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Experts say a good facial moisturizer should leave skin moisturized but not sticky. And your skin type -- dry, normal or oily -- will help guide you to what kind of moisturizer to use. People who prefer a facial moisturizer with anti-wrinkle benefits should look for ones that contain antioxidants, retinol and alpha hydroxy acids.

The basic function of a facial moisturizer is to soothe skin and retain moisture, and reviews indicate that most products do that pretty well. However, critics say most manufacturers exaggerate anti-aging claims. Although some products may have a mild effect on the appearance of fine lines, the effect is usually temporary. No over-the-counter product can completely erase the signs of aging. We address anti-aging products in greater depth in our report on wrinkle cream.

Sunscreen is the one ingredient in moisturizers that lends credibility to anti-aging claims. Skin-care experts say sun damage is the foremost cause of early aging. Professionals say that if your moisturizer doesn't have sunscreen included in its formula, you should apply a separate sunscreen every day.

Furthermore, although there are dozens of high-end brands, experts say many low-cost brands are just as effective. Moreover, many cosmetic firms are owned by the same parent company, and the exclusive label that makes high-end brands may be affiliated with the maker of more downscale products. For example, L'Oreal owns Maybelline, Lancome and Biotherm; Estee Lauder owns Clinique, Prescriptives and Origins; Almay is owned by Revlon. Experts say there's little need to spend three or four times more for a department-store facial moisturizer unless you particularly like its feel or scent.

Paula Begoun, author of "Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter without Me," also points out that the phrases "dermatologist tested" and "dermatologist approved" are meaningless because there's no standard for what these mean -- they often indicate only that one or two dermatologists tried a product at the manufacturer's request and liked how it felt.

To determine the best facial moisturizers, we analyzed professional reviews from expert sources like Beautypedia.com, Good Housekeeping magazine and ConsumerReports.org as well as user reviews at MakeupAlley.com, TotalBeauty.com and Drugstore.com, looking at products' effectiveness and sensory experience (think: feel and smell).

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