dryness, acne, oil, and soothe sensitive skin.

Sources:
U.S. Households Usage Frequency of Moisturizers, Creams, and Lotions for the Face,” Statista.
The Role of Moisturizers in Addressing Various Kinds of Dermatitis,” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
The Psychosocial Impact of Skin Disease,” National Library of Medicine National Center for Biotechnology Information. 

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