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Best moisturiser 2021: the best creams and gels to take care of dry, combination or oily skin

30 Apr 2021
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Keep skin fresh and hydrated with our pick of the best facial moisturisers for all skin types

A good moisturiser is the key to skin that looks and feels healthy and comfortable. Whether your skin is dry or oily, the right moisturiser will lock in hydration and keep skin supple and smooth, without feeling too greasy. For dry and sensitive skins, a creamy moisturiser will soothe tight, desiccated skin; if your skin is naturally more oily, a light moisturiser will keep it fresh and balanced.

Good hydration is key to a fresh and glowing complexion and there are many options to choose from, from heavier creams and balms to lighter gels. Thanks to marketing hype about the latest new ingredients, choosing the best moisturiser can feel like a confusing task. We’ve tested a range of moisturisers to cut through the marketing noise and help you choose the right formula for your skin type and needs.

Read on for our handy guide to picking the best moisturiser for you, followed by our picks of the best moisturisers to buy right now. There's something here for every budget and every skin type.

How to choose the best moisturiser for you

What’s in a moisturiser?

All moisturisers will sit in a cream, gel or lotion base, usually as a suspension of some form of oil in water (often listed in the ingredients as “aqua”). You’ll also see water-trapping ingredients: glycerin, hyaluronic acid, mineral or vegetable oils; or silicones such as dimethicone. These lock in moisture and help to smooth the skin’s surface.

In addition to the hydrating base, moisturisers may then include active ingredients such as Vitamin E, known for its healing properties, or brightening Vitamin C; antioxidants such as green tea or camomile extract to calm skin; alpha-hydroxy acids (or AHAs) that gently exfoliate the top layer of skin to reveal fresher skin underneath; and sunscreens that protect from ultraviolet light. Moisturisers designed for oilier skin may also include mattifying ingredients.

Apply moisturiser after cleansing, toning and serum, if you use one. In the morning, wait a few minutes before applying your makeup so the moisturiser has time to sink into your skin.

Choosing the right moisturiser for your skin type

If you’re not sure of your skin type, it’s easy to check by pressing a clean tissue over your face. Oily skin will leave oily marks all over the tissue; combination skin will produce marks on the T-zone of the nose and forehead only; and dry skin will leave little to no oil on the tissue. You can also test with a strip of sellotape: dry skins will leave little white flakes of skin on the tape, while oily skin will leave a slight sheen and no flakes.

You may find that your skin type changes over time, and teenage skin is often oilier than more mature skin, for example. Skin needs also change through the year; cold weather and central heating often mean you need a richer cream in winter, while most skins prefer a lighter lotion in the hot and humid weather of summer.

How much do I need to spend?

How much you spend on skincare is really up to you. For many people, it’s an everyday luxury and a small act of self-care in which you might choose to invest at least some of your hard-earned cash. More expensive moisturisers tend to contain higher concentrations of active ingredients (in some cases, clinically researched by the skincare company) with rarer, more luxurious oils in the base. However, there are also some very well-performing budget moisturisers that work just as efficiently. There are excellent moisturisers available in all price brackets.

What’s the difference between a day and night cream?

Typically, a day cream is lighter in texture so that it sinks in quickly and can be worn under makeup; day creams may also contain sun protection to protect from UV rays, and antioxidants to fend off pollution. Night creams are usually thicker and richer in texture, sinking in more slowly; night creams also contain ingredients designed to penetrate the skin as it regenerates during sleep.

Whether or not you invest in both depends on your budget and how you approach your skincare regime. Dry skins in particular may enjoy a thicker night cream or masque to help replenish skin overnight, but there’s nothing to stop you wearing your day cream at night as well.

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The best moisturisers you can buy

1. Clinique Dramatically Different Hydrating Clearing Jelly: The best moisturiser for oily skin

Price: £20 | Buy now from Clinique

If you have oily skin you might be tempted to skip moisturiser; but cleansing without putting moisture back can lead to the skin producing excess sebum in response, making skin oilier and more prone to breakouts. A lightweight, non-greasy gel formula is just what this skin type needs to hydrate and balance the complexion without adding extra oils. Clinique’s water-based hydrating jelly is just the ticket: it’s light and easily absorbed, with hyaluronic acid to lock in the right kind of moisture without adding shine, and exfoliating salicylic acid to help keep skin clear. Part of a range of skincare products for oily skins, Clinique’s clearing jelly is also suitable for use on sensitive and combination skins.

Key specs - Pack size: 100ml

Buy now from Clinique


2. Origins GinZing Energy-Boosting Moisturiser: Best for combination skin

Price: £26 | Buy now from Look Fantastic

Combination skin? You'll need a hardworking moisturiser that hydrates parched skin without making any oily parts of your face look slicker. Luckily, the GinZing moisturiser from Origins ticks both boxes with its energising gel-based formula. With invigorating extracts of Panax ginseng and coffee bean, the moisturiser perks up tired, lacklustre skin in an instant. It has a smooth and lightweight texture that’s quickly absorbed by the skin – even on troublesome T-zones – and it sits perfectly underneath makeup as a hydrating primer. And it smells as good as it feels thanks to its refreshing orange scent.

