My evening routine is a complicated beast, but due to outside demands like sleep and school drop-off times, my morning routines are built for speed. I sometimes use my absolute favorite eye essence and facial serum, but my only morning constants are cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen.
That puts a lot of pressure on my day moisturizer. Of all the gels and lotions and creams in my current stash and rotation, these are the ones I rely on to carry my face through from morning to night.
Affiliate links are marked with an asterisk(*). Some of the products featured in this post were provided by Fifty Shades of Snail sponsors and are marked with double asterisks(**).
What I look for in a day moisturizer
The first thing I need from my day moisturizer, of course, is enough hydration and emollient moisture to keep my skin smooth and comfortable throughout the day. Depending on the weather, my hormones, and the skincare I used the night before, my skin can fluctuate from normal/balanced to moderately dry. I’m fortunate enough to have a moisturizer to fit pretty much every need.
Beyond that basic requirement, my day moisturizer also needs to dry down quickly, so that I can move on to sunscreen with a minimal wait. And it needs to dry down thoroughly–little to no residue is ideal. I don’t care much about residue at night and often actually prefer to wear a heavy occlusive to bed, but moisturizer residue tends to interfere with sunscreen and makeup during the day. I’ve found the best way to avoid sunscreen pilling (for all but the pilliest sunscreens, anyway) is to apply on skin that’s as close to bare as possible.
Therefore, I chose the moisturizers in this list for their ability to:
- Moisturize enough to meet the skin need indicated
- Dry down rapidly
- Leave lasting effects with little to no surface residue
The Best Day Creams for My Skin
Lightest Day Cream Pick: Mizon Water Volume Aqua Gel Cream
Suitable for: Days when I need almost no extra moisture, either because I’m already having an oily day and/or I know the weather will be very humid
Ingredients: Aqua, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, cyclomethicone, titanium dioxide, glycerin, butylene glycol, cetyl ethylhexanoate, sodium hyaluronate, cyclopentasiloxane, dimethicone crosspolymer, cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 dimethicone, sodium chloride, trehalose, natto gum, rosa hybrida flower extract, biosaccharide gum-1, sodium PCA, betaine, sorbitol, glycine, alanine, proline, serine, threonine, arginine, lysine, glutamic acid, iris florentina root extract, viola mandshurica flower extract, aloe barbadensis leaf extract, rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) extract, glacier water, sea water, betula platyphylla japonica juice, hydrolyzed corallina officinalis extract, butyrospermum parkii (shea) butter, mangifera indica (mango) seed butter, olea europaea (olive) fruit oil, helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, oenothera biennis (evening primrose) oil, disodium EDTA, polymethyl methacrylate, CI 77492, CI 77491, CI 77499, phenoxyethanol, methyl paraben, propyl paraben, fragrance
CosDNA analysis (flagged triggers: butylene glycol, olive oil, evening primrose oil)
The absolute lightest of my day cream picks, Mizon Water Volume Aqua Gel Cream is a smooth and watery semi-opaque gel with a faint blue tint and a pleasantly soapy scent. I vastly prefer this scent to the usual Knockoff Cool Water fragrance used in “Aqua”-themed skincare.
The Water Volume Gel Cream spreads smoothly and sinks in at light speed, leaving nothing behind on my face but a smooth surface and a refreshed and hydrated feel.
For me, this product feels closer to a hydrating serum than a serious moisturizer. It’s definitely not enough on days when my skin is feeling needy. It pairs well with heavier sunscreens, however, and those can help compensate. When I’ve had the time or inclination to use a serum or two underneath, the Water Volume Aqua Gel Cream does a fine job of laying down a weightless silicone veil on top to prevent moisture loss. It’s like a light glaze that seals the juices in without overpowering the original flavor of the roast.
As a final bonus, it’s super inexpensive!
Cons: This product barely moisturizes, so it isn’t suitable for dry or very dry skin or days. Some people may dislike the fragrance, which isn’t strong but does take some time to dissipate.
Tips: If your skin is combination, with some areas needing very little moisture, use a heavier moisturizer on the drier patches and dab this on the oilier areas for a perfect balance.
