Ah, the “humble” moisturizer. If it’s really as humble as it claims to be, this is the puzzle you are: It shouldn’t be as easy to choose the right one, like going to your local beauty salon, closing your eyes, twisting the moisturizer a little, and to take everything home with you, whatever you’d like finger lands first?
Of course it isn’t. People with dry skin want something that will hold potential flakes in the vehicle at all times. Do you have oily skin You’re probably waffling between knowing that you need to moisturize and wanting not to because it will only make you greasier. Those sensitive to sensitivity may be looking for something very simple, but if they want to venture into active ingredients, a moisturizer-bound version will help minimize irritation. Lazy people want to rationalize, fanatics want to do their best, and organic buyers want to storm the Capitol slather in botanical whips themselves. Brands want to serve them all!
In the simplest case, every moisturizer has to lie somewhere between two axes. First you need to decide whether it is more like a gel or a balm. Gels are light, water-based, and best for people with oily skin, while balms are thick and greasy and preferable when your skin needs more protection from the elements. Then you need to address the claims. The simplest of moisturizers will make your skin more moist – duh. But active moisturizers multitask by surfacing, whitening, or boosting collagen at the same time.
There are far too many moisturizers on the market to fit within a small graphic, but I’ve picked a few examples to get you across the basics.
When we start in the first quadrant, you may feel a little disoriented – the lights are dimly dimmed, the scent perfumes the air, and a cup of tea steams next to you. You have entered the sleep quadrant, referred to as such, as heavy, active moisturizers are usually reserved for the night. Buffer agents with a soothing, buttery base, and even those with more sensitive skin types, can suddenly tolerate things like retinoids with minimal irritation. Neutrogenas Rapid Wrinkle Repair is a classic retinol cream. However, if you want something heavy, choose the waxy consistency of A313 Pommade. It’s one of the few really active balms out there. Botanical balms like Weleda Skin Food and May Lindstrom’s Blue Cocoon are still located above the east-west axis as essential oils can treat some and ignite others. And Augustinus Bader’s The Rich Cream occupies a unique position because while the brand insists that you can replace your retinoids with stem cell technology, the active ingredients don’t have the same irritation potential. (Read: Fewer Pillows Required.)
On the right side of quadrant two you will find your lotion textures. Instead of heavy butters and oils, a lotion usually uses light moisturizers like ceramides to lock in hydration without adding shine. Skinbetters Alpharet is the most active of the whole group. (When I use it on my dry skin, I actually slide it in with a different moisturizer.) Superactive moisturizers are rarely pure gels, but Marc Jacobs’ Youthquake is a good example of this – it combines resurfacing AHAs with a watery base. It is best left to the really oily. If you scroll down our vertical axis, you will find the 25 best Multi Nutrient & Dioic Creams from Allies of Skin. This lightweight lotion has a lot going for it, but most of its active ingredients are there to soothe breakouts, not to beat them up. On the axles is Priming Moisturizer Balance, but niacinamide and willow bark, a natural source of salicylic acid, push it into active area.
Enter the third quadrant and everything will feel a little … hotter. That’s because these watery gels feel best in summer, when you don’t need the extra protection that a cream or balm provides. A gel texture is also ideal for those with oily skin who are reluctant to add moisture. All you really need is a dash of moisture! ITG-based oily skin expert and senior editor Ashley Weatherford is part of Tatcha’s oil-free water cream, which uses the Japanese leopard lily to provide a gentle pore-clearing effect. Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost has a similar texture but does nothing but hydrate. At the bottom left is Kraves Oat So Simple. Soothing oats, an optimized list of ingredients and no additional scent make it good for people with super oily, super sensitive skin – and this cooling gel sinks pretty quickly.
Finally, quadrant four is home to your platonic ideal of a moisturizer. Thick, white, probably in a tub … that’s the stuff you can find here. I’ve recently cut my face in Skinceuticals’ Triple Lipid Repair, which feels thick but sinks quickly and dries deceptively dull. It’s a derm favorite, but it’s also Cerave cream for a fraction of the price. One big difference is that the latter has a piece of niacinamide. La Mer (the original) has a cold, creamy consistency. It’s full of “miracle broth,” the proprietary blend of ingredients that make La Mer so good and so expensive – you’d say it makes the difference between a $ 345 cream and petroleum jelly. Speaking of which, petroleum jelly occupies the lower right corner of this grid! The one-hit wonder seals in moisture and that’s it. Unless you’re Charlotte Palermino, Vanicream is a slightly lighter option that is very simple and works well for people with sensitive skin and eczema.
Where does your favorite moisturizer come from? Let’s fill in the blanks.
Photo via ITG