While all skin types present their own unique set of challenges, combination skin is arguably the most difficult to manage. Combination skin means you’ve got both oily and dry spots on different areas of your face, so some products that counteract oiliness and acne (which typically occurs on your T-zone) can further parch preexisting dry spots. But anything too rich will feel heavy on oilier skin and potentially make it even worse. This means folks looking to moisturize combination skin need to find a product with the perfect balance — or, according to half of the six dermatologists we spoke to, multiple products to achieve that balance. “I suggest treating dry areas with an emollient-rich moisturizer, while treating oily areas with a moisturizer that contains acne-fighting ingredients,” explains Dr. Hope Mitchell, the founder of Mitchell Dermatology in Perrysburg, Ohio, who says this will ensure that specific parts of your skin get the treatment they need.
But the other three derms we talked to say an all-in-one moisturizer may be a better choice for those who want to keep things simple, and pointed us to a handful that they say can simultaneously treat patches of oily and dry skin without worsening either. Their nine recommended moisturizers below begin with those all-in-one products, for anyone who’d prefer a less-is-more approach. Beneath them, we’ve also included a handful of moisturizers the experts specifically recommend for treating dry patches, and then a handful more they say are good for treating oily spots, for those who’d rather mix and match.
Longtime Strategist readers will know this is one of our best-selling products. It has been recommended for almost every skin-care concern: oily, dry, mature, sunburnt, acne-prone — and now, combination. Dr. Corey L. Hartman, the founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama, says this moisturizer is “a hard-to-beat cult favorite for its accessibility and price point.” Dr. Caroline Robinson, the CEO and founder of Tone Dermatology, explains that its “lightweight yet hydrating” formula contains “hyaluronic acid and glycerin to attract water to the skin throughout its layers,” while Dr. Ope Ofodile, a co-owner of Dermatology and Surgery Specialists of North Atlanta, notes it’s oil-free, so it won’t affect any oilier patches. For these reasons, Ofodile says it’s great on its own for combination skin. But she notes that, due to its oil-free nature, it can also be used with another moisturizer made to treat oily skin.
Ofodile is one of the derms who think using two (or more) moisturizers to treat combination skin is not always practical. Dr. Oma Agbai, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at UC Davis, is another, telling us, “You can apply more of a cream-based moisturizer to the dry areas and, if necessary, sparingly apply that same moisturizer to areas that tend to be oily.” In choosing an all-in-one product to moisturize combination skin, Ofodile recommends “starting with an oil-free, noncomedogenic moisturizer that can address the dry skin without causing additional oil production,” which describes this CeraVe lotion to a tee. It has an oil-free formula that won’t worsen skin’s oily patches and, as Agbai explains, is cream-based with “non-occlusive ingredients like dimethicone” that won’t clog pores. This option is not just a twofer, but a threefer: It also has SPF, eliminating yet another step from a routine. While this product’s retail price is slightly higher than that of the Neutrogena Hydro Boost (at some retailers), its three-ounce bottle is larger than the Hydro Boost’s 1.7-ounce container.
For another lightweight, effective, all-in-one cream-based moisturizer (without SPF), Agbai likes Cetaphil. It’s available at most drugstores and specifically formulated for combination skin, delivering just enough hydration thanks to ingredients like hyaluronic acid. But it’s oil-free, fragrance-free, and noncomedogenic, so it shouldn’t exacerbate any oily spots.
Ofodile calls this “a great option for patients with significant dryness who remain acne-prone,” promising “it delivers truly heavy hydration without the weight.” It’s on the pricey side and can only be purchased online via a referral from a dermatologist, or in one of their offices. But many experts swear by the brand; this and a sister moisturizer have been recommended to us before as some of the best for mature skin and dry skin. According to those who’ve told us about it, a little goes a long way.
As Hartman explains, “Many find it useful to use products with different consistencies on various areas of the face,” especially those with more severe fluctuations between dry and oily skin. If that sounds like you, he says this is a particularly good moisturizer for dry spots, describing it as “a cool drink of water for the skin.” Hartman explains that it contains hyaluronic acid and minerals that “correct inflammation and dehydration,” so the product will quench and plump dry skin without causing any additional oil to build up. It’s branded as a serum thanks to its liquid-y consistency, but Hartman says you can use it as you would a moisturizer.
While this Aveeno lotion can work as an all-in-one product because of its lightweight nature, Mitchell explains that its ingredients will work best on drier skin. They include prebiotic oat and feverfew, two things she says will “help to calm, soothe, and hydrate dry, sensitive, or irritated skin.”
Dr. Rita Linkner of Spring Street Dermatology says another no-fail moisturizer for dry skin is this one from Cetaphil, which took the top spot on our list of the best expert-recommended moisturizers for dry skin. Yes, it’s technically a body cream. But in previously recommending it to us, Dr. Hadley King, a clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, said it’s “a great cream for both face and body.” Dr. Rachel Nazarian added that it’s “incredibly lightweight and comfortable for daily use throughout the year,” while still being emollient-rich — something Mitchell suggests looking for in a moisturizer for dry skin.
Mitchell thinks this Ambi moisturizer is “great for acne-prone skin” because the hyaluronic acid, aloe, and cucumber extract in its formula provide “triple the moisture without clogging the pores” and “antioxidants that help support skin rejuvenation.” The “added bonus,” she says, is that it also includes SPF 30 to “help protect skin from sun damage and even its tone.”
This oil-free moisturizer is ideal for oily skin because it’s “soothing and cooling and chock-full of hyaluronic acid to deliver moisture without too much shine,” says Hartman. He describes the texture of it as “unique” because it’s “somewhere between a gel and a cream.” It’s a tad pricier than other options on this list, but he assures you need only apply it minimally to get results.
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