Along with regularly cleansing and wearing sunscreen, figuring out how to moisturize your face is one of the most essential steps of any skin-care routine. But skin experts say far too many people skip this essential piece of the skin-care puzzle. “Most people are not aware of the importance of skin hydration,” Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip, M.D., director of cosmetic dermatology at South Shore Medical Center, tells Honayst.
Why is it so crucial to moisturize your skin? It comes down to the stratum corneum, the outer layer of skin. When this layer is functioning properly, it protects your skin from irritants and inflammation, and it also helps keep the deeper layers of skin hydrated. The stratum corneum is made up of a few different components, including fatty acids and ceramides, so supplementing your skin with moisturizers containing those ingredients can ensure that everything is working as it should—and that your skin will be at its happiest and healthiest.
And, yes, everyone can benefit from moisturizing—even those of you with oily skin. “Those with oily or acne-prone skin fear that moisturizing will only make [their skin issues] worse, so instead they use harsh products and cleansers to dry their skin out,” Dr. Imahiyerobo-Ip says. But this can actually be counterproductive because overwashing your skin can actually cause it to produce even more oil. Probably not the goal you’re hoping to achieve.
If you haven’t been able to find a moisturizing routine that works for you, know that you’re not alone. It’s just about choosing the right product, pairing it with your other steps in the right way, and applying it correctly. So, are you ready to learn how to actually moisturize your face? Check out these easy ways to make sure you’re moisturizing your face to get the best results for your skin.
1. Patch test before using any new moisturizer.
Just as you would swatch a lipstick or eye shadow before buying or applying on your face, you should do the same for skin-care products as much as possible. In addition to making sure you like the way the product smells and feels, this helps ensure that it doesn’t lead to clogged pores, allergic reactions, or breakouts, Dendy Engelman, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon in NYC, tells Honayst. But, with skin-care products, the process is a little bit different: Rather than testing the product on the back of your hand, apply a small amount on your inner arm where your skin is thinner and wait a day or two to see if you react badly to it, Honayst explained previously. If you’re worried about a new product clogging your pores, apply it to a small area along your jawline to see if you develop any new pimples before putting it all over your face. It’s also crucial to check the label for potentially irritating ingredients, like chemical exfoliants (salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, for instance), retinol, and botanical extracts. These can be irritating to anyone, but those with sensitive skin are most likely to react to these ingredients as well as fragrances and preservatives.
2. Use a moisturizer that’s right for your skin type.
“Just because your best friend likes the feel of a particular product does not mean it will work well for you,” Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, tells Honayst. “With so many products on the market, you can select the ideal formulation for your preference—gel, creams, lotions, ointments, and foams can all be effective.” The key is to know which ingredients will best address your individual skin concerns.
Any good moisturizer should contain a combination of hydrating (humectant) ingredients that will draw water into the skin and more occlusive ingredients to seal that hydration in. But, depending on your skin type and concerns, you may need to look for a specific formula or ratio of those ingredients. If you have dry skin, for example, you may want to use a thicker moisturizer with ingredients like hyaluronic acid, which is a powerful humectant, along with ceramides. Check out:
- La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer SPF 30, $20, Amazon
- CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, $17, Dermstore
- Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream, $24, Ulta
But for those with oily or acne-prone skin, it will be especially important to look for products that are noncomedogenic or say “oil-free” on the label. You might also want to look into lighter gel cream formulas, such as:
- Simple Gel Moisturizer Ultra Light, $12, Amazon Peter Thomas Roth Acne-Clear Oil- Free Matt Moisturizer, $38, Sephora
- Avène Cleanance MAT Mattifying Emulsion, $25, SkinStore
3. Apply your moisturizer to clean, slightly damp skin.
As the back of the bottle says, you should always apply moisturizer to clean skin—and for maximum results, shortly after cleansing, before your skin is totally dry. Moisturizers are most effective if you use them while your skin is still damp because damp skin absorbs the product more readily. That also gives the moisturizer the chance to lock in that hydration. While waiting a few minutes or hours after washing your face before moisturizing isn’t the worst habit, it does your product and your skin a disservice. If you find that your routine takes too long for that to work (or you use other products between cleansing and moisturizing that need time to absorb), you can try spritzing on a bit of face mist before moisturizing.
