Best Cheap Moisturizers

Price Range

$4 - $10


$10 - $17


$17 and up

High End

Selecting a cheap moisturizer that best suits your skin type can be arduous, and if you don't shop wisely, can cost you a pretty penny. Department store moisturizers, for example, sell for as much as $700. But the quest for your Holy Grail cheap moisturizer need not force you to choose between hydrating your skin and paying your rent. Our research indicates that cheap drugstore moisturizers are as effective as costly department store brands.

Cheap Moisturizer Buying Guide

In a side by side comparison of the ingredients, we found that many cheap moisturizers include the same active ingredients, antioxidants, and sun protection factor as pricey day creams and lotions. When it comes to budget-friendly moisturizers, a good starting price is about $4, but be prepared to spend up to $20. The average price point for department store or specialty brand moisturizers is $40-$75.

Why is there such a large gap between the price of cheap moisturizers and upscale alternatives? Name brand and product placement is a major factor. Product packaging is also a key reason. A fancy brand-name moisturizer, packaged in a sleek, shiny, glass pressurized pump that's sold at the counter of say, Neiman Marcus, costs considerably more than a mass market product made with similar ingredients packed in a plastic tub and stocked on the shelves of Walmart. Another contributing factor is sales staff (emphasis on the word sales). You pay dearly for the advice and guidance of a sales professional, who in many cases is not a licensed skin care expert, but rather a commissioned sales person. Such personalized assistance (and sales spiel) is generally not available at the drugstore.

For many consumers, even those who follow the most basic of skin care regimens, applying moisturizer is essential. Moisturizers, or day creams as they're commonly called, help to keep skin hydrated, supple, and protected. Many moisturizers on the market feature a plethora of ingredients intended to gradually, and with continual usage, improve your skin's appearance. In other words, these skin creams and lotions promise to plump, firm, lift, tighten, reduce, diminish, mattify, and so on. To back up their claims, facial moisturizers are formulated with potent antioxidants and peptides that are supposed to keep your skin healthy and vibrant.

The best cheap moisturizer for your skin type depends on the condition of your skin. Is your skin more mature and beginning to show signs of aging? Do you have sensitive skin that reddens easily? Are you prone to break outs? Is your skin oily or excessively dry? Choosing a cheap day cream that addresses your specific skin care needs is vital. The wrong formula can wreak havoc on your skin. The right cheap moisturizer requires a delicate balance of key active ingredients and no-frills packaging.

Skin Type Formulas.

Moisturizers are most effective when partnered with a solid skin care regimen. You may want to begin with a gentle cleanser. Some consumers opt to apply toner and serum after cleansing. Moisturizer is generally the last step. The most basic of day creams -- that is, cheap moisturizers -- usually contain some type of emollient to soften the skin; common emollients include lanolin, mineral oil, and glycerin. Hyaluronic acid is a commonly used natural ingredient; it is a humectant, which helps increase the skin's moisture level by attracting water to the skin.

Individuals with acne-prone or sensitive skin often struggle to find cheap moisturizers that don't make the condition worse. Our research suggests that avoiding moisturizers with harsh active ingredients is your best bet. Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer (starting at $9 for 4 oz.) is recommended by dermatologists because it moisturizes sensitive/acneic skin without causing further irritation. The formula is pure and simple, with basic ingredients like water and glycerin, is fragrance-free and does not clog pores (i.e. it is non-comedogenic). Although this cheap moisturizer is specially formulated for sensitive skin, Cetaphil works well for all skin types. Olay Active Hydrating Cream (starting at $6 for 2 oz.) is another all-around cheap moisturizer that is particularly well-suited to users with acne-prone skin. An oil-free moisturizer whose formula also features water and glycerin, Olay Active Hydrating Cream helps minimize shine on users' skin and it's non-comedogenic.

