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Best hydrating face cream 2024: Nourishing moisturisers to restore the skin from £9

Keep skin looking supple and glowing with our pick of the best hydrating face creams

If you’re struggling with dry, dehydrated or tight-feeling skin, it’s likely crying out for one of the best hydrating face creams. Packed with nutrients, antioxidants and humectants, these fabulous face creams aim to soothe, smooth and restore skin to its former glory.

However, skincare can often be a confusing area to navigate, especially given the breadth of different brands and products to choose from, with many claiming to be a miracle cure for various concerns.

Luckily, we’ve tested a whole range of face creams for you, revealing our favourites for a range of skin concerns below. Not sure what you’re looking for? Have a read of our guide first to learn more about hydrating skincare, the key ingredients to look for and how these creams work to deliver that moisture boost your complexion might be craving.

How to choose the best hydrating face cream for you

How can I tell if my skin is dry or dehydrated?

“Dry and dehydrated skin may feel similar to the person experiencing them; however, they’re caused by two quite different issues in the skin,” says London facialist Anna Carter.

“Dehydration is caused by a lack of water in the skin and can present as crepiness, dullness and that tight feeling after cleansing. Even those who have oily skin can experience dehydration.

“Dry skin, on the other hand, is caused by a lack of oil and lipids in the skin. This can present as chapped, flaky and rough alongside redness and irritation,” she explains. However, note that these could also be symptoms of other skin problems such as eczema or an allergic reaction, so it’s best to speak to a dermatologist or GP to diagnose a root cause if the effects are impacting your quality of life.”

What causes dry and dehydrated skin?

Over-exfoliation: Exfoliation can help to remove dry, dead skin cells from the surface, but exfoliating your skin too often can damage the skin’s barrier, which is the protective layer essential for maintaining healthy skin functions and retaining moisture.

Daily exfoliation will often be too much for most people, so try to keep it down to once or twice a week to avoid accidental damage. Strong acne treatments and harsh soaps will often have the same effect, so avoid using these regularly if your skin is showing signs of dehydration.

Not moisturising regularly: It may sound obvious, but if you’re washing your face daily, without moisturising thereafter, you’re essentially stripping the skin of its natural oils but failing to replace them. This can leave the skin feeling tight and irritated. To avoid this, ensure you apply a hydrating serum and face cream to your face after each wash.

Sun damage: It’s the classic antagonist of the skincare world, so there’s no surprise that exposure to the sun’s rays can cause your skin to become dehydrated. While hydrating face creams can help restore moisture in your skin, the only way to prevent your skin from becoming dehydrated and damaged in the future is to use an SPF of at least 30+ every day.

Hot or cold weather: As if we needed another reason to complain about the weather, extremes of temperature, hot or cold, can have a negative impact on your skin’s hydration levels. In the colder months, for example, many people’s complexions become drier and will require a little more help to maintain hydration.

Damaged skin barrier: As mentioned, the skin barrier is essential to maintain proper skin function, and this includes retaining moisture. So, if your skin barrier becomes damaged, you’ll see the results of this in the condition of your skin. The best course of action in this scenario is to invest in a face cream featuring skin-repairing ingredients such as collagen and ceramides, to get your skin barrier in tip-top shape as soon as possible.

Diet and lifestyle habits: Not to be a party pooper but drinking alcohol, too little water, and getting a poor night’s sleep can all have a negative impact on the health of your skin, as can a diet lacking in antioxidants, vitamins, quality protein and healthy fats. Getting these things in check will improve the overall appearance and hydration levels of your skin.

Which ingredients restore hydration?

It’s important to be aware that “hydrating” and “moisturising” products are not the same. Hydrating ingredients such as humectants draw water deep into the skin and keep it there – just as you would hydrate your body by drinking a glass of water.

Moisturising ingredients, on the other hand, aim to maintain the skin barrier and prevent water loss. However, both are necessary and work together to keep the skin feeling supple, soft and healthy. So, most face creams use a combination of hydrating and moisturising ingredients to help hydrate your skin and lock the moisture in.

