The Most Moisturizing Ingredients You’ll Need This Fall

Things we’re really looking forward to: mulled cider, cozy sweaters, roaring fires. Things we’re not: flaky patches, ashy legs, cracked heels. Beat dry skin this winter by knowing which powerhouse ingredients to look for in your skin-care products. These are the six that really matter.

1. Glycerin.

It’s kind of like a vacuum that sucks water from the atmosphere into your skin—so moisturizers with glycerin work best if you put them on immediately post-shower, when your bathroom is still muggy. Compared to other moisturizing ingredients, glycerin is inexpensive (which means products can actually contain a lot of it) and silky (which means you can put on your makeup immediately).

2. Ceramides.

If you want an immediate glow (tough decision…) or need to relieve dry, itchy skin, ceramides are a no-brainer. They’re fats found naturally in the skin, and their whole job is to seal in water so skin cells don’t dry out. “They reinforce the skin’s natural moisture barrier,” says dermatologist Francesca Fusco. “And they get absorbed really quickly.”

3. Urea.

Sure, it sounds gross. But stay with us: Synthetic (key word!) urea is actually really great at exfoliating and moisturizing at the same time. It’s such an effective exfoliator that it’s best for rough spots on the body, like your heels. “A lot of other moisturizing ingredients just sit on top of your skin,” says Fusco. “Urea helps melt away dead cells, then other moisturizing ingredients can penetrate better.”

4. Hyaluronic acid.

Fine lines, crepey skin—meet hyaluronic acid. This molecule swells after it absorbs water, and that plumps lines on the spot. But that doesn’t mean every product with hyaluronic acid offers immediate gratification—because the ingredient is expensive, it may be present in a low concentration. Look for products with hyaluronic acid listed near the top of the ingredient list.

5. Lactic acid.

It exfoliates. It hydrates. It’s the solution to one very common gripe: “A lot of patients complain about dry legs in the winter,” says Fusco. “Apply a product with lactic acid when they’re still damp from the shower, then layer on a basic moisturizer. That’ll take care of it.” (Obviously, it works on ashy arms, too.)

6. Petrolatum.

It’s really thick, and that’s a good thing: Petrolatum creates a film that traps moisture in the skin and decreases natural water loss. “It’s very good at filling in cracks to treat chapped skin,” says Fusco. It may feel greasy—it’s best to wear it overnight—but it works like magic (okay, science) on rough patches on the body.

See Also

  • How to Keep Your Skin From Flaking Off This Winter

  • The Best Dry Skin Fixes

  • 3 Big Moisturizer Mistakes

  • Here’s Why Your Skin Is Drier (and Itchier) Than Ever