If your skin falls on the oily or dryer side we’d recommend a dedicated moisturiser but this Origin number does a fantastic job attending to both. For a cooling and depuffing treat, especially in the summer, leave the gel moisturiser in the fridge before using.

Key specs - Pack size: 50ml

Buy now from Look Fantastic


3. La Roche-Posay Nutritic Intense Rich: The best moisturiser for dry skin

Price: £18 | Buy now from Look Fantastic

Dry skins need richer creams to keep moist throughout the day, and La Roche-Posay’s intense cream is one of the most gentle and nourishing creams suitable for dry and very dry skins. Made with glycerin and hydrating thermal spring water Nutritic Intense Rich cream is hypoallergenic and paraben-free, and therefoe ideal for sensitive skins.

As the name suggests, this extra-rich cream is thick and takes time to sink in, making it especially good as a night cream or intense weekly treatment. If you’re using this in the daytime also, be sure to give leave time in your routine for this to sink in before applying makeup. A great caring cream for dry and fragile skin.

Key specs – Pack size: 50ml

Buy from Look Fantastic


4. Weleda Skin Food: Best multi-tasker

Price: £14 | Buy now from Cult Beauty

Organic brand Weleda has been harnessing the power of plants in its health and beauty products since 1921, and this hardworking beauty balm with beeswax, sunflower-seed and almond oils is a real multitasking moisturiser. Warm the thick balm in your hands before applying - sparingly, a little really does go a long way - to the face for a luminous glow; you can also use it to soothe rough knees and elbows, dry hands, raggedy cuticles and even frizzy hair.

Skin Food is particularly beneficial for dry skins, but this versatile hero product is suitable for all skin types and won’t cause irritation to sensitive skin.

Key specs – Pack size: 75ml

Buy now from Cult Beauty


5. Olay Total Effects 7-in-1 Anti-Ageing Day Moisturiser SPF15: The best moisturiser for mature skin

Price: £10 | Buy now from Amazon

A moisturiser that does seven age-defying things before breakfast, Olay’s Total Effects is a fantastically hydrating day cream packed with antioxidants and vitamins to fight the signs of ageing. The gentle exfoliating properties of the cream provide skin with an instant smoothness after application that isn’t greasy or heavy and provides a subtle radiance.

The tone of your skin is balanced, lines and pores are slightly blurred, and skin feels nicely supple for most of the day; and built-in SPF 15 helps ward off the polluting effects of the sun. Enjoy comfortably moisturised skin with more than a few extra benefits on the side – and all for an incredibly reasonable price.

Key specs – Pack size: 50ml

Buy now from Amazon


6. The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5: The best budget moisturiser

Price: £5.90 | Buy now from Cult Beauty

Beauty on a budget doesn’t get better than cult brand The Ordinary. Offering powerful ingredients at an affordable price point, this popular serum uses a no-frills formula of hyaluronic acid and Vitamin B5 to hydrate and plump the skin. Most moisturisers target surface dehydration, but this serum works at a molecular level to reach deep into pores to retain moisture, giving you smoother and softer skin that looks fresh and dewy.

Oil-free, vegan and super-gentle, this lightweight moisturiser can be used before other serums and creams to create a custom beauty routine that’s suited to your skin; you’ll only need to apply a few drops morning and night to notice plumper skin. If your skin is on the dryer side, we advise mixing this serum with a nourishing night cream in the evening for an extra moisture boost.

Key specs – Pack size: 30ml

Buy now from Cult Beauty


7. Estee Lauder Re Nutriv Replenishing Comfort Crème: The best luxury anti-ageing moisturiser

Price: £195 | Buy now from John Lewis

Probably the best of the bunch where moisture is concerned, this deluxe cream also promises to strengthen delicate skin and plump fine lines. And plumped it certainly feels – no kidding – which is apparently down to the brand’s multi-patented molecules that aim to cleverly restore the skin.

The advice is to use it both morning and evening but, because of its super-thick texture, it really depends on your age and skin type. For example, it would be sensible to only apply it once a day on younger, oily skin but dry, more mature skin types would reap the benefits of using it twice daily. The pot is a touch weighty – not the most practical for travelling with – but at that price, you’d want to feel it in your bag at all times.

Key specs – Pack size: 50ml

Buy now from John Lewis


9. La Mer Moisturising Gel Cream: The best luxury moisturiser

Price: £240 | Buy now from Space NK 

Dr Max Huber developed his famous formula of algae, citrus extracts and sea kelp in 1965. The original Crème de la Mer is famed for its ability to make the skin softer, smoother and super-radiant; it’s also a somewhat heavy balm that needs to be warmed in the hands before use. This lighter-weight gel version still contains the brand’s ultra-soothing signature elixir, which helps to renew skin, calm redness and deliver luxuriously smooth and hydrated skin at its best. The gel-cream sinks in easily, and has a soft, pleasant scent. 

The product comes at a luxury price, but a little goes a long way and (as with the original Crème formula) offers unbeatable results with a radiant, velvety-smooth finish.

Key specs – Pack size: 60ml

Buy now from Space NK