In terms of specific ingredients, there’s lots of jargon to get your head around, so here’s a quick breakdown of the best ingredients to help restore hydration:

  • Ceramides, fatty acids and natural moisturising factors (also known as NMFs) help to repair the skin barrier.
  • Humectants, which are hydrating products that draw water into the skin. These include hyaluronic acid, glycerin and panthenol.
  • Ingredients such as aloe, centella asiatica and calendula help soothe redness and irritation.
  • Emollients such as lanolin, petrolatum and mineral oil are moisturisers that protect and lubricate the outer layer of the skin to prevent trans-epidermal water loss.

General advice

It’s important to note – in particular, for those who have sensitive or acne-prone skin – that some hydrating products might work super-well for some people but have the opposite effect on others.

If you notice an increase in breakouts on first use of a new hydrating face cream, it could be a skin “purge”, which can happen as your skin becomes used to a new product.

However, if you notice breakouts or irritation in areas that don’t normally break out then it’s best to discontinue use. Remember, in those instances your dehydrated skin persists or begins to impact your day-to-day life, speak to your doctor.

How we test hydrating face creams

The first thing we examine when testing any hydrating face cream is the ingredients list; we look out for any humectants, which draw water into the skin, and emollients, which lock in that moisture. Face creams often contain other active ingredients like niacinamide or salicylic acid, which can have additional skincare benefits.

These may not be suitable for all skin types, especially if you’re just after a no-fuss hydrating cream, so we’ve made sure to flag these up in the key details section under every review. Some face creams also contain potential irritants for super sensitive skin, like fragrance, so we’ve noted those too.

Of course, a large part of our testing is seeing how the formula feels on the skin. We all have different preferences in terms of the thickness of cream we use, but the best hydrating face creams will feel instantly hydrating while helping to support the skin barrier. They will also provide an emollient layer on the skin to prevent transepidermal water loss, AKA the arch-nemesis of skin hydration.

What we’re really looking for is an instant hydration boost that lasts throughout the day or a night cream that restores the skin’s hydration overnight so that you wake up with supple, refreshed skin. During our wear tests, we also monitor the skin to see if it becomes dry or excessively oily.

READ NEXT: Best face oils

The best hydrating face creams you can buy in 2024

1. Thayers Soak Your Skin 80 Hour Liquid Moisturiser: Best overall hydrating face cream

Price when reviewed: £25 (75ml) | Check price at Boots

best hydrating face cream THAYERS Soak Your Skin

Though it can be tempting to slather on the thickest creams you can find when your skin is feeling especially parched or dry, heavy products aren’t always the answer as they can contain ingredients that clog the pores. For deep hydration but a featherweight feel, Thayers Soak Your Skin Liquid Moisturiser came out on top in testing.

The formula is packed with moisture-boosting ingredients that deliver hydration and calm the skin without clogging the pores, including hyaluronic acid, snow mushroom (known for its deeply moisturising properties) and soothing shea butter.

The moisturiser dispenses as a light white fluid that feels fresh and soothing; it absorbs quickly into the skin, providing a cushioned and comfortable canvas for SPF and makeup that lasts all day. In fact, our tester enjoyed using it so much, it’s become a replenishing skin staple in their day and night-time routine.

If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to shopping for a face cream, this all-rounder is suitable for a wide range of skin types.

Key details – Suitable for sensitive skin: Yes; Fragrance-free: Yes; Vegan: Yes; Cruelty-free: Yes; Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, glycerin, snow mushroom, shea butter

2. Aveeno Calm + Restore Oat Gel Moisturiser: Best face cream for sensitive skin

Price when reviewed: £12 (50ml) | Check price at LookFantastic

Most of the time, when it comes to skincare, keeping things simple is the best way forward – especially with sensitive skin that’s suffered a reaction. And in these circumstances, Aveeno’s face cream works a treat. The simple, nourishing gel formula is fragrance-free and goes easy on the actives, which makes it super-gentle on the skin.

