There's no denying that the skincare market is booming, with the global pandemic leading us to prioritise great skin over cosmetic complexion cover-ups.
As our obsession with skincare shows no signs of slowing, innovation abounds. This, of course, is largely a brilliant thing – but as our skincare options continue to multiply, so does our confusion, with information overload leaving us unsure of what we should really invest in (and use until the last drop).
Take moisturiser, for example. Where these humble creams were once relied upon to simply hydrate and soften skin, there’s now a face cream that promises to deliver on any request, from fading fine lines to brightening pigmentation and, our most abstract request of them all, making skin ‘glow’.
With all this choice, it’s little wonder so many of us are lost as to which moisturiser is best for our skin. So, we’re going back to basics. Here, dermatologist Dr. Anjali Mahto clears up any confusion over what you really need in your moisturiser (and what you absolutely don’t). Once you’re armed with her common-sense knowledge, scroll through to see our verdict on the best moisturiser for every skin type, from acne-prone to ultra-sensitive.
According to Dr. Mahto, the purpose of moisturising is to “restore the elasticity and flexibility of the top part of your epidermis, also known as your stratum corneum, and restore its barrier function”.
“From an aesthetic point of view, moisturising helps restore the skin’s appearance to make it look soft and supple,” she adds.
Do all skin types need to moisturise?
While most of us will benefit from using a moisturiser, anyone with dry skin will find it truly essential. “Dry skin occurs when normal functioning of the skin is compromised. If the water content in your epidermis falls below 20 per cent for an extended period of time then it will manifest as dry skin: thinking flaking, scaling, or irritation,” says Dr. Mahto.
What are emollients, humectants and occlusives?
There are three basic categories of ingredients found in moisturisers: humectants, occlusives and emollients. As Dr. Mahto explains, most moisturisers will contain a combination of the three in varying proportions.
“Humectants are molecules that attract and bind water from the deeper layers of the skin – or environment if ambient humidity is over 80 per cent. Occlusives create a barrier over the skin and prevent water loss from the surface. Finally, emollients work by filling in the gaps between skin cells and replacing skin lipids.”
Certain skincare ingredients can have more than one role: for example, glycerin is both a humectant and emollient.
Does acne-prone skin need an oil-free moisturiser?
Some (not all) oils rank highly on the comedogenic scale, meaning they have the ability to block the pores, thus spelling trouble for oily and acne-prone skin types. “In general terms, choosing an oil-free or 'non-comedogenic' moisturiser is beneficial for oily skin types,” says Dr. Mahto. “These types of moisturisers often contain additional actives to target blemish-prone skin such as salicylic acid, niacinamide, and zinc. While the label is not a 100 per cent guarantee that the product will not block pores, it is still likely to be better than a product that does not carry the label.”
Where do face oils come in?
Face oils do not sit in the same category as your face cream, and so should not replace your moisturiser. However, they do have some welcome benefits as an add-on to your routine. “In short, oils are occlusive, meaning they’ll seal in anything you apply beneath (such as your moisturiser) helping it to absorb and work better, for longer,” explains Dr. Mahto.
The best moisturiser for every skin type
“The key with choosing a moisturiser for sensitive skin is to look for one that is fragrance and essential-oil free,” says Dr. Mahto. Opt for a product with a short or minimal ingredients list, such as Avene's classic Tolérance formula.
Augustinus Bader’s The Cream is truly worth the hype. Designed as a one-and-done day and night treatment for all skin types, it’ll help keep the skin healthy and resilient, reducing breakouts and irritation while maximising rejuvenation. So well-rounded is it, there’s no need to layer anything above or beneath (apart from SPF, of course).
The original formula is a true crowd-pleaser, but for those with extra-dry or sensitive skin, there's now the Ultimate Soothing Cream, which amps up the protection with rich, nourishing oils.
On acne-prone skin, Dr. Mahto recommends using products high in humectants and low in occlusives. Here, the humectant hyaluronic acid should be your star. Equally valuable are glycerin, hexanediol, butylene glycerol and sorbitol.
Dr. Dennis Gross’ oil-free moisturiser is paced with hyaluronic acid as well as algae extracts and a low dose of exfoliating glycolic acid. It’ll keep skin hydrated without blocking pores.
Allies of Skin is well-known for crafting forensically formulated products that really deliver on their promises. This, which is one of the brand's latest, is designed to tackle broken skin barriers, building them back up and leaving irritation and redness behind in the process. It feels dense and balm-like on first pump, but sinks into skin to leave angry complexions feeling rehydrated and calm.
"I’ve fallen hard for this day cream by Sarah Chapman, one of the most revered skincare brains in the business," says digital beauty director Bridget March. "Much more than a moisturiser, the Icon Day cream packs peptides, two potent forms of vitamin A and SPF20, making it a superior anti-ager as much as a hero hydrator. The formula’s yellow-tinted hue also helps impart instant radiance, turning around a lacklustre complexion in seconds."
