How to Choose the Best Moisturizer for You

Don’t let the winter winds dry your skin.

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In the last six weeks, we rang in the New Year, inaugurated a president, honored a King, consulted with a groundhog, and watched the entire Superdome go dark. While this winter has been eventful, we're still only halfway through. For many of us, that means another six weeks of cool, winter air that wreaks havoc on our skin.

You could hide from the elements, cursing the celebrities on magazine covers, with their dewy, sun-kissed faces. Or you could buck up and moisturize. "Keeping your skin hydrated helps you look younger by improving its tone," says Mary Bridgeman, a clinical assistant professor in the school of pharmacy at Rutgers University in New Jersey. She also points out that moisturizers can protect our skin from the sun.

[See Pharmacists' Top Recommended Moisturizers with SPF.]

But where do we begin? Step into the skin care aisle of any drug store, and you'll see shelves upon shelves of moisturizers, each claiming to be the best. But all you want to know is: Which is the best for you? As someone who's worked as a pharmacist for several years and answered many overwhelmed consumers' questions, Bridgeman sheds some insight on choosing and applying moisturizers:

Determine your skin type. Is it oily, as in: Your face is a bit shiny and perhaps prone to breakouts? Or is your skin dry, with the occasional rough patch? Perhaps you have "normal" skin, because it's somewhere between the two. Knowing your skin is key for the next step.

Read the labels. If your skin is oily or normal, go for a water-based moisturizer. In the ingredients, scan for words toward the top that end in "-icone," such as silicone. These words hint that the product is water-based, says Bridgeman. Another key word on the label: non-comedogenic. This means the moisturizer won't clog pores—ideal for folks with oily skin that's prone to breakouts.

[See Pharmacists' Top Recommended Acne Products.]

For those with dry skin, try an oil-based moisturizer. "These products coat the skin and allow moisture to stay trapped within the skin cells," Bridgeman says.

No matter your skin type, "Stay away from moisturizers with acids or retinols," says Dawn DaLuise, owner of Dawn DaLuise Skin Refinery in Los Angeles. When you peruse the ingredient list, check that there are no words with "acid" toward the top, and that alcohol is also absent from the list, or at least toward the bottom of it. These ingredients exfoliate and dissolve dead skin cells, DaLuise says, which can hurt more than help when trying to moisturize.

Choose a moisturizer with sun block. It may be hard to believe when you're scraping ice from the windshield, but the sun still shines in February, and you must protect yourself. Many moisturizers have at least a little SPF, and those are the ones you should choose.

Ask for help. The labels on anything—be it cold medicine or face moisturizers—can be hard to digest. When in doubt, talk to the folks in the white coats. "It's a lot of information to process and use in your own life," Bridgeman says. "The pharmacist is readily there to help with making the best decisions."

[See 8 Beauty Emergency Bailouts.]

Apply the moisturizer. Once you've picked your potion, application is key. "Make absolutely sure that you're applying it to a clean face," DaLuise says. In fact, when possible, moisturize soon after you bathe, Bridgeman suggests. "That way, it's easier to trap in moisture." And when you rub in the lotion, don't forget your eyelids, neck, and lips. Wait at least a few minutes after moisturizing if you plan to apply makeup.

Keep it or leave it. After applying the moisturizer regularly for a few days, evaluate if it's working for you. Is your face hydrated and comfortable? Has your skin tone improved? If yes and yes, great! Stick to the brand and don't look back. If not, try, try again. "If [customers] are not satisfied, there are a million other things out there to try," Bridgeman says. "It doesn't hurt to go pick out something else."