The 4 Best Winter Face Moisturizers (A Derm’s Guide)

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The 4 Best Winter Face Moisturizers (A Derm’s Guide)
In a hurry? Here are our top picks:

BEST FOR OILY, COMBINATION & ACNE-PRONE SKIN, ORGANIC

ZELEN Life Moisturizer

Skin is our first line of defense against all the harsh external attacks.

As opposed to the skin on other body parts, facial skin remains uncovered and directly exposed to the extremes of temperatures and environmental conditions.

And, since the facial skin is also thinner and more sensitive than other body parts, for example, back or arms, it requires special care and love.

One of the most challenging phases for our facial skin is a harsh winter. So, in this article, we are going to share with you the best winter face moisturizers to keep your skin healthy, glowing, and untroubled from the cold winds and freezing temperatures.

In this review, we hope you get an overview about how to choose your winter moisturizer, what to look for, as well as a few top picks from our team for various skin types and needs.

So let’s get you going on the train of winter perfect skin.

Quick summary

bb2-table__imageZELEN Life Moisturizer
  • Organic formula packed with vitamins and antioxidants
  • Non-greasy and lightweight, absorbs fast to lock in moisture
  • Contains soothing and repairing properties, calms acne breakouts
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bb2-table__imageEltaMD Barrier Renewal Complex Face Moisturizer
  • Dimethicone assists in improving the skin's texture
  • Contains niacinamide which helps with acne and aging
  • Fragrance-free
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bb2-table__imageLa Roche-Posay Hydraphase Intense UV Face Moisturizer
  • Glycerine and hyaluronic acid assists 'flakiness', hydrates skin
  • Contains SPF 20 sun protection
  • Value for money
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bb2-table__imageSkinMedica TNS Ceramide Treatment Cream
  • Anti-aging properties, helps fine lines and wrinkles
  • Helps repairs the skin barrier, suitable for dry skin
  • Reduces open pores
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Before you buy: 5 things you have to consider when purchasing a winter face moisturizer

1. What is a moisturizer supposed to do?

Moisturizer is not just meant to hydrate your skin. An ideal moisturizer, in addition to improving the skin’s capability of holding the water and reducing the water loss, also improves the general health and condition of the skin and repairs the skin barrier.

2. Do you need an extra face moisturizer for winter?

The skin barrier of the face is weaker than other parts of the body since it is always exposed to sun, pollution, and other skincare products like cleansers.

This just gets worse in winters when cold and dry is also thrown into the equation. Even the usual ‘healthy’ skin becomes more sensitive and irritable in cold and dry climates (1).

It is prudent to use a special ‘winter facial moisturizer,’ which is more nourishing than your usual moisturizer.

3. What kind of moisturizers are there, and what’s best for you?

There are the following different kinds of moisturizers (2):

Emollients:

They improve skin barrier function by filling the damaged gaps in the lipid layer, improving the skin’s feel and look—E.g., Fatty alcohols, ceramides, jojoba oil, dimethicone, etc.

Humectants:

They bring the water from deeper layers of the skin, as well as from the humid environment, to the skin’s surface, improving the skin’s hydration—Eg. Lactic acid, glycerine, hyaluronic acid, urea, etc.

Occlusives: 

Occlusive ingredients form a thin layer on the skin to physically block the water loss—E.g., Petrolatum, beeswax, etc.

An ideal moisturizer will contain a ‘mix’ of at least two, in ideal cases, all three types of moisturizing ingredients. Suppose you don’t find one moisturizer with all the good properties. In that case, it is also not a bad idea to layer the moisturizers- emollients/humectants as the first layer and occlusive as the second layer.

4. Not all alcohols are bad alcohol

As you would see in the product ingredients mentioned below, many moisturizers contain ‘alcohols’ like cetyl alcohol or stearyl alcohol.

Now, I am sure you must have read that alcohols are bad for the skin and may dry it out the skin. Not these types of alcohol. They belong to the so-called ‘good alcohols.’