Get it at: NY-based Skin Milk Bar
Light Day Cream Pick: Mizon Snail Recovery Gel Cream
Suitable for: Days when I need only a little extra moisture, either because I’m already having an oily day and/or the weather will be pretty humid
Ingredients: Snail secretion filtrate (74%), butylene glycol, cyclopentasiloxane, glycerin, Bis-PEG-18 methyl ether, dimethylsilane, polysorbate2-, sodium hyaluronate, carbomer, glycosyl trehalose, hydrogenated starch hydrolysate, triethanolamine, dimethicone/vinyl dimethicone crosspolymer, dimethicone, hydroxyethylcellulose, caprylyl glycol, ethylhexylglycerin, sodium polyacrylate, centella asiatica extract, portulaca oleracea extract, camellia sinensis leaf extract, nelumbo nucifera flower extract, betula platylphylla japonica juice, tropolone, copper tripeptide-1, allantoin, panthenol, olea europaea (olive) fruit oil, helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, palmitoyl pentapeptide-4, adenosine, disodium EDTA
CosDNA analysis (flagged triggers: butylene glycol, carbomer, triethanolamine, dimethicone, olive oil)
This more famous cousin to the Water Volume Aqua Gel Cream is a staple in the stables of skin types as diverse as mine and that of my skin opposite, Cat from Snow White and the Asian Pear and the Snailcast. Both my dry-leaning skin and Cat’s clog-prone dehydrated combo-oily skin find uses for the Snail Recovery Gel Cream. It doesn’t hurt that this product contains 74% healing, softening snail secretion filtrate. We like snail.
Though similar in appearance and consistency to the Water Volume Aqua Gel Cream, the scentless Snail Recovery Gel Cream has a bit more body to it. It feels less watery, more siliconey. The more substantial consistency increases the drying time by a minute or two but also leaves my skin feeling slightly more moisturized. The silicones in the product create a nice smooth canvas for sunscreen and makeup.
Like the Water Volume Aqua Gel Cream, the Snail Recovery Gel Cream costs less than my usual KFC meal!
Cons: The less watery formulation means that the Snail Recovery Gel Cream is actually slightly less hydrating than the Water Volume Aqua Gel Cream–it’s better at sealing in other skincare or one’s own natural hydration but won’t plump much on its own.
Tips: The healing properties of snail mucin make this a versatile soothing product. I often use it when I’m starting a breakout: it helps my spots shrink down and go away faster, especially when used in conjunction with COSRX Natural BHA Skin Returning A-Sol. I also dab it on very minor wounds like cuts and scrapes. My son asks for this when he has small booboos. (This is not parenting or medical advice.)
Get it at: Amazon*
Medium Day Cream Pick: Naruko Dermalane 1000-Molecule Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Cream**
Suitable for: Days when my skin needs a balanced dose of hydration and emollient moisturization
Ingredients: Purified water, cyclomethicone, propanediol (zemea propanediol), butylene glycol, glycerin, dicaprylyl carbonate, cetyl dimethicone, silica, cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 dimethicone, sodium chloride, tocopheryl acetate, phenoxyethanol, phytosteryl/octyldodecyl lauroyl glutamate, crambe abyssinica seed oil, glycosyl trehalose, panthenol, lactobacillus/olea europaea (olive) leaf ferment extract, hydrogenated starch hydrolysate, saccharide isomerate, sodium hyaluronate, polyquaternium-51, alcohol denat., iodopropynyl butylcarbamate, saccharomyces/copper ferment, saccharomyces/iron ferment, saccharomyces/magnesium ferment, saccharomyces/silicon ferment, saccharomyces/zinc ferment, sodium PCA, sorbitol, terminalia ferdinandiana fruit extract, trehalose, urea, leuconostoc/radish root ferment filtrate, citric acid, sodium citrate
CosDNA analysis (flagged triggers: butylene glycol, alcohol denat.)
I have a serious, serious obsession with the feel of this moisturizer. Out of the jar, it has a soft but almost waxy look and feel and a ton of slip. It’s made to have a “water drop” effect, where applying it brings out tiny but visible droplets of moisture on skin, and it melts like butter into my face, only without any greasy feel whatsoever. Water butter. It’s like water butter.
The hydrating properties of the 1000-Molecule Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Cream impress, too. As it absorbs, it quenches and plumps up my skin noticeably. It also holds the hydration in strongly enough that I can use this under all but my most drying sunscreens without problems. The occlusive film it leaves is nearly imperceptible for me but surprisingly effective.
