A daily facial moisturizer for normal or combination skin should contain hydrating ingredients and lightweight emollients that feel like they're barely there. It should wear well under makeup, without feeling like an extra "layer," and should not change the color or texture of your makeup. For daytime use, a moisturizer with a sun protection factor (SPF) is essential to protect skin from sun damage, but if you don't like sunscreen in your face cream -- and a surprising number of people don't -- then you should take other sun protection measures if you want to keep wrinkles to a minimum and lower your skin cancer risk.
If your combination skin is very oily, you will want to consider a moisturizer for oily skin. If you often suffer from flaky skin, or you experience redness or other reactions to facials, waxing or other skin care regimens, you may need a facial moisturizer for dry sensitive skin. Those of us who deal with acne will want to pair our facial moisturizer with a good acne treatment.
Our top pick for normal skin is Olay Complete All Day Moisturizer with Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 15, Normal (Est. $5 for 4 oz.). It's been around for years, and gets raves from experts and users alike for its all-day performance. It has a lightweight texture and is loaded with good-for-skin ingredients. Paula Begoun, owner of PaulasChoice.com and author of the book "Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter without Me," says it "contains an impressive amount of niacinamide and antioxidant vitamin E." It also contains stabilized avobenzone for broad spectrum UV protection. All of these ingredients work together to prevent skin damage and early signs of aging. It contains fragrance, but reviewers say it's hardly noticeable.
Allure magazine readers have chosen Olay Complete for a Readers' Choice award for five consecutive years. They say it's "so lightweight it feels like nothing at all." It was also chosen as Readers' Choice Moisturizer with SPF for both the 2011 and 2012 TotalBeauty.com Awards. Users say it provides just enough moisture without feeling greasy. The face lotion is also available in formulations for sensitive and combination/oily skin types.
Olay Regenerist UV Defense Regenerating Lotion SPF 15 (Est. $14 for 2.5 oz.), is lauded for its solid moisturizing and anti-aging properties. Begoun gives this formula her highest rating and says that it's "loaded with beneficial extras for skin." UV Defense is packed with protective antioxidants and provides UVA and UVB protection with avobenzone and other active sunscreens. It also contains amino-peptides and niacinamide. Users at TotalBeauty.com and MakeupAlley.com give Olay high ratings and say that the moisturizer is lightweight and leaves skin feeling soft but never greasy. A few say they don't like the smell and wish there was a fragrance-free option.
Olay isn't the only star in this category. We saw a lot of good feedback for Mary Kay Timewise Age-Fighting Moisturizer Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 30 (Est. $22 for 3 oz.). It landed on TotalBeauty.com's list of top moisturizers, as chosen by members, with a total rating of 9.2 out of 10. Users say it's lightweight and goes on cleanly and evenly. Experts like that it has sunscreen to protect from sun damage and signs of aging, but a good number of users don't. However, it also comes in a SPF-free formulation that costs the same and is even more popular with consumers. Both products are fragrance free, unlike the Olay products. Many users say that they have used Timewise every day for years and are often complimented on their nice skin.
Chosen as a "Best of the Best" for 2014 by Paula Begoun, Clinique City Block Sheer Oil-Free Daily Face Protector Broad Spectrum 25 SPF (Est. $22 for 1.4 oz.) also gets a lot of positive feedback from users who say it's never greasy, blends very well and looks natural. Begoun likes that it's one of the best combination sunscreen and moisturizers -- because it's one of the few that do both well -- and owner reviewers say the sunscreen doesn't irritate even sensitive skin. It's slightly tinted, but is not considered a tinted moisturizer. It is also fragrance-free. It's the priciest option in this category, but if sun protection is your top priority, this is a great choice.
Based upon performance, reputation, price and the totality of expert and user reviews, Olay Complete is a very effective, highly affordable choice if you have normal skin. However if that doesn't work for you, or you don't like fragrance and/or sunscreen in your formulation, try Mary Kay Timewise. If you want to load up on antioxidants, lean toward Olay UV Defense, and if sun protection is your top priority, Clinique's City Block will do that best.
There is a growing market of facial moisturizers and other skin care products that are marketed specifically to men. While men typically don't spend as much on personal grooming as women, their needs are the same. Skin care expert Paula Begoun says, "Regardless of gender, skin is skin." She acknowledges that hormones have an effect on skin but "in terms of what either gender needs to create and maintain healthy, protected skin, there is no fundamental difference."
Products marketed to men are virtually the same as gender-neutral formulas and those that are marketed to women, and yet men's products tend to cost more. For example, Clinique Skin Supplies for Men M Lotion Daily Hydration (Est. $40 for 3.4 oz.) is identical to Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion (Est. $35 for 4.2 oz.).
The only real differences between men's and women's skin care products are the scents -- which experts agree should be avoided -- and the packaging. That doesn't mean that products marketed to men are inherently bad. As with any other skin care line, there are both excellent and terrible options aplenty.
Lab Series for Men Oil Control Daily Hydrator (Est. $30 for 1.7 oz.) gets mixed reviews. Begoun gives the formula a Poor rating. She says it has a comfortably dry finish, but it contains irritating ingredients, namely peppermint and sage. On the other hand, the moisturizer earned a Best of Beauty award from Allure magazine. Editors say Oil Control Daily Hydrator "sops up shine" but doesn't leave skin feeling tight and dry. There aren't many user reviews for the formula.
This is the case with most made-for-men moisturizers -- they aren't reviewed as often as products that are typically marketed to women. Still, experts suggest that Olay Complete All Day Moisturizer SPF 15 (Est. $5 for 4 oz.), Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion (Est. $10 for 3 oz.) and Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel (Est. $25 for 4.2 oz.) are all excellent and suitable options for men.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best reviewed facial moisturizers
The best facial moisturizers (and an acne treatment) you can buy today as identified in reviews and our editors' analysis.
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.