Skin that's starting to show signs of aging requires special attention. Continuous hydration and restorative properties are key for mature skin. Although a bit out of the Cheapism price range, Aveeno Active Naturals Positively Ageless Daily Moisturizer SPF30 (starting at $18 for 2.5 oz.) features an anti-aging formula that includes ingredients such as avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, and oxybenzone, which help shield the outer layers of your skin from further sun damage. The "natural" complex in this Aveeno product includes ingredients like soy, shitake mushrooms, oats, lavender, ylang-ylang, chamomile, and wheat, which all help bring out the skin's natural health and beauty. Don't be put off by Aveeno Active Naturals' slightly upscale packaging (the dispenser is a pressurized pump, which doesn't waste a lick of product) because this day cream actually has the features and delivers the benefits of a high-end product at a frugalista price. Discount shoppers with mature skin might prefer St. Ives Fresh Skin Collagen Elastin Moisturizer (starting at $18 for 2.5 oz.). This super-cheap day cream is a non-comedogenic hydrator with collagen and elastin proteins that should improve the appearance and feel of your skin.

Consumers with excessively oily skin often underestimate the need for moisturizer. The thinking is that if the skin is already oily, why add more moisture? But this is a huge mistake. All skin, regardless of skin type, requires moisture. It sounds counter-intuitive, but you should use moisturizer even if you have super-oily skin. The challenge, then, is finding a cheap moisturizer that's hydrating, oil-free, and protects without creating an oil slick. Clean & Clear Oil Free Dual Action Moisturizer (starting at $6.50 for 4 oz.) is predominately marketed to teens and young adults with mild acne, but moisturizer reviews on Makeup Alley note that the product works well for consumers ages 16-45+. Women with mature but oily skin point out that the amount of oil-controlling salicylic acid (often used to treat acne and exfoliate skin) in Clean & Clear is minimal and doesn't irritate or dry out your skin.

Dry skin begs to be hydrated, especially after it's been washed. It's tempting to slather on any old moisturizer, but dry-skin types should take care to use a product that strikes a balance between intense moisture and refined ingredients that don't clog pores. Pond's Dry Skin Cream (starting at $3 for 6.5 oz.) contains ingredients like water, mineral oil, and petrolatum that soothe and soften dehydrated skin. Users report that this cheap day cream also has a pleasant scent and is hypo-allergenic. Jergens All Purpose Face Cream (starting at $5 for 15 oz.) is a multitasker for individuals with dry skin. The mineral oil and beeswax-based formula does double duty as a makeup removing cleanser and rich moisturizer. If you have sensitive skin, though, beware -- the mineral oil base can irritate. An oil-free alternative is Olay Active Hydrating Cream, a cheap day cream that contains petrolatum and soothes dry skin.

Moisturizer with SPF.

If you plan to use cheap moisturizer during the day, the sun protection factor (SPF) is critical. SPF protects the skin against harmful rays from the sun: ultraviolet A (UVA) rays penetrate deeply and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays burn, and together they can cause skin cancer, sun damage, and premature aging. All sunscreens are labeled with a sun protection factor number: an SPF 15 product filters out more than 93% of the UVB in sunlight, allowing about 7% penetration of the sun's rays; an SPF 30 filters out 97%, allowing about 3% penetration. Look for a product with a minimum SPF of 15 to protect against the UVB rays; moisturizer/sunscreen combos labeled broad-spectrum help protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Alba Botanica Full Spectrum UVA UVB Sun Protection (starting at $8 for 4 oz.) is an organic formula that contains herbs, natural moisturizers, vitamin antioxidants, and lavender, and boasts SPF 45 (an SPF 30 version is available for $6).

Noncomedogenic Moisturizers.

Simply put, noncomedogenic products do not clog your pores. This is especially important for people with sensitive or acne-prone skin. Ingredients like coconut oil and cocoa butter are believed to have clogging characteristics and should be avoided; ingredients like glycerin, avocado oil, and aloe vera are unlikely to clog your pores. Many cheap moisturizers, including Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer, Olay Active Hydrating Cream, and Aveeno Active Naturals, are noncomedogenic, so finding a low-cost product that suits your skin is relatively easy.

Hypoallergenic Moisturizers.

The term hypoallergenic means the product is unlikely to trigger an allergic reaction. Cheap moisturizers labeled hypoallergenic probably won't irritate your skin and are widely available in the cheap day creams market. Popular brands like Nivea, Olay, and Eucerin all offer cheap hypoallergenic moisturizers with prices in the neighborhood of $10 or less.