I’ve almost used up my tub, which is the best endorsement I can give to any product, considering how many I have to choose from.
Finish: Silky; slightly dewy
Cons: I find I need a lot of product at a time, so the jar doesn’t last as long as some other comparably sized products may. Some people may also be bothered by the inclusion of alcohol denat. in the ingredients. Personally, I don’t find alcohol problematic here and am guessing the actual amount is very low.
Tips: You know how some sunscreens are so mattifying that they can end up sucking the life out of your face? I love using this moisturizer and my next three picks under products like that–the slight dewiness helps to bring some dimension and glow back, without adding oiliness.
Get it at: Naruko US**
Medium-heavy Day Cream Pick: Amorepacific The Essential Creme Fluid**
Suitable for: Days when I need a pretty substantial emollient moisturizer, either due to skin dryness or arid weather
Ingredients: Water, hydrogenated poly (C6-14 olefin), propanediol, glycerin, dimethicone, stearic acid, palmitic acid, camellia sinensis leaf extract, camellia sinensis seed oil, arginine, butylene glycol, glyceryl stearate, cetearyl alcohol, glyceryl caprylate, hydroxypropyl starch phosphate, hydrogenated lecithin, caprylic/capric triglyceride, pentaerythrityl tetra-di-t-butyl hydroxyhydrocinnamate, bis-diglyceryl polyacyladipate-2, caprylyl glycol, carbomer, tocopherol, disodium EDTA, ethylhexylglycerin, 1,2-hexanediol, fragrance
CosDNA analysis (flagged triggers: dimethicone, stearic acid, palmitic acid, butylene glycol, cetearyl alcohol, carbomer, tocopherol)
I and the other Snailcast members were gifted bottles of this product when we visited the Sulwhasoo/Amorepacific NYC headquarters, and I started using mine right away because, well, a new and shiny product seemed a great way to complement the new and shiny experience of being in NYC with my beautyfriends! I’ve been using the Essential Creme Fluid almost daily since then.
It sinks in as fast as a serum, but this deceptively thin emulsion packs some pretty serious moisture for my skin. One layer smoothed onto bare skin gives me plenty of smoothness, softness, and glow on dry-leaning days, without the heaviness or oily film that other similarly moisturizing products often leave behind. Basically, thorough moisturization without a greasy trade-off.
The Essential Creme Fluid is also the least fragranced Amorepacific product I’ve tried, a plus for those who dislike the brand’s sometimes overpowering fragrance. To me, the scent is quite subtle and matches the soft milky appearance of the product.
There may be other skin benefits to long-term use of this product. Amorepacific claims that each bottle contains 150 baby green tea leaves (ostensibly picked with the left hands of scientists tending the Amorepacific green tea fields) for antioxidant skin damage protection. Not really the main draw of this for me, though. I need my moisturizers to moisturize. Anything else is a side benefit.
Finish: Satiny without oiliness
Cons: It is really expensive. I’m not the only one who thinks this luxurious moisturizer is a worthy splurge, though–Liah Yoo is a fan too (partly my fault). Dehydrated skin (lacking in water, as opposed to dry skin, which is lacking in oil) may find this doesn’t hydrate enough.
Get it at: Amorepacific US* (check the coupon code widget in the sidebar for my code and current special gift)
Confession: This is going to make me sound like the world’s most excessively #blessed A-Sol, but sometimes I use the Essential Creme Fluid on my hands. My hands are usually a disaster zone. The Essential Creme Fluid keeps them soft, temporarily takes a few years off their appearance, and prevents them from shriveling up for longer than many of my hand creams, without feeling like I have anything on my hands.
Heaviest Day Cream Pick: Amorepacific Moisture Bound Refreshing Hydra-Gel**
Suitable for: Days when I need a comprehensive fully hydrating, tangibly moisture-holding moisturizer.
