What Drugstore Moisturizer Ingredients Do Dermatologists Recommend?

Which ingredients should you look for in your moisturizer? Here's what should be on the label. Read our guide before you buy, then get moisturizing!

Drugstore Moisturizer Ingredients That Are Good For Your Skin

According to leading dermatologists, some of the best drugstore moisturizers can actually be tough competition for the more expensive brands. While it’s true that drugstore moisturizers don’t come with free samples and helpful salespeople demonstrating benefits, they can still pack a powerful punch as long as they have the ingredients with the most to offer your skin. If you can look past the fluorescent lighting and worn linoleum of your local drugstore, you can find moisturizers that function every bit as well as the expensive brands.

Why do We Sometimes Have Dry Skin?

According to an assistant professor of dermatology at NYU School of Medicine, dry skin indicates a problem with the critical moisture barrier between our cells in the top layer of our skin. The skin barrier can become impaired and compromised when it lacks essential fatty acids, ceramides, and cholesterol. This allows moisture to evaporate off the skin’s surface and can also allow the entrance of harmful bacteria and environmental irritants that can cause redness, flakiness, and itchy skin.

There are many reasons our critical skin barrier can become compromised and weakened. Dry skin can be genetic. It can be brought on by cold, dry weather and indoor heating, and it can be caused by over-washing, which strips the skin of necessary oils.

What ingredients are in the best drugstore moisturizers? Let's take a look.


According to dermatologists, when shopping the drugstore aisle, some key things to look for are skin-replenishing ingredients. Moisture is obviously the most important element lacking in dry skin. Some ingredients that indicate high moisture levels are hyaluronic acid for boosting moisture, ceramides, glycerin, glycerol, salicylic acid, and alpha-hydroxy acids. All of these important ingredients act like sponges to draw in and retain critical moisture for superior hydration.


Emollients are ingredients that soften, smooth and protect skin. Some natural emollients include plant oils like cocoa butter, shea butter, coconut oil, sunflower oil, evening primrose oil, and mango butter. You may also see emollients listed as linoleic acid, fatty acids, and oleic acid. Emollients may be found in both thick creams and thinner lotions.


Dermatologists recommend antioxidants as a critical component of the best drugstore moisturizers. Antioxidants help combat the damaging effects of the sun and environmental factors. You can often find moisturizers offering multiple antioxidants to rejuvenate and protect skin in several ways. Antioxidant ingredients to look for are green tea extract, grape extract, willow herb extract, feverfew extract, and licorice extract. They may also be listed as vitamin C or vitamin E, or ferulic acid and quercetin.


Occlusives help to seal in moisture. Some occlusives commonly listed on the best drugstore moisturizer labels are petrolatum, oils, and silicone or dimethicone. While these may sound unpleasant, they work wonders to seal in moisture and to give the skin a soft texture.


If it’s a daytime moisturizer you are looking for, SPF sunscreen protection is critical. Look for “Broad Spectrum Sunscreen Protection” to protect your skin from damaging UV rays.

Lotion, Ointment, or Cream?

The best drugstore moisturizers will specify if they are a lotion, cream or ointment. According to dermatologists, you should choose your moisturizer’s consistency based on your skin type and the weather. If you have normal skin, you probably will do best to moisturize with a lotion. Lotions are lightweight and easily spreadable. They absorb quickly and don’t leave a sticky residue.

If you have oily skin you may want to choose a cream. Creams are higher in oil content and work well to soothe very dry skin. They stay on your skin longer, locking in moisture. Creams are also good for all skin types in cold, windy weather when you need a thicker, richer formula to protect your skin.

Dermatologists also warn not to confuse a serum with a moisturizer. Serums deliver a powerful punch of key skin-nourishing or correcting ingredients and may temporarily make your skin feel hydrated, but they do not add any protection to the skin barrier. A serum should always be followed with a good moisturizer.

Resources— MyDomain, NBCNews, WebMD, VeryWellHealth

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