With respect to fragrance, consumers usually have strong preferences that can affect their decision to buy a cheap or pricey moisturizer. Day creams scents range from fragrance-free to natural smell to chemical, and manufacturers often add fragrance to cover up a chemical smell that consumers might find unpleasant. Natural fragrances may come from lavender or vanilla bean, although some cheap moisturizers may have a natural scent that is actually derived from a chemical. If a cheap moisturizer is labeled fragrance-free or unscented, this generally means it contains no fragrance. Note, however, that the Food and Drug Administration has no definition for the term fragrance-free. Moreover, because fragrances are considered proprietary trade secrets, the government does not require companies to include the fragrance composition as part of a moisturizer's ingredient list.

Moisturizer Reviews

Based on a comparison of ingredients and moisturizer reviews, we found that low-priced moisturizers perform as well as, if not better than, expensive department store brands. Indeed, consumers are quite satisfied with their purchases and consider cheap day creams a good alternative to the upscale competition. We didn't find any products that are roundly panned nor any that should be completely avoided.


No matter what type of skin you have, you can find an inexpensive moisturizer that delivers. Moisturizer reviews on say Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer is an adequate hydrator for sensitive skin and considered a good buy for the price. Users comment that the formula is light and suitable for most skin types, while dermatologists favor Cetaphil because it hydrates sensitive/acneic skin without worsening the skin's underlying condition. Although one user posting a review on Amazon complains that Cetaphil smells peculiar and feels oily, other users say it's a good undercoat for makeup and works best with its companion facial cleanser.

Reviews of Aveeno Active Naturals are glowing, despite its not-quite-cheap price. Users rave about the effective anti-aging formula and smooth balmy feel in moisturizer reviews on, although a handful of critics say it's a bit greasy and suffocates the skin. Reviews on Total Beauty give this budget moisturizer high marks, particularly for the high SPF and rich creamy consistency that users say is ideal for nourishing and protecting mature skin. The cheaper St. Ives Fresh Skin Collagen Elastin likes earns appreciative comments in day cream reviews on, where consumers support product claims to smooth and firm skin, soften fine lines, and minimize wrinkles. Although the product is marketed as an anti-aging moisturizer, extensive user reviews suggest that it's also appropriate for acne-prone, sensitive, normal, and "everything" skin.

For people with oily skin, Olay Active Hydrating Cream, is a standout. It keeps skin plump and moist without feeling greasy, according to moisturizer reviews on and Makeup Alley. For the price, say users posting on Amazon, Olay Active Hydrating Cream earns praise for its efficacy in moisturizing, repairing, and improving the skin's overall tone and texture. Clean & Clear Oil Free is another good inexpensive moisturizer for oily skin. According to moisturizer reviews on, Clean & Clear soothes, smoothes, hydrates, and feels cool on your face. Some younger users report it doesn't do much for acne but others say it helps relieve mild adult acne.

An effective remedy for parched, dry skin is Ponds Dry Skin Cream, according to moisturizer reviews by consumers on Overstock Drugstore. Users appreciate the increased hydration, pleasant scent, softening effects, and hypoallergenic formula. Moisturizer reviews on Epinions also note that Ponds Dry Skin Cream has a pleasant scent and does not irritate the skin. This classic day cream earns similar accolades on the Walgreens website, where users also express appreciation for the affordable price.

Bottom line: Basically, you can't go wrong with a low-priced day cream. Every product we've researched, including those on our list , has its partisans and its detractors. The key is finding the one that's right for you. Even if your skin type matches the performance claims of a given moisturizer, it may not have the desired effect on your skin. So, experiment a bit. The virtue of shopping in a department or specialty store is the ability to test the product. If you find one you like, take note of the ingredients and then compare the list against the cheaper drugstore varieties. Where there's a lot of overlap, you can feel fairly confident that you'll get the same favorable results. If you know your skin type and do your homework, selecting a cheap moisturizer will be a smooth process.

Maralyn Edid

Maralyn is a veteran reporter, writer, researcher, and editor. From her early years at Crain's Chicago Business and the Detroit bureau of Business Week, then on to a long-term stint at Cornell University's ILR School and now at, Maralyn has been -- and remains -- committed to getting the story straight. That means a devotion to balance, to thorough investigation, and to making sense of diverse ideas and facts. Maralyn earned a Master's in Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell, a Master's in Journalism at University of California-Berkeley, and a B.A. at Tufts. Maralyn resides in New York City.

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