If you have dry skin, regular moisturization is crucially important, according to Craig Kraffert, M.D., board certified dermatologist and founder of Dermstore. But it has to be the right moisturizer to actually heal severely dry skin. Dr. Kraffert says richer products — like thicker body creams in place of thinner body lotions — is key for quenching extreme dryness.
When you're super dry, it likely means your skin's barrier has become compromised which can make already-irritated skin feel itchy, uncomfortable and prone to infection. That's why skin hydration is so important. "Think of moisturizers as a shield: You use moisturizers to lock in active ingredients and block harmful aggressors out," says Dendy Engelman, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and director of dermatologic surgery at Metropolitan Hospital in Manhattan. "Moisturizers help to reinforce the skin barrier, making it stronger and less vulnerable," she says. In addition to picking the right product, layering on occlusive products can help lock in moisture and frequent application can help skin’s moisture levels remain balanced, says Dr. Kraffert.
To find the best moisturizers for dry skin, the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab tested body lotions and face moisturizers, parsing through nearly 20,000 data points to find the ones that proved to hydrate skin. Other picks are backed by our Good Housekeeping Seal or are reviewer favorites with thousands of rave reviews:
Our top picks
- Best Overall Moisturizer for Dry Skin: Vaseline Intensive Care Advanced Repair Unscented Body Lotion
- Best Value Moisturizer for Dry Skin: Olay Quench Body Lotion Ultra Moisture
- Best Face Moisturizer for Dry Skin: Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream Face Moisturizer
- Best Value Face Moisturizer for Dry Skin: No7 HydraLuminous Water Surge Gel Cream
- Best Face Moisturizer for Dry, Irritated Skin: Cetaphil Redness Relieving Night Moisturizer
- Most Popular Face Moisturizer for Dry Skin on Amazon: Vanicream Moisturizing Skin Cream
- Best Face Moisturizer for Dry, Acne-Prone Skin: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Face Gel Moisturizer
- Best Lightweight Body Moisturizer for Dry Skin: Curél Skincare Dry Skin Hydra Silk Moisturizer
- Best Moisturizer for Dry, Sensitive Skin: Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream for Dry, Sensitive Skin
- Best Face Moisturizer for Dry, Aging Skin: RoC Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Max Hydration Cream
- Best hydrating performance in Lab tests
- Fragrance-free formula
- Non-greasy, smooth texture
In our Lab tests, this top-scoring moisturizer hydrated skin by 60% (the highest score of more than 20 moisturizers we tested), and kept skin feeling moisturized all day. The scent-free lotion was our testers' favorite. It's formulated with super-hydrating Vaseline, but it won't leave skin feeling greasy or tacky: our testers all agreed it absorbed quickly. One raved, "It went onto my skin very smoothly and spread easily and evenly" and "left my skin very moisturized throughout the day."
- Increased skin hydration in 52% in Lab tests
- Light but lasting scent
Formulated with skin-softening shea butter and repairing vitamins E and B3, this Good Housekeeping Seal star improved skin's moisturization by an impressive 52% in Lab tests. It also got top scores for having the best scent. One tester said, "It goes on smoothly and is not too thick, yet the scent continues to linger in a pleasantly subtle way." Testers loved that it didn't make skin feel greasy. Plus, at around 30 cents per ounce, it's a fantastic value.
- Increased skin hydration by 50% in Lab tests
- Budget-friendly and effective
- Formulated with niacinamide and hyaluronic acid
This face moisturizer is really proven to hydrate. We took 10,300 Lab measurements to find that this budget-friendly face cream effectively moisturizes 400% better than a cream nearly 18 times its price. It kept skin quenched for 24 hours and boosted hydration by 50% on average, thanks to powerhouse hydrators like niacinamide and hyaluronic acid. Eighty percent of testers reported that they preferred it to expensive creams, calling it "rich" without feeling heavy or greasy.
- Hydrated skin for 72 hours
- Lightweight, non-sticky gel formula
- Immediately soothes skin
Formulated for dry skin and suitable for sensitive skin, we found that this Good Housekeeping Seal-holder leaves skin feeling nourished and hydrated for 72 hours. It glides onto skin and instantly absorbs and hydrates, leaving skin glowing. The lightweight gel also received high scores for feeling lightweight, non-sticky and making skin feel instantly hydrated. "It immediately relieves that tight, dry feeling and truly does last up to 72 hours," raved one reviewer.
- Noncomedogenic, fragrance-free formula
- Sensitive skin-, eczema-, and rosacea-friendly
This calming facial lotion is perfect for anyone suffering from chronic skin conditions. Developed and tested by dermatologists, the noncomedogenic, fragrance-free formula is formulated with licorice extract and allantoin to help repair the skin’s barrier while calming and soothing redness. Dr. Engelman even recommends it to patients with chronic skin conditions like rosacea.
- Fragrance- and dye-free for sensitive skin
- Thick, hydrating formula
- Cult following
This dermatologist-tested cream is free of dyes, fragrance and parabens, making it ideal for those with super sensitive, dry skin. We haven't tested these claims in the Beauty Lab yet, but reviewers can't get enough of this hydrating cream (to the tune of more than 21,000 five-star reviews on Amazon). Reviewers with eczema, psoriasis and rosacea all swear that this rich cream helps quell symptoms. One says, "I have never had any irritation from this lotion and it has gone miles towards healing my rashes and open wounds."
