There are many excellent moisturizers that are available over-the-counter today. Ideal moisturizers contain three types of ingredients: an occlusive, a humectant and an emollient. Occlusive ingredients such as petrolatum, silicone or mineral oil slow the evaporation of water from the skin. Humectants such as glycerin, urea, hyaluronic acid and propylene glycol draw water from the deeper layer of the skin to hydrate the epidermis (the top layer). Finally, emollients such as propylene glycol and silicone "fill the crevices" between dead skin cells to make the skin smooth and soft.
In addition to the above ingredients, I often recommend choosing a moisturizer that contains ceramides. Ceramides are naturally occurring lipids (fats) that are a major part of the stratum corneum (the layer of skin cells that sit on top of the epidermis before they shed).Ceramides serve as the "glue" that hold's the skin's surface cells together and they help keep moisture in the skin. Skin that is dry and irritated or affected by eczema frequently has low levels of ceramides, as is skin that is aged. Replacing these fats may contribute to repair of the "skin barrier" and to the maintenance of healthy skin.
In reality there isn't one perfect moisturizer...there are many excellent choices. The best moisturizer is the one that you will use every day. If a product is too greasy or its smell doesn't appeal to you it isn't the right product for you because you may not use it. In general, moisturizers that are creams are more effective than those that are lotions; consider using a cream in the winter and fall and a lotion in the spring and summer.
All moisturizers work best when applied to damp skin, so apply your moisturizer liberally shortly after you take a bath or shower. Other measures that can minimize dry skin include avoiding hot baths or showers, avoiding bar soaps (using a liquid cleanser instead of soap), and using a humidifier in your home.