Whether you're dealing with colder weather, using a particularly harsh skin care product, or have to spend way too much time in an airplane, it's very likely you've experienced the conundrum that is very dry, flaky skin.
Part of it has to do with your skin type—some people just naturally have drier skin than others, which largely depends on genetics. Skin disorders like psoriasis and eczema, chlorine in pools, and simply getting older can also make your complexion feel dry and dull. "Your skin becomes thinner as you age, so it retains less moisture," says Meghan Feely, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New Jersey and New York City who serves as a clinical dermatology instructor at Mount Sinai.
But even those with oily skin have probably felt the moisture being zapped from their face from time to time. If your forehead, nose, and chin tend to get a bit shiny (with the occasional breakout) you can still have dry skin on your cheeks. "There are different numbers of sebaceous glands (which produce oil) in different areas of your face," says Yoram Harth, MD, San Francisco-based dermatologist and co-founder of MDacne, an acne-treatment app.
That's where a seriously hydrating moisturizer comes in—but not all of them are created equal.
How to choose the best moisturizer for dry skin
Be cautious of irritants: Alcohol can dry out your skin, says Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine and member of the Prevention Medical Review Board. Sulfates, dyes, and fragrances can also be harsh and irritating, causing more trouble than they're worth. As a general rule of them, if you notice any redness, itching, or other unpleasant reactions after using your moisturizer, opt for a simpler product.
Look for hydrating ingredients: There are a plethora of ingredients that offer a hefty dose of moisture while soothing the skin. It may take some trial and error to find the ones your skin responds to the most, but some to look for include: hyaluronic acid, ceramides, urea, plant oils, aloe vera, shea butter, glycerin, squalene, soy, colloidal oatmeal, and B vitamins.
Know your skin type: If your skin is really dry and sensitive (or you're dealing with a skin-related condition), a richer cream or lotion will probably give you the results you're looking for. People with oily or acne-prone skin will benefit from lighter gel formulas instead.
Now that you know the basics, you're ready to bring your extremely dry skin back to life. Here, 15 options—from drugstore to high-end—that will have you glowing in no time.1
Best overallCeraVe Moisturizing Cream amazon.com
"Ceramides are an emollient that can help repair the skin barrier in conditions like eczema," Dr. Feely says. They're the foundation of all CeraVe products, including their cult-favorite moisturizing cream, which was recommended by numerous dermatologists we talked to. The gentle, non-irritating formula works with all skin types, can be used all over the body, and is rich enough to seriously hydrate the most parched complexions. Bonus: You get a whopping 19 ounces of product in this tub!2
Best ValueGarnier SkinActive Moisture Bomb amazon.com $14.99
$10.99 (27% off)
Humectants are substances that help your skin retain moisture. "They draw water up from the dermis (the inner layer of skin) to the epidermis (the outer layer of skin) and absorb moisture from the air," Dr. Harth says. Hyaluronic acid is a humectant that derms love, because it holds a thousand times its weight in water and seriously plumps up skin (it's commonly used in cosmetic fillers for this reason). This lightweight face moisturizer from Garnier contains the superstar ingredient, along with brightening vitamin C.3
Rave ReviewsNeutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream amazon.com
With 4.3 stars and more than 1,900 reviews on Amazon, we can see why this gel-cream from Neutrogena is so raved about. Tested by dermatologists, this oil- and fragrance-free, noncomedogenic formula delivers rich hydrating power with hyaluronic acid. One reviewer wrote: "I was impressed with how smoothly it went on and was completely invisible. Even better, my skin didn't feel tight or coated. Then the miracle: A couple of hours later, I looked in the mirror, and surprise—no dry, flaky skin."4
Best for sensitive skinVanicream Moisturizing Skin Cream amazon.com $16.43
$13.43 (18% off)
This simple cream received a recommendation from Michael Kassardjian, DO, a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles, in our round-up of the best moisturizers for sensitive skin. The formula is packed with ceramides to quench dry skin, but it also earns a stamp of approval from the National Eczema Association for its lack of common irritants: dyes, fragrance, lanolin, formaldehyde, and parabens.5
Best for dry, acne-prone skinCeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion AM SPF 30 amazon.com
If you love CeraVe products, but need something less rich, opt for their AM lotion rather than the cream. It contains a powerful trio of ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and SPF 30 for built-in sun protection. This is also a great option if you have acne-prone skin, because the formula is lightweight, fragrance-free, and noncomedogenic, so it won't clog your pores.6
Best for aging skinOlay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream amazon.com
"Use products without fragrance if you have conditions like eczema or sensitive skin," Dr. Feely says. We love this fragrance-free face cream by Olay for what it does have: skin-plumping hyaluronic acid and wrinkle-reducing niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3 that also helps minimize annoying redness.
