A Guide on How To Choose A Moisturizer Suitable For Your Skin Type

A Guide on How To Choose A Moisturizer Suitable For Your Skin Type | 5 To 5

Whether you are new to skincare or an experienced skinthusiast, you are in the right place if you are looking for a guide on choosing the right moisturizer for your skin type.

A moisturizer might sound like a simple and basic skincare product, but there are some nuances that you need to know if you are looking for a perfect moisturizer for you.

In this guide, we will discuss:

  1. What is a moisturizer, and what it does to our skin?
  2. How does a moisturizer work?
  3. What to look for in a moisturizer for your skin type?
  4. Is reading the ingredients list of a moisturizer helpful to you?
  5. Our top 5 favorite moisturizer picks.

What is a moisturizer, and what it does to our skin?

Do you know that moisturizer is more of a marketing than a clinical term? That is why the textures, effects, and skin feel vary greatly among moisturizers out there.

From a dermatologist's / cosmetic formulation's perspective, a moisturizer is a substance, usually an emulsion or suspension, containing a mixture of water and lipids.

Skincare brands commonly label it as moisturizers, lotions, creams, gels, gel creams, or other terms. There is no one strict definition that differentiates these terms.

The primary functions of a moisturizer are to increase the epidermis' water content, cover tiny fissures in the skin, provide a soothing, protective film, and restore the skin barrier function of the epidermis1. Active ingredients such as niacinamide, retinol, vitamin c, etc., can also be included for an added benefit.

How does a moisturizer work?

A moisturizer typically contains a blend of ingredients that can be categorized into three main classes: humectants, emollients, and occlusives.

Each of these ingredient classes has different functions that complement one another. Let's take a closer look at each of them.


Humectants (and water) function to replenish the stratum corneum's (the outermost layer of our epidermis) water content.

Humectants are hygroscopic substances, which means they can attract and bind moisture from their surrounding environment.

If the humidity in the surrounding air is high enough (~80% or above), humectants can absorb moisture from the air2.

But, if the surrounding humidity is low, humectants can absorb moisture from the deeper layers of our skin, potentially leading to dryer skin. That is why there are occlusives in a moisturizer(more on this later). Humectants can feel sticky in a high concentration.

Some examples of commonly found humectantsin a moisturizer are:

    • Glycerin
    • Hyaluronic acid / Sodium hyaluronate / other Hyaluronic acidderivatives
    • Panthenol (Vitamin B5)
    • Glycols: Butylene glycol, pentylene glycol, propylene glycol, etc
    • Urea
    • Sorbitol
    • Honey
    • Collagen
    • Alpha-hydroxy acids (in low concentration)
    • Etc.

Occlusives & Emollients

Occlusives form a protective layer on our skin to help prevent water loss from the skin's surface to the environment (a process called transepidermal water loss or TEWL, in short) so that our skin remains hydrated.

Emollients fill in micro-fissures in our skin and make it feels smooth and soft.

Many occlusives also function as emollients and vice versa, though not always.

Both occlusives and emollients are typically oily substances that can feel thick and heavy on the skin if used in a high concentration, especially in a humid climate. That said, they can be suitable for you if you have very dry skin.

Common occlusives and emollients found in a moisturizer include:

    • Hydrocarbon oil derivatives: petrolatum, mineral oils, paraffin.
    • Silicone derivatives: dimethicone, cyclomethicone, etc
    • Fatty acids: capric triglyceride, stearic acid, linoleic acid, omega 3/6/9, etc
    • Sterols: cholesterol
    • Fatty alcohols: stearyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, etc.
    • Plant-derived oils: squalene, jojoba, rosehip, etc
    • Plant-derived butter: shea butter, mango butter, cocoa butter, etc.
    • Waxes: lanolin, beeswax, carnauba, etc.

How to choose a moisturizer that is suitable for your skin type?

Now that you know how moisturizers work, how do you choose a suitable one for your skin type?

Dry to very dry skin type

If your skin produces little sebum and often feels tight, itchy, and flaky, you might have a dry skin type.

If you fall into this group, you will likely find moisturizers with higher occlusives content (heavier texture) to be more suitable for you; they are often labeled as creams, balms, or sleeping masks.

Layering hydrating products works well for dry skin. Try applying humectant-rich hydration supports before your moisturizer/cream step.

You can put on any number of layers that you think your skin needs, but if your hydration support products contain active ingredients, you might want to keep track of it so as not to overapply.

Ingredients such as colloidal oats extract, centella asiatica extract, allantoin, niacinamide, etc., can help to soothe the skin.

Oily skin type

Individuals with oily skin are often concern about their skins' shiny appearance and feel uncomfortable with their skin's excess sebum, especially in a hot and humid climate. Clogged pores and acne are also common worries.

