How to Choose the Right Moisturizer

Guidelines for picking the best moisturizer for your skin type |

Part 2: Helpful Things to Consider When Choosing Moisturizers

So, how do you choose a good moisturizer for your skin type?

There is no correct answer. Some people with oily skin do fine without using moisturizer, while others with oily skin find that using a moisturizer actually makes their skin less oily. Some people with dry skin slap on some moisturizer and end up looking like a grease ball at the end of the day, while others with dry skin just can't seem to find one that is moisturizing enough. Also, in the summer when it's hot and humid, a lighter moisturizer may suffice, while a heavier cream may be necessary during cold winter months. Some people with combination skin also use two different moisturizers, a lighter one for their oilier T-zone areas and a richer one for their drier areas.

Since choosing a good moisturizer depends on so many factors, below is an overview of common moisturizer ingredients and helpful techniques to keep your skin hydrated and supple:

  • Use Gentle Cleansers

    Using a gentle cleanser is the best thing you can do for yourself in your hunt for a good moisturizer. (Foaming cleansers can be just as gentle as Cetaphil-type cleansers if your skin can handle it.) If you're washing your face and having everything stripped from your skin with a harsh cleanser, it's just going to make it extra hard for you to find a good moisturizer that will compensate for all of that irritation. Be gentle with cleansing and you may find that your skin doesn't need as rich a moisturizer as you initially thought.

  • Oil-free Moisturizers?

    Oil-free gels sound like the safest option for acne-prone skin types that need some extra oomph in the moisturizing department. However, in my experience, most oil-free gels are simply not moisturizing enough. They can be light and refreshing for people with oily skin though.

    Keep in mind that oil free doesn’t mean acne free. Even if a product claims to not have any oils, it may include other ingredients that can be equally problematic, such as waxes and alcohol.

  • Apply Moisturizer on Damp Skin

    You generally apply moisturizer on slightly damp skin after cleansing. People say that putting on moisturizer over damp skin will help your skin be even more hydrated, but I've always experienced disappointment after hopping out of the shower, slathering on moisturizer, only to have my skin feel dry again after the water from the shower has evaporated. When your skin is at its driest and nothing seems to work, try using the following wrapping technique: put a layer of an oil-based moisturizer on your skin and then cover that layer with a wet wrap (i.e. a damp paper towel or cloth). Then on top of the wet wrap, lay over a dry wrap. This should help your skin remain hydrated by sealing in all the moisture within the layers.

  • Pat in Moisturizer

    You are supposed to use moisturizer twice a day after each time you wash your skin. Most people tend to rub in moisturizer (magazines tell you to do it in gentle upward circles). However, the best way to apply moisturizer is to pat it in. Rubbing in moisturizer can add extra skin irritation but patting on moisturizer reduces that discomfort. I like to put some moisturizer on my palms, rub them together, and then pat both hands all over my face.

  • Helpful Moisturizing Ingredients

    You should check the product ingredient list of your moisturizer to see if there are any harmful or irritating ingredients. At the same time, you should also check the ingredient list to see if there are any of the following helpful moisturizing agents:

    • Glycerin: Glycerin (normally vegetable glycerin) is the most common ingredient in moisturizers because it is a humectant, pulling water out of the air to help your skin retain moisture. 100% glycerin (which you can find in most drugstores) is odorless, gel-like, and sticky. It even tastes a bit sweet. If you have a hard time finding a moisturizer, you can always opt for a few drops of glycerin mixed in water.

    • Mineral Oil/Petrolatum: This is another very common moisturizer ingredient. Mineral oil has a bad rep for breaking people out, but it actually ranks as a zero on the comedogenicity scale. So, does it or does it not break skin out? Here's what I think: Mineral oil doesn't actually clog your pores, but if your skin isn't shedding properly and you have a layer of mineral oil/petrolatum sitting on the surface, it traps dead skin cells underneath (any skin care product you put on your skin can do this actually) and blocks things up. So, I don't think mineral oil itself causes breakouts, but simply that it can contribute to the formation of pimples and clogged pores. Many people, myself included, have no problems with mineral oil whatsoever. It all depends on your individual skin.

    • Hyaluronic Acid: More and more skin care products have hyaluronic acid or sodium hyaluronate as an ingredient. Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring molecule in human tissues and supposedly holds 1000 times its weight in water. It is also used in hospital burn wards to help burn victims heal faster. Like glycerin, hyaluronic acid pulls moisture out of the air to keep your skin hydrated, but sometimes it can have the opposite effect and make your skin feel drier. However, hyaluronic acid can definitely add some extra oomph to a regular moisturizer. Hyaluronic acid is also sold by itself as a hyaluronic acid serum. This can be applied under your normal moisturizer for a skin hydration boost.

    • Jojoba Oil and other essential oils: Oils are actually great for your skin. Don't buy into all the oil-free hype, especially if you have acne prone skin. Remember, oil free doesn't equal acne-free. Your skin actually needs a good balance of water and oils to function properly. Water hydrates your skin while the oils seal in the hydration to prevent it from evaporating. Oils are also necessary because they form your skin's acid mantle, protecting it from all the elements. Some people have too much oil and not enough water. Others don't have enough water or enough oil. Squalane oil (derived from olive oil - squalene is from sharks) and jojoba oil are the two main oils in skin care products. They can be heaven or hell for your skin (i.e. super moisturizing or breakout city), depending on how you tolerate them because everyone's skin is different.
  • Moisturizers with SPF?

    Many moisturizers now come with SPF. While it is convenient to be able to use moisturizer and sunscreen at the same time, I would advise against buying moisturizers with SPF. It’s better to buy a simple moisturizer without SPF (that way you can use it at night too. Using moisturizer with SPF at night seems to expose your skin to unnecessary chemicals) and a separate sunscreen. This is because the SPF included in moisturizers usually isn’t very stable or does not provide adequate sun protection.

  • Add a Humidifier

    Aside from putting products on your skin for moisture, you can also try putting moisture in the air. This is easily achieved by a humidifier. There are many cool-mist and warm-mist humidifiers, usually on sale during winter. I don't know which one works better, but I like cool mist ones because I enjoy sticking my face in the mist to calm my skin.

    You wouldn't be able to use a humidifier on its own for moisture though. It is just something extra you can use to give your skin more access to hydration. However, owning a humidifier means learning how to care for one. Since water sits in there a lot, it is absolutely pertinent to clean it out once a week with a bleach or white vinegar soak.

  • Install a Water Filter

    Water filters are another thing you can consider installing in your home to help your skin maintain its natural moisture. Hard water can be more stripping than soft water. Before I installed one, my skin always felt really tight after cleansing, even if I washed with just water. But after installing a water filter for the entire house (so that even the faucet water gets filtered), my skin felt a lot more hydrated after washing compared to before. Soft water can also make soap feel more slippery and sometimes it feels like you aren’t washing the soap off completely. But, if you are serious about preventing tap-water related skin irritation, installing a water filter or even a simple shower head filter can be a skin-saver.

  • Reduce A/C and/or Central Heat Exposure

    In the winter and summer, sitting at home or in the office with low A/C or high heat can really cause your skin to lose a lot of its moisture. Although you can't exactly leave work just because you don't want A/C exposure, you can always raise the A/C temperature at home or lower the heat during the winter.

Choosing a good moisturizer for your skin is already hard enough but taking the above tips into consideration can help you be smarter about how to care for your skin and ultimately find the best moisturizer that works for you.

Last updated: September 19, 2012

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