Here Are the Moisturizer Ingredients You Should (and Shouldn’t) Look For

Mother Nature can take a serious toll on your skin. Unless you want cracked hands, scaly legs, and a dry face, you should pick up a moisturizer, stat.

Everyone has their preference on price, thickness, and scent, but the ingredients used in your moisturizer are non-negotiable. Instead of aimlessly scanning the ingredient list, we asked Dr. Craig Kraffert, a board-certified dermatologist and president of skin care company Amarte, which ingredients we should look for and which to avoid. Here’s what he had to say.

1. Use: Mushroom beta-glucan


Mushrooms harbor many benefits. |

Sometimes, your favorite snacks can work wonders on your skin, too. According to Kraffert, mushroom beta-glucan is one of most innovative ingredients you can buy today. An emollient derived from mushrooms, which is just a fancy term for moisturizer, mushroom beta-glucan is perfect for the typical girl on the go. “It not only provides moisture, but it also rejuvenates and forms a unique anti-aging shield on skin,” he said. While this ingredient can be found in numerous vitamins and supplements, it’s one of the key ingredients in Amarte’s Wonder Cream.

2. Avoid: Facial oils (on their own)

Hands applying moisturizer

Use facial oils in combination with a moisturizer. |

When used with a moisturizer, facial oils have the power to lock in those nourishing ingredients and ensure lasting hydration; however, that doesn’t mean you should use oils solo. “Skin needs both oil and water in order to resolve dryness,” said Kraffert. The next time you’re in the market for a new moisturizer, opt for a water-based cream. If you find a delicious oil that you can use in addition, go ahead and throw that in your cart, too.

3. Use: Caviar extract

Black caviar in the spoon

Caviar is packed with important vitamins for your skin.|

Besides its lofty price tag, there’s a reason caviar is one of the most in demand snacks out there: It’s packed with essential nutrients. According to Kraffert, the luxurious fish eggs have key vitamins like A, B1, B2, B6, D and E, amino acids, rich minerals like zinc, copper, and much more. When extracted, all those game-changing nutrients can nourish your skin and offer that soft, supple touch.

As expected, some formulas with caviar extract can get expensive, but depending on your skin and what’s already in your medicine cabinet, it may be well worth the investment.

4. Avoid: Some retinols

woman hands applying moisturizing hand cream

Not all retinols are created equal. | Traksel

Read just about any beauty website and you’ll learn retinol is a key ingredient in any anti-aging solution. However, some unsophisticated formulas can end up drying and irritating your skin. When selecting your moisturizer, it’s important to be discerning about your retinols. “Look for Nanoencapsulated retinol, which is a technique that uses nano-sized, extremely stable retinol particles, allowing higher concentrations to be delivered deeper into skin for stronger, faster and more visible results without that telltale dryness and irritation,” Kraffert recommended.

5. Use: Hyaluronic acid

woman applying moisturizer on face

A moisturizer that is too heavy will clog your pores. |

It’s easy to think those heavy creams will hydrate your skin in no time, but that’s not always the case. If you pick a formula that’s too heavy for your skin’s natural composition, it might clog up your pores and cause some unwanted acne. If you’re in the market for a moisturizer that’s both lightweight and effective, you should make sure it features hyaluronic acid, aka sodium hyaluronate.

Though hyaluronic acid is present in your body, the ones used in moisturizers and serums are made in a lab. Not only is this option great for healing skin ulcers and burns, its lightness makes it vital for any moisturizer. “Able to bind 1,800 times its own weight in water, hyaluronic acid is an excellent humectant moisturizer,” Kraffert said. Available in tons of different formulas, hyaluronic acid is one of the easiest ingredients to spot in your moisturizer.

6. Avoid: Formaldehyde

Daily, beauty care cosmetic

Stay far away from formaldehyde. |

Though frequently found in nail polishes, hair gels, and lotions, formaldehyde is an ingredient you should stay far away from. Why? Because it’s toxic. And those formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are no exception. According to Kraffert, if you see Quaternium-15, Imidazolidinyl urea, Diazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, 2-Bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, 5-bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane, or Tris(hydroxymethyl) nitromethane on your moisturizer’s ingredients list, toss it out. Now.

7. Use: Dimethicone

young woman applying face cream

Do you know what’s in your moisturizer? |

In a world where studies regularly debunk the latest “it” ingredient or food, it’s difficult to know which products you can actually trust. Luckily, dimethicone is one of them. “It’s lightweight, safe, protective and a major booster of water retention,” said Kraffert.

As a silicone-based polymer, dimethicone can help fill in fine lines and wrinkles and create a smooth finish. When it comes to moisturizers, dimethicone does a great job locking in moisture, so your skin will stay hydrated all winter long. Similar to hylaruonic acid, you won’t have any trouble finding a product you like that uses dimethicone.

8. Avoid: Lanolin

Flock of sheep

Lanolin can irritate your skin. |

Think of your favorite wool sweater. Sure, it’s great on a particularly cold day, but the itchy fabric has the potential to irritate your skin. Lanolin, or sheep’s sebum, is very similar. While it can treat skin cracks and burns, Kraffert notes it has the tendency to wreak havoc on your skin. To play it safe, try to steer clear of this ingredient.

9. Use: Argan oil

Moisturizing serum with pipette

Argan oil is one of the best oils you can use. |

Using oil on your face can be dicey. While many options like coconut oil can provide almost instant hydration, these fats in general have the reputation of clogging up your pores and making your face look too shiny.

This particular oil is derived from the nut of an argan tree, and Kraffert points out that it’s not only one of the rarest oils in the world, but one of the most nourishing. Packed with antioxidants, fatty acids, and vitamin E, argan oil is lightweight, ridiculously hydrating, and free of oils’ nasty connotations. If you weren’t sold by “lightweight moisturizer,” Marie Claire notes this ingredient also has tons of anti-aging properties.

10. Avoid: Parabens

woman buying body care products in supermarket

Parabens have been linked to a lot of different health problems. |

Recently, parabens have received a lot of flack for being associated with cancers. Turns out, the ingredient’s not so great in your moisturizer, either. In addition to all the buzz about their potential health risks, parabens, Kraffert points out, have the potential to dry out your skin. Despite all the negative press, parabens still run rampant in most cosmetics, so it’s important to select your moisturizers, serums, and cleansers with care.

Follow Kelsey on Twitter @Kmulvs and Instagram @Kmulvs

[Editor’s Note: This story was originally published February 23, 2017]