- Water-light gel feels instantly moisturizing
- Formulated with super hydrating hyaluronic acid
A winner in our 2018 Beauty Awards and the best overall moisturizer for oily, acne-prone skin, this refreshing Neutrogena gel is water-light but seriously quenches dry skin thanks to glycerin and hyaluronic acid. The oil-free formulation immediately moisturizes, with results lasting 12 hours, evaluations confirmed. Consumers love it, too: It has over 83,000 reviews on Amazon, with one reviewer raving, "I went from very dry, flaky, angry skin to soft and supple in about one week. I noticed a change instantly."
- Instantly moisturized skin and kept it hydrated for 24 hours
- 94% of testers said skin felt soothed and healthier
If you're looking for both instant and long- lasting dryness relief, this Good Housekeeping Seal-holder is the lotion for you. Testers said it left skin feeling four times as moisturized right away and kept it hydrated for 24 hours, and Beauty Lab chemists were impressed at how quickly the silky, lightweight moisturizer absorbed into skin. This moisturizer is packed with advanced ceramide complex and aloe water to soothe and repair skin, and orange peel oil (not added fragrances) for subtle citrus notes. Over 94% of testers reported that the formula soothed their skin and left it feeling healthier and looking more radiant.
- Fragrance-free and hypoallergenic
- Gentle enough to use on face and body
An editor favorite for hydrating angry, itchy skin, this fragrance-free, hypoallergenic formula is gentle enough to use on eczema and powerful en0ugh to actually calm flare-ups on face and body. It's made with emollients and humectants like glycerin and sunflower seed oil to repair the skin's barrier while preventing future moisture loss. Best of all, the do-it-all cream is gentle enough to use on both face and body.
- Fades wrinkles and dark spots as it moisturizes
- Smoothed skin and boosted glow by 32% in one week
Retinol is the gold standard when it comes to anti-aging face creams, and this retinol-packed face cream made skin look 32% smoother and more radiant after just one week of use. Users found that fine lines faded after four weeks and even deeper wrinkles and dark spots lessened after eight weeks' use. It deeply hydrates all the while, with ultra-hydrating performance that left skin looking instantly refreshed and hydrated for 24 hours after application.
To find the best skincare, the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab rounds up the best and newest products on the market to see which ones are actually worth your money. In the Lab, we use a Corneometer device to gauge moisturization capabilities, and we also send moisturizers out to a panel of consumer testers to get feedback on absorption, texture and scent. Products are masked or placed in unmarked containers to remove any brand biases.
For body lotions, we parsed through more than 134 products, distributed to 120 testers and collected over 5,000 hydration data points. And when it comes to face creams, we tallied more than 11,200 data points from more than 240 testers for night creams, and for our day cream test, we evaluated 70 products, asked 176 testers more than 2,000 questions and tallied 4,434 Lab data points to find the best options.
Here are the ingredients our experts say makes a powerhouse body lotion that'll actually hydrate parched skin:
- Emollients: These are hydrating agents, and Dr. Kraffert says they are a must in lotion for dry skin since they prevent hydration loss while smoothing and softening skin. They come in the form of oils (plant, mineral or animal), butters (like shea and cocoa) or fatty acids.
- Humectants: By attracting water to the skin, humectants help increase the skin's moisture content over time. Our experts love glycerin and hyaluronic acid, which can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water and "creates a barrier for the skin, locking in moisture and improving texture," says Dr. Engelman.
- Ceramides: Your skin's lipid layer that locks in moisture and acts as a barrier against pollution, bacteria and signs of aging depletes as you age. "Ceramides help to restore the skin’s barrier by holding the cells together," says Dr. Engelman. "As a result, skin feels smoother, plumper and more moisturized." Look for skincare with ceramides or niacinamide, which helps skin increase natural lipid production.
- Occlusives: While emollients and humectants hydrate, occlusives sit atop the skin and create a barrier to prevent further moisture loss and act as a shield against the hydration-robbing elements like wind and cold air. They come in the form of waxy or oily ingredients like petroleum, candelilla or carnauba wax, beeswax and cocoa butter.
The order of your skincare routine matters for peak hydrating efficacy. "Apply moisturizer day and night after a serum, and before SPF (during the day)," says Dr. Engelman. And when you apply moisturizer also matters. Whether face or body, dermatologists recommend lathering up immediately after cleansing or showering when skin is still damp. "Applying moisturizer immediately after showering or cleansing allows the product to trap some of the water on your skin, keeping it from evaporating," says Dr. Engelman.
Lastly, when your skin is super dry or you're braving harsh winter cold, add an extra layer of protection on your skin. "An occlusive ingredient, like glycerin, can be beneficial," says Dr. Engelman. Our GH Beauty Lab pros recommend smoothing Aquaphor over your moisturizer on extra-dry or uncomfortable spots to create a barrier that'll lock in moisture and protect skin from further damage.