5 Signs You Could Be Using the Wrong Moisturizer

It could be time for a change.

In This Article
View All
In This Article
Skin Care Routine
Keep skin soft with a daily moisturizer. Photo: Laura Doss/Corbis

Skincare routines vary for everyone, but most regimens involve a moisturizer. If you're using a product (and spending money on it) more than once a day, you want to be confident that it's helping your skin, not hurting it. If you've been noticing changes in your skin — even if you've been following the same skincare regimen for decades — you may need to change up your moisturizer. However, don't try to fix these issues on your own. Your best move is to see a dermatologist if you're experiencing skin abnormalities, including the ones below.

Know your skin type. Your skin changes with seasons, geographic location, and unfortunately, age. Most often, people's skin will become drier as they age, so even if the skincare system made for "oily" or "normal" skin has worked your whole life, you will probably have to switch out your products over the years. On that note, don't forget that skincare products expire, too. You shouldn't hold onto a moisturizer longer than a year or if it has any changes in texture, color, or smell.

Think about the weather. When picking a moisturizer, be sure to remember the weather outside. If it's hot and muggy in the summer, you'll want to go with a lighter formula. When winter comes around, your dried-out skin will need more hydration.

"In the winter, with the humidity down and the heaters on, people's skin gets really dry, so that's when you want to use a thicker moisturizer," said Dr. B. Fred Bodie of USA Health Dermatology in Mobile, Alabama.

Protect from the sun. Regardless of the season, don't forget to buy a moisturizer with SPF. Protecting the skin on your face from sun damage is important to your health and aging process, and that's one thing that will never change.

Dr. Rutledge Forney of Dermatology Affiliates in Atlanta, Georgia, said she recommends her patients use two different moisturizers. "In the morning, a moisturizer should have an SPF of at least 30 and be applied to the face, neck, and any exposed chest," Dr. Forney said. "At night, skip the SPF and, if they can tolerate a light retinol, I urge them to use a moisturizer with retinol."

But no worries if your skin is sensitive to retinol. "If they can't tolerate any retinol, then a moisturizer with an antioxidant such as resveratrol (the helpful part of wine without the calories!), green tea, or vitamin C will enhance the effects of the nighttime treatment," Dr. Forney said. Cheers to resveratrol!

Now that you've got the basics, here are some warning signs that you're using the wrong moisturizer and tips for how to prevent and fix them:

1. Rashes/Redness

There are different reasons you might be experiencing a rash or redness, and one may simply be that you have sensitive skin. As always, seek a dermatologist's opinion to discover the cause. You may have a rash because you're allergic to an ingredient in your moisturizer, or you need to switch from a fragrant formula to one that's fragrance-free.

"Mild, bland moisturizers are best for this category of patients. Remember, simplicity is the key," said Dr. Corey L. Hartman, founder and medical director of the Skin Wellness Center of Alabama in Birmingham, Alabama, and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Alabama School of Medicine. "While it is easy to be enticed by products that boast retinol and hydroxy acids that are great for anti-aging, these ingredients are notoriously irritating and may not be best for sensitive skin types."

If you're seeing a red scaly rash near your eyebrows and both sides of your nose, you might be experiencing seborrheic dermatitis, which is like "dandruff of the face," said Dr. Bodie. Dr. Bodie said people assume seborrheic dermatitis is just dryness, so they over-moisturize to heal it. Moisturizing will help the condition, but there are a few things you should do first.

"Use dandruff shampoo, plus add miconazole cream to your nighttime moisture routine," Dr. Bodie said.

A common condition called rosacea could also be the cause of your redness. Even if your skin feels oily with rosacea, you should still apply a certain kind of moisturizer.

"Even though skin is oily, rosacea improves by decreasing transepidermal water loss due to breaks in the skin by replenishing ceramides in the skin," Dr. Bodie said. "One does this by applying ceramide-containing moisturizers."

One popular ceramide-containing moisturizer is CeraVe, which is light and gentle (and affordable).

2. Dryness

If your skin is still extremely dry after applying moisturizer, it's time for an update. For some, a feeling of tightness in the skin is the first sign of dryness, and makeup that looks "cracked" is another cue. Peeling or dry spots that are darker in color than the rest of your face are major signs that your skin needs some moisturizing love as soon as possible.

Although you should gently (gently!) exfoliate to eliminate dead and peeling skin caused by dryness, be sure you're not exfoliating too much, which can contribute to continued dryness.

"Extremely dry skin or skin that is irritated by moisturizers can be helped by using mineral oil to take off makeup," Dr. Bodie said. "Use Vaseline sparingly to moisturize around eyes and mineral oil sparingly to moisturize your face."

Dr. Bodie said this tactic helps "get the skin barrier back" by sealing water in and restoring your skin after it's been stripped by alcohol and preservatives in some beauty and skincare products. By taking your makeup off with mineral oil and moisturizing with a little Vaseline around the eyes and mineral oil on the face for a few weeks, the texture of your skin will return to its normal, hydrated state.

3. Acne

"If your skin is prone to acne, you should try a lighter moisturizer," Dr. Hartman said. "Instead of a cream, try a serum or hydrating gel that contains hyaluronic acid." Although your instinct may be to "dry out" your acne, your skin needs consistency in daily care. If you're experiencing breakouts, look for lightweight moisturizers, serums or gels that are water-based rather than oil-based.

"Heavier lotions and creams can worsen congestion of pores and lead to increased oil production that can exacerbate acne breakouts," Dr. Hartman said. "The label should say oil-free or non-comedogenic to be sure."

4. Oiliness

"If you notice that throughout the morning, your skin is glowing a little too much, it may be the moisturizer that is giving you too much shine," Dr. Hartman said. "This is where a moisturizer containing glycolic or salicylic acid may come in handy to counteract those overactive oil glands and keep the oil at bay."

You should be using water-based rather than oil-based moisturizers for oily skin as well.

5. Bumps

If you're seeing little clusters of white bumps on your face, they're not acne. These white bumps are called milia, and even though you shouldn't be alarmed, you should see a dermatologist to help you get your skin back on track. Don't try to "pop" milia yourself. "The biggest side effect of using the wrong moisturizer is developing milia, little hard white bumps on the face in random areas," said Dr. Forney. "This is very common if [you're] using a body moisturizer on the face but can also happen with moisturizers which are too heavy."

The skin on your face is more sensitive than other parts of the body, so you should always use products that specify they are for the face. Using body lotion on your face is never a good idea.

Hopefully these warning signs that you're using the wrong moisturizer will cause you to reevaluate or update your skincare routine, but remember to always see a dermatologist for a professional opinion if you notice changes in your skin.

Was this page helpful?
Southern Living is committed to using high-quality, reputable sources to support the facts in our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we fact check our content for accuracy.
  1. Baldwin H, Alexis AF, Andriessen A, et al. Evidence of barrier deficiency in rosacea and the importance of integrating OTC skincare products into treatment regimens. J Drugs Dermatol. 2021;20(4):384-392. doi:10.36849/JDD.2021.5861

Related Articles