How it works:

  • Share your skin goals and snap selfies

  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

How it works:

  • Share your skin goals and snap selfies

  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

How to apply moisturizer, according to the experts

Cleanse, dab, massage using a moisturizer for your skin type—and don’t forget the sunscreen!

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Curology Team
Sep 22, 2022 · 8 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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Moisturizing is an important part of most people's daily skincare ritual. It can keep your complexion looking younger and healthier by hydrating the outermost layers of your skin—but there’s a little bit more to moisturizing than just slathering lotion all over your face. 

Here we’ll explain how to apply moisturizer when to use it, and the differences between night and day creams. We’ll also share our tips for choosing a moisturizer that will work with your unique skin. 

Why is it so important to apply moisturizer?

The skin is our largest organ, and it acts as a protective shield against the outside environment. The three layers of the skin—the epidermis (top layer), dermis (middle layer), and subcutaneous tissue (bottom layer—aka the hypodermis)—work together to keep the germs out, make new skin cells, house collagen and elastin, produce oil and sweat, allow for smooth movement of muscles and bones, and regulate body temperature¹. Basically, our skin has a big job to do! That’s why it’s so important to help in any way we can—like moisturizing. 

Proper hydration protects the skin from water loss and excessive dryness. Moisturizing is one of the most effective ways to help your skin lock in water. 

How to apply moisturizer correctly?

Moisturizing your skin seems simple enough—all you have to do is put some lotion in your hands and rub it into your face, right? Not quite. How well you hydrate your face often depends on how you apply moisturizer to the face. Here are some tips to follow the next time you hydrate your face:

Curology gel moisturizer
  • Wash your hands and face. If you can, apply moisturizer to your face when it’s clean. Splash your face with warm water and use a gentle cleanser to remove dirt and grime beforehand.  

  • Apply to damp skin. Applying moisturizer to damp skin will help increase absorption and trap water in the skin.²

  • Use your fingertips to gently massage moisturizer into your face. This allows you to get your moisturizer into the nooks and crannies, like around the nose and eyes. 

  • Apply after cleansing but before your sunscreen. If you need hydration, your moisturizer should be applied between washing your face and applying SPF. How long after moisturizer to apply sunscreen depends on when you’re leaving the house. Sunscreen needs about 15 minutes to form a protective layer before you go outside.³ “Unless you use a moisturizer with at least SPF 30 protection, you’ll still need additional sunscreen,” says Kristen Jokela, a nurse practitioner at Curology. 

  • Apply after treatments. At night, moisturizer is generally the last thing that goes on your face. If you’re using prescription topicals, like acne cream, toners, or serums, you’ll apply those to a clean face first. There are some exceptions when using prescription topicals:  

    • If you’re just getting started with Curology, it’s best to wait 10-20 minutes after cleansing to apply your personalized prescription formula. This helps avoid irritation, especially when starting a new formula or routine.

    • If your skin is feeling irritated from any topicals, you can apply moisturizer before the topical treatment to help minimize irritation.

  • Use the right amount. You won’t reap double the benefits with double the moisturizer. You’ll likely just waste product and increase the sheen of your shiny zones. Your skin can only absorb so much product, so follow the instructions on your product. 

  • Massage into your neck. Think of your neck as part of your face, at least in terms of cleansing, moisturizing, and treating. How you apply moisturizer to the neck is largely up to you—so long as it follows cleansing!

When to apply moisturizer

You can apply moisturizer in the morning, evening, or both—after washing your face and before it’s completely dry, or after treating, depending on your skin’s sensitivity. You can also hydrate throughout the day if needed! But there are other times when you’ll want to consider if you need to boost your skin’s hydration even more. 

  • In the morning. Just because you moisturized the night before doesn’t mean you should skip the morning. In fact, cleansing and moisturizing should be part of your daily routine, morning and night. There are some exceptions, like those with extra oily skin. That said, even oily skin types can benefit from a moisturizer!

  • In the evening. Before bed, apply moisturizer to your skin so it can work its magic while you’re sleeping. At night, cleanse, treat, and moisturize (unless your skin is feeling irritated, then moisturize first, followed by any treatments). Your skin does most of its repair work while you’re sleeping,⁴ so give it the boost it needs to do its job!

  • In dry conditions. You may need to moisturize more often if you live in a cold, windy or hot, dry climate. The same can be true for dry conditions like flying on a plane or working in an office with indoor heating or air conditioning.

  • During breakouts. We may not think of keeping our skin hydrated when breaking out. But dry skin can make acne flare-ups worse.⁵ Moisturizing relieves irritated skin and slows water loss.⁶ 

7 tips to follow when applying moisturizer

Many people like to moisturize because it’s one step that has instant gratification—your skin feels better. But you need to know how to apply moisturizer properly to be most effective. Here are some best practices to hydrate your skin. 

  1. Choose the right moisturizer. Moisturizers are not one-size-fits-all. You may want to select a moisturizer for your skin type. This can mean choosing a moisturizer for sensitive skin or one for acne-prone skin—and everything in between. Hang tight! More on this in just a bit.

  2. Be gentle with your skin. Avoid rubbing, tugging, or pulling your skin as you apply lotion or cream. If you’re experiencing a lot of tugging, you may need just a dab more cream.

  3. Moisturize every day. For many people, skipping a day, two, or three won’t do your skin any favors. People may think that if their skin is particularly oily one day, it’s best to skip moisturizer. That’s not always the case. Instead, thoroughly cleanse to remove excess oil and buildup before moisturizing (you should be cleansing first anyway). 