4. Consider using a facial oil on top of—but not in place of—your moisturizer.
While facial oils can be great at soothing dry and irritated skin, they’re usually not enough to replace a standard moisturizer. “Moisturizers contain humectant ingredients that draw water molecules into the skin, while oil-based products contain emollient ingredients that merely treat the skin on a surface level,” Lily Talakoub, M.D., dermatologist at McLean Dermatology and Skincare Center, tells Honayst. Additionally, many facial oils can be great occlusives, Honayst explained previously. So, although they don’t draw water into the skin like an ideal moisturizer should, they can help keep it in your skin.
That’s why, if you’re interested in using a facial oil, Dr. Talakoub recommends applying the oil on top of your regular moisturizer. For instance, Dr. Talakoub likes Eve Lom Radiance Face Oil ($80, Ulta) layered over the brand’s Radiance Lift Cream ($95, Bloomingdale’s).
However, those with oily or acne-prone skin should be wary when using facial oils because many of them can clog pores. Again, be sure to patch test before using these all over your face!
5. Layer your products in the right order—but don’t overthink it.
The order in which you use your products can have an effect on how well they work. In general, “you want to start with the lightest products and work your way up to the thickest product,” Dr. Imahiyerobo-Ip says. “For example, if you have acne and are using any acne medicine, your general A.M. routine would be like this: wash, medicine, moisturizer with sunscreen.” If you use multiple treatments or serums, again, layer them from thinnest to thickest.
The idea is that, by layering products in this order, the thicker ones won’t prevent the thinner ones from getting to your skin. But, of course, you should follow your dermatologist’s instructions when using any prescription product. And, as Honayst explained previously, basically everything becomes a cocktail on your face ultimately. So, as long as you’re using your moisturizer towards the end of your regimen, you’re probably fine.
6. Try using a moisturizer with SPF in the morning.
We can’t stress enough the importance of wearing daily sunscreen—even on cloudy or rainy days when the sun is far from sight. “Even low levels of sun exposure add up over a lifetime and contribute both to the development of skin cancers and premature wrinkling,” Dr. Zeichner says.
That’s why your best line of defense is to apply sunscreen every morning. Although you could use a separate sunscreen after your moisturizer, a facial moisturizer with at least 30 SPF (and broad-spectrum protection) will also do the trick.
- Aveeno Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer SPF 30, $17, Ulta
- Paula’s Choice Essential Glow Moisturizer SPF 30, Paula’s Choice
- SkinCeuticals Light Moisture UV Defense SPF 50, $39, Dermstore
- EltaMD UV Daily Broad Spectrum Tinted Moisturizer SPF 40, $31, SkinStore
- Dermalogica Prisma Protect SPF 30, $65, Ulta
7. Consider using a different moisturizer at night.
For the record, you can absolutely use your daytime moisturizer at night, even if it has SPF. It’s not going to hurt you and it’s definitely better than nothing. But there are some good reasons to consider using a separate moisturizer at night or even a more intensive night cream.
- CeraVe PM Face Moisturizer, $16, Ulta
- Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Moisturizer, $68, Sephora
- Belif The True Cream Aqua Bomb, $38, Sephora
- Naturopathica Argan & Retinol Wrinkle Night Repair, $106, Dermstore
9. Don’t underestimate the moisturizing powers of your other products.
Consistently using the right type of moisturizer for your skin is the absolute best way to make sure your skin stays hydrated and healthy. But other steps of your skin-care routine can help, too!
For instance, serums containing ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and squalane provide an extra boost of hydration under your moisturizer. Face mists can help keep your skin feeling refreshed and hydrated during the day. And there are even hydrating cleansers and toners to start you off on the right (and most hydrated) note every morning.
- Murad Hydrating Toner, $34, Sephora
- CeraVe Hydrating Face Wash, $14, Amazon
- Innisfree Green Tea Hydrating Cleansing Foam, $10, Sephora
- PCA SKIN Hyaluronic Acid Boosting Serum, $115, SkinStore
- Dermalogica Skin Hydrating Booster, $64, Dermstore
- Avène Thermal Spring Water, $14, Dermstore