Dermatologist Dr. Tim Golueke has based his own skincare line around a patented fern extract, which is believed to be one of the strongest antioxidants and anti-inflammatories found in nature.
This cream combines the plant extract with a host of buzzy ingredients, including acerola cherry-derived vitamin C and hyaluronic acid. It feels instantly rich and cosseting, but the real draw is the longer-term benefits it brings: collagen and elastic production are encouraged, while melanin production (the root cause of hyperpigmentation) is prevented. For those that don't like to cocktail serums and treatments, this all-in-one powerhouse is a winner.
"I'm such a fan of Dr. Anita Sturnham's Decree line, and this – her everyday, suits-all moisturiser – delivers a serious skin shift without upsetting my reactive complexion" says senior ecommerce editor Roberta Schroeder.
"Peptide Veil ticks every box with a blend of squalane, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and peptides that ‘communicate’ with your collagen-producing fibroblast cells, kicking them into action (because you can’t simply ‘drop’ ready-made collagen into the skin)."
According to Dr. Mahto, using products containing a mixture of humectants alongside emollients high in the ingredients list can help temporarily diffuse fine lines by plumping out the skin surface.
A superior option for those wanting to slow sagging and wrinkling, the new Pro-Collagen Morning Matrix (which accompanies Elemis' now-cult Pro-Collagen Overnight Matrix) is designed to combat lifestyle stressors that accelerate visible ageing. Harnessing plant extracts, the creamy moisturiser smoothes out fine lines and enhances firmness, leaving skin soft and bouncy.
Refillable beauty might be big news, but the skincare category is lagging behind due to the added challenges surrounding formula potency and hygiene.
Noble Panacea, however, has mastered it. The Brilliant moisturiser arrives in single-dose sachets (which can be recycled via the brand's free-post scheme) nestled within a keepsake sugar-cane derived box. Use up the 30 day supply, then refill your box with a fresh top-up.
Not just an eco hero, the formula is outstanding too. It's packed with antioxidants specially designed to release into the skin throughout the day, delivering non-stop pollution protection. Plus, the single-dose concept means it stays potent without preservatives.
Cerave's anticipated factor-50 moisturiser is finally here, and it doesn't disappoint. Simple yet effective, the dense cream feels just the same as a regular face cream, and melts in to leave behind nothing but a dewy, transparent glow. All skin types should get on with this one, but those with dry skin should snap one straight up.
Victoria Beckham enlisted Dr. Augustinus Bader to help formulate the complexion products in her namesake beauty line.
This beautiful tinted moisturiser contains a similar complex of repairing vitamins and minerals as the scientist's cult original, but is enhanced with reflective skin-brightening pigments to lend a glowy tint, too. The original formula delivers a cool, pearlescent glow, while the golden iteration leaves a deeper bronze hue. Both are perfect for foundation-free days.
The Bazaar beauty team are all in agreement here: Kate Somerville's SOS face cream is the best moisturiser for complexions in distress.
Specifically designed to calm sensitised and stressed-out skin, it's ideal for cosseting your complexion through life's challenges. If you've overdone it with an exfoliating acid, are starting a retinoid journey or struggle with redness on a daily basis, it's a brilliant choice.
Pores are, of course, a crucial part of your skin’s make-up, but recent years have seen an unhealthy obsession with ‘pore-minimising’ come to the fore.
You can’t get rid of your pores (and nor should you want to), but there are some clever products you can employ if overzealous oil production has left yours looking congested or overly enlarged.
La Roche-Posay's classic Effaclar Duo moisturiser contains niacinamide, which studies have shown can reduce excess sebum production, thus stopping pores from appearing enlarged. Salicylic acid unclogs any congestion, while glycerin grabs moisture without sitting on the skin surface.
This 3-in1 cream from Trinny Woodall's eponymous line has a remarkably loyal fan base – and indeed, the make-up expert does seem to have thought of everything. The white cream hydrates without feeling sticky, delivers broad-spectrum SPF 30, and contains encapsulated pigments that burst on application, delivering a sheer, unifying tint.
Medik8 is built on the philosophy that all skin needs to be healthy and resilient is vitamin C, vitamin A, (also known as retinol) and SPF.
This daily cream is your dose of vitamin C: an antioxidant powerhouse that stops pollution particles from damaging your skin, while brightening sallow complexions. As for the hydration? there's glycerin as well as hyaluronic acid in there.
Sisley's long-loved Black Rose line is best suited to those with more mature, dry skin. A highlight from the collection, this indulgent moisturiser is packed with a cocktail of precious rose oils and extracts, alongside heavy-duty emollients that'll leave your skin feeling incredibly soft. Trust it to see you through the coldest months with ease.
Finding a moisturiser for combination skin that strikes the right emollient balance can be tricky, but Drunk Elephant's light and cooling Protini cream is a winner. It contains an impressive nine different signal peptides that encourage the cells to produce collagen and elastin, leasing to firmer, better hydrated skin over time.