If you have dry or sensitive skin, get used to reading labels You need a moisturizer that is highly emollient, yet does not contain ingredients or fragrances that can irritate it further. Even better are lotions or creams with healing properties. If your skin tends more towards oiliness or if you're acne-prone, you might prefer a moisturizer for oily skin, which we cover elsewhere in this report.
Our top pick for sensitive skin, CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion (Est. $16 for 3 oz.), could have easily been our top pick in any category -- but we've put it here because of how dramatically it excels at moisturizing and soothing sensitive skin. It's loaded with beneficial ingredients including ceramides, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid, and the SPF 30 sunscreen provides broad-spectrum UV protection.
Many, many users say this is one of the few products containing sunscreen that doesn't irritate their skin or their sense of smell. If the sunscreen does bother you, however, it's also available in a PM formula (Est. $10 for 3 oz.) that does not contain sunscreen. Either product is also a great value.
The only skin type this lotion doesn't work so well for is very oily skin; but if you have dry, sensitive skin or other concerns, users say it works brilliantly. CeraVe AM feels like a lightweight lotion, going on just thick enough for you to feel its moisturizing effects, then soaking into your skin very quickly. It's also fragrance-free, which further reduces the chance of skin irritation. No wonder it won an award for "best daytime moisturizer" from InStyle.com, and draws a hard-to-get 5-star rating from the picky editors at PaulasChoice.com.
CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30 is the best product we found for severely dry skin, but if your dry skin is mild to moderate and you're interested in an alpha hydroxy acid moisturizer for its exfoliating and skin-smoothing benefits, Philosophy Renewed Hope in a Jar (Est. $47 for 2 oz.) draws rave reviews from users and a "best beauty product for 2015" nod from Allure.com.
Users say that Philosophy Renewed Hope in a Jar leaves their skin feeling -- and looking -- vibrant. It goes on creamy -- not greasy -- but still feels lightweight. Reviews are mixed from users with severe dry skin, but many users with mild to moderately dry skin say it's the only thing that actually helps them restore smoothness and moisture to their face. Just be warned that if this product suits you, a little bit goes a long way. If you find yourself having to slather Renewed Hope in a Jar on your face to get results, it probably isn't the right moisturizer for you -- and the cost will add up.
Although this product doesn't substitute for an acne treatment, we found plenty of users who say it helped them develop a clear complexion, perhaps due to the exfoliating benefits of its three types of alpha hydroxy acid. It also contains hyaluronic acid and is rich in antioxidants. On the downside, it's packaged in a jar (leaving the antioxidants and plant extracts vulnerable to oxygen, which breaks them down more quickly) and does contain some fragrance, a potential irritant. Most users, however, say they like the delicate fragrance and that it dissipates quickly.
If your skin is a combination of dry and oily patches, consider using a gel moisturizer. The best gel product we evaluated is the oil-free Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel Cream (Est. $18 for 1.7oz.), a fragrance-free and dye-free version of the Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel formula (Est. $35 for 3.4oz). Both products get rave reviews from users for how quickly they soak in, and how well they moisturize dry patches while not making any oily patches on your face feel greasy. You can also wear makeup over it.
The gel formula also gets a "best beauty product" pick from TotalBeauty.com for 2015; the editors describe it as "bouncy and light yet just as hydrating as a cream." Still, we prefer the gel cream because it's free of the fragrance and artificial coloring that some users don't like in the gel, and it's also much less expensive.
Elsewhere in this report: