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16 best face moisturizers for very dry and flaky skin

Experts say to look for face moisturizers that combine emollients, occlusives and humectants — and recommend their favorites.
Experts recommended face moisturizers from brands like Neutrogena, First Aid Beauty and more.
Experts recommended face moisturizers from brands like Neutrogena, First Aid Beauty and more.Kara Birnbaum / NBC

Our skin faces (pun intended) many environmental and self-inflicted obstacles every day, including changing seasons or junk food. The least you can do is give it the protection it needs with a good face moisturizer (and, of course, SPF).

Using a gentle cleanser, investing in a humidifier and avoiding harsh exfoliants can all help you combat dry skin. Most important, however, is adding a good face moisturizer to your skin care routine. To help you narrow your options, we spoke to dermatologists, aestheticians and estheticians about the best ingredients to look for in a facial moisturizer and which ones to avoid. Below, they share their wisdom and some of their favorite products.

SKIP AHEAD What is a moisturizer? | The best moisturizers for dry skin in 2024 | How to shop for a dry skin moisturizer

Selected.Our top picks.

How we chose the best face moisturizers

Our experts agreed on many aspects of an excellent moisturizer. We picked ones that had a combination of:

  • Emollients: sealing agents to keep moisture in
  • Occlusives: create physical barriers to prevent dehydration
  • Humectants: draw water to the skin to help it retain moisture

Moisturizers differ in their formulation, with options like ointments, creams, lotions and more for different skin needs. They also note that the products should be free of ethyl alcohol, exfoliators and other drying or irritating ingredients.

The best face moisturizers for dry skin in 2024

With our experts' guidance in mind, these are the facial moisturizers they count as their favorites for dry skin, along with recommendations from NBC Select staff, who are skin care experts in their own right.

Best overall: CeraVe Moisturizing Cream

Not only is this moisturizer an NBC Select Wellness Awards winner, but it’s also accepted by the National Eczema Association, which means it’s suitable for sensitive skin. The CeraVe Moisturizing Cream contains both hyaluronic acid and ceramides, which repair the skin’s moisture barrier.

Formula: Cream | Skin type: Sensitive, acne-prone | Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, ceramides | Fragrance free: Yes

Best gel formula: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Moisturizer

Chiu recommends Neutrogena Hydro Boost for people with dry skin, as does dermatologist Dr. Barry Goldman and licensed aesthetician Jean Dachnowicz, both of New York City’s Goldman Dermatology. “[It] addresses the dryness and [helps] the face feel hydrated,” says Goldman and Dachnowicz. Notable ingredients include hyaluronic acid, dimethicone (a silicone-based ingredient that forms a barrier) and glycerin, a frequently-used ingredient in the cosmetic world that attracts moisture to the skin.

Type: Gel | Skin type: Dry, acne-prone | Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, ceramides | Fragrance free: Yes

Best for very dry skin: First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream

This fragrance-free cream from First Aid Beauty is formulated with colloidal oatmeal, an emollient that “helps strengthen your skin barrier and adds moisture to it,” according to Goldman and Dachnowicz. Chiu says this is a great option for those suffering from dry skin in the wintertime, and the brand says it’s also helpful for those with redness and eczema.

Type: Cream | Skin type: Sensitive, dry | Key ingredients: Colloidal oatmeal | Fragrance free: Yes

Best for eczema: Topicals Like Butter Moisturizer

This moisturizer is made with 1% colloidal oatmeal, which targets extreme dryness and eczema, according to the brand. It’s one of NBC Select associate SEO reporter Ashley Morris' go-to winter moisturizers — she likes that it keeps her skin feeling hydrated and plump without any excess greasiness, and soothes dry patches right away.

Type: Lotion | Skin type: Sensitive, very dry, combo | Key ingredients: Colloidal oatmeal | Fragrance free: No

Best daily moisturizer: Vanicream Facial Moisturizer

Goldman recommends Vanicream for dry skin. The brand’s facial moisturizer is made with hyaluronic acid, ceramides, glycerin and squalane, a popular emollient, and is also free of dyes, fragrance, and other common chemical irritants, according to the brand.

Type: Lotion | Skin type: Sensitive | Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, ceramides, glycerin, squalane | Fragrance free: Yes

Best two-in-one: Laneige Cream Skin Toner & Moisturizer

NBC Select SEO editor Nikki Brown loves the milky liquid texture of this two-in-one toner and moisturizer, which she says initially took her time to warm up to. “It almost feels like water yet it has some weight to it that makes it look like a serum,” she says. According to the brand, it merges the hydration benefits of a cream with the lightweight feel of a toner, which Brown loves as a way to save time on skin care. “Two-fer products are my jam, so I love that this is a toner and moisturizer in one,” she says, while adding that potential shoppers should be wary of how much they apply. “A little goes a long way, so you risk looking greasy when you go overboard,” she says.

