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Best Face Moisturizers

By: Lisa Maloney on May 16, 2017

Editor's note:
Tried and true face cream brands like Olay, Clinique, CeraVe, La Roche-Posay and Neutrogena are relatively affordable, top-notch face creams. They provide a formulation for any skin type, too. We also found some great new products, including Origins High Potency Night-a-Mins, First Aid Beauty's Ultra Repair Cream, and K-beauty sensation Belif The True Cream Aqua Bomb.

Olay Complete All Day Moisturizer Review
Best Reviewed

Best face moisturizer

Olay Complete All Day Moisturizer for normal skin draws a lot of love from experts and users alike, thanks to its nourishing ingredients (including niacinamide, panthenol and vitamin E) and broad-spectrum SPF 15 protection. Users say it goes on smoothly, works well under makeup, and can even moisturize combination skin without leaving you looking shiny. This product is noncomedogenic (won't block your pores) and also comes in oil-free and fragrance-free formulas to suit oily or sensitive skin types, respectively.

Buy for $17.68
Olay Age Defying Classic Night Cream Review
Runners Up

Best night cream

Users say that Olay Age Defying Classic Night Cream does a superb job of balancing their skin moisture overnight without leaving their face feeling greasy, and even helps reduce the appearance of fine lines. It's also rich in antioxidant vitamin E. Some say it helps clear up mild acne too, perhaps because of its pore-clearing salicylic acid content. Most people like the mild tingle -- more of a cooling sensation -- that you get when you apply this cream.

Buy for $11.59
CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion Review
Best Reviewed

Best face cream for sensitive skin

If you have sensitive skin, fragrance-free CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion is one of the few sunscreen-containing products that probably won't cause any irritation or redness. Its broad-spectrum SPF 30 protection can also help prevent sun damage and reduce your risk of skin cancer. Meanwhile, CeraVe AM goes on like a lotion and does a beautiful job of moisturizing and soothing your skin, reviewers say, thanks to moisture-boosting, skin-nourishing ingredients like ceramines, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid.

Buy for $41.72
Philosophy Renewed Hope in a Jar
Runners Up

Alpha hydroxy moisturizer

Philosophy Renewed Hope in a Jar has three different types of alpha hydroxy acids to help exfoliate your skin, plus hyaluronic acid and plenty of antioxidants. It goes on creamy -- not greasy -- and users with mild to moderate dry skin say it makes their skin feel vibrant and smooth. A little bit goes a long way and, although Renewed Hope is not intended as an acne treatment, quite a few users also say it helps soothe their breakouts.

Buy for $32.97
Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture Review
Best Reviewed

Best facial moisturizer for oily skin

Even people with oily skin need a moisturizers, and Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture is a great choice. It's not only oil-free, it's also fragrance-free, alcohol-free and hypoallergenic. That all adds up to a light, gentle cream that won't imbalance oily skin. This face moisturizer also works well for sensitive, mild to moderately dry and acne-prone skin. Used sparingly, you'll be left with a healthy, dewy glow but no shine of excess oil.

Buy for $9.52
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Fluide Review
Runners Up

Moisturizer for acne-prone skin

If you're looking for a lightweight, fragrance-free, oil-free and preservative-free face cream that won't aggravate acne-prone skin, this is it. La Roche-Posay Toleriane Fluide works well for all skin types that are prone to acne breakouts, including oily skin and sensitive skin. Many users praise its soothing and healing properties, saying it even calms and reduces the symptoms of "problem" skin conditions like rosacea. This light, non-greasy fluid won't sting or turn your face red.

Buy for $29.99

Types of Facial Moisturizers

Daily Face Creams

You only have one face to last your entire lifetime, so you should start taking care of it early and keep it up as you age. Daily face creams help by forming a barrier to protect your skin from the elements and environmental damage, while enhancing your skin's natural moisturizing capabilities. The best day creams keep working all day long, rather than just one burst at application, and should contain sunscreen to further protect your skin from damage.

Night Creams

The biggest difference between day creams and night creams is that night creams never contain sunscreen. Because of that, they may be a good choice for day use if you have sensitive skin that doesn't take well to sunscreen ingredients. Night creams are often formulated more thickly than day creams, which provides a moisturizing treatment that lasts all night long, leaving you with dewy, fresh-looking skin in the morning. However, that much moisture can also change the color or texture of your makeup if you try to wear the night cream as a face moisturizer during the day.