These good alcohols are fatty alcohols that are moisturizing ingredients and contribute to improving the skin texture and appearance (3).

5. Buying moisturizer according to the skin

Do not buy moisturizers according to your ‘skin type,’ but buy them according to your skin condition. Even with oily skin, you might need a heavy moisturizer if you live in harsh weather extremes or go through a phase of dehydrated skin.

But if your skin behaves normally, as a rule of thumb, gel and lotion textures are more suitable for oily and combination skin, and creams and ointments for dry skin.

The 4 best winter face moisturizers

1. ZELEN Life Moisturizer

ZELEN Life Moisturizer

Best features:

  • Contains beneficial plant oils but not heavy on the skin
  • Can be used during the day, as well as nighttime
  • Fast absorption, locking in moisture to protect against wintery conditions

The best winter face moisturizer for:

Both men and women with oily and combination skin, and those who are organic skincare lovers.

Overview:

This lightweight but highly moisturizing product from ZELEN Life is an excellent multipurpose product to have during winters.

Due to its non-greasy and sebum regulating property, thanks to jojoba oil, it can be used during the daytime too. For oily, combination, and acne-prone skin, it would even suffice alone for the nighttime.

This product contains multiple valuable plant oils and the ‘good’ fatty alcohols, making the skin smoother, softer, and healthier. In numerous studies, sunflower seed oil has been shown to improve the skin’s hydration, repair the skin barrier and reduce redness (4).

It is recommended to improve the skin condition of babies with eczema.

Coconut oil reduces the water loss from the skin, works as an anti-inflammatory, and to some extent removes the ‘bad bacteria’ Staphylococcus aureus from the skin, preserving its flora and preventing infections (5).

Rose geranium flower water, sweet almond oil, and tocopherol impart this moisturizer an antioxidant effect to fight the free radicals causing aging and skin damage.

Ingredients:

Sunflower Seed Oil, Cetyl Alcohol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Jojoba Seed Oil, Rose Geranium Flower Water, Coconut Oil, Sweet Almond Oil, Cocoa Butter, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis Orange Peel Oil, Tocopherol

The good:

  • ZELEN Life does not test on animals
  • Suitable for acne-prone skin
  • Contains multiple gold standard moisturizing botanical ingredients
  • Has barrier repairing and soothing properties- can be used for damaged skin
  • Antioxidant ingredients to fight the ‘stress’ due to environmental factors

Things to think about:

  • Even though the product does not contain artificial fragrance, natural perfumes can cause allergies and sensitization in people who are susceptible to it

Bottom line:

The ZELEN Life Moisturizer is a great unisex product that packs the hydrating, as well as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of natural ingredients without being heavy on the skin. An organic product with a luxury feels without making you go bankrupt.

2. EltaMD Barrier Renewal Complex Face Moisturizer

EltaMD Barrier Renewal Complex Face Moisturizer

Best features:

  • Imparts a good moisture boost and contains multitasker ingredients like Niacinamide
  • Lightweight

The best winter face moisturizer for:

Those with sensitive skin, and irritated skin due to use of skin treatments.

Overview:

Elta MD is a brand that is loved and recommended the world over by dermatologists for producing quality ingredients. This product is no exception.

This ‘barrier repair moisturizer’ is lightweight and has emollient ingredients like ceramide, squalane, and dimethicone to visibly improve the skin’s appearance (6).

Ceramides play a key role in repairing damaged skin barrier due to irritation or inflammation. In addition to that, hyaluronic acid can bind water 6000 times its weight, immediately giving a hydrated and ‘plumping’ effect to the skin.

The presence of niacinamide gives an extra lift to this product. Niacinamide is a versatile ingredient that controls oil production, fights hyperpigmentation, has antioxidant properties, and reduces fine lines and wrinkles to some extent (7).

Ingredients:

Niacinamide, Glycerin, Dimethicone, Ceramide, Cetyl Alcohol, Hyaluronic Acid, Squalane, Piptadenia Colubrina Peel Extract, Kiwi Fruit Extract, Bromelain.

