What the best facial moisturizers have

  • A combination of moisturizing and water-binding ingredients as well as humectants. Experts say plant oils, mineral oils, shea butter, cocoa butter, petrolatum, cholesterol, silicones and animal oils (like lanolin) are the best moisturizers. Pair these with ceramides, hyaluronic acid, elastin and amino acids, which keep water from leaving the skin, and humectants, such as sorbitol, glycols, glycerin and sodium PCA, that attract water to the skin, to have an effective facial lotion.
  • Soothing agents and anti-irritants. Common additives include bisabolol, allantoin, burdock root, aloe, licorice root, glycyrrhetinic acid, green tea and chamomile extract, which are added to many moisturizers to help skin handle ingredients that could cause irritation.
  • Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). These ingredients have been shown to clear pores and remove dead skin, resulting in smooth, hydrated skin. The best AHA skin-care ingredients are glycolic acid and lactic acid. BHA is salicylic acid.
  • An SPF 15 or more and UVA protection. Experts recommend your daytime moisturizer include sunscreen. Check the SPF factor and the ingredient list for titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone, tinsorb or Mexoryl SX.
  • Antioxidants. They will help to prevent some of the damage caused by free radicals. There are a countless number of antioxidants -- including vitamins A, C and E, green tea extract, grapeseed oil, coffeeberry extract and idebenone -- and experts say the best formulas contain a mixture of several.
  • Packaging is opaque and dispensers are small openings. Antioxidants deteriorate with repeated exposure to air and sunlight and should therefore be packaged in opaque tubes or bottles and have dispensers with small openings to minimize air exposure. Jars are seen as less-than-ideal as their contents degrade faster and scooping ingredients out with the fingers can introduce bacteria. Many manufacturers have discontinued jar packaging in recent years.
  • Skin-specific ingredients or formulas. Although some experts say people with oily skin don't need moisturizers, all agree that an oil-free moisturizer is best for those with acne-prone skin. People with sensitive skin should choose a moisturizer without perfumes, petrolatum, lanolin or other comedogenic (pore-clogging) ingredients. Many people with sensitive skin react to sunscreen as well. If you can't wear a moisturizer with a sun protection factor, take other measures such as wearing a hat or staying in the shade.

Know before you go

What is your skin type? Different skin types need varying degrees of moisture and some should avoid certain ingredients, while others should welcome them. This is more important than people realize in finding a good fit for their face. To determine your skin type, wash your skin with a gentle cleanser and pat dry. Wait an hour for skin to return to normal, then press a separate tissue to your forehead, chin, cheeks and nose. You have normal skin if there is no oil or skin residue on any of the tissues. You have oily skin if tissues stick easily to skin, have oily residue or become transparent. If the tissues don't stick or have traces of flaky skin, it means that you have dry skin. If the tissues have a mixture of oil and skin residue, you have combination skin. Sensitive skin types tend to become easily irritated, dry, tight and itchy.

Do you suffer from acne or frequent breakouts? If so, you need to consider adding an all-over acne treatment or spot treatment to your skin care regimen.

Try to obtain sample sizes. This can save you a lot of money and aggravation because you can try it before you buy it. If it doesn't work for you, you're out very little. Most higher-end departments store brands, which tend to cost more, have sample packets.

Test it on your inner arm. If you have sensitive skin, this is the best way to find out if you may have a reaction without having to deal with a ruddy or irritated face.

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