I’ve had—and continue to have—a long, perilous journey in figuring out what works for my acne-prone, sensitive, and ever-fickle dry-to-oily skin. If I use the wrong products, I break out in a rash that I can only describe as alligator skin (literally, the scales of the reptile form on my face). I’m usually not one for testing out new skin care because I’m legitimately afraid of the outcome, but about two months ago I realized I needed to reevaluate my face moisturizer.
I’d been using Lubriderm Daily Moisture Lotion for well over five years, and while it mostly did its job (aside from when my face was inhumanly dry), I realized it was time to find one that catered to my face instead of easily being able to be slathered over my whole body. So, I put my testing fears aside, and tried out four different moisturizers— from high-end to drugstore, from specialized for acne to SPF 30— in four weeks. The simple conclusion: Two worked and two really, definitely didn’t. Keep reading to find out which ones I’m endorsing for problematic skin and which I’d say let sit on the shelf.
The Number One
CeraVe Ultra-Light Moisturizing Face Lotion with Sunscreen
$13.49 (was $14.99) at Target
Folks, this is the cheapest one I tried and I. Am. Overjoyed. The lotion is, as it says, ultra-light. If I can feel a lotion on my face or the stickiness, it’s not going to work. CeraVe’s effortlessly seeped into my skin, no problem. I used about two pumps each morning to cover my face and my neck. My face can get extremely oily as the day goes on, but that didn’t happen during the entire week. I’m chalking that up to one of the main ingredients: hyaluronic acid, a natural molecule that retains moisture. Plus, this product has SPF 30 already embedded into the formula so if I end up skipping my extra sunscreen step, all is not lost (and it doesn’t leave a white cast!). 5 out of 5 stars for being A1.
Biossance Squalane + Probiotic Gel Moisturizer
$52 at Biossance
OK, I know it’s expensive, but it actually has its benefits. I’d never used a gel moisturizer before, and the first times applying it I did feel like I had a film over my skin. But after using it for a few days, I stopped feeling it, and my skin soaked up the product—squalane in action. It says to apply morning and night, but I only applied it in the morning, which may be why my skin didn’t look noticeably brighter in the mornings like the product boasts. At first I only took product from the top of the container to keep my hands out, but after a while I started to use the back of my nails to scoop it out. I only covered about two of my nails and that transferred to my face and neck. The only drawback about this moisturizer was that I felt like my skin got oily as the day went on. By the time I would come home, I could blot with an entire napkin. 3.8 out of 5 stars for oiliness and price.
Couldn’t Even Go a Whole Day
Aveeno Ultra-Calming Daily Fragrance-Free Moisturizer
$18.99 at CVS Pharmacy
During the periods when Lubriderm would go missing or was too big to travel, I would use Aveeno’s Positively Radiant Daily Facial Moisturizer. I didn’t necessarily like it due to its thick nature, but I used it. So testing out this other product made me apprehensive for the same reason. But it was ultra-calming and perfect for sensitive skin, a.k.a. me, so I went for it. Well, it didn’t work out. I did about two pumps into my hand, and once I applied the product, I could severely feel it on my face. Truly, I wasn’t surprised because this is what I experienced with their other product. However, when I looked in the mirror, I saw a huge white cast across my forehead and completely white eyebrows. The product only has SPF 30, so I was confused as to why it wasn’t seeping into my skin and instead, remaining on the surface. I rubbed it in more, but the white residue stayed on my face. I waited a bit to see if it soaked in, but after no success, I washed it off. Even if it weren’t for the white cast, it sat way too heavily on my skin. 1 out of 5 stars for sunscreen and heaviness.
Couldn’t Even Go a Whole 4 Minutes
Dermalogica Skin Soothing Hydrating Lotion
$22 at Dermalogica
I had such high hopes for this moisturizer after hearing the accolades of Dermalogica, but leave it to my sensitive skin to find the worst in brands. The Clear Start section of Dermalogica is tailored to clearing acne, which I have a lot of the time. This specific lotion has both squalane and hyaluronic acid for hydration, along with ginger, orange, and grapefruit to soothe and protect the skin. All sounds good, right? No. I squeezed about a quarter-size amount of product into my fingers and rubbed it on my face and neck. Immediately my skin started to burn. I wasn’t too freaked out because sometimes this happens but goes away within 20 seconds (not normal, I know). But after a few minutes, the burning continued, and I couldn’t deal with it, I had to wash it off. After experiencing such a strong reaction, I reached out to dermatologist Purvisha Patel, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare, to find out why it might have happened.
“This sounds like a reaction specifically to the orange peel oil. Oil of bergamot is the contact allergen, and it was discontinued for years in skin care, but with the surge of natural ingredients, it’s back on the market. The salicylic acid helped with absorption of the bergamot allergen. Also, grapefruit and citrus oils can be allergens for sensitive-skin patients.” That all sounds pretty spot-on, and even if that’s not the specific reason, I’ll be staying away from oil of bergamot from now on. 0 out of 5 stars for burning sensation.