If you fall into this group, chances are you dislike moisturizers with a heavier texture.

Try looking for lighter moisturizers with higher water and humectants content and lower oils and occlusives. They are often labeled as gels, lotions, or gel creams.

If you have really oily skin, you might even be fine without a moisturizer.

But there isn't a hard and fast rule to determine whether you need one. Instead, listen to your own skin's needs.

If you experience dry skin symptoms like tightness, an itchy feeling, and flaky skin, apply moisturizers regularly (You might have oily but dehydrated skin).

Your hormones and genetics determine the amount of sebum produced by your skin. Hence, there are little things you can do to change this with skincare.

That said, you can try to look for a moisturizer that contains niacinamide (with at least 2% concentration) and zinc PCA, as some studies have found that both ingredients can help to regulate sebum production34.

Sensitive skin type

Sensitive skin is more of a condition than a skin type. It can be hard to define sensitive skin because symptoms and triggers can vary widely.

Nevertheless, typical sensitive skin symptoms include redness, burning, and stinging sensation often accompanied by dry skin. An impaired skin barrier is a common factor for individuals with sensitive skin.

Look for a gentle and simple moisturizer to minimize the chance of a reaction.

Fragrances and essential oils are known potential irritants for sensitive skin, but it is not always the case. If you prefer your moisturizer to smell nice, you don't need to avoid fragrances and essential oils but do exercise caution.

You can also try to look for a moisturizer that contains a blend of ceramides, cholesterols, and fatty acids. Some studies found the mixture of these skin-identical lipids help with skin barrier repair5, which could help to improve your skin condition.

Some studies also found moisturizers that contain niacinamide to be helpful for skin barrier repair6.

Do you need a separate day and night moisturizer?

You don't really need to; it depends on your preference. There are only a few things that differentiate the two.

If a moisturizer is labeled for daytime use explicitly, typically it contains sunscreen filters. It is convenient if you are in a hurry in the morning and want to have one less step in your routine.

The trade-off is that the texture and skin feel are often not the best, and there are risks that you will under apply it (you need to apply sunscreens liberally).

Moisturizers labeled for nighttime use are less of a clear-cut. Some have heavier texture, which is helpful because our skin tends to be drier at night due to increased TEWL7. Some include certain ingredients such as retinol, which breaks down easily if exposed to sunlight and is more suitable for nighttime use.

We prefer our moisturizer to be simpler and then separately apply suitable actives (according to our needs) and separate layer of sunscreen. We don't need to have different day and nighttime moisturizers this way.

Is reading the ingredient list of a moisturizer helpful?

The ingredient list is helpful for you to find out about the ingredients that go inside your product and the rough estimation of the concentration. Ingredients are listed from the highest to the lowest concentration (It can appear in any order once it hit below 1%).

What it does not tell you, however, is the exact concentration of the ingredients, the efficacy, and the feel of the product. Suppose you are a trained cosmetic formulator or an experienced skinthusiast, you might be able to make an educated guess from the ingredient list alone, but it will be quite hard for most consumers.

Since efficacy and skin feel are essential elements of user experience in applying moisturizer, your best bet is to do a little trial and error to find the moisturizer that's suitable for you.

Use the ingredient list to filter moisturizers that contain certain ingredients that you want or avoid, but don't rely solely on it.

Our top 5 favorite moisturizers pick

As usual, we will round up this article with our version of the top 5 moisturizers that we love.

The Barrier Defender mentioned here is our product, but if it does not work for you for some reason (it's okay) or you simply just want an alternative, we have included other options for you to try.

(Disclaimer: The Barrier Defender is our product. We are not sponsored by any of the other brands. Opinion here is our own.)

5 TO 5's Barrier Defender

The Barrier Defender is a lightweight moisturizer-slash-serum formulated with skin-identical lipids and natural plant oils rich in linoleic acid to help repair and strengthen the skin's barrier.

We love it because it feels light on the skin yet deeply moisturizing at the same time. Perfect for our oily but dehydrated skin in a hot and humid climate. After using it exclusively for an extended period (2-4 weeks), our skin feels hydrated and healthier.

    • Texture: Lightweight lotion.
    • Skin-feel: non-greasy, easily absorbed.
    • Color: Off-white.
    • Scent: No scent.
    • Claim: Help to repair and strengthen the skin's barrier.
    • Key ingredients: Skin-identical lipids blend (ceramide NP, cholesterol, fatty acids), Jojoba oil, Rosehip oil.
    • Fragrance / essential oils free? Yes

CeraVe's Facial Moisturizing Lotion (PM)

CeraVe describes this popular moisturizer as a lightweight lotion that can help calm the skin and restore the skin's barrier while you sleep. It is also non-comedogenic and won't clog pores or cause acne flare-ups.