  4. Apply the right amount. Too little moisturizer, and you won’t reap the full benefits of the product. Too much, and you’ll waste product. Remember Goldilocks? You’re going for “just right.” That’s typically a dab the size of a dime.

  5. Use the right face cream at the right time. Certain products (like moisturizing sunscreen) are best during the day, while others (like those with AHA or retinol) should be applied at night. 

  6. Lotion the neck. Your neck needs some love, too. Use a dab of lotion there as well!

  7. Massage your face. It won’t reverse the signs of aging, but a gentle massage can give your lymphatic system a boost and may help reduce puffiness. 

How to choose the right moisturizer for your skin type

Choosing the right moisturizer for your skin type is important. For example, even though hydration is essential for all skin types—even oily skin—you may consider a gel if your skin tends to retain more oil. Here are a few tips for choosing the best moisturizer that will work for you. 

  • Know your skin type. Here’s a quick and dirty method for determining your skin type. Once you know your skin type, you’ll be able to make an informed choice when choosing a moisturizer.

  • Choose the right ingredients. Regardless of skin type, you’ll want to look for hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides. These ingredients lock in moisture. You could also consider a product with vitamin C for its anti-aging effects. 

  • Avoid the wrong ingredients. Ingredients like alcohol and witch hazel may lead to irritation and a loss of water from the skin. Notice how your skin feels immediately after using a product. Does it feel dry and tight? If so, you may want to toss it.

What are the differences between night cream and day cream?

There isn’t an “official” difference between day and night creams. For the most part, you could use a good moisturizer for both. But if you want the most from your products, you may choose one that’s more appropriate for the day and one for the night. 

Moisturizers with SPF protection are more suited for daytime use. Conversely, creams with retinoids or alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) are better as a night cream—in fact, they shouldn’t be used during the day. Retinoids and AHAs can leave your skin more sensitive to the sun. Used at night, they have superpowers to rejuvenate your skin—just start slowly!

Don’t forget to wash your face

One of the ways to get the most from your moisturizer is to wash your face before application. You need to remove the buildup from your face first. A good cleanser (like the Curology cleanser) removes dirt, excess oil, and debris. During the day, your face can collect dead skin cells and gunk from environmental pollutants.

Ready to give moisturizer a try?

At Curology, we created two moisturizers designed to hydrate your skin. One is a gel-cream hybrid using hyaluronic acid. It’s lightweight and designed with acne-prone skin in mind. The other is the rich moisturizer with ingredients like hyaluronic acid and shea butter to provide deep hydration for dry and aging skin. 

We’re a service-first skincare brand that gives people access to individual, custom skincare prescribed by a licensed dermatology provider. We’re membership-based, so you’ll have to sign up. But your first 30 days are on us. Just pay $4.95, plus tax, to cover shipping and handling. 

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Subject to consultation. 30-day trial. Just cover $4.95 in S&H.
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If you’re ready to try one of our moisturizers, sign up for a free trial. One of our dermatology providers will evaluate your skin to curate a personalized prescription formula just for you. And we can send other products like a cleanser and lip balm to round out your skincare routine—because your lips need moisturizer, too! 

FAQs

Why is it so important to apply moisturizer?

Our skin has a big job to do! That’s why it’s so important to help in any way we can—like moisturizing. 

Proper hydration protects the skin from water loss and excessive dryness. Moisturizing is one of the most effective ways to help your skin lock in water. 

How to apply moisturizer correctly?

Here are some tips to follow the next time you hydrate your face:

  • Wash your hands and face

  • Apply to damp skin

  • Use your fingertips to gently massage moisturizer into your face

  • Apply after cleansing but before your sunscreen

  • Apply after treatments

  • Use the right amount

  • Massage into your neck

When to apply moisturizer?

  • In the morning. Just because you moisturized the night before doesn’t mean you should skip the morning.

  • In the evening. Before bed, apply moisturizer to your skin so it can work its magic while you’re sleeping.

  • In dry conditions. You may need to moisturize more often if you live in a cold, windy or hot, dry climate.

  • During breakouts. Moisturizing relieves irritated skin and slows water loss. 

How to choose the right moisturizer for your skin type?

Here are a few tips for choosing the best moisturizer that will work for you:

  • Know your skin type. Here’s a quick and dirty method for determining your skin type. Once you know your skin type, you’ll be able to make an informed choice when choosing a moisturizer.

  • Choose the right ingredients. Regardless of skin type, you’ll want to look for hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides.

  • Avoid the wrong ingredients. Notice how your skin feels immediately after using a product. Does it feel dry and tight? If so, you may want to toss it.

What are the differences between night cream and day cream?

There isn’t an “official” difference between day and night creams. For the most part, you could use a good moisturizer for both. For example, moisturizers with SPF protection are more suited for daytime use. Conversely, creams with retinoids or alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) are better as a night cream—in fact, they shouldn’t be used during the day.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Lopez-Ojeda, W. et al. Anatomy, Skin (Integument). Statpealrs. (2021). 

  2. American Academy of Dermatology. How to pick the right moisturizer for your skin. (n.d.).

  3. American Academy of Dermatology. Sunscreen FAQs. (n.d.).

  4. Lyons, A.B., et al. Circadian rhythm and the skin: A review of the literature.Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (September 2019).

  5. American Academy of Dermatology. Moisturizer: Why you may need it if you have acne. (n.d.).

  6. Goodman, G. Cleansing and moisturizing in acne patients.American Journal of Clinical Dermatology. (2009).

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary. 

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Meredith Hartle, DO

Meredith Hartle, DO

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