Dry Skin? Here’s What Your Moisturizer Should Contain

by Gio
4 things a moisturizer for dry skin should contain

Every winter, it’s the same old story.

At first, it’s just uncomfortable. A feeling of tightness on my cheeks and undereye area that gets more intense after cleansing.

Little by little, it gets worse. My skin starts to flake. It itches. Everything irritates it. Even applying moisturizer with the gentlest touch of my finger hurts like hell.

That’s what happens when you’re cursed with dry skin. I’m kinda lucky because I get it only in the depths of winter but some of you have to deal with this hassle all year long.

So, how do you do that? How do you deal with dry skin? The quickest way is a rich moisturizer that nurses skin back to health and keeps it in top shape.

But, how to find this gem? By now you’ve tried so many moisturizers that promised that and much more and they’ve all fallen terribly short. That’s because there are certain ingredients a moisturizer for dry skin MUST absolutely contain to do the job well:

bioderma sensibio light cream

1. Humectants

What Are They?

Humectants draw water from the environment into the skin and bind it there. Hyaluronic acid (and its cousin sodium hyaluronate) are very good at this because it can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water.

Why Does Your Dry Skin Need Them?

They instantly infuse skin with a burst of moisture that replenishes what it has lost during the day or night.

Are There Any Side Effects?

If there isn’t enough moisture in the air, humectants will suck it from the deepest layers of your skin. That can dry it out. So, depending on where you live, go easy on them.

How To Spot Them?

On the label, look for:

Related: Why You Should Add Hyaluronic Acid To Your Skincare Routine

cerave facial moisturizing lotion

2. Occlusive emollients

What Are They?

They’re vegetable oils, waxes, some silicones and anything else that creates a protective barrier on the skin that seals moisture in.

Why Does Your Dry Skin Need Them?

Putting moisture back into your skin ain’t enough to treat dry skin. That moisture must stay there, not evaporate into thin air again.That’s when occlusive emollients come in. They create a protective barrier on the skin that prevents water loss.

Are There Any Side Effects?

If you’re worried they may cause breakouts, let me reassure you. That usually happens to oily skin. Your dry skin can tolerate these oils pretty well. But, if you’re one of the unlucky few who has to deal with both dry skin and acne, keep your occlusive emollients to a minimum and stay well clear of coconut and mineral oils. They’re some of the worst offenders.

How Do You Spot Them?

There are too many to mention them all here, but some of the most common are:

Related: The Best Skincare Routine For Acne And Dry Skin

ecooking night cream

3. Skin-identical ingredients

What Are They?

Did you know that your skin has its own natural protective barrier? It’s made up of skin cells and the “glue” that holds them together. Skin-identical ingredients are all the components of this glue. Your skin instantly recognizes them as friends, which is why they work so well.

Why Does Your Dry Skin Need Them?

Your natural protective barrier is very fragile. UV rays, harsh winds, cleansing or exfoliating too often and indoors heaters are just some of the things that can destroy it. When that happens, skin becomes dry and flaky and is easily irritated.

That’s where skin-identical ingredients come in. They fill in those holes, patching up your protective barrier quickly.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Nope. Your skin knows them, remember? It’ll greet them as old friends.

How Do You Spot Them?

Here are the main ones used in cosmetics:

  • Amino acids
  • Ceramides
  • Fatty acids
  • Lecithin
  • Phospholipids

Related: Are Ceramides The Key To Healthy Skin?

the inkey list hemp oil moisturizer review

4. Antioxidants

What Are They?

Tiny little molecules that destroy the free radicals that cause premature aging.

Why Does Your Skin Need Them?

UV rays, pollution, smoking and plenty of other things attack your skin a daily basis with an onslaught of free radicals that cause wrinkles, dark spots and dehydration. Antioxidants stop them in their tracks before they have the chance to wreak some serious damage on your skin.

A lot of antioxidants also double up as soothing agents, so they can calm down your skin when it’s irritated, too.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Sort of. If they’re packaged in a jar, they’ll go bad soon. That’s cos they can’t stand light and air. That’s why you should get your fix only from serums and creams packed in air-tight and opaque tubes and bottles.

How Do You Spot Them?

Look for:

Related: Common Antioxidants In Skincare Products

alpha h essential hydration cream

What Should You Avoid?

Now you know what your skin needs, it’s time to figure out what it needs to avoid like the plague. That’s anything drying and irritating. The worst culprits?

  • Alcohol denat
  • Citrus oils
  • Fragrance
  • Mint
  • Peppermint
  • Witch hazel

What Are The Best Moisturizers For Dry Skin?

Can’t be bothered to browse through the skincare aisle at Sephora to find a moisturizer with all these gems? No worries, I’ve done the hard work for you.

Here are my fave picks:


The Bottom Line

Dry skin needs plenty of hydration, occlusive emollients, antioxidants and skin-identical ingredients. Give it all to it and you’ll never ever to suffer from dry skin again.

What’s your favourite moisturizer for dry skin?



Jenny December 9, 2014 - 5:15 pm

Great post. I’ve recently been having issues with my dry skin. I received a nice sample of Glam Glow Thirsty Mud and I’m not sure it contains all of the ingredients above, but it has worked wonders for my skin in less than a week!

Gio December 9, 2014 - 8:32 pm

Jenny, glad you found something that works so well for you. That’s a very moisturizing formula indeed.

Trisha December 9, 2014 - 6:57 pm

You’re awesome, Gio. πŸ˜€ This kind of stuff what makes your blog special.

Gio December 9, 2014 - 9:14 pm

Trisha, aww thank you!