7 Eau Thermale Avène Tolérance Extrême Creamdermstore.com
"Glycerin, another humectant, is non-irritating and less comedogenic than natural oil-based moisturizers," Dr. Harth says. You'll find the gentle, yet ultra-moisturizing ingredient in this cream from Avène. It's particularly perfect for sensitive skin since it's also soap- and fragrance-free.
8 Dove Dry Skin Relief Overnight Face Creamwalmart.com
Also named one of our top night creams by Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, this rich moisturizer from Dove is packed with hydrators like glycerin and shea butter to quench thirsty skin overnight. No need to worry about irritation with this one, as the ultra-gentle formula is fragrance-free and noncomedogenic.
9 Aveeno Ultra-Calming Nourishing Night CreamAveeno walmart.com
Another favorite from Dr. Zeichner, Aveeno's fragrance- and oil-free night cream instantly soothes dry skin with oat and feverfew extracts, thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties. If your skin is feeling red, itchy, and overall paper-y tight, slather on this nourishing cream for a more balanced, hydrated complexion come morning.
10 First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Creamamazon.com
Dr. Harth says dimethicone is one of best moisturizing ingredients for acne-prone skin. "It's a man-made compound known to reduce water loss without leaving a greasy feel or clogging pores," he says. First Aid Beauty's Ultra Repair Cream features the ingredient, along with a hydrating ceramides, soothing colloidal oatmeal, and rich shea butter. Free of fragrances and alcohol, it's great for those with sensitive skin—even those who suffer from eczema, or extremely dry itchy skin, can use it.11
Editor's PickKiehl's Ultra Facial Cream nordstrom.com
If you're looking for a lightweight face moisturizer that has all the power of a heavier formula, look no further. This classic face cream from Kiehl's contains squalene, an emollient that leaves dry skin feeling hydrated and soft without that super greasy feeling. Avocado, apricot kernel, olive fruit, and sweet almond oils join forces to rejuvenate any dullness.
12 Clarins Hydra-Essentiel Rich Creamnordstrom.com
This top-notch face cream from Clarins contains calming botanical extracts, shea butter, and dimethicone to help dry skin retain its moisture, says Dr. Zeichner. Testers rave about its silky-soft finish, ability to wear well beneath makeup, and comfortable feeling. Bonus: It's noncomedogenic, and free of sulfates and parabens.13
Best for all-over glowDermalogica Biolumin-C Serum nordstrom.com
If it seems weird to use an exfoliating ingredient like lactic acid to moisturize, it's not. "This alpha hydroxy acid helps exfoliate skin, but it's also moisturizing since it enhances the barrier function of the skin," Dr. Feely says. This brightening vitamin C serum from Dermalogica also contains moisturizing chia seed oil to leave your skin looking luminous. You won't see instant hydration as you would a more classic face moisturizer, but this one pays off in the long-run.
14 Tata Harper Repairative Moisturizernordstrom.com
If you're looking for a more luxe option, Tata Harper has you covered. Its Repairative Moisturizer is designed to target the dullness that accompanies colder, dry climates. Thanks to an expert blend of hyaluronic acid, aloe leaf juice, jojoba seed oil, mango seed butter, calendula flower extract, and more, this product delivers a potent shot of vitamins and essential fatty acids straight to your dry skin for an overall healthy glow.15
Best splurgeSisley Black Rose Skin Infusion Cream nordstrom.com
Another luxe option, Sisley's Black Rose Skin Infusion Cream boosts radiance with the power of botanical ingredients. "This rich moisturizer both hydrates and brightens using black rose extract," says Dr. Zeichner, along with magnolia, camelina, geranium, and shea oils. Its silky smooth formula will leave your face feeling plump, soft, and rejuvenated.