What the best face creams have
- A combination of moisturizing and water-binding ingredients as well as humectants. Experts say that plant oils, mineral oils, shea butter, cocoa butter, petrolatum, silicones and animal oils (like lanolin) make the best moisturizing ingredients. An effective face moisturizer will contain one or more of those, along with ingredients like ceramides, hyaluronic acid, or elastin to keep water from leaving the skin, and humectants, such as sorbitol, glycols, glycerin and sodium PCA, to attract water to the skin.
- Soothing agents and anti-irritants. Common soothing additives that may crop up in your facial moisturizer include bisabolol, allantoin, burdock root, aloe, licorice root, glycyrrhetinic acid, green tea and chamomile extract. These ingredients help counteract the irritation that may be caused by external factors, like environmental irritants or exfoliating.
- Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). These ingredients have been shown to clear pores and remove dead skin cells, leaving your face smooth and hydrated. Glycolic acid, lactic acid and citric acid are examples of common AHA skincare ingredients. Salicylic acid, a common ingredient in acne treatments, is a BHA that shows up in some face moisturizers.
- An SPF rating of 30 or more and UVA protection. Experts recommend that your daytime moisturizer should include sunscreen of SPF 30 or better, with broad spectrum protection against both UVB and UVA rays. Common sunscreen ingredients include titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone, tinosorb and mexoryl SX. If your preferred facial moisturizer has a rating less than SPF 30, you should layer another product for adequate sun protection.
- Antioxidants. Whether taken internally or spread onto your skin, antioxidants help prevent some of the damage caused by free radicals. There are countless antioxidants -- including vitamins A, C and E, green tea extract, grapeseed oil, coffeeberry extract and idebenone -- that crop up commonly in facial moisturizers; experts say the best moisturizing formulas contain a mix of several.
- Opaque packaging and dispensers with small opening. The delicate antioxidants and plant extracts in your facial moisturizer will deteriorate quickly with repeated exposure to air and sunlight, so opaque packaging offers an important layer of protection. Pump dispensers or squeezable tubes also help limit the amount of air and light that contact your moisturizer, and they're more hygienic too, since scooping moisturizer from a jar with your fingers encourages the spread of bacteria.
- Formulas that suit your skin type. The best moisturizer will have ingredients that suit your skin type. Although experts are split on whether people with oily skin need moisturizers at all, all agree that an oil-free moisturizer is usually best for those with oily or acne-prone skin. People with sensitive skin should choose a moisturizer without perfumes, petrolatum, lanolin or other comedogenic (pore-clogging) ingredients. If you have sensitive skin, you might also prefer a moisturizer without sunscreen ingredients.
Know before you go
What's your skin type? Different skin types need varying degrees of moisture, and some skin types should avoid certain ingredients. To determine your skin type, wash your skin with a gentle cleanser and pat dry. Wait an hour or two for your skin to return to normal, then examine yourself in the mirror. If your skin looks shiny, or if a piece of tissue pressed to your skin sticks easily and becomes transparent or shows oily residue, you have oily skin.
You can do the tissue test for other skin types, too. If you see flaky skin on the tissue or in the mirror, you have dry skin; you might also see a combination of oil and skin residue, which means you have combination skin. If you see neither oil nor skin residue, you most likely have "normal" skin. Sensitive skin is easy to recognize because it tends 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. Look for an oil-free formula, preferably with a beta-hydroxy acid such as salicylic acid to help clean your pores.
Try to obtain sample sizes. Even when you're dealing with very well-reviewed moisturizers, some trial and error may be necessary to find the best fit for your skin. Using sample sizes helps cut down on the frustration and money lost during that trial process.
Test products on your inner arm first. If you have sensitive skin, this simple test can save you from the frustration and embarrassment of having the skin on your face break out. If your inner arm shows irritation, you'll know not to use that product on your face.