The good:

  • Ceramides and other lipid ingredients strengthen and repair the skin barrier
  • Dimethicone improves the skin’s texture – can also be applied under makeup
  • Anti-aging, anti-acne, and brightening properties due to niacinamide
  • Fragrance-free

Things to think about:

  • Not suitable for extremes of skin spectrum- too dry or too oily skin

Bottom line:

An excellent moisturizer for sensitive skin- for soothing and repairing damaged skin, to promote healing after different skin treatments. If you are willing to pay that little extra, it is a good rounded off winter moisturizer.

3. La Roche-Posay Hydraphase Intense UV Face Moisturizer SPF 20

La Roche Posay Hydraphase Intense SPF 20

Best features:

  • Moisturizer with sunscreen for day time use

The best winter face moisturizer for:

Day time use (all skin types).

Overview:

It is really cumbersome to apply two products after washing your face in the morning when all you have planned for the day is being in front of a laptop or relaxing in your living room.

But since UV rays sneak their way into your living room through those windows, you need to save your skin from those aging UVA rays with sunscreen.

The easiest way to do that is to invest in a sunscreen-moisturizer to save you some effort on a lazy winter morning.

This sunscreen moisturizer from La Roche Posay combines broad-spectrum chemical UV shields – Avobenzone (UVA), Homosalate (UVB), Octisalate (UVB), and Octocrylene (UVA and UVB) (8).

It also has two of the best humectant ingredients- Glycerine and hyaluronic acid, which hydrate the skin and reduce the dry flakiness, making the skin look more youthful and healthy (9).

Hyaluronic acid is also present in small and large molecule sizes, which optimizes moisture quotient in the skin.

Ingredients:

Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene, Glycerin, Dimethicone, Sodium Hyaluronate, Hydrolyzed Hyaluronic Acid, Fragrance.

The good:

  • Sinks well into the skin. Doesn’t leave a white film behind
  • Very potent humectants to bind moisture on the skin’s surface
  • Broad-spectrum sun protection
  • Saves expenditure on two products.

Things to think about:

  • SPF 20 too less if you plan on going out, you will need another layer of higher protection sunscreen for outdoors
  • Some antioxidants in a day moisturizer would have been nicer
  • Fragrance- people with perfume allergy, should stay away

Bottom line:

A simple formula concentrating on what it promises, UV protection and hydration. A single step product for your home office days.

4. SkinMedica TNS Ceramide Treatment Cream

SkinMedica TNS Ceramide Treatment Cream

Best features:

  • Anti-aging cream and moisturizer in one

The best winter face moisturizer for:

Those with dry, and/or mature skin who are looking for prevention of aging.

Overview:

Skinmedica TNS ceramide cream goes an extra mile in the department of moisturizing.

Apart from standard hydrating ingredients like Dimethicone, Panthenol, Glycerin, and sodium hyaluronate (properties of which can be found in the text above), this product uses hydroxypropyl Bispalmitamide MEA which mimics the structure and function of natural skin ceramides that help in barrier repair and healing (10).

This nighttime moisturizer could easily double up as an anti-aging cream with peptides, vitamin C (Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate), and retinyl palmitate (11), which promote collagen building to reverse the fine lines, improve pigmentation, smoothen the texture and brighten the skin tone.

Antioxidants tocopherol acetate and Olea europea fruit oil eat up the free radicals to reverse the sun and aging-induced damage on the skin.

Ingredients:

Cetearyl Alcohol, Hydroxypropyl Bispalmitamide MEA, Human Fibroblast Conditioned Media, Dimethicone, Olea Europaea Fruit Oil, Glycine Soja Oil, Glycerin, peptides, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, Avena Sativa Kernel Extract, Retinyl Palmitate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Squalane, Allantoin, Bisabolol, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate.