Known for its hydrating properties, glycerin is one of the main ingredients here, working to restore the skin barrier by keeping the lipids between skin cells healthy. It sits alongside antioxidant vitamin E and soothing oat flour. The formula is non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic, meaning that it won’t clog pores and is very unlikely to cause an allergic reaction.

A little goes a long way with this moisturiser, with its lightweight gel consistency melting into the skin in seconds. The affordable price is also a huge selling point, with one 50ml pot likely to see you through a few months of twice-daily use.

Key details – Suitable for sensitive skin: Yes; Fragrance-free: Yes; Vegan: No; Cruelty-free: No; Key ingredients: Glycerin, oat flour, oat extract, vitamin E

Check price at LookFantastic

3. Byoma Moisturizing Gel Cream: Best lightweight hydrating face cream

Price when reviewed: £12 (50ml) |Check price at Bootsbest hydrating face cream Byoma Moisturizing Gel Cream

Since our skin can change on a daily basis, it can be helpful to have both a lightweight face cream and a richer option in your arsenal. Not only is this weightless, oil-free face cream packed with hero ingredients such as niacinamide and green tea to brighten and help maintain a healthy skin barrier, but the gel-cream texture makes it great for oily, sensitive and combination skin types, too.

We found that 1-2 pumps of this face cream absorbed instantly and left our skin feeling soft and smooth – so it’s a great base for makeup. It may be light, but Byoma is known for its well-formulated products and this hydrating cream is no exception. The product’s barrier-boosting combination of ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids allow it to effectively hydrate and protect the skin without clogging pores. It also comes in at a great price point.

Key details – Suitable for sensitive skin: Yes; Fragrance-free: Yes; Vegan: Yes; Cruelty-free: Yes; Key ingredients: Ceramides, cholesterol, fatty acids, niacinamide, green tea

Check price at Boots

4. Kate Somerville HydraKate Recharging Water Cream: Best face cream for dehydrated skin

Price when reviewed: £65 (50ml) | Check price at John Lewisbest hydrating face cream HydraKate Recharging Watercream

It’s pricier than many of the other face creams on our list, but this super-hydrating option from Kate Somerville saw us through a summer holiday and most of autumn, and we cannot sing its praises enough. Since it’s so lightweight, just 1-2 pumps of this cream are enough to cover the entire face and neck, instantly quenching thirsty skin and leaving it feeling dewy, supple and recharged for the rest of the day.

The secret to its long-lasting hydration and instant results is the brand’s award-winning “Aqua-Port Technology” and a healthy dose of hyaluronic acid. The lightweight consistency of the cream means it can take a while to fully absorb, but the benefits are clear to see when it does, and SPF and makeup apply well afterwards.

We appreciated the hygienic pump delivery system too – it’s a great way to dispense the cream without having to dip your fingers into the tub (but it’s still easy to take apart to scoop out the last of the product when you reach the very end).

Key details – Suitable for sensitive skin: Yes; Fragrance-free: Yes; Vegan: Not stated; Cruelty-free: Yes; Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, algae extract, marigold flower extract

Check price at John Lewis

5. Fresh Rose Deep Hydration Face Cream: Best face cream for mature skin

Price when reviewed: £42 (50ml) | Check price at LookFantasticbest hydrating face cream Rose

Along with SPF, the best thing those with mature skin can do for their complexion is invest in a quality moisturiser to keep their barrier strong and boost the body’s reserves of hyaluronic acid, collagen and elastin. For this, the supercharged formula of Fresh’s iconic Rose Deep Hydration Face Cream can’t be beaten, thanks to its multi-weight duo of hyaluronic acids, time-release hydrating technology and the moisture-locking benefits of damask rose.

The apothecary brand may have been around for years, but the formulas are constantly changing to keep up with our skins’ needs. This cream now has a silkier and more lightweight texture than before that promises 72 hours of deep hydration – something that we felt delivered in testing.

It sinks in quickly and leaves skin feeling smooth, plump and hydrated without any greasiness. It does, however, tend to pill a little under SPF and makeup, so that – combined with the heady rose fragrance – makes it a better option for evening use.

