Best Moisturizer Ingredients for Face and Body

Do you have dry, cracked, itchy, red, and irritated skin? Do you slather yourself with body lotion, but your skin still feels dry? Then you may be using the wrong type of moisturizer. So what are the best moisturizer ingredients for face and body?

The three basic categories of ingredients that are used in moisturizers to treat dry or dehydrated skin are emollients, occlusives, and humectants. The best moisturizer ingredients for face and body are humectants, including hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides.

I’ll discuss each of these categories and how they can help you keep your skin hydrated and healthy so that you can choose the right moisturizer for your skin type.

Also, take a look at our list of best moisturizers, where we list the best moisturizers for dry skin and the best moisturizers for oily skin.

Skin Condition vs Skin Type

Do you have dry skin type (dry skin all year round), or do you just experience dry skin condition at some times of the year, like in Winter? Your skin condition can change almost on a daily basis. It’s dependent upon your age, the environment that you live in, your stress levels, your diet, what kind of products you’re using, as well as your hormones and a whole other array of things.

Your skin type is actually what you are born with. For example, people who have dry skin tend to have smaller, not as active sebaceous glands, so they’re producing less oil. But if they go to a part of the country that’s very humid and they’re sweating a lot, they’ll see a lot of oily shine. You have to figure out which one is your skin type.

Factors in the winter such as using the heater overnight or taking long hot showers in the evening can actually really dehydrate the skin. With heat and water, it can leach moisture and decrease its NMF, which is the natural moisturizing factor.

Next, I’ll cover the three basic categories of ingredients that are used in moisturizers, creams, lotions, and balms to treat dry or dehydrated skin: Emollient, Occlusives, and Humectants.

Best Moisturizer Ingredients for Face and Body

The three moisturizer ingredient categories are emollients, occlusives, and humectants. The best moisturizer ingredients for face and body are humectants. The humectants include hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides.

1. Emollients

The first one is the emollients. Emollients are actually a lubricant, and it gives the skin a smooth and soft texture. They give the product a silky texture, so you’ll see this in many rich moisturizers and creams. In Asia, emollients are really popular where it is more of a watery consistency.

If you look at your ingredients list, some of the things that are classified as emollients are lanolin which is basically sheep. It’s a waxy, sheep sebum. This is not great for breakup-prone skin because it can be comedogenic.

Another one is jojoba oil. Jojoba oil, even though it looks like oil, is actually a wax, and it is very close to human sebum. The other one is isopropyl palmitate. It’s a thickening agent that doesn’t typically add any moisture to the skin.

If you’ve been slathering yourself with lotion, and after it has evaporated, you still have dry, cracked, and wintery skin, that’s probably why. If you look at your moisturizer, it may be high on the emollient scale but not so much on the humectants scale.

2. Occlusives

The second ingredient is occlusive agents. Occlusive agents sit on top of the skin. They don’t penetrate the stratum corneum, and this prevents moisture from escaping. Again, this doesn’t add any moisture to the skin. It just protects the skin from any additional moisture from escaping.

If you look at your moisturizers or your creams to see where in the ingredients list it’s listed, some of the more common ones are petroleum or petrolatum. The byproduct of that is also mineral oil. This can sometimes cause bumps for some breakout-prone people, so you may have to watch out for that.

The other one is cocoa butter. Shea butter and a lot of other butter tend to be occlusive as well. This also includes most of the oils that you see. If you see some common types of oils, whether it be sunflower oil, safflower oil, or any type of oils, these are also occlusive. So again, they don’t add any moisture to the skin.

Another very common one that you see in almost everything, whether it’s hair conditioners, hair anti-frizz, or hair serums, is dimethicone, which is silicone-based. Most of the occlusive agents actually prevent TEWL (transepidermal water loss), but dimethicones don’t. They are actually permeable when exposed to water vapor.