The good:

  • Reduces fine lines and wrinkles
  • Evens out the skin’s tone and reduces open pores
  • A really rich moisturizer for the night
  • Barrier repair for dry and sensitive skin

Things to think about:

  • Higher price point
  • With its multiple active ingredients, it is not suitable for beginners or very sensitive skin

Bottom line:

This is definitely more than just a regular moisturizer. It will hydrate, soothe and repair your skin while also erasing a few wrinkles on the way. If the price doesn’t bother you, and your skin is used to having some actives in the routine, this is a great pick.


How we chose these products

To choose the four best winter moisturizers for you, we first shortlisted the best products, which are also accessible easily.

In our selection, we ensured that the products are high on hydration, contain great ingredients, and are from the brands that we can trust about the quality.

To shortlist, we made sure that the products are multipurpose, and the ingredient list of the chosen products are variable enough to cater to different skin needs.

We made sure that we took into consideration the skin types, the expectations from a winter moisturizer, and the gender preference while selecting a moisturizer. We also included product options for different budget brackets.

The fragrance has been a controversial topic when it comes to moisturizers, so according to taste and sensitivity, we decided to present to you the products with fragrance, as well as non-perfumed options.

Last but not least, we do believe that ingredients are not the only determining factors for a great product. To make sure that the formulation also worked for most people, we checked user reviews across multiple trusted platforms and sorted out our final four products.

I hope we were able to find one for you in this process.

Frequently asked questions

What happens to the skin during winters?

The skin undergoes various kinds of changes in winter. The skin’s barrier function is compromised, which leads to an increased chance of irritation, redness, and eczema.

The skin’s natural lipid production is also compromised, which leads to an increase in water loss in an already dry condition. This makes the skin look dehydrated, flaky, and craving for some moisture (12).

What are some other tips for using moisturizer during winters?

No matter how tempting it seems, avoid using hot water to wash your face and water. Use a moisturizing, pH neutral face cleanser, pat (not rub) the face dry, and apply moisturizer on the damp skin within 3 minutes of washing your face.

Avoid using multiple products with active irritating ingredients in one routine.

Aren’t plant oils or petrolatum comedogenic?

The concept of comedogenicity is slowly becoming redundant. That means it is not possible to predict from an ingredient or two if the product is suitable for acne-prone skin or not.

Plant oils, and even petrolatum, as ingredients in well-formulated products, can be non-comedogenic. Some plant oils like jojoba oil or rosehip oil (13) actually benefit oily and acne-prone skin.

Is a moisturizer with sunscreen different from a real sunscreen?

No, it is not. If your moisturizer contains a good SPF and UVA protection, and you use it in generous amounts, it would work just as well as your sunscreen. It would also save you some money that you would spend on buying two products.

Do I need a separate moisturizer for the face and body?

Yes, you do. Even though I said there are no comedogenic and non-comedogenic ingredients in play anymore, the formulation could still block the pores and trigger acne.

Body moisturizers are formulated just to moisturize, and less attention is paid to the aesthetics or non-comedogenicity of the product. Facial skin is also more sensitive, thinner, and richer in oil glands than most other body parts and thus needs a special dedicated product.

How would I know if a moisturizer is right for my skin or not?

There is, unfortunately, no ‘one fits all’ when it comes to skincare.

A person with a similar skin type could respond differently to the same product as you do. You may have to do some trials and errors before you reach the right product.

If your skin does not respond to a skincare product with redness, irritation, or breakout, you are tolerating the product well. Under that product, your skin should neither feel tight a few hours (or morning) after application nor greasy like an oil-well.

Long term, a good moisturizer should make your skin smoother, glowing and no dehydrated patches should crop up on your face.

Conclusion

A cold and dry winter definitely needs you to step up your moisturizer game. Not only is the skin drier, but it is also more prone to irritation and inflammation.

Choose a moisturizer that not only preserves the skin’s hydration but also boosts up the skin’s health while also retaining the aesthetic finish of your taste.

In this article, we tried to give some tips and options to keep your skin happy and glowy even in freezing temperatures.

Do you have a pet winter moisturizer that you love? Let us know in the comments.

And if you have a friend who is still searching for that perfect winter moisture companion, share this article with them.

