Save vs. Splurge: The Best Moisturizers for Your Skin Type and Budget

BY Alisha Racker · March 4, 2019

Best Moisturizers for Your Skin Type and Budget

As skin is the largest organ in our body, taking care of it should be an utmost priority. And one of the best ways to protect this key part of our body? Using moisturizers regularly! “Moisturizers add a layer of protection to your skin,” explains board-certified dermatologist Sandra Johnson, M.D. “Skipping out on regular moisturizing could lead to skin irritation, rash or infections.” If you’re new to using moisturizer, or would like to make improvements, here are a few helpful tips and tricks to consider:

  • Apply moisturizer while your skin is still damp (not too wet as to dilate the formula). Waiting until your skin is dry could potentially make dryness worse.
  • Consider a different product for your face and your body.
  • Switch to lighter formulas in warmer weather and thicker ones in colder months.

What’s in Your Moisturizer

According to board-certified dermatologist Rosalyn George, M.D., most moisturizers contain a mixture of the three categories: occlusive, emollients and humectants. Here’s how they differ:

  • Occlusives work to lock in moisture. Examples are petrolatum, lanolin, dimethicone, mineral oil and other oils like coconut and jojoba oil and shea butter.
  • Emollients help soften and smooth the skin by filling in the cracks. Examples are ceramides, cetyl alcohol and lineoleic acid, grape seed oil and sesame seed oil.
  • Humectants bring moisture into the top layer of your skin. This type is usually paired with at least one of the other two categories, Dr. George notes, “because too much of a good thing can actually cause irritation.” Examples are hyaluronic acid, urea, lactic acid, propylene glycol and glycerin.

How to Pick a Moisturizer

When choosing a moisturizer, consider your skin type and concern. Is your skin oily and breaks out easily, or is it too dry that nothing you apply seems to keep the flakes away? Is sensitivity or wrinkles a concern? If you’re in the market for a good moisturizer, we’re here to help! Scroll down to see our top picks based on your skin type or concern, as well as budget.

For Normal Skin

Just because your skin is on the normal side doesn’t mean you can skip using a moisturizer. However, because your skin doesn’t need to address any specific concern, maintaining a healthy skin barrier and protecting it against damaging pollutants and UV rays should be your primary focus. Dr. Johnson recommends choosing a simple moisturizer with as few ingredients as possible, naming SkinMedica as one of her top choices.

Splurge: SkinMedica Rejuvenative Moisturizer

If you read the 75+ 5-star reviews for this everyday moisturizer, one word will stick out: “light.” When applied to the face and neck, many users remark on the lightweight yet thoroughly hydrating results, thanks to sodium hyaluronate (hyaluronic acid) which retains up to 1,000 its weight in water. Vitamins C and E help give the skin a brightening and antioxidant boost.

Save: EltaMD Moisturizer

This soothing cream is a great all-around moisturizer. Not only does it deliver long-lasting moisture, it also helps promote skin healing after chemical peels, laser treatments and sunburn. For an extra dose of moisture, use day and night. One Dermstore shopper advises to go easy on this moisturizer if you don’t have dry skin: “I first found out this cream when I got a facial. It is a great moisturizer and a little goes a long way!”

For Dry Skin

Dry skin is often lacking natural oils and lubricants, thus resulting in an itchy or tight feeling. Dr. Johnson explains that thicker cream moisturizers are often oil-based, making them a better option for dry skin.

Splurge: Epionce Intensive Nourishing Cream

If you have dry skin, you understand the need for something that truly quenches your skin’s thirst and keeps flakes at bay. Enter Epoince Intensive Nourishing Cream. Highly emollient and rich, it works to nourish skin from within and improves its barrier with shea butter, peptides and natural oils. An optimal choice for dry skin, dry climates, cold weather or any other situation when your skin might need extra moisture.

Save: First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream

Flaky skin, cracks and tightness are all woes related to dry skin—and not very fun to deal with! Luckily, First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream utilizes oatmeal extract and allantoin to alleviate irritation while leaving a protective film on skin to add nourishment and comfort. This rich formula is also ideal for those suffering with eczema and can be dabbed on parched patches of the body like the elbow, heels and hands.

For Oily Skin

If you have oily skin, there’s a word you need to be acquainted with, especially when looking at your moisturizer’s product label: “non-comedogenic.” Non-comedogenic ingredients won’t clog pores, an important factor since acne often accompanies oily skin.

