If you are in need of a great moisturiser for chronically dry skin or itchy, scratchy skin, or if yours is dehydrated (yes, oily and combination types, this could be you) you have never been better served than with the array of moisturisers available right now. The majority of moisturisers for dry skin or dehydrated skin are formulated to both nourish long-term and heal and strengthen the moisture-locking protective skin barrier with barrier-building ingredients such as ceramides and niacinamide.
Best of all, there’s a perfect moisturizer for dry and/or dehydrated skin to suit every skin issue and budget.
What is a moisturiser?
Moisturisers are ‘emulsions’ of oily and watery ingredients, mostly composed of:
- Humectants aka water magnets: these attract water into the skin’s top layers, such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin and urea.
- Emollients aka skin softeners: these are nourishing oils and lipids that settle between the gaps in the skin’s protective barrier to reinforce it and prevent trans-epidermal water loss. Think squalane, rosehip oil and ceramides.
- Occlusives aka moisture and lipid lockers: these waxes, butters and other agents such as silicones and petroleum jelly seal in the moisture and lipids with a protective layer. The idea is to stop essential moisture leaching away, or in dermatologist-speak, to prevent trans-epidermal water loss or TEWL.
Why do you need a moisturiser for dry skin?
If we don’t tend to our dry or dehydrated skin with a decent moisturiser, it will eventually lose elasticity and start looking sallow, lacklustre and saggy. Lines will appear sooner than they ought to and you might develop sensitivity issues. So it’s no exaggeration to say that any good moisturiser, no matter how simple, is a basic anti-ageing cream.
Which moisturiser is right for you depends on what your skin needs.
Dry or dehydrated skin – which one are you?
Determining whether your skin is dry or dehydrated (or both) will help you pick the right products for you.
- How to know if you have dry skin. Dry skin is genetic. This skin type lacks in lipids and oils and you’ll need to consistently top those up with formulas high in oils and occlusives. The more chronically dry-feeling and flake-prone the skin on your face and body or the more you suffer from conditions such as eczema and sensitivity, the more likely it is you have this skin type. But don’t forget that you always need some humectants as well - all skins need oil and water to remain balanced and comfortable, as cosmetic physician Dr Sophie Shotter explains in her dos and don’ts of dealing with dry skin.
- How to know if you have dehydrated skin. This is not a skin type but a skin condition that anyone with any skin type (including oily) can suffer from. Dehydrated skins are sapped of water due to not drinking enough of the stuff, or a drying environment such as winter cold, central heating, and air conditioning. The wrong skincare can be dehydrating too. Treating skin aggressively with products high in sulphates, alcohol or too many chemical exfoliants and acids is dehydrating (check out these best cleansers for dry skin to help you avoid issues). To put moisture back in, a serum or cream rich in humectants (sodium PCA, sorbitol, propylene glycol and polyhydroxy acids, to name some more examples) is essential. But you will need some lipids such as ceramides as well to seal that water into the skin and repair your moisture barrier
- Can oily skin be dehydrated? Yes, it’s perfectly possible for oily skin to be severely dehydrated. You’ll know this when yours looks oily on the surface but feels dry and uncomfortable underneath. So don’t make the mistake of skipping moisturiser altogether if you have oily skin. Just remember that the oilier your skin, the more you should err on the side of humectants and choose a product low on occlusives as they might clog your pores. Oily skins will require fewer and lighter emollients (go for squalane and ceramides) than normal or dry skins.
Of course, most moisturisers will indicate what skin they’re best for, but if you know what balance of ingredients suits you best and what they look like on the ingredient list, you have far less chance of wasting money on a product that’s not quite right for you.
To help you along, we’ve listed the best new moisturisers for every conceivable skin type and condition.
Silky, light-feeling and with a soft matte finish, this is based on urea which many consider a superior humectant to hyaluronic acid, because it doesn’t only trap water in the skin like other humectants, but very gently exfoliates rough skin as well. So it’s great for scaly conditions such as eczema. There are light lipids and oat kernel flower to calm and soothe and lock in moisture, and it’s unscented to give upset skin a break.
A bouncy, mattifying gel-cream, this has a complex of powerful humectants (HA, sodium PCA, glycerin, aloe vera) to plump the skin with moisture without adding pore-clogging waxes or oils (there’s a little sunflower seed oil to lock the water in). There’s an oxygenating complex to speed up skin healing and 2% salicylic acid to de-clog pores and keep skin smooth and soft. It’s deep hydration without the weight; just what congested skin needs.