Face Creams for Dry or Sensitive Skin

Face creams designed for dry or sensitive skin have very specific, mild ingredients that have generated few reports of irritation or other adverse reactions. Most of these formulations do not contain fragrance or plant extracts, as those are common triggers for sensitive skin. Some don't contain sunscreen, either, as that can irritate sensitive faces. For those whose skin is particularly dry, emollient ingredients help minimize redness and flaking.

Face Creams for Oily/Acne-Prone Skin

Although it may seem counterintuitive, oily or acne-prone skin still needs a moisturizer, because oil and hydration are two different things. The right face cream can even help repair damage caused by the excessive scrubbing many people with oily skin endure. As a general rule, look for light lotions or gels instead of creams, which tend to be heavier. The top facial creams for this skin type are also noncomedogenic, which means they won't clog your pores. Other beneficial ingredients for people prone to blemishes include alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), which are especially useful for exfoliating your skin and clearing your pores.

Healthy skin doesn't have to be complicated

Taking care of your skin doesn't have to mean a complicated beauty routine: For many people, using a good facial cleanser, followed by a quality face moisturizer at least once a day, makes a huge difference. If you can cleanse and moisturize a second time at night, that's even better.

This type of routine isn't only for women; skincare expert Paula Begoun, author of "Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me," recommends that men follow essentially the same simple routine. And although some face creams and other products are marketed specifically to men, anybody can use any product in this report. We found plenty of reports of men sneaking bits of moisturizer marketed to women, and vice versa.

If, or when, you're ready to take your skincare to the next level, add a good eye cream, since that skin tends to be drier than that on your face, and some moisturizers are not recommended for use around the eye area. If you're noticing the onset of fine lines, a good wrinkle cream can help reduce them. And finally, having the right body lotion can do wonders for the rest of your skin. Just don't use it on your face, which is more delicate than the skin on your other body parts. We cover all of those beauty products in their own reports.

Finding The Best Facial Moisturizers
Our Sources
"Moisturizers, Daytime & Nighttime"
"The Best Anti-Aging Skin Products"
"18 Best Face Moisturizers"

We evaluated dozens of expert reviews and thousands of comments from users to find the best face moisturizers that are light, go on smoothly and absorb well. Top expert sources include BeautyPedia.com and Beautypedia.com -- both websites of skincare expert and author Paula Begoun -- plus hands-on reviews posted to sites like GoodHousekeeping.com, RealSimple.com, Elle.com, InStyle.com, The Cut, Allure.com and TotalBeauty.com.

After seeing what the experts had to say, we headed over to the cosmetics and skincare-friendly retail sites like Amazon.com, Ulta.com and Sephora.com to see what users of the products had to say. This gives is a real-world window into how these face creams work when applied to actual faces. While everyone's skin is different, this is a great way to find out if, for example, a face cream labeled as "fragrance free" actually isn't. Combining all of this useful expert and user feedback was key in choosing the best facial moisturizers for any skin type and budget.

The best face creams

If you have normal or combination skin, the best facial moisturizers for you contain hydrating ingredients and lightweight emollients that feel like they're barely there. These products wear well under makeup, without changing the color or texture of that makeup or feeling like an extra layer on your skin.

Experts usually recommend that moisturizers meant for daytime use should contain sunscreen. However, many users don't like having that extra ingredient; they prefer being able to choose their sunscreen, if any, independently. Keep in mind that if you don't use sunscreen while you're outside, you should take other measures -- for example, a broad-brimmed hat -- to help protect your face from sun damage and reduce your risk of wrinkles, sun spots and skin cancer.

Our best-reviewed daytime moisturizer, Olay Complete All Day Moisturizer (Est. $17 for 12 oz.) with broad-spectrum SPF 15, draws kudos from both experts and users alike. The "broad-spectrum" designation means the SPF component protects against both UVA and UVB rays, which skin care and medical experts say is important for maximum protection. This product receives a lot of positive feedback from the expert reviewers at Beautypedia.com, although they wish it had SPF 30 instead of SPF 15. It's also a perennial presence in TotalBeauty.com's annual awards for best day cream and Allure.com's Reader's Choice awards, and has attracted a loyal following of long-term users who say it adds just the right amount of moisture to your skin without feeling greasy.

