How To Know If Your Moisturizer Is Working – Expert Tips

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It can be difficult to tell if a moisturizer is truly nourishing your skin, or if it’s just sitting on top of the surface. The key to knowing if your moisturizer is working is to pay attention to how your skin feels and looks both immediately after applying, and in the long term.

I’ve surveyed the experts and have dermatologist-approved tips on how to know if your moisturizer is working.

If you once had dry, flaky skin and your skin transformed to soft and supple, then you can say that the moisturizer is working! But that’s just one of the things to look for. 

I’ll get into the details below.


Meet the Experts

  • Dr. Enrizza Factor MD, Dermatologist at My Eczema Team
  • Dr. HariKiran Cheruki, certified skin specialist (dermatologist), hair transplant expert, cosmetic surgeon, and medical head of ClinicSpots
  • Dr. Anna Chacon, MD – Dermatologist, Writer @ MyPsorasisTeam
  • Angela Propes – Founder of Skin Care Brand Farragio
  • Dr. Crystal Dinopol, DPDS, Dermatologist, Contributor at MyPsoriasisTeam

How Does A Moisturizer Work?

A moisturizer works in two ways.

First, it can trap moisture in your skin. This prevents too much evaporation of moisture from your skin into the atmosphere. Second, it restores the moisture that was lost in the outer layer of the skin when exposed to the environment.

Healthy skin is the goal.

As Dr. Enrizza Factor says, “healthy skin should feel hydrated but not overly oily.” Vibrant, well-moisturized skin, she says should feel “healthy and not irritated by any products. [It] should be free of itchiness and pain.”

When Skin Gets Too Dry

Very dry skin is easy to identify – it will look visibly dry and flaky. The skin on the face could feel like it is tearing up when you stretch it. 

Extremes in weather, either hot or cold, can cause dryness of the skin. And the go-to solution is a moisturizer. The dryness of the skin is caused by, TEWL, or transepidermal water loss. 

Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL)

TEWL is the amount of water that escapes the skin and goes into the atmosphere. When much water is lost in the skin, it becomes dry and flaky. 

The moisture content of the skin is usually provided through the blood vessels. That’s why you have to have adequate liquid intake. That moisture is supplied to the middle layer of the skin. 

From the middle layer, the moisture travels upward towards the epidermis, before it can evaporate into the atmosphere. When the water evaporates from the skin constantly, it dries up and becomes flaky. 

Dr. Factor looks for a long-term balance between oily and dry skin. “Moisturizing every day can reduce the chance of developing extreme dryness or oiliness. Both extremes are harmful to the skin and cause common skin conditions like acne.”

“Moisturizing every day can reduce the chance of developing extreme dryness or oiliness. Both extremes are harmful to the skin and cause common skin conditions like acne.”

Dr. Enrizza Factor

How To Know If Your Moisturizer Is Working

Dr. Dinopol goes over the basic signs your moisturizer is working: “glowing, even skin tone. Less fine lines. No breakouts or small bumps on the skin. No flaky spots.”

Look and Feel of the Skin

To know whether your moisturizer is working or not, observe your skin. Is there an improvement in how your skin looked and felt before you used a moisturizer and now that you are using a moisturizer?

Well-moisturized skin feels supple and soft. It can feel and look smooth. When there is adequate moisture in the skin, other skin issues may start to disappear as well. 

As Dr. Anna Chacon explains, you should embrace the feel of the moisturizer, “If the skin feels effortlessly good after applying the moisturizer, it certainly means that the product is working. Although there are times that one could say a product is effective when it feels stingy, that is not the case for moisturizers.”

For example, you have acne-prone skin. Moisturizers are used by people with acne to make sure that their skin has enough moisture so that the skin doesn’t get triggered to produce more oils to compensate for skin dryness. 

Those who have dry skin, to begin with, can feel like their skin is tearing up when it is stretched. There can be flakiness or visible dryness. When a moisturizer is working, you can expect better-looking skin that’s supple and soft. 

Tighter Pores

Dr. Chacon says that “your products are most likely to be working or effective if your skin feels less rough, the size of your pores has shrunk, and you’re experiencing less spots, acne, and discoloration.”

Your products are most likely to be working or effective if your skin feels less rough, the size of your pores has shrunk, and you’re experiencing less spots, acne, and discoloration.

Dr. Anna Chacon

Even Complexion and Brighter Skin

Dr. HariKiran Cheruki says to look for a more balanced complexion. He states that “with regular use, your skin should start to look brighter and more even in color. Hyperpigmentation spots may appear lighter or disappear completely.”

