For many, a good moisturizer is an ever-present ally in a skincare routine. And when you’re lucky enough to find that one product you like, loyalty is a given. But have you ever stopped to think about what makes a good face cream? Or if you’re thinking about making a switch, what to consider?
Let’s dive into the world of face moisturizers, including how they work, how to use them, and what to look for on the ingredients list.
Table of Contents
- 1 What does moisturizer do for my face?
- 2 How should I moisturize my face?
- 3 Start the search for the perfect facial moisturizer
- 4 Just the FAQs
What does moisturizer do for my face?
You can feel the benefits almost immediately. Smooth on your favorite formula, and your skin seems softer to the touch and more comfortable overall. But what about all the work that facial moisturizers do behind the scenes?
Here are a few things that a good face cream can do:
- Fill in rough spots. You’re not just imagining that smooth feeling after moisturizing. Some creams include ingredients to help wrap skin in a layer of silky, protective goodness.
- Attract moisture to the skin. This moisture can either come from deeper layers of the skin or from humidity in the air.
- Help prevent water loss. On top of working to rehydrate, many moisturizers act proactively by locking in water before environmental stressors can zap it from your skin.
- Support the skin’s barrier function. Your barrier helps to protect against those daily aggressors (think pollution and sun exposure) that can damage the skin.
How do facial moisturizers work?
There are three main groups of ingredients inside facial moisturizers that you can thank for that satisfying feeling of soft, plump, hydrated skin. Let’s get to know them:
These are the favorites that come to mind when you think of your favorite moisturizing picks. Famed humectants include hyaluronic acid, glycerin, panthenol, and urea.
Humectants typically work to draw water into the skin from the air around you. But, when you’re in a dry climate, they search for water from the deeper layers of your skin — turning the next group of ingredients into essential allies.
You can think of the humectant-occlusive relationship as a type of greenhouse effect (in a good way). When humectants draw water to skin from outside or in, occlusives trap it there. These buttery-textured elements help keep water from evaporating and seal in the moisture that humectants worked so hard to get. Popular occlusives include lanolin, lecithin, paraffin, and dimethicone.
Emollients aren’t here to moisturize, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t busy. These ingredients serve as a protective layer and help make the skin feel soft and smooth. A few favorites are ceramides, squalane, and stearic acid. And many occlusives and humectants double as emollients, too.
How should I moisturize my face?
Remember that products’ textures are intentional, allowing the skin to absorb what it needs during each step along the way. This means that moisturizer should typically be the fourth step in your routine. After cleansing, apply your eye cream and serum — then your denser, creamier moisturizer can help to seal things in.
Another tip? Treat your neck and decolleté with the same thoughtfulness as your face. Moisturizing these on-display areas helps to support hydration and elasticity.
Start the search for the perfect facial moisturizer
A moisturizer is arguably the most personal of skincare choices. You probably know what kind of texture you like and how you want your skin to feel after application. But if you haven’t got things clear yet, no worries. Following a few best practices can get you pointed in the right direction.
What to look for in a day cream
Ever feel your skin looks better in the morning? While we think you look great all day long, there’s some science as to why you might feel that way. Your skin can actually be slightly thicker in the morning as it prepares to protect against stressors throughout the day.
From the moment you wake up to about the moment it gets dark out, your skin just doesn’t quit. During the day, its jobs are to protect against UV exposure, excess moisture loss, pollution, extreme temperatures, and blocking aggressors from entering. Not easy!
Want to help your skin do its thing even better? Swap out your moisturizer for a formula that both hydrates and helps protect against the damaging effects of pollution.
Our recommendation: Age Contour
This rich formula protects against the effects of daily pollutants and reduces the visible appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. On top of that, it helps to redefine the neck and jawline for visibly smoother, firmer skin.
How to use it:
Apply onto clean, dry skin as the next step in your morning skincare routine after serum. Spread the cream over your face and neck, massaging gently into the skin until complete absorption. Then, apply your favorite broad spectrum sunscreen.
This might be your perfect daytime moisturizer if:
- You’re looking for a firm, plump look for the face and neck.
- You live in an urban environment and could use a formula with an anti-pollution effect.
- You don’t want to worry about reapplication (and you don’t need to, thanks to hydration that lasts up to 12 hours).
What to look for in a night cream
From afternoon to evening, your skin naturally loses moisture due to transepidermal water loss (TEWL). This is your skin’s way of naturally regulating its water content, by letting some water evaporate into the air around you.
However, daily stressors like sun exposure, low humidity, and wind can speed up TEWL. And when your skin loses more water than it can replace, it becomes dry and rough. Your evening skincare routine is the time to seal moisture in with a cream that’ll keep your skin nourished all night long.
But the perfect PM partner doesn’t just offer hydration. Skin switches into repair mode at night — meaning that targeted ingredients have a natural ally to help amplify their effects. The takeaway? Your night cream makes the perfect vessel for well-aging ingredients.
Our recommendation: Age Contour Night
With a formulation rich in antioxidants like melatonin, plus peptides and hydrating components, it provides triple action repair that helps undo the day’s damage, reduce visible signs of skin aging, and calm the skin.
How to use it:
Apply onto clean, dry skin, as the last step in your evening skincare routine after serum. Spread the cream over your face and neck, massaging gently into the skin until complete absorption.
This might be your perfect nighttime moisturizer if:
- You’re looking to target visible signs of skin aging on the face and neck.
- Multitasking is your thing: undo the day’s damage, reduce visible signs of aging, and calm the skin at once.
- You’re in search of a rich, luxurious texture.
Just the FAQs
What are the five basic steps of skincare?
Here’s a simple breakdown of a skincare routine:
Step 2: Apply eye contour cream
Step 3: Apply your serum
Step 4: Moisturize
Step 5: Protect skin with sunscreen
Not sure what your skin type is or how to start building a routine? Take our quick skincare routine quiz!
Should I moisturize my face everyday?
Yes! As with most great habits, consistency is key. Depending on what kind of climate you live in, your skin loses water throughout the day and night. But a regular moisturizing routine can help you keep hydrated.
Another reason to stick with it? While immediate results of hydration (like smoothness and plumpness) might show up almost immediately, any rejuvenating effects typically take at least 30 days to appear. So make sure to stick with your moisturizer for any noticeable changes.
Is a hydrating moisturizer good for oily skin?
Absolutely! Proper hydration can help your skin to naturally balance its own oil production. Plus, it works to keep your skin barrier happy. And when your barrier is content, things tend to go well overall.
However, it is important to opt for a moisturizer that’s suited to oily, combination, or acne-prone skin. Look for non-comedogenic creams — meaning the formula does its best not to block pores.
Is it better to moisturize my face wet or dry?
There are a lot of opinions around this question. But the fact is, only you (and your dermatologist) know what’s best for your skin.
Our experts recommend applying moisturizer after cleansing, applying eye cream, and serum. This means that the skin is dry to the touch. But between washing and massaging in a serum, there’s still a bit of moisture on the skin’s surface.
Now that you know what kind of face moisturizer works for you, it’s time to add it to your daily skincare routine. Happy, healthy, beautiful skin to follow!
Amy is a content strategist who turned a part-time obsession with skincare into a full-time passion. Her experience as a creative storyteller includes a range of lifestyle and technology topics across Washington D.C. and Barcelona. What's in her travel bag? Eye contour cream and sunscreen, always.