The key to good skin is a good skincare routine. Whether you have dry skin, oily skin, or fall somewhere in between, keeping the complexion moisturized is a must. What your skin needs to stay nourished and protected during daylight hours when it is exposed to UV rays, blue light, pollution, and other environmental stressors is quite different than what it calls for after dark. To better understand what you should be putting on your face every morning, we tapped three board certified dermatologists. From lightweight hyaluronic acid (HA) serums to ceramide-rich creams, we’ve assembled the ultimate dermatologist-approved guide to daytime moisturizers.
The Purpose of Using a Daytime Moisturizer
“Daytime moisturizer is important for many reasons,” says Cheryl Karcher, MD, a board certified dermatologist and founder of Center Aesthetic & Dermatology in New York City. Like any moisturizing product, the main purpose, she says, is to “protect the skin barrier from the elements of weather.” But that’s not all. “A daytime face moisturizer is important to use to balance out any nighttime retinol treatments or serums that are applied,” explains Adriana Lombardi, MD, a board certified dermatologist and founder of Advanced Laser and Skin Cancer Center in New Jersey. “A daytime moisturizer hydrates, makes the skin appear more plump, and helps makeup go on more smoothly.”
You might be wondering: Why isn’t a nighttime moisturizer enough? Depending on your skin type, it may be (more on that below), but don’t expect a product you apply before bed to last 24 hours. “The moisturizer that one puts on at night is not really there in the morning,” Dr. Karcher shares. “It has hopefully soaked into the skin and, if not, has probably been wiped off by the sheets and the pillows.” Oh, and if you shower or cleanse your face when you get up, that likely washed off the rest.
How to Choose a Daytime Moisturizer
While keeping the skin hydrated and the skin barrier healthy is important for all skin types, moisturizing won’t look the same for everyone. “Those with dry skin will need to moisturize more frequently than those with oily skin,” explains Samer Jaber, MD, a board certified dermatologist and founder of Washington Square Dermatology in NYC. “You may only need to use a moisturizer once daily during summer months. But, if your skin is drier, you may want to consider increasing moisturizer use to twice daily during winter months.”
Here’s what to think about when choosing a product:
1. Honor Your Skin Type
The universal advice we got from all three derms: Choose a face cream based on your skin type. “I generally like to recommend products based on a patient's skin type and any underlying conditions,” Dr. Lombardi says. “In these categories there is not a one-size-fits-all answer.” If you are unsure about your skin type, consulting with a board certified dermatologist will help.
2. Consider the Season
Like Dr. Jaber, Dr. Lombardi recommends switching out your moisturizers seasonally. Generally speaking, she favors “heavier moisturizers in the winter and lighter moisturizers in the summer.” Another tip? Keep a hyaluronic acid-based serum on hand. “If the skin is especially dry, I recommend layering the HA serum prior to applying moisturizer,” she explains. “In the summertime, I recommend using hyaluronic acid serums prior to applying SPF.” They are lightweight but “exceptionally hydrating,” she adds.
3. Pay Attention to Packaging
The packaging of your product doesn’t only influence how it looks on your vanity; it can also impact how it functions. “It’s a good idea to use a moisturizer that is in a pump container so that nothing can contaminate the product,” Dr. Karcher notes. If you are using a formula in an open jar, consider using one of those mini spatula-like tools that come with some products or even a brush to dispense it (just remember to clean them after every use!).
Dermatologist-Approved Daytime Moisturizers
Skincare products are as unique as the routines they populate, and that certainly holds true for the daytime moisturizer category. “My favorite daytime face moisturizer really depends on the time of year and a patient's skin type,” Dr. Lombardi says. Once you’ve determined your skin type, below are the formulas our experts recommend to their patients.