3. Humectants

The one that you want to look for is a moisturizer or cream that is high in humectants. Humectants in moisturizers and creams actually have the ability to draw moisture from the air or the surrounding environment and bring it to your skin, so it’s adding moisture to your skin. Humectants are what you want to see in your moisturizers.

a) Hyaluronic Acid

A very popular humectant is hyaluronic acid, which is great, but it’s not up to par as to what people think it is, and they’re paying a lot of money for it. One of them is hyaluronic acid or sodium hyaluronate, and the other one is glycerin that also brings moisture to the skin, which I’ll cover in the next section. Humectants are hydrophilic, which literally means water-loving.

Basically, it has the ability to attract water and not only attract water but keep it. The thing with humectants is you have to be careful because if you’re living in arid climates, it actually can draw moisture from the lower parts of the skin and bring it to the upper part.

So, in essence, it can be dehydrating your skin. Make sure that if you live in dry climates or you’re in a drying environment to use products that have occlusive agents.

So put on your humectants and then you add on top of that occlusive agents or make sure that you look for a moisturizer that contains higher humectants compared to its occlusive agents. And for those of you who are breakout-prone, you can just use a higher amount of humectants-based moisturizer or cream.

Here are some of the humectant ingredients that you want to see higher up on your ingredients list in your moisturizers, lotions, creams, or anything that you’re using to keep the moisture in: aloe vera gel, sodium hyaluronate, hyaluronic acid, hydroxy acids, propylene glycol, urea, and glycerin.

Although hyaluronic acid has been very much glamorized and publicized in recent years, what you will see in most of your lotions and creams is that glycerin is actually higher on the ingredients list than hyaluronic acid. And because it’s more of a humectant, it’s actually more commonly used in lotions, moisturizers, and creams.

b) Glycerin

A great alternative to hyaluronic acid is glycerin. Glycerin is a humectant that, even if you wash the product off, has a unique ability to keep adding hydrating properties into your skin long after the product has worn off.

That’s another thing about glycerin that I really love. When paired with an occlusive agent on top, it really can add to the hydrating properties of your skin. So again, I’m not saying to stop using hyaluronic acid. I myself use it on a daily basis, but I do want to tell you there are other alternatives to hyaluronic acid.

c) Ceramides

Here is the final one, and they are ceramides. So ceramides are lipids that basically help make up the stratum corneum and help form the barrier of the skin. They are also oil-soluble, so that’s why it’s added to a lot of moisturizers to help your skin and to help keep the skin’s barrier intact.

For those of you who have extremely dry skin that’s cracked, or you have atopic dermatitis, or you have eczema, you might want to look for a moisturizer that has not only ceramides but also fatty acids and cholesterol.

I advise this because sometimes a product will have a marked-up price because it has ceramides. However, it is much more effective when it also has fatty acids and cholesterol. So make sure a product that includes ceramides also includes a balance of all three of these ingredients.

Another pro tip that I just wanted to throw in there, to keep your skin from having TEWL (transepidermal water loss), avoid using hand sanitizers because they have a high amount of alcohol, and that will dehydrate your skin very quickly.

Instead, if you can, try to wash your hands and while it’s still moist, add lotion in there that has a high amount of humectants so that your hands won’t crack. I know a lot of professionals who have to wash their hands a lot, just like me, can get dry and cracked hands during the wintertime.

Conclusion – Best Moisturizer Ingredients for Face and Body

The three basic categories of ingredients that are used in moisturizers to treat dry or dehydrated skin are:

  • Emollients
  • Occlusives
  • Humectants

The best moisturizer ingredients for face and body are humectants. Humectant ingredients include:

  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Glycerin
  • Ceramides

See our post on the best moisturizers to find the right one with humectants for your skin.

Related Questions

How do I choose a moisturizer? According to the American Academy of Dermatology, you should apply a moisturizer right after washing it and patting it dry. Moisturizers can include lotions, oils, ointments, or creams, and some are specifically formulated for your skin type.

What causes extremely dry skin? Extremely dry skin is caused by losing too much water or oil. This can be from a dry or arid climate. A loss of water or oil can also be from skin diseases such as atopic dermatitis (eczema) or psoriasis.

What ingredients should I avoid in a face cream? When choosing a moisturizing face cream, it is best to avoid:

  • BHA
  • Triclosan
  • Petroleum distillates
  • Retinyl palmitate
  • Parabens
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate