The Best Cleansers, Moisturizers, and Masks for Dry Skin
Beautiful foliage, sweater weather, and cider donuts aside, I've always dreaded this time of year because the drier air inevitably means the sad descent of my healthy summer glow to dry, irritated winter skin. When I lived in Rio de Janeiro, with sweltering humidity almost all year-round, my skin was positively thriving: dewy, radiant, smooth — it frankly never looked better. But alas, I no longer live in a tropical climate, and here in New York, once the cold air starts to set in, my skin assumes a baseline state of dry, dull, and rough.
In my quest to avoid looking like a scaly reptile for the better half of the year, I've tried it all: creams, salves, serums, and oils. And although I've had some hits and some misses, I've finally settled on a skincare routine that I can confidently say will work to salvage even the driest skin in the harshest winter climates. Below is a roundup of the best skincare products for dry skin, from cleansers to masks to the one body lotion that I swear will change your life. These products have managed to keep my skin moisturized even when all the elements are working against it.
Best Cleansers for Dry Skin
Using harsh cleansers and physical exfoliants (think of all those scrubs that were marketed to us as teens) that strip your skin of its natural moisture barrier means you have to work overtime to keep your skin hydrated. These cleansers strike a delicate balance between keeping skin squeaky clean without drying it out.
iS Clinical Cleansing Complex
This extremely gentle face wash is a year-round staple for me. With natural exfoliants like sugarcane and willow bark extracts, this cleanser resurfaces the skin, taking away any dull, rough, dead skin (a crucial component in any skincare routine), leaving it feeling smooth and clean, but never dry or tight.
To buy: dermstore.com, $44
Odacité Green Ceremony Cleanser
My love of matcha knows no bounds, so it was only fitting that I used it directly on my skin as well. Made with the antioxidant age-fighting power of matcha and spirulina, this foaming cleanser really does feel and smell like I'm lathering a matcha latte all over my face (I mean, talk about a truly ideal skincare ritual) — and it leaves my skin feeling super smooth and clean without any dryness.
To buy: thedetoxmarket.com, $58
Elemis Cleansing Balm
Oil-based cleansers are especially good for dry skin, adding moisture while you clean. I'll double cleanse by using this balm, made with an impressive list of botanicals from elderberry to starflower to grape seed, all of which are rich in antioxidants that promote healthy skin. If my skin is feeling especially dry, I'll use just the cleansing balm and finish with my favorite Bioderma micellar solution to remove any remaining residue and for an extra moisture boost before applying serums.
To buy: dermstore.com, $64
Best Serums and Face Creams for Dry Skin
One of the most important ways to combat wrinkles and fine lines is to keep your skin hydrated and maintain its natural moisture barrier. These serums and creams help lock in moisture even in harsh winter conditions and are the products that I continue to come back to year after year.
Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair
I have to give it up to my mom for introducing me to this classic serum. Even now in her late 60s, she's constantly complimented on how youthful her skin looks. And although I think she's largely blessed with some great genetics, Advanced Night Repair may have had something to do with it, too. Despite having tried several other serums that promise hydration and anti-aging, I continually come back to Advanced Night Repair because it just seems to work to smooth and even out texture, and helps whatever's applied on top to absorb better. I find that it works extremely well in a multi-step routine as the light consistency absorbs fast, doesn't feel goopy, and never pills.
To buy: ulta.com, from $50
Shiseido Benefiance Wrinkle Smoothing Day Cream SPF 23
This has been my day one moisturizer since I began taking skincare more seriously (beyond just using whatever drugstore products sounded appealing). I can't tell you how many face creams I've tried and I still find myself coming back to this one. It provides all-day hydration, gives my skin a dewy glow, and keeps rough, bumpy dry patches from ever appearing. I also love that it has SPF so it's perfect to wear on days when I know I'll be inside but should still have some protection against UV rays that make their way in through the windows — i.e. an everyday work staple.
To buy: dermstore.com, $70
EltaMD UV Daily Broad-Spectrum SPF 40
Most sunscreens tend to dry out my skin but this one by dermatologist-approved (and frankly, just about everyone-approved) EltaMD is formulated with hyaluronic acid, which helps skin draw in moisture, and provides lightweight hydration on top of whatever other day creams you use. And despite being a mineral sunscreen, it also applies easily without a heavy or sticky feeling, and absorbs completely transparent, leaving zero white cast.
To buy: dermstore.com, $31
SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore
Triple Lipid Restore has earned holy grail status for me and produces results almost immediately: My skin drinks it up and looks healthier and more radiant by the following morning. Packed with ceramides, fatty acids, cholesterol, and natural oils that help lock in moisture — all of which makes it sound extremely heavy and rich — this cream has a surprisingly lightweight texture that applies incredibly smoothly, absorbs quickly, and makes skin feel supple and cushiony. It's especially good for combating wrinkles and the effects of aging as it's formulated with vitamin E to help cell repair and fight free-radical damage. And although pricey, in my opinion, it's totally worth it (watch out for regular SkinCeutical sales from Dermstore.com).
To buy: dermstore.com, $130
Dr. Jart+ Ceramiden Cream
It's not for nothing that certain products have a cult following and Dr. Jart's Ceramidin Cream is one that earns its praise. This ultra-rich cream has a thick, velvety texture that absorbs beautifully into the skin, immediately making it feel dewy and plump. Bonus points for being the only face cream on here that is packaged in a tube so I can squeeze out exactly how much I need — no more, no less — without having to continually dip my fingers into and potentially contaminating the product every time. Also, the directions for use are simply "Apply an appropriate amount on the face." I love that; it really should be that simple.
To buy: sephora.com, $48
Naturopathica Calendula Hydrating Cream
I find myself reaching for this when my face needs some extra TLC. Unlike a lot of moisturizers, its first ingredient is aloe vera (instead of water) so it works great for soothing irritated, chapped skin. It has a slightly medicinal smell, and you do need to work it in a bit to get the thick cream to absorb, but this stuff really hydrates. After just a couple days of use my face looks brighter, smoother, and dry patches are a thing of the past.
To buy: dermstore.com, $68
La Mer Crème de la Mer
You've probably heard of this legendary cream but I wouldn't blame you if you hadn't tried it due to its hefty price tag. Created by a scientist to heal his own burns that he sustained in a lab, it's made with a patented mix of cell-rejuvenating ingredients called Miracle Broth™ — so obviously I had to try it. It feels great going on (be sure to warm the thick cream between your fingers first so that it spreads more easily) and I do love using it when my skin feels particularly dry. A little goes a long way so I like having the mini jar in my lineup for when I want to feel a little luxe.
To buy: sephora.com, from $95
Neocutis Lumière Illuminating Eye Cream
So many eye creams either irritate the very sensitive skin around my eyes, causing burning and redness, especially when layered with other skincare products, or just simply don't do anything. This one actually feels like it's not only hydrating but nourishing the delicate skin around my eyes, and I notice a visible improvement of fine lines and crepiness when I use it. A little goes a long way (I've used the same bottle for almost a year) and I love that it's packaged in a pump bottle so that I can dispense just the small amount I need each night and don't have to dip my fingers into a jar.
To buy: dermstore.com, $97
Lancer Skincare Omega Hydrating Oil with Ferment Complex
Sealing in all the emollients and humectants you've just layered on your face with an oil is an important last step in maintaining a healthy lipid barrier. Made from a combination of various antioxidant-rich oils such as grape seed, jojoba, olive, argan, and turmeric, this face oil absorbs quickly and doesn't leave skin feeling greasy. Plus, the extra moisture helps with reducing the appearance of fine lines and gives a nice healthy glow to the skin.
To buy: dermstore.com, $80
Best Masks for Dry Skin
Patchology FlashPatch Restoring Night Eye Gels
Packed with powerhouse skin rejuvenating ingredients like retinol, peptides, collagen, squalene, and betaine, these handy little patches visibly smooth and plump the fine lines around my eyes. I also love that you can throw them on with no mess and wear them while doing other tasks (I find them less annoying than sheet masks, which always tend to move around or droop into my eyes, and require you to stay relatively still for them to not fall off). And as someone with very sensitive skin around my eyes, I have never felt any irritation or stinging, just a cooling and soothing sensation that feels great after long days of staring at screens. I also use the remaining product in the pouch on the rest of my face, which works great as a hydrating serum as well.
To buy: ulta.com, $60
Youth to the People Superberry Hydrate + Glow Dream Mask
This award-winning mask is packed with antioxidants from the cornucopia of superfruits blended into it: acai, maqui, prickly pair, and goji berries. While the fruits are lovely, the real heroes are the four hydrators essential to drawing in and retaining skin's moisture: squalene, hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and betaine. Along with smelling lovely and having a wonderfully light whipped consistency that feels great going on, in the morning your skin will look brighter and more nourished.
To buy: sephora.com, from $15
Origins Drink Up Intensive Overnight Hydrating Mask
Who doesn't love avocados? Just as the fatty acids in it are good for your health, they're great for hydrating your skin as well. This super creamy, velvety mask gives ultra dry skin a major moisture boost — Origins claims for up to 72 hours. I've never gone that long without washing it off and applying other products, but I can attest that this mask does wonders to plump and hydrate dry, dull-looking skin. It's also formulated with Swiss Glacial Water, "thought to be among the world's purest, most mineral-rich water," so it's like a facial treatment from the Alps every time you use it.
To buy: sephora.com, from $13
Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask
Yes, even lips need a mask and there's really no need to go searching for any other product because this one works as it should (and has the cult following to prove it). Use this at night right before bed and let the hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, and natural minerals do its magic to transform dry, cracked lips into soft and pillowy by morning.
To buy: sephora.com, $22
It's easy to remember to moisturize the face because that's what we're constantly presenting to the world — but dry winter weather wreaks havoc on the skin on the rest of the body as well.
Curel Ultra Healing Lotion
If there was a single product on here that I could not live without, it would be this. I've tried nearly every lotion known to (wo)man and there is simply no other that relieves ashy, itchy skin as well or keeps it moisturized for as long. Formulated with ceramides and shea butter, it really, truly quenches dry skin for a full day without being greasy. Plus it's available on Amazon, in drugstores, and big box stores for less than $10, so you can freely slather it on your body and re-up conveniently whenever you run out (although a large bottle can usually last me a whole season).
To buy: amazon.com, $8 (originally $10)
Aquaphor Healing Ointment Advanced Therapy
Out of all the hand creams I've tried (ranging from drugstore to fancy), this one works best to heal dry hands; cracked, split knuckles; dry, flaky cuticles; and rough elbows and heels. During the pandemic when we were washing our hands constantly, it was Aquaphor that provided the most relief and turned chapped skin soft and smooth with just one application. It's also made of a hit list of some of the most moisturizing skincare ingredients: petrolatum, mineral oil (both of which, despite having gotten a bad rap through clean skincare marketing, are actually some of the best naturally-derived emollients), lanolin, panthenol, and glycerin.
To buy: amazon.com, $10 (originally $14)
Karen Chen is always planning her next great escape and loves the beach more than anyone else you know. See her prove it on Instagram @karenichen.