Ingredients: Phyllostachis bambusoides juice, butylene glycol, alcohol, hydrogenated polyisobutene, cyclopentasiloxane, glycerin, biosaccharide gum-1, cyclohexasiloxane, dimethicone, cetearyl alcohol, trehalose, camellia sinensis leaf extract, opuntia coccinellifera fruit extract, glycine soja (soybean) seed extract, nelumbo nucifera flower extract, panax ginseng root extract, gingko biloba leaf extract, zingiber officinale (ginger) root extract, glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) root extract, xylitol, anhydroxylitol, 1,2-hexanediol, glyceryl stearate, sodium polyacrylate, sucrose stearate, silica, ethylhexylglycerin, xylitylglucoside, aqua, caprylyl glycol, polysilicone-11, propylene glycol, PEG-40 stearate, PEG-5 rapeseed sterol, PPG-5-laureth-5, hydrogenated lecithin, hydrogenated polydecene, carbomer, tromethamine, disodium EDTA, phenoxyethanol, fragrance, blue 1 (CI 42090)
CosDNA analysis (flagged triggers: butylene glycol, dimethicone, cetearyl alcohol, carbomer; there’s alcohol in here as well)
Wait. What? My favorite “heavy” day cream is a product called…”Refreshing Hydra-Gel”? That happens to be oil-free? And contains alcohol? How does that even work?
Maybe it’s the bamboo sap (phyllostachis bambusoides juice) that Amorepacific uses here in place of water for the product base. Along with green tea, bamboo is one of the brand’s signature ingredients, used for its supposed superior humectant hydrating abilities and antioxidant content.
I haven’t found a ton of evidence to support bamboo sap as a water replacement in skincare, but this patent claims a substantial increase in moisture in skin treated with a bamboo sap composition. More interestingly, the same patent claims that bamboo sap acts as a cell-communicating ingredient that actually encourages skin to produce more of its own Natural Moisturizing Factors (NMFs) over time.
Anecdotally? I approve. In my experience, this dense, silky blue gel cream is remarkably moisturizing. All on its own, it makes my skin look and feel fantastically bouncy and nourished, as if I’ve given it a full multilayered routine, and the effect lasts all day and under even the most “oil-controlling” (read: extra drying) sunscreens. I also find it slightly reduces redness and calms my skin overall, more than any other day cream on this list.
I haven’t noticed an increase in my skin’s own ability to produce moisture, but I don’t use this daily due to my desire to conserve it and also experience other products. Again, I want my moisturizers to moisturize–the other stuff is just a potential bonus. Like when my meat comes with delicious sides.
Finish: Dewy and full of life
Cons: Even more expensive than the Essential Creme Fluid. Highly fragranced; the scent is the same flowery-powdery signature AP scent used in products like the Treatment Enzyme Peel. I like the fragrance now because I associate it with products my skin enjoys. It came on quite strong the first few times I used it, though.
Tips: If you have the time for one extra step, layering this over a hydrating toner or booster product seems to amplify the hydrating effect disproportionately.
Get it at: Amorepacific US* (check the coupon code widget in the sidebar for my code and current special gift)
Bonus round: Hyggee Balance One Step Facial Essence, a Routine in a Bottle
For the final entry in this list of awesome daytime moisturizers, I have to give a shout out to the utterly unique Hyygee Balance One Step Facial Essence.
I gave first impressions of this product (with full ingredients and CosDNA link) some time ago. My feelings about it haven’t changed since then. This well balanced and really cool liquid combines a long drink of hydration with a fine layer of glow-promoting oil. It takes a bit longer to settle into my skin than the other products on this list, but still not very long at all, and it feels great on normal and dry days.
Finish: Extra glowy
Cons: I love the green herbal scent of the Hyggee Balance, but some may find it too scented. Some may also find the oil component sits a little too heavily on skin for day, though this isn’t an issue for my skin, which drinks up everything it can.
Tip: Shake well to mix the water and oil components before dispensing. Try not to lose too many minutes gazing at the big oil bubbles rising back up to the surface afterwards.
Hyggee has reformulated the Balance One Step Facial Essence. I’m pretty wary of reformulations until I try them and they prove my skepticism wrong; for now, you can still pick up the original formula from the last of Beautibi’s stock here. (Check the coupon code section in the sidebar for my discount code and new shopper referral link.)
With the young master’s summer break coming up, I’ll soon have time for more extensive morning routines than I do right now. At this point, though, I’ve gotten pretty spoiled by my day moisturizer favorites, so I have a feeling I’ll be sticking to my super short daytime skincare most of the time. If I have products that can replace a longer routine without sacrifice, I’m happy to use them.