Ingredients like niacinamide, skin-conditioning panthenol and vitamin E help nourish your skin, and this moisturizing lotion works well under makeup, too. If you have combination skin with a few oily patches, it won't leave them looking too shiny.

Users also say that this day cream spreads easily and won't leave your skin feeling slick once it sets in. Like most of the moisturizers we evaluated, Olay Complete All Day Moisturizer has an added fragrance, perhaps to help conceal the scent of the sunscreen ingredients. Users say the smell lingers, but it's mild and most people aren't bothered by it. You can also buy this product in an oil-free formula as Olay Complete Lotion All Day Moisturizer for Combination/Oily Skin (Est. $18 for 12 oz.) for oily/combination skin, and a fragrance-free version as Olay Complete All Day Moisturizer - Sensitive (Est. $7 for 4 oz.) for sensitive skin. All three versions are noncomedogenic (won't block your pores), and represent some of the best dollar-per-ounce values on the market.

Another great moisturizer -- so great, in fact, that it's attracted a loyal user following for decades -- is Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion+ (Est. $17 for 2 oz.). The "+" signifies a new formula that was introduced in 2013, with the addition of glycerin, hyaluronic acid and urea to leave your skin feeling even smoother than the previous formulation. Although a few long-time users still object to the revamping of this product, most say they've used this moisturizer for many years and still love it, and the addition of those fast-acting hydrators helped it snag a reader's choice award from Allure.com.

Users love Clinique's Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion+ because they say it provides real, recognizable, lasting results. In fact, some grew up watching their mothers use this lotion and liked what they saw so much, they continued on with the same product themselves. Another great indicator: They say the benefits continue showing in your skin, even after you stop using the lotion for a while. The formula spreads evenly across your face and can take a little while to sink in, but, once it does, it leaves your skin feeling smooth and silky, never greasy or sticky. It also does a great job of evening out patchy dry spots without overloading oily patches in combination skin.

A little bit goes a long way with Clinique's Dramatically Different, and the fragrance-free formula is especially well-suited to those with sensitive or dry skin, as is the lack of sunscreen ingredients—although that lack is ultimately what keeps this product from taking our top slot, since most experts agree that your daily moisturizer should contain a sunscreen. Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion+ is also available in an oil-free gel, Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel (Est. $30 for 4.2 oz.) for people with oily skin, or, if you have dry skin, as Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Cream (Est. $25 for 1 oz.), which a beauty writer with TheCut chooses as one of the best "winterproof" moisturizers. On the downside, the cream is packaged in a jar, which exposes delicate ingredients to air every time you open it, prompting them to break down more quickly.

New to this year's report is a product of Korean origin: Belif The True Cream Aqua Bomb (Est. $43 for 1.6 oz.), which earns nods from editors with both Self.com and Allure.com. Belif's Aqua Bomb is also wildly popular with consumers, perhaps due in part to the recent trend in Korean beauty products. However, it's an excellent product that will appeal to any picky consumer thanks to its lack of potentially irritating or harmful ingredients like parabens, sulfates, phthalates, mineral oils, petrolatum, and synthetic preservatives or fragrances.

Users are sometimes surprised to see that Belif The True Cream Aqua Bomb does contain alcohol -- but even those who object to that ingredient can't dispute the lightweight, hydrating feel of this silky, blue-tinged cream. Users with normal or combination skin generally love the dewy feel this product gives them. They also enjoy the fresh, fruity scent, and say that this cream wears well under makeup, as long as that makeup is not oil-based. "Feels like a gel but has the nourishment of a cream," says beauty writer Aimee Leabon at The Cut, noting that one of the ingredients -- lady's mantle -- is well-known for improving skin elasticity.

Night creams can repair and protect skin while you sleep

Night creams are a great way to moisturize and repair your skin while you sleep, due to their extra emollient properties. They may also be a good fit for daily use if you have sensitive skin that doesn't take well to sunscreen ingredients. Our top pick in this category is Olay Age Defying Classic Night Cream (Est. $15 for 2 oz.). Users say it does a superb job of balancing their skin moisture and even helps reduce the appearance of fine lines.

