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Generally speaking, we assume that as the weather cools down, our face moisturizers should get thicker. And while that’s partially true, what really matters is whether the ingredients in that luxurious gel or cream are actually forming a protective shield over our skin. Because while we love any opportunity to take a selfie in the middle of a picturesque snowfall, that’s also the kind of weather that leaves our skin red, chapped and in need of a face mask… or three.
For that reason, experts recommend a barrier cream, which we can now confirm is an actual thing. Ahead, two pros give us the 411 on exactly what they are, the type of formulas that hydrate and guard against the elements, and a handful of both affordable and luxe options to get you started.
What’s a Barrier Cream Anyway?
First, understand that our skin is the natural protective barrier between our bodies and the outside world. In the simplest terms, according to Dr. Naissan O. Wesley, M.D., FACMS, and Arbonne scientific advisor, barrier creams are those that enhance the skin’s job to protect and nourish us. They should also prevent water loss, increase hydration and help protect against external environmental damage.
Dr. Elena Ocher, founder of Chuda and specialist in pain management, migraines and nerve system disorders, adds that barrier creams were actually first formulated in the late 1800s with the discovery of petroleum jelly, and they grew in popularity at at the onset of World War II.
“As more and more women entered the workforce, exposure to dust, chemicals, heat, sun, etc. created a need for creams that formed a barrier and protected the skin,” she says.
The Must-Have Ingredients
Our skin is exposed to a lot on a daily basis, including UV light from the sun and blue light from electronics, so now more than ever, maintenance is often required to help repair the skin from these elements. They include ceramides, lipids that form the skin’s barrier and help it to retain moisture, and adaptogens.
“Besides sun protection, topical creams with ceramides aim to replace fatty acids where they’ve been lost, leading to improved hydration,” says Dr. Wesley. “Adaptogens are plant-derived ingredients that are meant to help our bodies adapt and recover from stress. Bacteria that normally live on the skin surface can also help ward off harmful bacteria that can infect the skin and cause inflammation.”
She also adds that vitamin C has multiple skin-care benefits as it’s an antioxidant that helps to repair free radicals created from sun and environmental damage.
In addition to those, barrier creams that are insoluble in water also prevent water loss in the skin. According to Dr. Ocher, “they typically use ingredients such as petrolatum, urea, silicone and dimethicone. Dimethicone at levels above 1.1 percent are approved as an OTC (over-the-counter) drug for the protection and healing of skin.”
Humectants such as glycerine, sorbitol, urea, seaweed extract, hyaluronic acid and alpha-hydroxy acids also increase the skin’s ability to hold on to water. Oily and acne-prone skin types are particularly thirsty for adequate hydration this time of year since “as hydration is depleted, the body tries to counteract by producing more oil, which in turn can clog pores and cause irritation and breakouts.”
And if your skin is on the dry side, Dr. Ocher says you should look for products that contain some form of hyaluronic acid, and ideally, ingredients that are effective at combating oxidative skin damage (caused by pollution, sun and stress), such as vitamins A, C, and E and nutrients that provide essential fatty acids such as linoleic and linolenic acids.
Yes, we know that’s a lot to keep track of. So, we’ve cut down your search by gathering products that contain one or some of the expert-approved ingredients we just went over. Take your pick!
Vanicream Moisturizing Skin Cream
If you’re looking for an easy over-the-counter option, Dr. Wesley says this one is “moisturizing, yet free of a lot of the fragrances, allergens, and preservatives that people can often be sensitive to.”
$12.76 at Amazon
Chuda Healing Hydrating Cream
The best part of this one is its ability to treat both the surface and deeper layers of the skin.
“It combines both occlusive ingredients such as dimethicone, petrolatum and urea as well as deeply hydrating and reparative ingredients including vitamins, essential fatty acids, cross polymer hyaluronic acid, allantoin, chamomile extract, pomegranate extract, evening primrose, yeast extract, bamboo and pea extracts, shea butter and peptides, which serve to soothe and help repair and restore skin to its healthiest state,” says Dr. Ocher.
$150 at Chuda
Arbonne RE9 Advanced Night Repair Cream
Dr. Wesley also recommends this pricier find since it’s formulated with an ultra-hydrating blend of botanicals, plus collagen-supporting ingredients that replenish moisture and deliver essential nourishment to maximize the skin’s natural reparative cycle.
$88 at Arbonne
Dove DermaSeries Dry Skin Relief Face Cream
A nongreasy, creamy, fragrance-free formula made to protect and hydrate extremely dry skin. An especially helpful option for those with eczema and psoriasis.
$7.52 at Amazon
La Roche-Posay HydraPhase Intense Riche
A deeply moisturizing daily treatment made with hyaluronic acid to ensure your skin stays hydrated for up to 24 hours.
$35.99 at Amazon
Charlotte Tilbury Charlotte’s Magic Cream Mini
We’re so happy Tilbury finally launched a mini version of her celebrity-approved sauce (original price: $100), made with hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, rosehip oil and camellia oil.
$29 at Sephora
It Cosmetics Confidence in a Cream
This moisturizing super cream includes, well, a cream of the crop when it comes to hydration: ceramides, peptides, niacin and hyaluronic acid.
$48 at It Cosmetics
tarte drink of H2O hydrating boost
A cooling, lightweight formula that still packs a punch, thanks to ultra-hydrating ingredients including hyaluronic acid and electrolyte-balancing sea salts.
$39 at tarte cosmetics
Etude House Soon Jung 2x Barrier Intensive Cream
This K-beauty fave includes 93 percent natural ingredients, including madecassoside, an ingredient derived from centella asiatica, which contains phytochemicals that cover everything from dehydration to dullness.
$8.75 at Amazon
REN Evercalm Global Protection Day Cream
An all-natural option for those with sensitive skin. With the help of blackcurrant seed oil, seabuckthorn berry oil and calendula, your face will be nourished and protected from pollutants all day long.
$48 at REN Skincare
First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Face Moisturizer
The star ingredients of this old favorite is colloidal oatmeal, which soothes dry skin and also helps eliminate redness.
$24 at First Aid Beauty
SkinRX Lab MadeCera Cream
Naturally fermented ceramides and niacinamide help gently hydrate the face, while also lightening dark spots.
$36 at Ulta
Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Cream
The promise of up to 72 hours of moisture may have to do with the fact that this product’s formula is a whopping 30 percent hyaluronic acid.
$52 at Peter Thomas Roth
Earth Science Ceramide Facial Lotion
This eco-friendly brand’s custom ceramide blend includes lecithin, hemp oil and essential fatty acids.
$11.89 at Target
Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer
A drugstore go-to that not only hydrates without irritating fragrance or pore-clogging comedogenics; it also contains sun protection.
$10.75 at Amazon