Moisturizers: Ingredients to Look For (with 10 Products)

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Our skin loses moisture and loses water leading to dry skin. We need to minimize this water loss (TEWL - trans-epidermal water loss) and keep the skin hydrated at all times. That is why you need to use a moisturizer daily. 


In this article, you will learn what to look for in a moisturizer and the best moisturizers for dry skin.


Moisturizing your skin is necessary to keep a healthy skin barrier function and to prevent premature aging of your skin. Your skin should never be dry and you need a good moisturizer that provides that hydration around the clock. A good moisturizer includes humectants, occlusives and emollients and is free from irritants and fragrance. Contrary to popular belief, even oily skin also needs moisturizer to avoid overproduction of sebum due to dry skin.

Moisturizers and Oily Skin

There is a misconception among oily skin types that they don’t need a moisturizer, however, if they don’t use a moisturizer, it leads to the skin producing even more sebum to compensate for the dryness.

Definition of a Good Moisturizer

A good moisturizer will keep the deeper layer of your skin hydrated, your top most layer of skin hydrated, and set up a protective layer on the surface of your skin to prevent loss of water from your skin into air  (TEWL - Trans-epidermal water loss). Therefore, a good moisturizer is one which has a good mix of Humectants, Emollients and Occlusive ingredients. One more quality of a good moisturizer is that it will be free from irritants and fragrance free.


The 3 key ingredients that are needed in a good moisturizer that deliver results include:

  1. Humectants - the water-loving molecules that grab moisture from air into your skin.
  2. Emollients - a formulation of oil that fills the gap between the cells of the surface of your skin so it looks smooth.
  3. Occlusive ingredients that seal the hydration like petrolatum, mineral oil and synthetic oils like silicone. Silicone gives hydration to the top layer of the skin - stratum corneum (outer layer of epidermis) so it smoothes out that top layer.


Let us understand in detail what these key 3 ingredients are in your moisturizer.


Humectants are ‘hygroscopic’ in nature which basically means that they can grab water from the dermis (middle layer of skin) into epidermis (top layer of skin) and water from humid environments. Many humectants are also emollients. Humectants form a film on the skin that reduce the TEWL (trans-epidermal water loss).

Disadvantages of Humectants

Humectants grabbing moisture from air is great, but humectants can also draw moisture from the deeper layers of your skin. For dry skin, it can worsen the situation if used heavily.


Lactic Acid and Urea are humectants that help in hydration of the skin. They are also a mild exfoliant when used in higher concentrations - helping facilitate cell turnover (replacing the top layer of the skin with new skin cells to the surface of the skin).

List of all Humectants

  • Hyaluronic Acid
  • Glycerin
  • Gelatin
  • Honey
  • Panthenol
  • Propylene Glycol
  • Butylene Glycol
  • Hydroxy Acids:
    • Glycolic Acid
    • Lactic Acid
    • Sodium Pyrrolidine Carboxylic Acid (Sodium PCA)
  • Sorbitol
  • Urea

Best Humectants for Oily Skin

The best humectant for oily prone skin is Hyaluronic Acid


Emollients are lipids that are naturally found on the surface layer (corneum stratum) of the skin and when applied topically, they fill the gap between cells with oil, making the skin look soft and smooth. If applied heavily, they can also act as an occlusive. The lipids (ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids) are combined together in order to be effective. 


Other popular emollients are aloe vera, shea butter, linoleic acid, oleic acid, stearic acid, and cetyl alcohol. Mineral oil and Jojoba oil work as both emollients and occlusives.


  • Astringent Emollients:
    • Cyclomethicone
    • Dimethicone
    • Isopropyl Myristate
    • Octyl Octanoate
  • Dry Emollients:
    • Decyl Oleate
    • Isopropyl Palmitate
    • Isostearyl Alcohol
  • Fatty Emollients:
    • Propylene Glycol
    • Octyl Stearate
    • Glyceryl Stearate
    • Jojoba Oil
    • Castor Oil
  • Protective Emollients:
    • Isopropyl Isostearate
    • Diisopropyl Dilinoleate


Occlusive ingredients form a protective layer over your skin and lock in the moisture into your skin thereby preventing the trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL). Occlusives work best on wet skin. The most popular occlusive is Petroleum Jelly (your Vaseline) which reduces TEWL by 98%. Other common Occlusives are lanolin, mineral oil, and silicones (like dimethicone) which reduce TEWL by 20-30%. Mineral oil and Jojoba oil work as both emollients and occlusives.