A rich, unscented gel-cream with a satin finish, this has a quadruple lipid complex (ceramides, cholesterol, fatty acids) to reinforce the lipid barrier and keep even genetically dry skin (which naturally lacks in oils) comfortable. Japanese Indigo is a powerful skin-calming agent, while antioxidants, superfoods and prebiotics balance and protect skin
This is a rich (but not heavy-feeling), unscented cream-gel with a really quenching, glossy finish, thanks to masses of humectant glycerin. It boasts a proprietary peptide amino acid complex to both condition and hydrate skin but also to help rev up its collagen production, alongside a lot of niacinamide to balance and repair the moisture barrier. To boot, there are phytoestrogens: very helpful for collagen-depleted skin. It’s all sealed in with plenty of emollients and occlusives.
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A not-too-heavy, scented gel cream with a classic, balanced mix of hydrating ingredients (humectants, nourishing oils, moisture-locking silicones and waxes), spiked with actives to help skin recover from physical and emotional stress. There are blue light and electromagnetic radiation-shielding agents, brightening actives such as vitamin C, and neurophroline (a calming botanical) to inhibit stress-induced inflammation. A hydrating holiday in a bottle.
A weightless gel-cream with a lovely grass scent that leaves skin with a nice sheen, this unlocks skin’s aquaporins, tiny microchannels that transport water deep into the skin layers – and even helps create new ones. It means skin feels deeply hydrated, fast, and remains so. There are conditioning oils and butters as well, but they don’t add weight, and peptides, vitamin C, ceramides and blue light-blocking algae to protect as well as help regenerate skin. Proof that deep hydration can come without the weight.
A very simple cream with only 10 ingredients to minimise the chance of adverse reactions (there are no preservatives or fragrance), it’s a balance of hyaluronic acid, spring water and shea butter to keep dry skin quenched as well as nourished. Mimics the natural composition of skin and offers 48 hours of moisture (if you choose not to wash for that long). Its sister product, the hydrating fluid, combines hyaluronic acid and light oils for warmer days and dehydrated, rather than genetically dry, skins.
A lush, buttery (but not oily) cream that coddles skin with a protective, healing film of barrier-repairing ingredients alongside brightening agents such as niacinamide, sea buckthorn (rich in vitamin C) and glucosamine, and rice bran extract said to have elasticity-boosting properties. There’s not much in the pot but a little goes a long way and it does come with a weighty little wand to give the face a lymphatic drainage massage while applying your lightly scented cream.
Ceramides, essential fatty acids and a mesotherapy-inspired complex of vitamins, peptides and amino acids in a melting balm that’s based on plant oils. The scented cream is probably a little too rich for skins that aren’t properly dry, but will energise, replenish and comfort skin that’s lacking in oils.
Made specifically for very dry skin lacking in oils, this luxurious but scent-free blend of shea butter, squalane and other fatty acid-rich oils and lipids is also rich in seaweed extracts to add moisture, minerals and other revitalising trace elements, and has the Matrixyl 3000 peptide to rev up cell regeneration. It may be rich but it’s not greasy, the texture feels really luxurious and dry skins will lap it up day or night.
Best mask moisturiser for combination skin: Medik8 H.E.O. Mask, £57 for 50mlx2
This two-tube mask (wear it overnight or just for a boost) was created to deliver the optimum ratio of humectants, emollients and occlusives (the three essential elements of a moisturiser) to keep any skin quenched for 72 hours - handy if you’re lost in the woods or something! It even has clinical proof that it works. It’s a fragrance-free two-step of a plumping, humectant-rich gel and a silky cream teeming with ceramides, squalane and silicones to repair the lipid barrier, and the idea is to layer the cream over the gel for maximum moisture. If you have combination skin, it’s perfect for multi-masking personalisation: apply the quenching gel to your entire face, but only top it with the cream where your face feels dry and/or sensitive, such as your cheeks. Sorted.
Best moisturiser (and cleanser) for dry winter skin: The Seated Queen Cold Cream, £22 for 30ml
If you want to be like your grandma “who only used cold cream all her life and had the best skin”, this one’s for you. Cold cream is a water-in-oil emulsion with roughly equal amounts of oils/waxes and water, as opposed to the oil-in-water formulas of most creams that are designed to sink swiftly into the skin. Cold creams are supposed to sit on the skin and form a barrier, or to be used as a wipe-off cream cleanser. This is the plant-based version, using shea butter instead of petroleum jelly as the occlusive agent alongside a plethora of nourishing plant oils and glycerin. There are essential oils as well, to soothe the mind and settle the soul.
Developed for uncomfortable, damaged or irritated skin, a quick mist lays down a film of non-oily but hydrating and calming active ingredients (cica or centella asiatica extract, panthenol, and prebiotics) – like an invisible plaster. It’s the perfect all-day stand-by for skin that is constantly screaming for moisture and healing.