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Best Face Moisturizer for Dry / Sensitive Skin

By: Lisa Maloney on May 16, 2017

Choose your moisturizer ingredients carefully to avoid irritating sensitive skin

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 your skin. 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. $14 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 as a night cream, CeraVe PM Moisturizing Facial Lotion (Est. $8 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 Beautypedia.com.

The PM version draws similar kudos from the editors of Elle.com and an extensive reader survey at TotalBeauty.com, although if you use the PM version of this moisturizer, you also need to incorporate a separate sunscreen.

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. $30 for 2 oz.) draws rave reviews from users and a "best beauty product" 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; one reader likens it to whipped silk. 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. Similarly, if you have very oily skin, Renewed Hope in a Jar is probably too much for you.

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 you use this during the day, however, you'll need to apply a separate SPF to protect your skin.

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. $17 for 1.7oz.), a fragrance-free and dye-free version of the Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel formula (Est. $38 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. In fact, users say you can wear makeup over either of these.

The gel formula also gets a "best beauty product" pick from TotalBeauty.com; 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.

Another excellent moisturizer for dry skin is First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream Intense Hydration (Est. $30 for 6 oz.). It's a Reader's Choice pick in TotalBeauty.com's "Total Beauty Awards" in 2017, and users say at other sites that if you have dry, problem skin of any type -- including eczema, rosacea, seborrheic dermatitis and dry skin prone to acne -- this "whipped" cream can be a real lifesaver. It's rich in moisturizing shea butter, antioxidants and allantoin to calm and soothe your skin, and free of many common problem ingredients, including artificial colors and fragrance, parabens, phthalates, propylene glycol, sulfates, lanolin, mineral oil and alcohol.

Users report that FAB's Ultra Repair Cream feels fairly thick but sinks into your skin quickly, leaving it feeling soft, hydrated and smooth. Some say it even reduces redness, and those with truly delicate skin will appreciate that it's been tested for allergy triggers. On the downside, this repair cream doesn't have any SPF content -- but that's often an advantage for super-sensitive skin. Also, although this product's colloidal oatmeal is a proven ingredient for soothing itching and irritation, a few users point out that if you slather this cream on too thickly, you'll end up with dried bits of oatmeal left on your face.

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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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