Key details – Suitable for sensitive skin: No; Fragrance-free: No; Vegan: Not stated; Cruelty-free: Yes; Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, damask rose extract, glycerin

Check price at LookFantastic

6. Athletia Phyto Sleeping Cream: Best luxury hydrating night cream

Price when reviewed: £86 (30ml) | Check price at Selfridges

Usually, it’s wise to opt for lighter creams during the day, but a heavier overnight cream during the winter can deliver an added moisture boost to help combat dry skin. This cream from Japanese brand Athletia promises to deliver concentrated deep hydration while repairing the skin barrier and helping you to sleep.

Packed with goodies such as skin-identical squalene, glycerin and cholesterol, the cream moisturises, hydrates and strengthens the skin. In addition, a combination of antioxidant natural oils, such as olive fruit, primrose, sweet almond and grape seed oil, help smooth the skin. These ultra-hydrating and moisturising ingredients come together in a rich cream that will see you wake in the morning with your tight-feeling skin replaced by a soft, supple, glowing complexion.

Sporting a thicker consistency than some creams on this list, it takes a little more time to rub in. However, once absorbed, the skin feels hydrated without feeling oily or greasy. It has a more relaxing scent than other creams, including lavender, to aid relaxation and promote sleep alongside fresh woody notes of orange, sandalwood and cedarwood.

Key details – Suitable for sensitive skin: No; Fragrance-free: No; Vegan: Yes; Cruelty-free: Not stated; Key ingredients: Glycerine, squalene, olive fruit oil, cholesterol, vitamin E

Check price at Selfridges

7. Evolve Nightly Renewal Facial Cream: Best everyday hydrating night cream

Price when reviewed: £34 (60ml) | Check price at John Lewis

While Athletia’s Phyto Sleeping Cream (above) is beautifully formulated and effective, it’s an expensive option for everyday use. If, like most people, you’re on a tighter budget, but still want to invest in a great hydrating night cream, we would suggest Evolve’s Nightly Renewal Facial Cream.

Its thick consistency sinks into the skin surprisingly quickly, delivering an instant, soothing feel of hydration thanks to ingredients such as aloe vera, vitamin E and humectants.

In addition, bidens pilosa extract helps to combat the signs of ageing – you may not have heard of this ingredient, but recent research suggests it can help target free radicals, reduce fine lines and firm the skin with similar, if not better, results to retinol. Boosting skin cell turnover, then, long-term use will see your skin appear fresher, healthier and younger.

The formula also includes antioxidant peony extract to help lighten dark spots for brighter skin overall. If you try this night cream and love it, then you may also consider Evolve’s complementary daytime moisturiser for a complete routine.

Key details – Suitable for sensitive skin: No; Fragrance free: No; Vegan: Yes; Cruelty free: Yes; Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, glycerin, vitamin E, aloe vera, bidens pilosa extract

Check price at John Lewis

8. UpCircle Face Moisturiser with Vitamin E: Best sustainable face cream

Price when reviewed: £21 (60ml) | Check price at LookFantastic

This super-hydrating face cream from all-natural eco brand UpCircle uses antioxidant vitamin E and cocoa butter to moisturise and protect the skin from free radicals, which break down collagen in the skin. It also includes aloe vera, which is a great humectant, moisturiser and anti-inflammatory ingredient – and while these are great properties in any hydrating moisturiser, the addition of salicylic acid also makes this a good option for rough skin.

The cream itself has a thick texture, which feels nourishing and super-hydrating on the skin while still absorbing quickly. It’s suitable for use day and night, with skin feeling re-hydrated and smooth from the first use. Just be wary that this formula is slightly perfumed, which means it could be slightly irritating to very sensitive skin.

Key details – Suitable for sensitive skin: Yes; Fragrance-free: No; Vegan: Yes; Cruelty-free: Yes; Key ingredients: Cocoa butter, vitamin E, aloe vera, argan powder, salicylic acid, glycerin

Check price at LookFantastic

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