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  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

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Ask the experts: How much moisturizer should I use?

Unlock the art of skin hydration with dermatology provider-approved advice.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Apr 24, 2024 • 15 min read
Medically reviewed by Elise Griffin, PA-C
happy woman applying moisturizer
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Apr 24, 2024 • 15 min read
Medically reviewed by Elise Griffin, PA-C
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 it 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 can 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 3 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 temperature.¹ 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: 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 all over your face.

  • 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.

So, how much moisturizer should I use?

Should you use a pea-sized amount? A dime-sized amount? A nickel-sized amount? A quarter-sized amount? A study showed that water content in the skin increased notably when moisturizers were applied in doses from 1.0 mg/cm2 to 2.0 mg/cm2,⁴ which is roughly the size of a nickel.

This aligns with the general suggestion that you’ll want a nickel-sized amount for your face and a quarter-sized amount for your body. But just like most things related to skincare, there may not be one specific answer. Use the right amount based on your skin needs, the product you’re using, and your preferences.

Also, keep in mind 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,⁵ 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 and windy or hot and 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.⁶ Moisturizing relieves irritated skin and slows water loss.⁷

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.

  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 will prevent you from reaping the product's full benefits, and too much will waste it. Remember Goldilocks? You’re going for “just right,” which is 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 boost your lymphatic system 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 irritate the skin and cause it to lose water. Notice how your skin feels immediately after using a product. Does it feel dry and tight? If so, you may want to toss it.

The Curology moisturizers

At Curology, we understand that hydration is key to achieving and maintaining healthy, glowing skin. That's why we offer two dermatologist-designed moisturizers to cater to different skin needs and preferences.

Gel Moisturizer

Our Gel Moisturizer is your go-to for lightweight daily hydration. It’s great for giving your skin that quick boost of moisture without feeling heavy or greasy. With a buildable formula, it seamlessly fits into your skincare routine, allowing you to layer as needed without clogging your pores.

Key ingredients:

  • Hyaluronic acid: This naturally occurring sugar draws moisture deep into the skin, providing intense hydration.⁸

  • Glycerin: A powerful humectant that traps moisture in the skin’s outer layer, ensuring maximum hydration levels throughout the day.⁹

Cream Moisturizer

For those who need a bit more hydration, our Cream Moisturizer is designed to deeply nourish your skin. Its rich yet non-greasy formula is great for locking in moisture, soothing dry areas, and protecting the skin barrier. It's ideal for nighttime use or for drier skin types that require an extra moisture boost.

Key ingredients:

  • Hyaluronic acid: Just like our Gel Moisturizer, this ingredient ensures your skin stays hydrated and glowing.

  • Shea butter: An exceptional emollient¹⁰ that moisturizes, soothes, and protects the skin while helping it heal from environmental stressors and dryness.¹¹

Both of our moisturizers are formulated with your skin’s health in mind. Whether you prefer the lightweight hydration of our Gel Moisturizer or the rich nourishment of our Cream Moisturizer, we have you covered!

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. Retinoids¹² and AHAs¹³ can leave your skin more sensitive to the sun. Used at night, they can help rejuvenate your skin—just start slowly!

Don’t forget to wash your face

One way 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 Gentle Cleanser) removes dirt, excess oil, and debris. During the day, your face can collect dead skin cells and gunk from environmental pollutants.

The key takeaways

  • A dime-sized amount of moisturizer is typically enough for your face, but feel free to adjust based on your skin’s hydration needs.

  • Applying too much moisturizer can lead to a greasy feel and possibly clogged pores; your skin can only absorb so much.

  • For body moisturization, start with a quarter-sized amount for each limb and adjust as needed, especially for drier areas like elbows and knees.

  • Moisturizer hydrates your skin, locking in moisture to prevent dryness, protect the skin barrier, and make your skin feel smooth and plump.

  • When choosing a moisturizer for sensitive skin, look for gentle, fragrance-free formulas with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid and glycerin.

  • Even oily skin needs hydration; opt for lightweight, non-comedogenic moisturizers that won’t add extra oiliness.

  • Apply moisturizer to damp skin after cleansing to enhance absorption and effectiveness, using gentle patting motions to spread it evenly.

  • We offer two different moisturizers tailored to meet your unique skin type and skincare objectives. Choose between our lighter formula for a gentle touch or our richer formula

    for deep hydration. Explore your options and find your match.

Ready to give moisturizer a try?

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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If you’re ready to try one of our moisturizers and a personalized formula, sign up for a trial.** One of our licensed dermatology providers will evaluate your skin to prescribe a personalized formula*** for your concerns. 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 and windy or hot and 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:

  • 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, 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. However, 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.

