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Buy moisturizer -- it seems easy enough when you jot it down on your to-do list. But wander the skin care aisles and you quickly learn that the choices can be confounding. There are face creams, body and facial moisturizers, and lotions or ointments for dry, sensitive, light, or dark skin. Add in anti-aging ingredients and sunscreens and the confusion just grows.

So how do you know what moisturizer is best for you? Use these no-nonsense strategies from top dermatologists to help choose the right moisturizer for giving your skin the healthy glow you're after.

 

Cream, Lotion, or Ointment?

Picking a moisturizer is a must, no matter what kind of skin you have -- oily, dry or a combination of both.

If you've got itchy or dry skin, you'll probably want to lock in moisture with a thick ointment. Creams are thinner, help hydrate, and are good for normal skin. Lotions are the lightest (water is their main ingredient) and are a good match for oily skin.

Base the thickness of your moisturizer on when and where you use it on your body. Florida dermatologist Andrea Cambio, MD, says, "Choose a light moisturizer for day and a heavier one for nighttime."  You can also use a thicker cream for your body and a lightweight moisturizing lotion for your face. Stick with lighter, hydrating moisturizers in the summer months.

Moisturizing Product Guidelines

  • Sun protection. No matter your skin type, just about every dermatologist recommends getting a moisturizer with a sunscreen of at least SPF 30. If you’re getting it for your face, Cambio suggests looking for one that is oil- and fragrance-free.
  • Antioxidants. Moisturizers with antioxidants such as green tea, chamomile, pomegranate, or licorice root extract may help keep any skin type looking fresh and healthy. Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals -- molecules that break down skin cells.
  • Oily or acne-prone skin. "I like alpha-hydroxy acids, which are also anti-aging," Chicago dermatologist Carolyn Jacob, MD, says. If you're prone to acne, you'll also want to look for a non-comedogenic facial moisturizer that won't clog pores.
  • Dry skin. Aim for a heavier moisturizer and look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid and dimethicone, which help keep skin hydrated. Glycerin, propylene glycol, proteins, and urea also help attract water to your skin. Lanolin, mineral oil, and petrolatum lock in moisture.
  • Sensitive skin. Use a hypoallergenic and fragrance-free moisturizer. “In general, choose one that contains less than 10 ingredients," California dermatologist Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, MD, says. Fewer ingredients mean fewer potential interactions with fragile skin.
  • Itchy skin. If a hypoallergenic moisturizing cream doesn’t relieve itching, try a 1% hydrocortisone steroid skin cream for one week but no longer. Talk to your doctor if this doesn’t resolve the itch. You may have a more serious skin problem.  
  • Eczema. Use a thick moisturizing ointment containing petrolatum, or simply use petroleum jelly to help sooth cracks and keep skin supple.