Allison December 9, 2014 - 9:27 pm

I’ve recently learned that there is often a difference between the skin soothing, antioxidant “witch hazel extract” and inexpensive witch hazel that is often mixed with alcohol. The extract is an anti-inflammatory and is good for a number of skin conditions including dryness. Just sayin’

Gio December 10, 2014 - 7:50 pm

Allison, I’ve recently come across a study showing witch hazel has anti-inflammatory properties, so I supposed, if well produced, it can have some benefits. My problem with it, though is that you never know what you’re getting. Witch hazel, even when not distilled with alcohol, also contains tannins and eugenol, which are irritating compounds. They are present in different amounts in different parts of the plant, so some are better than others. But it’s impossible to figure out from an ingredient list from which part of the plant, and with which method, the witch hazel extract was made from. Personally, I prefer to avoid it and stick to other, safer, anti-inflammatory ingredients. πŸ™‚

Chic Readings December 10, 2014 - 2:30 am

This is me:) Thank you for this post, I haven’t tried any of these moisturizers and I think I will start by trying out Paula’s choice first:)

Gio December 10, 2014 - 7:01 pm

Helena, glad you found it useful. I’m sure you’ll love Paula’s Choice moisturizer. Her skincare line is one of my favourite.

Barbara Rogenmoser December 15, 2014 - 5:05 pm

Thanks so much, this skin of mine has been so dry lately!

Gio December 16, 2014 - 9:31 pm

Barbara, my pleasure. Glad you found it useful. πŸ™‚

Katie @ A Mother Thing December 15, 2014 - 5:13 pm

I have been battling dry skin my whole life, and we just recently moved to the desert, so I am in agony. My skin itches, burns, is scaly and flaky and I’ve been unable to find any way to combat it! Thanks for the suggestions. I will definitely try some of the ones you mentioned!

Gio December 18, 2014 - 12:44 pm

Katie, I’m sorry to hear that. I hope one of the creams above will be able to help. They are very moisturizing.

Anne Marie @ ciao-mama.com December 17, 2014 - 11:25 pm

I love this post AND your blog! After experiencing a weird breakout/rash on my face a few months ago, I have become somewhat of a natural skincare freak, constantly checking ingredients and researching like crazy before I buy anything. And so finding your blog, with your A-Z ingredient list and product reviews and everything so easily explained…I just am so happy. πŸ™‚ Thanks for such incredible content!

Gio December 18, 2014 - 9:32 pm

Anne Marie, aww thank you for your kind words and your support. I’m so glad you find my little blog so useful. πŸ™‚

jackie March 19, 2016 - 8:20 pm

I stumbled across your site and am absolutely in love (don’t know if you’ll see this though since the post is so old!). I was using the Dennis Gross moisturizer – the Mega 10 – until they discontinued it. I’ve been in search of a new moisturizer since. Do you have a rec?

Gio March 20, 2016 - 11:16 am

Jackie, aww so glad you like it (I read and reply to every comment, no matter how old the post is)!

Oh no, what a shame they discontinued it! That moisturizer was so good. Have you tried Paulas’s Choice. They make several good creams for dry skin, like Skin Recovery Replenishing Moisturizer and Resist Cellular Defense Daily Moisturizer with SPF25 and Antioxidants. Hope this helps.

Debbie Stephenson October 2, 2017 - 8:10 am

It’s Oct 1, 2017. I have just read your good information you posted. It was exactly what I wanted and needed. I was an avid label reader. I know by heart some good and bad ingredients but there is so much to remember. All though I’d probably look a little strange I’m putting this information in my cell notes so I can also get the best product and Ill just take time to label read again before I buy. Argan oil, I’ve used it on n off for years and Ive always read how naturally good it is. But it’s drying ΒΏΒΏ I’ve never read this in any of my hours of research. Wow. I’d mix this one with my good series n creams and I got the top one researched in trials. Malley n John Masters were top two. Both are said Certified 100% and pure. What can anyone believe if your given the wrong information about their products. He had hundreds of top reviews.

Gio October 6, 2017 - 8:49 pm

Debbie, even the best ingredients don’t work for everyone. What makes someone’s skin soft and smooth may dry out someone’s else skin. You should definitely learn more about ingredients but then you also have to put them to the test to find out how your skin reacts to them.

Cristina June 25, 2018 - 5:07 pm

AWESOME , thank you . Just did start Retin A and my skin is a mess. This will be super helpful πŸ™‚ C

Gio June 29, 2018 - 9:25 am

Cristina, glad it helps!

Evelyn August 7, 2018 - 5:19 pm

Hi Gio, thank you so much for this post! I have dry skin for many many years and have been constantly looking for the right moisturizer. I only have a low budget so I always feel that my options are very limited. What do you think about Cerave PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion and The Ordinary NMF? So far I only research about these 2 products, do share out if you have other cheap but good moisturizer in your mind! It would help me a lot ❀️

Gio August 9, 2018 - 10:03 am

Evelyn, they’re both great options! The Ordinary NMF is more lightweight so if you prefer richer creams, I’d go with CeraVe. πŸ™‚

Evelyn August 10, 2018 - 8:03 pm

Gio, that’s great! I shall try CeraVe as my next moisturizer ☺️ Yes, I definitely prefer richer creams, my skin needs them! I came across these two products from SOMEBYMI, which meets my low budget situation- UV Shield Daily Mildcream and H7 Hydro Max Cream. Please let me know if they’re wonderful for dry skin! β˜€οΈ ☁️

Gio August 16, 2018 - 1:12 pm

Evelyn, do you have the ingredient list for H7 Hydro Max Cream? I only found the ingredients for Mildcream and I don’t think it affords proper protection from UVA rays. πŸ™

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