Type: Liquid | Skin type: Combo | Key ingredients: White tea leaf water | Fragrance free: No

Best for damaged skin barrier: Kiehls Ultra Facial Advanced Repair Barrier Cream

An NBC Select Wellness Awards winner for dry skin, this Kiehls moisturizer contains colloidal oatmeal and beta-glucan, which soothe redness and repair the skin’s moisture barrier. The cream is also lightweight and gentle on sensitive skin, according to the brand.

Type: Cream | Skin type: Sensitive | Key ingredients: Colloidal oatmeal, beta-glucan | Fragrance free: No

Best lightweight formula: Selfmade Corrective Experience Comfort Cream

This fragrance-free moisturizer from Selfmade is an NBC Select Wellness Awards winner and has niacinamide and hyaluronic acid to hydrate the skin. It’s also an occlusive, so it creates a barrier on the skin to prevent moisture loss and improve its ability to heal, according to experts.

Type: Cream | Skin type: Sensitive | Key ingredients: Niacinamide, hyaluronic acid | Fragrance free: No

Best splurge: Charlotte Tilbury Magic Cream Moisturizer

Brown says that when it comes to moisturized skin, Charlotte Tilbury’s Magic Cream is the first product that comes to mind for her. “The texture is so rich, but it doesn’t sit on top of the skin and I just love how glowy I look and feel after applying it,” she says. The cream is formulated with a slew of hydrating ingredients, including aloe vera, hyaluronic acid and camellia oil, and is also available in a lighter, gel-cream version, formulated with niacinamide.

Type: Cream | Skin type: Dry | Key ingredients: Niacinamide, aloe vera, hyaluronic acid | Fragrance free: No

Best for flaky skin: Aquaphor Healing Ointment

Aquaphor is an occlusive moisturizer that can be helpful for “skin that tends to be flaky, cracked or scaly,” according to Goldman and Dachnowicz. The fragrance-free ointment, which can be used as a lip moisturizer, hand cream and more in addition to a face moisturizer, includes several occlusive ingredients, like mineral oil and glycerin, according to the brand. Compared to lotions or creams, Aquaphor may work best to create a barrier that keeps moisture in, however, Goldman and Dachnowicz warn that Aquaphor may be too heavy for some skin types and clog pores.

Type: Ointment | Skin type: Dry, not acne-prone | Key ingredients: Glycerin | Fragrance free: Yes

Best budget-friendly: Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream

Goldman and Dachnowicz call Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream the “best overall moisturizer for dry skin.” The brand recommends using the cream at night on one’s face, but it can also be used for full-body moisture, and is formulated with hydrating ingredients like glycerin and petroleum jelly.

Type: Cream | Skin type: Sensitive, dry | Key ingredients: Glycerin, petroleum jelly | Fragrance free: Yes

Best ointment: Vaseline Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum jelly is the occlusive moisturizer behind the popular skin care trend “slugging” — people put the product on their face after their skin care routine to lock in moisture. The American Academy of Dermatology says that petroleum jelly products have several skin care benefits, including helping dry skin, however Goldman and Dachnowicz warn it may clog pores on some skin types.

Type: Ointment | Skin type: Not acne-prone | Key ingredients: Petroleum jelly | Fragrance free: Yes

Best long-lasting: Tatcha The Dewy Skin Cream

According to Chiu, Tatcha’s The Dewy Skin Cream “couples antioxidant ingredients with deep moisture in an elegant, non-greasy formula.” According to the brand, the cream is formulated with a blend of Okinawa algae and hyaluronic acid, which work together to restore water levels to the skin and replenish ceramides. Other nourishing ingredients in the moisturizer include glycerin and dimethicone.

Type: Cream | Skin type: Dry | Key ingredients: Glycerin, dimethicone, hyaluronic acid | Fragrance free: No

Best for fine lines: Skinbetter Trio Rebalancing Moisture Treatment

If you have a little bit more in your budget for skin care products, Chiu recommends Skinbetter’s Trio Rebalancing Moisture Treatment for dry skin repair. “[It] has urea and provides deep moisture without the heaviness,” she explained. According to the brand, it’s formulated with hyaluronic acid to hydrate the skin and ceramides and squalane to lock in moisture.

Type: Lotion | Skin type: Dry, damaged | Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, ceramides, squalane | Fragrance free: No

Best for oily skin: Biossance Squalane + Probiotic Gel Moisturizer

For people who want a “quick absorbing moisturizer,” Chiu recommends this “unique gel formulation” from Biossance. It uses ingredients like squalane oil and probiotics to help hydrate skin, reduce redness and decrease pore size, according to the company.

