A good moisturizer should feel like you're not wearing one
You only have one face and you have to keep it for a lifetime, so you should start taking care of it early and keep it up as you age. Today's moisturizers are light, go on smoothly, absorb well, and should not feel heavy even if they're layered under makeup. Start with a good facial cleanser, then use moisturizer at least once a day. Cleansing and moisturizing again at night is even better, and don't forget a good eye cream as well, since most moisturizers are not recommended for use around the eye area.
Moisturizers do not add moisture, rather they form a barrier to protect your skin from the elements and environmental damage, while enhancing your skin's natural moisturizing capabilities. They also continue to do so throughout the day or night, rather than just one burst at application. Many moisturizers that are considered daytime face creams contain sunscreen, which further protects your skin from damage. Most beauty experts say sunscreen is a must, no matter what, but not every user is sold. There are plenty who say that sunscreen irritates their face, has an odor even if it's billed as "fragrance free," or they don't trust any sunscreen ingredients. However, there is no doubt that exposure to the sun will damage your skin, so if you don't use sunscreen, try taking other protective measures, like wearing a hat or staying in the shade.
The best facial moisturizers should target your specific skin type
Facial moisturizers for normal skin types are the most common formulation. Combination skin, that is, skin that has a slightly oilier T-zone (region on your face made up of your nose and forehead) with drier cheeks and chin, is usually considered normal as well, unless the T-zone is very oily. If that's the case, look for a moisturizer for oily skin. People with normal skin can use practically any type of facial moisturizer as long as it's targeted for a normal skin type; those targeted for other skin types may be too drying or greasy. Lotions are a good choice for normal skin, because they go on smoothly, absorb well, and tend to cost less than gels or serums.
Moisturizers aimed at dry/sensitive skin have very specific ingredients that are shown to be very mild with few reports of irritation or other reactions. Many do not have sunscreen, as that's a common trigger for some sensitive people. People with dry skin should choose creams that are highly emollient to help minimize redness and flaking. If you have sensitive skin, though, it's a good idea to see if you can get a sample size before you buy. Also, it can't hurt to consult with a dermatologist for a specific recommendation rather than dealing with an adverse reaction.
Oily or acne prone skin still needs a moisturizer. Don't skip this thinking it will make your problem worse. Rona Berg, author of "Beauty: The New Basics" says people with oily skin should select lotions or gels as opposed to creams, which are heavier and more emollient. The top facial moisturizers for this skin type are also noncomedogenic, meaning they should be oil-free and should not clog pores. This is especially true for those who have acne. People prone to blemishes should look for lighter moisturizers that contain glycerin, hyaluronic acid or lactic acid. Also, use them in conjunction with a good acne treatment to achieve your best complexion.
Tinted moisturizers can give you a healthy glow. These are a relatively new addition to the facial care market, but they're becoming increasingly popular and there now are few manufacturers who don't have at least one tinted moisturizer. It's like a foundation and moisturizer in one, providing all of the benefits of a facial cream along with a glow of color. Many people mix them with an un-tinted moisturizer for extra protection; others have replaced their foundation altogether. The important thing to know with these is to be sure you like the texture and finish of the product. While some are made to look very natural, others are shinier, or are even intended to add sparkle, something you may not want in a professional setting.
Night creams are a great choice for repairing damage and improving the look of your skin. Many anti-aging ingredients, like retinol, should be used only at night. Even if you don't want or need retinol (or find it irritating to your skin), night creams contain some powerhouses that will improve the look of your skin -- by plumping, firming and smoothing. If you have dry skin or want to minimize signs of aging, a facial moisturizer at night is almost a necessity. Night creams, since they're not meant to be worn during the day, don't contain sunscreen, and many people who dislike sunscreen report that they use night creams for their everyday face cream. Many people who have more skin damage than they like or who are seeing more signs of aging may want to opt for a wrinkle cream instead.
Pricey moisturizers aren't necessarily better.
You may be surprised to see that most of our Best Reviewed facial moisturizers are what they call "drugstore" moisturizers. In other words, you can buy them very inexpensively almost anywhere; Walmart, CVS, Target, and online at sites like Amazon.com. This is not because we have anything against pricey face creams, it's because our research shows -- and many experts agree -- that the less-expensive product works just as well as the super- expensive, high-end stuff. Why pay $100 for a 4-ounce jar when you can pay $5? All other things being equal, if we found two just-as-highly-rated moisturizers and one was cheaper, that was our pick.
How we found the best facial moisturizers.
We're exaggerating a little when we say there are about a zillion moisturizers on the market, but not by much. The good news is that there are also plenty of expert roundups for facial moisturizers. The bad news is that with so many products available there's very little overlap between those roundups. For example, we found three facial skin care "best of" lists that each contained more than 25 products, and there was no crossover between those lists.
We found PaulasChoice.com to be a top choice for information about facial moisturizers. Site owner Paula Begoun reviews virtually every beauty product on the market, in her Beautypedia Reviews section. The reviews are updated frequently, and, while she doesn't do hands on testing, she scrutinizes the ingredients and the claims based upon the consensus of experts in the beauty field and scientific community. We also consulted the beauty product awards and roundups from places like Allure and TotalBeauty.com. Beauty is their business, so when they say something is "the best," it probably is.
We also analyzed thousands of reviews from consumers on sites like MakeupAlley.com, Sephora.com and Amazon.com, to name just a few, to see how these products work in the real world and on real faces. We scrutinized both the compliments and the complaints to see which had merit and which were not very well thought out.
Even with all that research, the most important thing to remember is that not all moisturizers work for everyone. It can get thousands of 5-star reviews for gentleness, but if it makes you break out it's simply a bad choice for your specific skin and skin type. The work we've done here is a great place to start winnowing down the many choices you have to save you from wasting your money a cupboard full of useless jars of goop, but if one recommended choices doesn't work, we have plenty of other great alternatives for you to try.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best facial moisturizers for normal skin
These facial moisturizers will give your skin all-day protection and nourishment.
Facial moisturizers for dry/sensitive skin
The best moisturizers for dry or sensitive skin are highly emollient, yet gentle.
Facial moisturizers for oily skin
Oily skin types need a special moisturizer that heals and restores balance.
Best tinted moisturizers
A relative newcomer to the skincare market, these are foundation and moisturizers in one.
Best night creams
These rich, emollient creams will heal and nourish your skin while you sleep.
Best acne treatments
Take a two-pronged approach to treating acne, with an all-over product and a spot treatment.
Don't go shopping for a facial moisturizer without learning what you need to know first. Our Buying Guide how to determine the best type of facial moisturizer for you.
Links to the expert and user reviews we used to select the top facial moisturizers and acne treatments, along with our assessment of each reviewer's expertise, credibility and helpfulness.