We love it because it lives up to its claim of being lightweight yet moisturizing. It is also easily absorbed and does not feel greasy on our skin, perfect in a hot and humid climate. The skin feel is very similar to our Barrier Defender. CeraVe said this moisturizer is suitable for normal to dry skin, but in our opinion, it will also suit oily skin well.

    • Texture: Lightweight lotion.
    • Skin-feel: non-greasy, easily absorbed.
    • Color: White.
    • Scent: No scent.
    • Claim: Moisturize and help to restore the skin's barrier. Non-comedogenic.
    • Key ingredients: Skin-identical lipids blend (ceramide NP, ceramide AP, ceramide EOP, cholesterol, fatty acids), niacinamide, hyaluronic acid.
    • Fragrance / essential oils free? Yes

Farmacy's Honey Drop

Farmacy describes this moisturizer as a super-lightweight yet intensely hydrating gel-cream moisturizer to keep skin plump with hydration.

Our oily skin loves this moisturizer because it is one of the lightest moisturizers that we have tested so far (comparable to Krave's Oat So Simple Water Cream). It is easily absorbed and does not feel greasy. We think this moisturizer is more suitable for oily skin as it may not be hydrating enough if you have dry skin.

    • Texture: Super lightweight water cream.
    • Skin-feel: Non-greasy, easily absorbed.
    • Color: Light beige.
    • Scent: Subtle sweet flower.
    • Claim: Replenish moisture and plumps skin.
    • Key ingredients: Honey blend, hyaluronic acid complex, fermented soy.
    • Fragrance / essential oils free? No

Krave's Oat So Simple Water Cream

Krave describes this as a lightweight, cooling moisturizer that feels like a burst of instant hydration on the face. It is made with less than 9 ingredients: oat, water, 4 moisturizers, 2 emollients, and 1 formula stabilizer.

This moisturizer is one of the lightest, easily absorbed, and non-greasy moisturizers around (which we love as an oily skin owner). We love the fact that it is indeed a no-frills moisturizer that simply works and found ourselves often reaching out to it in one of those busier days, where we simply want to have one less decision to make.

    • Texture: Super lightweight water cream.
    • Skin-feel: Non-greasy, easily absorbed.
    • Color: White.
    • Scent: No scent.
    • Claim: No frills moisturizer. Calming.
    • Key ingredients: Oat extract
    • Fragrance / essential oils free? Yes

The Ordinary's Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA

The Ordinary describes the only moisturizer in their line as a surface hydration formula that offers non-greasy hydration, which acts as a direct topical supplement of impaired NMF components.

Contrary to its description, we found it to have a medium thickness, slightly greasy, and not very easily absorbed (it takes some time to sink in). But we also found it hydrating and works exceptionally well when used together with The Ordinary's 2% Hyaluronic Acid + B5 serum. We think this moisturizer is more suitable for dry skin.

    • Texture: Medium weight cream.
    • Skin-feel: Slightly greasy. Take some time to be absorbed.
    • Color: White.
    • Scent: No scent.
    • Claim: Surface hydration
    • Key ingredients: Natural moisturizing factors (a blend of skin-identical ingredients), Hyaluronic acid complex.
    • Fragrance / essential oils free? Yes


  1. Kraft, J. N., & Lynde, C. W. (2005). Moisturizers: what they are and a practical approach to product selection. Skin Therapy Lett, 10(5), 1-8.
  2. L. Baumann. (2008). Cosmetic Dermatology: Principles and Practice, 2nd Edition.
  3. Zoe Diana Draelos, Akira Matsubara & Kenneth Smiles (2006) The effect of 2% niacinamide on facial sebum production, Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy, 8:2, 96-101, DOI: 10.1080/14764170600717704
  4. Abendrot, M., & Kalinowska‐Lis, U. (2018). Zinc‐containing compounds for personal care applications. International journal of cosmetic science, 40(4), 319-327.
  5. Baumann, L., & Saghari, S. (2009). Basic science of the dermis. Cosmetic Dermatology. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 8-13.
  6. Draelos, Z. D., Ertel, K., & Berge, C. (2005). Niacinamide-containing facial moisturizer improves skin barrier and benefits subjects with rosacea. CUTIS-NEW YORK-, 76(2), 135.
  7. Gil Yosipovitch, Glen L. Xiong, Erhard Haus, Linda Sackett-Lundeen, Israel Ashkenazi, Howard I. Maibach, Time-Dependent Variations of the Skin Barrier Function in Humans: Transepidermal Water Loss, Stratum Corneum Hydration, Skin Surface pH, and Skin Temperature, Journal of Investigative Dermatology, Volume 110, Issue 1, 1998, Pages 20-23, ISSN 0022-202X, https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1523-1747.1998.00069.x.

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