Splurge: Sunday Riley Tidal Brightening Enzyme Water Cream

Aside from lightweight hydration, this moisturizer offers exfoliating benefits. Papain derived from papaya enzymes works to smooth and exfoliate skin while hyaluronic acid and tamarind extract plump and moisturize. “Another great product that moisturizes even oily skin with quick absorption for a radiant glow. Even beneficial in my high-humidity climate without resulting in breakouts,” explains one Dermstore review.

Save: La Roche-Posy Effaclar Mat Daily Moisturizer for Oily Skin

Shine can be a major obstacle to face when dealing with oily skin. Thankfully, this lightweight formula from La Roche-Posay offers a mattifying formula that also helps tighten pores, balance oil production and protect against free-radical damage. Apply to the face and neck and take advantage of the vitamins, antioxidants and salicylic acid packed within the moisturizer.

For Sensitive Skin

Sensitive skin can mean many things, points out Dr. Johnson. “A patient can be sensitive to a certain skin care ingredient or to environmental toxins like smog or pollution,” he explains. “Choosing the right moisturizer will help by acting as a barrier against those irritants and allergens.”  She also recommends those with extreme sensitivity to visit their dermatologists for a patch test to learn which ingredients should be avoided.

Splurge: Eminence Organic Skin Care Rosehip Whip Moisturizer

If you suffer from red, itchy skin due to rosacea, eczema or other factors, Eminence Organic Skin Care offers an entire line made specifically for this skin type. Formulated with pure, natural ingredients, this moisturizer features antioxidant-rich rosehip extract, which hydrates and helps balance out your skin, while pectin helps strengthen it. One Dermstore shopper describes the texture as “creamy and light at the same time.”

Save: Avene Recovery Cream

This moisturizer is formulated with a minimal number of ingredients, including healing and nutrient-rich thermal spring water, to calm irritation and nourish and protect. It can also be used after chemical peels or laser procedures as a recovery treatment, hence the name. One Dermstore shopper had this to say: “Since my last breakout, I’ve been using Recovery Cream and have had no eczema at all, which is unheard of for me in the winter.”

For Combination Skin

When different parts of your face have contrasting needs, it’s important to choose a moisturizer that will keep all areas satisfied. “Be very gentle and kind to your combination skin. Limit the number of products and steps to not aggravate it,” advises Dr. Johnson.

Splurge: SkinCeuticals Daily Moisture

Balance is key when dealing with combination skin—and this product, which thoroughly hydrates without leaving a greasy residue, delivers exactly that. Vitamin E works as an antioxidant while a blend of natural purifying extracts including licorice and ginger restores skin’s moisture and minimizes the appearance of pores. One Dermstore shopper describes it as her “holy grail product,” saying that “Daily moisture is perfect for my combination 40s skin. My face stays hydrated all day with neither dry nor oily spots.”

Save: Vichy Mineral 89 Daily Skin Booster Serum and Moisturizer

Free of fragrance and oil, this moisturizer contains only 11 ingredients, one of those being mineralizing thermal water, which makes up 89% of the formula in addition to hyaluronic acid. It has a non-sticky, gel texture, two drops of which can be used alone as a moisturizer or layered underneath a cream.

For Mature Skin

Daily upkeep is essential for mature skin, which includes limiting collagen breakdown and protecting skin from further damage, according to Dr. Johnston. The skin barrier diminishes as we age and skin becomes more sensitive, adding to the long list of reasons to use sun protection daily.

Splurge: Dermalogica AGE Smart Super Rich Repair

Described as “thick without being heavy,” this cream can be used day and night to calm irritation, fight free radicals and encourage hyaluronic acid production within the skin. It’s composed of an advanced complex that discourages collagen degradation and promotes firmness and elasticity. One reviewer had this to say: “This cream is a dream. After using this, I received several comments on my skin…a little goes a long way and the bottle will last a long time.”

Save: Paula's Choice RESIST Barrier Repair Moisturizer

If you’ve been wary about introducing a retinol cream into your skin regimen, Paula’s Choice offers an affordable, gentle option to meet your anti-aging needs. Retinol, a form of vitamin A, is infused into this silky moisturizer to target existing fine lines and wrinkles and protect against free-radical damage. Green tea, ceramides and shea butter also work to trap moisture in the skin.

Alisha Racker

Alisha Racker’s beauty career has spanned over a decade, beginning in the treatment room as a master esthetician, then onto the corporate world, working in PR for high-end skin care brands. A love for research and writing, coupled with... Read More >

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