A good moisturizer is one of the foundations of an effective skin care regimen for dry, older skin. Moisturizers can soothe dry skin and make wrinkles less noticeable, even though the effect is temporary. But with so many to choose from, how do you decide?
Petroleum jelly is one of the most effective moisturizers, especially when used right after bathing to seal in moisture. It is also one of the least expensive. But many people dislike using it on their faces because it looks and feels greasy. Instead, creams and lotions that contain some water are a better choice for a facial moisturizer. Many of these creams and lotions are humectants, an oil-free class of moisturizer that binds water to skin, so the smoothing, softening effects may last longer.
Most moisturizers contain water, glycerin, petrolatum, stearic acid, propylene glycol, and lanolin. Some contain botanical ingredients, such as jojoba oil, coconut oil, safflower oil, and linoleic acid, which help maintain the skin's outer layer of keratin and keep skin supple. Manufacturers use other ingredients, such as cetyl alcohol, palmitic acid, and dimethicone, to give moisturizers a creamy, velvety, or translucent look and feel, and to help shore up the "mortar" that keeps skin soft and smooth.
Some moisturizers also contain sunscreens and cosmeceuticals, which help prevent or even correct fine wrinkles, uneven skin pigmentation, and other signs of aging and photoaging.
For more advice on keeping your skin healthy, read Skin Care and Repair, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.