The Parents Guide to Moisturizing: 7 Tips for Better Hydrated Skin

When moisture levels are off-kilter, skin responds with breakouts, dryness, and other cries for help. But a few good products and practices can keep it hydrated and happy.

woman in colorful stripped jacket
Just like you are, your skin is in constant search of balance. Photo: Brigitte Sire

As our collective shelves grow ever more crowded with essences, spritzes, and serums, it's easy to overlook the humble moisturizer. But this stalwart product is(and always has been) the common denominator in great skin. "Maintaining moisture is essential for a healthy skin barrier, which is the outermost layer of your skin and your body's first line of defense," says Dendy Engelman, M.D., a dermatologist at the Shafer Clinic, in New York City. "And that plays a role in everything, from achieving glowing skin to fighting acne and the signs of aging." Recent research shows that simply applying a basic moisturizer twice a day—that means no bells, whistles, or exotic extracts needed—reduces skin inflammation, which is the cause of pretty much all complexion chaos.

Many factors can leave skin looking and feeling particularly parched, such as changes in the environment (like the drop in humidity in the fall) and high stress levels (kind of a given), notes Mona Gohara, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. When that happens, it's time for a routine tweak to get your skin back on track.

The Easiest Ways to Pick a Formula

Figure out if your skin is low on water, oil, or both. If you're running low on water, which means skin is dehydrated, fine lines are more noticeable and there can be an increase in breakouts. (This is typical of oily, acne-prone, and combination skin types.) If you lack oil (which often occurs in normal-to-dry or sensitive skin), your skin is dry, and that may turn up in the form of roughness, itchiness, or flaking.

Neutrogena hydro gel
Peter Ardito

If you're dehydrated

Go with a moisturizer that contains water-binding ingredients like hyaluronic acid, such as Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel.

Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream
Peter Ardito

If you're dry

Skin is lacking natural oils in its outer layer. Dr. Engelman suggests replenishing what's missing with an oil-based moisturizer, like Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream.

If you're both

Layer a hyaluronic acid serum or lotion with an oil-based lotion or cream.

Keep in mind

If patches of your skin are red, inflamed, or very itchy, or they feel as if they're burning, the cause may be more complicated, like psoriasis. A dermatologist can guide you to the right treatment plan.

woman putting lotion on face
Kat Borchart

Next-Level Hydration Secrets

Try layering

Farmacy Filing Good hyaluronic acid
Peter Ardito
Peace Out Repairing Moisturizer
Best for acne-prone and oily skin. Peter Ardito

To be that mom with the great skin, you may want to introduce both a hydrating serum and a moisturizer into your routine. Layering them with precision is key. "Different skin-care products have different functions and molecular sizes," Dr. Engelman notes. This means that "lighter products shouldn't be applied over thicker products, because the smaller molecules won't be able to penetrate the larger ones." Just as you don't put underwear over your pants—unless you're a strong-willed 3-year-old—you don't put serum over moisturizer. Apply Farmacy Filling Good Hyaluronic Acid Plumping Serum and then Peace Out Repairing Moisturizer, which contains ceramides and squalane to fortify your skin's barrier.

Put serum on damp skin

A dry sponge won't soak up much water, and neither will your skin. "Damp skin is more pliable than dry skin," Dr. Engelman says. "So you want to get a bit wet before applying your serum to allow it to penetrate more deeply."

Wear SPF, always

Beekman milk primer
Peter Ardito

"People don't think of SPF as being part of a moisturizing routine, but skimping on it actually leads to dry skin," Dr. Gohara says. That's because UV damage disrupts the skin's barrier, draining natural moisture. During the day, choose a moisturizer with one added in, like Beekman 1802 Milk Primer With SPF 35.

Don't forget your body

Olay Rough Dry Skin body wash
Peter Ardito
Nivea breathable nourishing body lotion
Powerful pumps. Peter Ardito

Skin doesn't stop at your collarbone. Skin care shouldn't either. Start the hydration process with a quenching formula in the shower, like Olay Total Moisture Body Wash with Vitamin B3 + Cocoa Butter. Then pat dry and slather lotion allover within 30 seconds of getting out of the shower to "lock in that water," Dr. Mariwalla says. Nivea Breathable Nourishing Body Lotion, which sinks in quickly with no sticky feeling, is a good one. If you still have some sandpapery spots, massage something a little thicker on top, such as Skinfix Remedy+ 911 Ointment.

This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's October 2021 issue as "Go for the Glow." Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here

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