Standing in the beauty aisle, it may be intimidating to choose just one or two facial products from the countless creams and lotions on the shelves. But by looking beyond the fancy packaging and clever marketing language—and by following a few expert tips—it's easy to choose a quality product that will help keep your skin feeling healthy and looking great (and won't kill your budget!).
Most face creams fall into one of two categories, says Laura F. Sandoval, DO, a senior clinical research fellow at Wake Forest University -- those meant for daytime wear, and those meant for nighttime use. One main difference? Sunscreen. "A daytime facial moisturizer should always have an sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15," says Sandoval. When sunscreen is built-in, you're more likely to use it regularly -- and research shows that wearing sunscreen everyday (as opposed to occasionally) can visibly reduce signs of aging.
The healthiest type of sunscreen to look for in your daytime moisturizer, says Sandoval, is a physical blocker. These ingredients, like zinc and titanium dioxide, sit on the skin's surface and keep UV rays from penetrating, as opposed to chemical sunscreens that are absorbed into the skin. Physical blockers used to leave a whitish film on your face, says Sandoval, but newer formulas tend to work just as well without the unflattering tint.
Nighttime creams, on the other hand, should contain some type of anti-aging ingredient—like an alpha hydroxy acid or retinol, a derivative of Vitamin A. These ingredients help to shed your outer layer of dead skin cells and encourage new cell growth underneath. But they can also be drying, and can make you more sensitive to the sun, which is why they should only be worn while you sleep, unless prescribed by a doctor.
When selecting a face cream, look for the term noncomedogenic, which means that the formula won't clog pores. Also, choose a product that's fragrance-free, since chemicals used in scented lotions can dry out or irritate the skin and eyes. Avoid ingredients that are used as emulsifiers—including polysorbate, stearate, steareth, cetearyl, ceteareth, and emulsifying wax—which can leave a soapy residue on your skin, and ingredients that suggest the presence of 1,4-dioxane, a chemical that's been classified as a human carcinogen. These ingredients include polyethylene, polyethylene glycol (or PEG), polyoxyethylene, and any words ending in "oxynol" or "eth." [Tabor]