For Sensitive Skin: La Roche Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer
Both Dr. Lombardi and Dr. Jaber are fans of this oil-free moisturizer for sensitive and dry skin types. Ceramides increase hydration and reinforce the skin barrier, while glycerin attracts water into the skin. Niacinamide and the brand's mineral-rich thermal water offer soothing and antioxidant properties . $20, ulta.com
For Oily Skin: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel
This gel-cream formula has a water-like texture and is oil-free, fragrance-free, dye-free, and non-comedogenic (i.e. it won’t clog pores). “This is a lightweight moisturizer that absorbs well,” Dr. Jaber says, adding that it layers well under makeup. $26, ulta.com
For Dry Skin: SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore
Dr. Lombardi likes this cream for patients looking for increased moisture during the arid winter months. Essential lipids (think: pure ceramides, natural cholesterol, and fatty acids) work alongside antioxidants to hydrate, restore elasticity, and protect against free-radical damage. $128, dermstore.com
For Aging Skin: Defenage 24/7 Barrier Balance Anti-Aging Cream
Brighten and firm the skin with this intensely hydrating lotion that Dr. Karcher calls the “best anti-aging moisturizer.” The brand's proprietary biosynthetic defensins stimulate cell turnover, while nourishing stalwarts like niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and antioxidants improve skin tone and texture. $127, defenage.com
For Sun Protection: ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica SPF 50+ Sunscreen
While you’ll find plenty of daytime moisturizers (including some on this list!) that include sunscreen, Dr. Lombardi prefers to separate the steps. The reason? “A large amount of moisturizer is generally needed to achieve the SPF shown on the packaging,” she cautions. This broad spectrum SPF 50 mineral formula layers well with both skincare and makeup and comes in sheer and tinted versions. $55, isdin.com
For Multitasking: Aveeno Positively Radiant Facial Moisturizer SPF 30
Even though you’ll want to apply sunscreen on top of your moisturizer, there is no harm in doubling your efforts. Dr. Jaber likes this multitasker because it’s a “lightweight and sheer moisturizer with sun protection” that doesn’t leave behind any greasy residue. $15, walmart.com
For Layering: PCA Skin Hyaluronic Acid Boosting Serum
Remember the benefits of using a hyaluronic acid serum we mentioned earlier? Well, this is the one Dr. Lombardi recommends most. “It’s a great lightweight serum that can be applied prior to SPF and makeup to achieve moisture without being too heavy,” she shares. $117, dermstore.com
For a Tint: BareMinerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Moisturizer SPF 30
If you are looking for a product that can do it all, then a tinted moisturizer may be just what the doctor ordered — literally. “This lightweight tinted moisturizer is available in 20 shades, so it can be used for many different skin types,” Dr. Jaber says. “It also includes good sun protection with an SPF of 30.” $33, sephora.com
For Fragrance Free: Vanicream Daily Facial Moisturizer
As a general rule of thumb, Dr. Lombardi prefers that all her patients (not just those with sensitive skin) use fragrance-free formulas, and this hyaluronic acid- and ceramide-infused formula recommended by Dr. Jaber fits the bill. “It is a lightweight, hydrating lotion that is free of fragrance and masking fragrance, as well as dyes, parabens, lanolin, formaldehyde, and other preservatives,” he explains. $15, walgreens.com
For Lightweight Moisture: CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30
This day cream is a tried-and-true favorite for a reason. It’s affordable and effective. Dr. Jaber likes that it is lightweight, well-tolerated by almost all skin types, and fragrance free. The ceramide-rich formula absorbs quickly, so you won’t feel greasy afterwards. $19, ulta.com
When to Apply Your Moisturizer
Now that you’ve hopefully found a formula (or two!) that will work for you, it’s important to remember that the order you apply your skincare products in matters. “I tell my patients to apply medications first on a clean face,” Dr. Jaber says. “This can be followed by serums and a daytime moisturizer, if desired.” That means sunscreen and makeup (when applicable) come last.
- Step 1: Wash face
- Step 2: Apply topical medications (if needed)
- Step 3: Add serums
- Step 4: Layer on moisturizer
- Step 5: Apply sunscreen
- Step 6: Finish off with makeup
If you’ve got questions about how to apply your routine, we’re here to help. Check out our guide to layering skincare products.
All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.
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