Moisturizers: Options for softer skin

Find out what moisturizers can and can't do for your skin and how to select a moisturizer that suits your needs. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Moisturizers prevent and treat dry skin, but that's not all they do. Moisturizers can protect sensitive skin, improve skin tone and texture, and mask imperfections. There are plenty of moisturizers available. Here's help finding the right moisturizer for you.

Which moisturizer is best for you?

On the most basic level, moisturizers hold water in the outermost layer of skin. They also act as a temporary barrier. Many moisturizers contain some combination of humectants, emollients and other ingredients.

The moisturizer that's best for you depends on many factors, including your skin type, your age and whether you have specific conditions, such as acne. For general guidelines, consider the following:

  • Normal skin. Normal skin is neither too dry nor too oily. To maintain this natural moisture balance, use a water-based moisturizer that has a light, nongreasy feel. These moisturizers often contain lightweight oils or silicone-derived ingredients, such as cyclomethicone.
  • Dry skin. To restore moisture to dry skin, choose a heavier, oil-based moisturizer that contains ingredients that help keep your skin hydrated. For very dry and cracked skin, petrolatum-based products are preferable. They have more staying power than creams do and are more effective at preventing water from evaporating from your skin.
  • Oily skin. Oily skin is prone to acne and breakouts. Though oily, such skin still needs moisture, especially after using skin care products that remove oils and dry out the skin. A light moisturizer can also help protect your skin after washing. Choose a water-based product that's labeled noncomedogenic, which means it won't clog pores.
  • Sensitive skin. Sensitive skin is susceptible to skin irritations, redness, itching or rashes. Look for a moisturizer that contains soothing ingredients, such as chamomile or aloe, and doesn't contain potential allergens, such as fragrances or dyes. Also, avoid products containing acids, which can irritate sensitive skin.
  • Mature skin. As you age, your skin tends to become drier because your oil-producing glands become less active. To keep your skin soft and well hydrated, choose an oil-based moisturizer that contains petrolatum as the base, along with antioxidants or alpha hydroxy acids to combat wrinkles. These ingredients help hold in moisture and prevent flaky, scaly skin.

Keep in mind that skin type can vary, depending on environment, hormonal changes that occur in pregnancy and menopause, and disease.

Feb. 01, 2014 See more In-depth