How much moisturizer should you put on your face?

Roughly a dime-sized amount is usually just right for covering your face without leaving it feeling heavy or greasy. But it's not a one-size-fits-all; you might need to adjust based on how dry your skin feels. If your skin still feels tight after applying, it's okay to add a little more.

Can you put too much moisturizer?

Yes, layering on too much moisturizer can lead to issues like clogged pores and a shiny complexion, especially if your skin type is already on the oily side. More moisturizer doesn't always mean more hydration. Instead, it could just sit on top of your skin, creating a barrier that prevents it from breathing properly. Stick to the recommended amount and give it time to absorb fully.

How much body moisturizer to use?

Your body's skin is less delicate than your face, but it still loves hydration. Start with a quarter-sized amount of moisturizer for each arm and leg, and adjust as needed. Areas like elbows and knees that tend to be drier might need a bit more love. Remember, a little goes a long way, but don't be afraid to use enough product to cover your skin comfortably.

What does moisturizer do to the skin?

Moisturizer is like a drink of water for your skin, helping to hydrate and lock in moisture. This not only makes your skin feel soft and smooth but also helps to maintain its elasticity and barrier function. Regular moisturizing can help prevent dryness, reduce the appearance of fine lines, and give your skin a healthy, radiant glow.

How do I choose a moisturizer for sensitive skin?

Sensitive skin requires a bit of extra care. Look for moisturizers that are specifically designed to be gentle and free of potential irritants like fragrances, alcohol, and dyes. Ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides are great for providing hydration. Always do a patch test with a new product to ensure it's compatible with your skin.

Should I apply moisturizer to my oily skin?

Definitely! Oily skin can still be dehydrated, and skipping moisturizer might actually encourage your skin to produce more oil. Choose a lightweight, non-comedogenic moisturizer that hydrates without adding extra shine. Gel-based or water-based moisturizers are ideal as they provide necessary moisture without contributing to oiliness.

What is the correct amount of moisturizer to apply to your face daily?

Roughly a nickel-sized dollop is a good baseline, but listen to what your skin tells you. Different areas of your face may have different needs; your cheeks might be drier, requiring a bit more moisturizer, while the T-zone could need less. Adjust the amount you use based on seasonal changes and how your skin feels each day.

Do you apply moisturizer to wet or dry skin?

Applying moisturizer to damp skin right after cleansing is the golden rule for locking in hydration. Damp skin is more receptive to products, allowing the moisturizer to penetrate more effectively. This method helps trap water in the skin, maximizing the moisturizer’s hydrating effects. Just pat your skin lightly with a towel before applying to remove excess water.

• • •

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

  1. Lopez-Ojeda, W., et al. Anatomy, Skin (Integument). StatPearls. (2022, October 17).

  2. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to pick the right moisturizer for your skin. (2022, January 25).

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Sunscreen FAQs. (2024, April 15).

  4. Ueda, Y., et al. Optimal application method of a moisturizer on the basis of skin physiological functions. J Cosmet Dermatol. (July 2022).

  5. Lyons, A.B., et al. Circadian Rhythm and the Skin: A Review of the Literature. Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (September 2019).

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

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

  8. Bravo, B., et al. Benefits of topical hyaluronic acid for skin quality and signs of skin aging: From literature review to clinical evidence. Dermatol Ther. (December 2022).

  9. Chen, H.J., et al. Moisture retention of glycerin solutions with various concentrations: a comparative study. Sci Rep. (2022, June 17).

  10. Hon, K.L., et al. Emollient treatment of atopic dermatitis: latest evidence and clinical considerations. Drugs in Context. (2018, April 17).

  11. Lin, T.K., et al. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. Int J Mol Sci. (2017, December 27).

  12. Rodan, K., et al. Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare. Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open. (2016, December 14).

  13. Karwal, K. and Mukovozov, I. Topical AHA in Dermatology: Formulations, Mechanisms of Action, Efficacy, and Future Perspectives. Cosmetics. (2023, September 19).

Elise Griffin is a certified physician assistant at Curology. She received her Master of Medical Science in physician assistant studies from Nova Southeastern University in Jacksonville, FL.

**Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

***Restrictions apply. See website for full details and important safety information.

• • •
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.
Our thoughts on sun protection: *Sunscreen is only one part of UV protection—cute sun hats and shades are also recommended.
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Curology Team

Elise Griffin, Physician Assistant Curology

Elise Griffin, PA-C

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