If you would like us to assist you in achieving your dream skin with tips and recommendations, be sure to subscribe to our email list.


References

  1. Kikuchi K, Kobayashi H, Le Fur I, Tschachler E, Tagami H: The Winter Season Affects More Severely the Facial Skin than the Forearm Skin: Comparative Biophysical Studies Conducted in the Same Japanese Females in Later Summer and Winter. Exog Dermatol 2002;1:32-38. doi: 10.1159/000047989
  2. Sethi A, Kaur T, Malhotra SK, Gambhir ML. Moisturizers: The Slippery Road. Indian J Dermatol. 2016;61(3):279-287. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.182427
  3. Purnamawati S, Indrastuti N, Danarti R, Saefudin T. The Role of Moisturizers in Addressing Various Kinds of Dermatitis: A Review. Clin Med Res. 2017;15(3-4):75-87. doi:10.3121/cmr.2017.1363
  4. Danby SG, AlEnezi T, Sultan A, Lavender T, Chittock J, Brown K, Cork MJ. Effect of olive and sunflower seed oil on the adult skin barrier: implications for neonatal skin care. Pediatr Dermatol. 2013 Jan-Feb;30(1):42-50. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-1470.2012.01865.x. Epub 2012 Sep 20. PMID: 22995032.
  5. Verallo-Rowell VM, Dillague KM, Syah-Tjundawan BS. Novel antibacterial and emollient effects of coconut and virgin olive oils in adult atopic dermatitis. Dermatitis. 2008 Nov-Dec;19(6):308-15. PMID: 19134433.
  6. Lodén M. The clinical benefit of moisturizers. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2005 Nov;19(6):672-88; quiz 686-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-3083.2005.01326.x. PMID: 16268870.
  7. Levin, Jacquelyn, and Saira B Momin. “How much do we really know about our favorite cosmeceutical ingredients?.” The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology vol. 3,2 (2010): 22-41.
  8. Latha, M. S., Martis, J., Shobha, V., Sham Shinde, R., Bangera, S., Krishnankutty, B., Bellary, S., Varughese, S., Rao, P., & Naveen Kumar, B. R. (2013). Sunscreening agents: a review. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 6(1), 16–26.
  9. Anderson, P. C., & Dinulos, J. G. (2009). Are the new moisturizers more effective? Current Opinion in Pediatrics, 21(4), 486–490. doi:10.1097/mop.0b013e32832cfd3
  10. https://europepmc.org/article/pmc/5908267
  11. Rawlings AV, Stephens TJ, Herndon JH, Miller M, Liu Y, Lombard K. The effect of a vitamin A palmitate and antioxidant-containing oil-based moisturizer on photodamaged skin of several body sites. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2013 Mar;12(1):25-35. doi: 10.1111/jocd.12023. PMID: 23438139.
  12. Meyer K, Pappas A, Dunn K, Cula GO, Seo I, Ruvolo E, Batchvarova N. Evaluation of Seasonal Changes in Facial Skin With and Without Acne. J Drugs Dermatol. 2015 Jun;14(6):593-601. PMID: 26091385.
  13.  Lin, Tzu-Kai et al. “Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 19,1 70. 27 Dec. 2017, doi:10.3390/ijms19010070

About The Author

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Board-Certified Dermatologist

Dermatology (Stanley Medical College, Chennai)

Germany

Dr. Singh studied dermatology from one of the most prestigious medical colleges of India – Stanley Medical College, Chennai. After finishing her post-graduation she went on to work as a consultant dermatologist in one of the largest cosmetology clinic chains in India – Kaya skin clinic. Working alongside expert aesthetic dermatologists of India, she worked extensively with customized skincare as well as lasers and injectables. Alongside, training under famous hair transplant surgeon – Dr. Venkataram Mysore, she learnt the nitty gritties of hair treatments. After doing two traveling fellowships in dermatology in Germany, she decided to settle there. Currently dividing her time between practicing dermatology and aesthetic medicine, she finds immense joy in educating people about the science behind skincare and haircare.

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