Disadvantages of Occlusives

Occlusives have a very greasy consistency which does not look appealing.Occlusives can potentially be comedogenic (can clog pores).

List of occlusive ingredients 

  • Hydrocarbons:
    • Petroleum Jelly
    • Paraffin
    • Mineral Oil
    • Squalene
    • Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride
  • Fatty Acids:
    • Stearic Acid
    • Lanolin Acid
  • Fatty Alcohols:
    • Lanolin
    • Cetyl Alcohol
    • Stearyl Alcohol
  • Phospholipids:
    • Lecithin
  • Polyhydric Alcohols:
    • Propylene Glycol
  • Sterols:
    • Cholesterol
  • Vegetable Waxes:
    • Candelilla
    • Carnauba
  • Wax Esters:
    • Beeswax
    • Lanolin
    • Stearyl Stearate

Best Occlusives for Oily Skin

The best kind of occlusive ingredients for oily skin are silicones. Silicones are synthetic oils with a nice lightweight feel as they create a smoothness on the surface of your skin and pair really well with a humectant like a Hyaluronic serum. A lot of moisturizers with Hyaluronic Acid will also have silicones in them.

Best Occlusives for Dry Skin

The best types of occlusives for dry skin are shea butter, petrolatum or mineral oil.


They are responsible for keeping our skin hydrated and plump. If your skin is wrinkled, dry and/or dull, you need ceramides provided topically to your skin. Ceramides make up 50% of our epidermis (top layer of your skin) and we produce it naturally in our skin. However, as we age, the effectiveness of ceramides decreases.

Best Moisturizers For Dry Skin

  1. The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA ($9 | 100ml)

The Ordinary NMF Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA Hyaluronic Acid Moisturizer

This is great for eczema-prone skin. When you get eczema, you have low NMF and that is the reason why the skin barrier is compromised. This is a fantastic product if you have eczema.

Recommended By: Dr. Vanita Rattan

  1. CeraVe Moisturizing Cream ($21 | 539g)

CeraVe Moisturizer for Dry Skin 16oz price is $21

Highly recommended by dermatologists for dry and sensitive skin as well as for oily acne prone skin. It is free from irritants and fragrance. It has ceramides that helps in improving the damaged skin barrier and also contains Glycerin and Hyaluronic Acid which holds the moisture in the skin. It also has moisturizer Ingredients like Petrolatum & Dimethicone.

  1. Cetraben Cream ($17 | 500g)

Cetraben Cream thick moisturizer bottle

Thick moisturizer.

Recommended By: Dr. Vanita Rattan

  1. Vanicream Facial Moisturizer ($22 | 16oz)

Vanicream Moisturizer for Sensitive Dry Skin (Fragrance free)

Recommended By: Dr. Dray

  1. DML Forte Cream ($13 | 113g)

DML Forte Cream for sensitive dry skin

Recommended By: Dr. Dray

  1. EGO QV Cream ($10 | 100g)

Ego QV Cream moisturizer for Sensitive Dry Skin

Recommended By: Dr. Dray

  1. Sunday Riley’s Tidal Brightening Enzyme Water Cream ($22 | 15g)

Brightening Cream

This is a moisturizer which is ideal for you if you have dark spots and hyperpigmentation. If you are not using Alpha Arbutin as a serum or in any other product of your skincare routine does not include Alpha arbutin, then this moisturizer is great especially for pigmented and dry skin. It has Hyaluronic Acid, Alpha Arbutin, Tamarind Seed Extract (for hydration), Papain (for exfoliation of top layer of skin) and Horse Chestnut Seed Extract (for even tone).

  1. First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream ($32)

Great for eczema and very dry skin.

Recommended By: Hyram

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