Increased Hydration

Dr. Cheruki aims for richer, plumper skin “Your skin should also feel softer and more hydrated as it is moisturized. You’ll be able to tell that your skin is getting the nourishment it needs when you notice an overall increase in elasticity and plumpness.”

Take a Selfie!

Angela Propes, a skincare product maker, recommends that you use your phone camera. When it comes to new moisturizers, she says that “the easiest way to tell if it’s working is to take a selfie a few weeks apart (same time of day, lighting, etc) and see if you can notice a difference. A good moisturizer will also become quickly evident just by looking in the mirror, sometimes after just one day of use, because skin will appear brighter.”

When changing up your skincare routine, it’s always a good idea to do a before and after to determine whether the change is improving your skin, or making it worse.

Take Your Time

This process is not instantaneous. Dr. Enrizza Factor states that “while you do feel the results of moisturizer as soon as it hits your skin (hence, instant results) you won’t begin to really see an improvement in dry or flakey skin until about 2 weeks of consistent use.”

How To Tell If Your Moisturizer Is Not Working

Dr. Dinopol gives us the major signs your moisturizer isn’t working as it should: “Sullen, uneven skin tone. Skin is tight and dry, wrinkles visible. Bumps and pimples. Rashes and itchiness that do not go away after a few minutes.”

If you experience these after moisturizing, it may be time to regroup.

Some signs can tell when the moisturizer you are currently using isn’t working for your skin. Here’s what to watch out for: 

1. Rashes and Irritation

When it comes to rashes and itchiness, Angela Propes says to watch out. She says that “rashes are an obvious sign a moisturizer isn’t working and should be stopped immediately.”

Rashes are an obvious sign a moisturizer isn’t working and should be stopped immediately.

Angela Propes

2. Stinging Sensation

Although there are skincare products that naturally produce a tingling sensation, moisturizers aren’t supposed to do that. If you are feeling any stinging or burning, it could be due to the incompatibility of your moisturizer with your skin. 

It could be due to the ingredients that are found in the moisturizer. In such cases, it would be best to use moisturizers for sensitive skin.

3. Acne Breakouts

Another thing to look out for is breakouts or a bumpy skin texture when you use the moisturizer. This could mean that there are substances in the moisturizer that are blocking your pores. 

But short-term acne breakouts can be a misleading sign, Angela Propes suggests. “Breakouts don’t necessarily mean a moisturizer is bad or isn’t working because skin sometimes takes time to adjust, but continual breakouts are a good indicator that a moisturizer isn’t compatible.”

You can also run into acne issues if you’re using too much moisturizer, so be careful not to lay it on too thick!

4. Makeup Piles Up

Usually, we use a moisturizer underneath our makeup to produce a smooth skin appearance. However, if your makeup or foundation looks like it is piling, then the moisturizer you used might be too thick. 

It would be best to use a thinner moisturizer when you are applying makeup over them. Just use the thicker moisturizers at night. 

Types Of Moisturizers

There are lots of different moisturizers on the market today, produced by various manufacturers and brands. However, most products can be classified into three types:

1. Occlusives

These moisturizers work by trapping the water that’s already on the skin. They stop the evaporation that happens. Usually, these types of moisturizers are made of oils, silicones, and waxes. 

They work by creating a layer or a barrier over the skin so that water is repealed and evaporation is avoided. They are very effective but could feel sticky and messy. 

The hugely popular trend of slugging with Aquaphor or Petroleum jelly uses occlusives to hydrate skin overnight in order to improve acne or wrinkles.

2. Emollients

Emollients usually come in creams, ointments, gels, and lotions. They are preferred over the occlusives because they don’t feel as sticky. As compared to occlusives that create a barrier over the skin, the emollients penetrate the skin. 

Emollients help make the skin feel softer. They repel water, just like the occlusives but work differently. 

Once absorbed by the skin, they fill up the gaps between the skin cells and surrounding proteins so that moisture doesn’t easily get out of the body. This helps restore moisture and makes the skin soft. 

3. Humectants

Lastly, we have the humectants that work by attracting moisture to the skin and holding it there for the skin to be moisturized. Humectants can penetrate the outer layer of the skin and then attract water so it stays in the outer layer of the skin to keep it moisturized. 

Apart from that, they instruct the body to produce ceramides to help with the skin structure.

Although humectants attract moisture and keep the outer layer moisturized, they could also attract moisture from the deeper layers of the skin when the atmosphere is too dry. 

Many moisturizers, like Cerave and Cetaphil, are a mixture of multiple types of moisturizers.

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).