Type: Gel | Skin type: Oily, combo | Key ingredients: Squalane | Fragrance free: Yes

Best face mask: Eve Lom Moisture Mask

When your skin is “ultra dry,” Chiu says that using a moisture mask a few times a week “can help dry, flaky, sensitive or even more irritated skin calm down.” During sleep, our skin loses more moisture because our body temperature slowly increases throughout the night, says Chiu. This mask contains several moisturizing ingredients, including the humectant hyaluronic acid. It also has an “occlusive effect that still manages to feel light and soothing,” according to Chiu. Other ingredients included are black oat, lecithin and red seaweed.

Type: Cream | Skin type: Dry, flaky | Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, black oat, lecithin, red seaweed | Fragrance free: Yes

What is a moisturizer and how does it work?

Moisturizers bring moisture “into the skin, not just to its surfaces,” says Dr. Annie Chiu, a board-certified cosmetic and general dermatologist and founder of The Derm Institute in California. Typically, they come in the form of lotions or creams, but can be gels, or ointments too. Lotions tend to be lighter and less greasy, making them better for normal to lightly dry skin, says Chiu, while creams provide “a heavier barrier to keep your skin moisturized,” and are ideal for dry or sensitive skin. Gels, like petroleum jelly, or ointments, keep skin hydrated by sealing moisture in.

How to shop for a moisturizer for dry skin

Most moisturizers formulated for dry skin have a heavier, thicker texture to provide a heavy barrier on the skin. “Greasy creams and ointments work best for dry skin,” says both Goldman and Dachnowicz.

You should also pay close attention to the ingredients in each product you’re considering. As previously stated, typically, these ingredients fall into one of three categories, according to our experts:

  • Humectants draw water to the skin’s surface and help the skin retain moisture. It works by “[breaking] down dead skin cells, further improving moisture penetration,” according to Chiu. Hyaluronic acid is arguably the most common — and important — humectant: It “works by absorbing moisture like a sponge from the air and draws it into the skin,” says Goldman and Dachnowicz. Other common humectants found in moisturizers include urea, glycerol, sorbitol, glycerin, aloe vera gel and lactic acid.
  • Emollients help soften the skin and lock in moisture, and “are beneficial to aging or dry skin when natural lipids have been depleted,” says Chiu. (Natural lipids are fatty acids that trap in moisture and soothe and moisturize the skin, experts previously told us in our guide to SPF lip balms.) Common emollients include shea butter, isopropyl palmitate and colloidal oatmeal.
  • Occlusives create a physical barrier over the epidermis that prevents water loss and shields the skin from potential irritants. (The popular “slugging” trend relies on occlusive products.) According to Chiu, they are a good option for those with dry skin “since they aid in moisture retention and skin barrier restoration.” However, if you have acne-prone skin, Goldman and Dachnowicz warn that occlusive ointments might clog your pores. Common occlusives include waxes like beeswax and silicone and oils like olive oil, lanolin, mineral oil and dimethicone.

Humectants, emollients and occlusives all work together to hydrate the skin and lock moisture in.

Since moisturizers come in various textures and consistencies, experts also recommend choosing your formulations (cream, gel-cream, balm etc.) according to your skin’s type and sensitivity. 

  • According to Young, ointments are the thickest and most moisturizing formula, and usually have the least amount of irritating ingredients. “The downside to ointments is that they are greasy,” she says. “Most people wouldn’t want to walk around with ointment all over their bodies.” 
  • “A balm would be slightly less thick than an ointment but would still feel noticeable on the skin,” says Young. She says that creams would be next on the list — she often recommends them to patients with dry skin that won’t tolerate ointments.
  • Young says that lotions would be next — “they’re not as thick but not quite as moisturizing,” she says. She notes that some people might need a cream in the drier wintertime, but are able to switch to a lighter lotion during the summer.
  • On gels, Young says that they “tend to be cooling but less moisturizing”. “The new category of gel-creams is an interesting one,” she says. “These products try to strike a balance between moisturizing well but feeling more elegant on the skin with less of a feeling of leaving a greasy film”. She also adds that, although gel-creams might not be strong enough for those with very dry skin, they are an “incredible innovation in the moisturizing world”.

Meet our experts

At NBC Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

  • Dr. Annie Chiu is a board-certified cosmetic and general dermatologist and founder of The Derm Institute in California in Redondo Beach. Her areas of research include non-invasive cosmetic dermatology and aesthetics.
  • Dr. Alexis Young is a board-certified dermatologist and an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City
  • Dr. Barry Goldman is a dermatologist at New York City’s Goldman Dermatology and a clinical instructor at Cornell NY Presbyterian Hospital.
  • Jean Dachnowicz is a licensed aesthetician at New York City’s Goldman Dermatology.

Why trust NBC Select?

Christina Colizza and Morgan Greenwald are former editors for NBC Select. Ashley Morris is an associate SEO reporter for NBC Select, covering skin care, wellness, home and kitchen and more. For this story, they spoke to board-certified dermatologists and aestheticians about the best moisturizers for dry skin, including product recommendations and advice on how to shop for your own.

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