Moisturizers can be complicated—you have a lightweight moisturizer for the summer when your skin feels superoily, and a moisturizer for the winter when your skin is parched. You probably even bought those moisturizers because a friend told you one works wonders on dry skin or you read (possibly on this site) that your summer moisturizer won’t clog your pores. But do you really know how a good moisturizer is supposed to feel when you apply it? Should it take a while to soak in? And what exactly is a moisturizer?
Here’s your answer: “Moisturizers typically contain four classes of ingredients: Occlusives, like white petrolatum, form a protective seal over the skin; humectants, like hyaluronic acid, pull in water from deep skin layers; emollients, like glycerin, fill in cracks and roughness between skin cells so the skin feels smooth; and barrier-repair ingredients, like ceramides, replace natural fats that may be missing between skin cells, helping the outer skin layer function optimally,” says Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. We continued this conversation and asked a group of dermatologists to let us know in their own words how a really great moisturizer should feel.
It should glide effortlessly on your skin and feel silky. “One of the key ingredients in a moisturizer that confers this property is dimethicone. Dimethicone’s role is to create a protective barrier on the skin’s surface so that water can’t escape and environmental irritants are kept out. Dimethicone is present in certain oil-free moisturizers, but in most cases, it’s included along with mineral or other oils, like jojoba oil and derivatives of petroleum.” —Patricia Ceballos, a dermatologist in New York City
It should contain a NMF (natural moisturizing factor), which is a real thing.”Natural moisturizing factors are molecules that help the moisturizer penetrate the outer layer of the skin and actually do the work of moisturizing. A good moisturizer should absorb quickly and not leave a greasy feeling on the skin. You want it to feel lightweight yet also hydrate the skin so that it feels supple and soft to the touch. Good moisturizers should be unscented, but the consistency depends on the type of skin you have—gel for oily skin, lotion for normal skin, and cream for dry skin.” —Kavita Mariwalla, a dermatologist in West Islip, New York
You shouldn’t be able to feel it. “A good moisturizer should absorb right into the skin and relieve any tightness or dryness. It should be lightweight so you can’t feel it as a distinct layer on the skin.” —Lotika Singh, a dermatologist in New York City
It shouldn’t smell like anything. “Choose a moisturizer that is fragrance-free to minimize risk of irritation, and also look for one that contains SPF to help protect your skin from UV rays. If it makes your skin feel oily or appear shiny, look for another product. Cosmetically elegant products just melt into the skin and begin the hydration process.” —Rebecca Tung, a dermatologist in La Grange Park, Illinois
A moisturizer should never, ever feel oily. “A great moisturizer should make your skin feel hydrated, not oily. It should absorb, leaving a clean finish, and not just sit on top of the skin. It should allow you to layer makeup on top of it without pilling up. Immediately, the skin should look plumped and fine lines should look softened if the product is truly moisturizing your skin. With consistent use of a moisturizer, the skin barrier will be better repaired, so overall the skin should be less irritable and sensitive. Good moisturizers can also normalize oil production, meaning if you are oily in patches, they should become more even throughout.” —Annie Chiu, a dermatologist in North Redondo Beach, California
Originally featured on Allure.com