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The winter has the special ability to wreak constant havoc on all skin types for two to three months out of the year. If your skin isn’t cracking from the relentless, icy wind, it’s stressed out from navigating temperature extremes between the chilly outdoors and over-heated interiors. Or, maybe you’re trying a new acne medication, retinol, or retinoid product, which are just as prolific when it comes to inducing flakes. Regardless, it quickly becomes apparent that your summer moisturizer won’t cut it. The science of moisturizers isn’t as tricky as, say, serums, but finding the right one for your skin still isn’t as simple as grabbing the first name you recognize off the shelf. Luckily, you can find a well-formulated moisturizer without spending too much.
Drugstore products have improved in the last few years, with ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides becoming more widely available. To help you out, here are the top-rated drugstore moisturizers, from an anti-aging favorite to a cult favorite jam-packed with skin-nourishing ingredients.
Best Overall: Cerave PM Face Moisturizer for Nighttime Use
Don’t be fooled by the unassuming pump bottle—this silky, lightweight moisturizer is one of the best formulations you can hope for. It has skin-brightening, soothing niacinamide, for one, and no less than three different types of ceramides to repair the skin’s natural barrier. Meanwhile, moisture-boosting hyaluronic acid and glycerin plump up parched skin. The PM Face Moisturizer feels slightly tacky when you first smooth it on (a satisfying sensation if your skin is on the scaly side these days) before absorbing. It’s lightweight enough for oily and combination skin, yet hydrating enough for dry skin. The hydrating properties aside, the Cerave moisturizer’s also an easygoing addition to your routine—it doesn’t pill, layers well with makeup, and imparts a light, inoffensive scent.
Best Budget: Cetaphil Facial Hydrating Lotion
Cetaphil’s gentle, straightforward lotion doesn’t come with fancy claims beyond, well, moisturizing your skin, but sometimes that’s all you need. This no-frills everyday moisturizer does exactly what it says it will and it does so for under $20. A solid combination of hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and fatty alcohols smooth and hydrate cracked, flaky skin, all within a lightweight formula. It’s also not at all greasy, which will suit people who don’t like the feeling of extra layers of product. Like the Cerave, the Cetaphil Facial Hydrating Lotion feels slightly tacky at first before it sinks into skin. Not to mention Cetaphil is readily available at even the most picked-over drugstores.
Best for Oily Skin: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel
Whether you’re battling all-day oil slick or skin that gets oily and thirsty (yes, oily skin can be dehydrated, too), a lightweight moisturizer is in order. Skin drinks this up without getting oilier thanks to potent, weightless humectants like hyaluronic acid and glycerin that hydrate without the greasiness. Olive extract, rich in fatty acids like the ones found in skin’s natural barrier, seals everything in. Reviews said the Hydro Boost Water Gel felt similar to Belif’s Aqua Bomb, down to the same cooling sensation and non-sticky, fast-absorbing consistency.
Best for Dry Skin: Weleda Skin Food
Fair warning, this heavy-duty moisturizer (and cult favorite) is different from what you’re used to. This is for when things are dire—as in stubborn dry patches, skin that vanquishes every moisturizing product you throw its way, an upcoming trip to Antarctica, etc. Squeezing the green metal tube dispenses a thick, lemon-scented concoction of chamomile extract, sunflower oil, and sweet almond oil that feels akin to softened butter or a rich breakfast spread. Lanolin and beeswax form a thick protective seal on the skin. Because the consistency is so occlusive, warm up a nickel-sized dollop between your fingers before applying. The magic happens once you smooth it on your face: The cream melts dry patches and leaves a pretty, dewy glow that builds up to a “your skin but better” highlight with a heavier hand. Use it on your hands, elbows, even as a primer for dewier, smoother foundation.
Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Cosrx Oil-Free Ultra-Moisturizing Lotion
Cosrx was truly thinking about people with acne-prone skin when they created this product. There’s the star ingredient, birch sap, which calms acne while hydrating skin, alongside a nourishing mixture of amino acids and enzymes. And despite the lightweight texture (think something along the lines of an emulsion), the Cosrx lotion easily remedies the flaky, drying side effects of acne medications and retinol products without worsening breakouts. It plumps up skin just as well as it layers with other skincare products, locking in essences and serums as the final layer in your routine. Note: There was a misunderstanding in the reviews about the “oil-free” designation, which refers to the lack of heavier oils like mineral oil. The lotion does contain tea tree oil and lemon peel oil in small percentages—which lend the lotion a light, herbal smell.
Best for Combination Skin: Cosrx Advanced Snail 92 All-in-One Cream
K-beauty fans aren’t the only ones who’ll appreciate Cosrx products being more widely available. Combination skin, with its impressive ability to create oily and dry zones on the face, is notoriously picky: Moisturizers can’t be too heavy or too light but also needs the supernatural ability to treat two separate concerns at once. Enter this jarred concoction, 92% of which is snail mucus. The smooth, goopy consistency isn’t too heavy and imparts a pleasant, cooling sensation when you spread it across your face. The snail mucus nourishes skin, acts as a moisture-attracting humectant, and may even have antimicrobial properties. It also helpfully comes with a spatula to aid in scooping it out of the container. Reviewers reported even better results when paired with Cosrx’s snail mucus essence.
Best Anti-Aging: Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream
Over-the-counter moisturizers may not be as powerful as pricier anti-aging procedures, but they do address one thing: Signs of aging are more pronounced when skin is dehydrated. To this end, the Micro-Sculpting Cream packs its ingredient list with components that hydrate parched skin and encourage turnover. Hyaluronic acid brings bounce back to the skin as niacinamide, skin-regenerating peptides, aloe vera, and even antioxidant-rich green tea extract nourish and brighten. There’s a tingling sensation when you first apply, which goes away after a few seconds. When used regularly, the cream steadily reduces the appearance of wrinkles and improves elasticity. It is a rich product, so apply with a light hand if your skin is on the oilier side.
Our writers spent 15 hours researching the most popular drugstore facial moisturizers on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 23 different moisturizers overall, screened options from 15 different brands and manufacturers, read over 60 user reviews (both positive and negative) and tested 4 of the moisturizers themselves. All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.