A number of users struggling with mild acne say this cream has also helped their skin stay clear. That's probably due to the salicylic acid content, which the experts at Beautypedia.com pick out as one of the best aspects of this product; it helps exfoliate and cleanse pores to reduce blackheads.

Overall, users say Olay Age Defying Classic Night Cream sinks in well and, as long as you don't overdo it, you'll never wake up feeling greasy. Some say it tingles, but most describe the sensation as cooling. Like the Olay Complete All Day Moisturizer we chose as the best day moisturizer, it also represents an excellent value. Although users with all sorts of skin types say they get great results from Olay Age Defying Classic Night Cream, Beautypedia.com recommends it as best for normal to slightly dry or slightly oily skin.

The jar packaging, which leaves the antioxidant vitamin E content vulnerable to the deteriorating effect of oxygen every time you open it, is a downside. Also, not everybody is a fan of the newly formulated scent, which they say is more of a strong floral fragrance than the previous scent, which was mildly reminiscent of creamsicles. But when it comes to the night cream's performance, Olay's classic product is still hard to beat.

Another excellent night cream is CeraVe PM Moisturizing Facial Lotion (Est. $8 for 3 oz.), the nighttime version of our best-reviewed moisturizer for sensitive skin. This formula gets the same high ratings as moisturizers and night creams that cost far more. It's a lotion, but its texture is almost gel-like -- think light and springy -- and users say it provides even coverage without any greasy or sticky after-feel.

CeraVe PM Moisturizing Facial Lotion is also fragrance-free; users with dry or sensitive skin say it does a great job of moisturizing without irritating their delicate skin. Although it's technically labeled as a night cream, we read plenty of reviews from sunscreen-adverse folks who use this as their daily (daytime) moisturizer.

It's pricier, but, Origins High Potency Night-a-Mins Mineral-Enriched Renewal Cream (Est. $30 for 1 oz.) is well-reviewed by experts and users. It includes skin-boosting ingredients like geranium, purifying thyme, vitamins C and E to help boost cell turnover while sleeping. Alexandra Gonzalez at RealSimple.com chooses this as one of their best facial moisturizers, writing that "Testers loved how the rich formula sank into their skin, not their pillowcases." It's also a top pick from Mariel Tyler, an editor with Elle, who says she uses it religiously on her normal to dry skin.

Users agree, saying that Origins High Potency Night-a-Mins goes on thick but not heavy or sticky, and sinks in pretty quickly. Many say they love its citrusy scent and that the effects are amazing, including one who writes that it makes her skin look like she's had a good night's sleep -- even if she really hasn't.

Facial moisturizers for men

There is a growing market of facial creams and other skin care products that are marketed specifically to men. Skincare expert Paula Begoun provides a good article on skincare for men, but ultimately recommends the same basic routine as for women: Cleansing, followed by a good exfoliator, then a moisturizer.

With that in mind, men can (and do) certainly use any of the other moisturizers we've already evaluated. But it works the other way, too: Our top pick for a moisturizer that's marketed directly to men, Jack Black Double Duty Face Moisturizer (Est. $28 for 3.3 oz.), is so good that quite a few women end up using it, too.

As the name suggests, this product does double duty as an SPF 20 sunscreen; it also contains lots of antioxidants and sea parsley to soothe your skin. What users really love, though, is the way its lightweight cream absorbs very quickly and doesn't leave your skin feeling greasy at all. Men say it's the perfect pre-shave moisturizer, and ladies say makeup glides right on afterward.

Jack Black Double Duty Face Moisturizer is SLS- and paraben-free, and has a light, masculine scent that most users like -- but it's not so strong that it'll overpower cologne or aftershave. The only real criticism we see is that it's not sweat-proof, so it might run into your eyes if you apply it before going to the gym.

Recently Updated
Facial Moisturizers buying guide

What every best Facial Moisturizers has:

  • A combination of moisturizing and water-binding ingredients as well as humectants.
  • Soothing agents and anti-irritants.
  • Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs).

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