Why are there so many different moisturizers? Face, body, eye, hand, foot, day, night–there is a separate cream for just about every part of the body and time of day. At Sephora alone, there are 828 products in the “Moisturizers” category. Squalane, collagen, ceramides, retinol, sodium hyaluronate, hyaluronic acid. I can’t even keep up with all the different ingredients out there anymore. Let’s not even get into oils, essences, and serums. Yeesh. That is a whole other post.
In a quest for a clean but effective moisturizer, I recently tried five popular Sephora moisturizers that I think are best for use at night because they are rather rich and hydrating and may be a little heavy for first thing in the morning. In the process, I discovered the reason everyone says you need to have separate day and night moisturizers: you may want more hydration at night, and night creams tend to have ingredients marketed as beneficial to the skin in some way beyond simply creating a moisture barrier to seal hydration in. Rejuvenating, restorative, reducing fine lines and wrinkles, anti-aging–these are all common terms that seem to make a routine appearance on night cream products.
The problem is I’ve used some longer and more often than others so it’s not a perfect comparison. I also have a greater familiarity to Shiseido since this brand has been around longer than the others in this review. In any case, I’ll first tell you how much experience I have with each product and my justification for the ranking. There are so many factors that could affect your experience with a product like this so know that this is just my take, as someone that has skin as dry as a desert and has decided to do something about it, and that your experience may be different (please let me know in the comments if it is!).
Then, I’ll rank the products in a list starting with my least preferred as #1 and progressing to most preferred as #4, and provide a cost in USD per ounce for each based on current Sephora pricing.
Drunk Elephant Protini v Lala
I did a side by side comparison of these on each half of my face, and preferred the Lala, but I received much more product of the Protini cream so have used that one more. I only used the Lala for maybe three days compared to a month for the Protini. To me, the Protini felt slightly–yet noticeably–heavier, and possibly greasier, whereas the Lala felt lighter weight and less greasy.
Drunk Elephant says the Protini, formulated to pH 4, relies on proteins and nutrients to address:
- Lines and wrinkles,
- Loss of firmness and elasticity,
- Uneven texture, and
- Signs of sun-damage.
The Lala is supposed to address the first three issues above via a cocktail of plant-derived oils and is formulated to pH 5.5. The six “rare African oils” they market are tea seed oil–ingredient #5, melded with fermented plant oils–and baobab seed oil, watermelon seed oil, passionfruit seed oil, mongogo kernel oil, and marula oil, ingredients #11-15.
I guess they use the descriptor “African” botanically pretty loosely since last time I checked, tea originates in Asia and passionfruit originates in South America. These two crops certainly are grown on the African continent, but their marketing misleadingly implies that all six oils originate there. They should really say “four African oils” because the species aren’t botanically rare either. Note the commercial watermelon was found to originate elsewhere, however an ancient type species of the species they name in the ingredients was found to not be the commercial watermelon as previously thought and instead is probably endemic to Africa (source).
They say DE products are free of essential oils, drying alcohols (their products sometimes do contain alcohols that I guess are not drying?), silicones, chemical screens, fragrance/dyes, and SLS, which they believe are “at the root of almost every skin issue we see.”
They are both cruelty free and free of parabens and silicones.
Biossance Squalane + Omega Repair Cream v Drunk Elephant Protini
I did a side by side comparison of these two as well. I would have liked to compare the Biossance against the Lala, but didn’t have enough product for that. Initially I preferred the Biossance as soon as both were on my skin. It felt richer and more hydrating. After using Biossance for about a month at night, sometimes it feels a little itchy or too heavy (I’m guessing because of the shea), but not greasy. I don’t know about the rumor I heard that squalane helps fight acne, but this product definitely combats dry skin, and is the least expensive product on this list. This surprised me because the packaging seems like it would cost more than DE’s. Using the Biossance at night and the lighter Drunk Elephant Lala moisturizer in the morning has worked out okay.
Biossance says their squalane is plant-derived from sugar cane, and squalane is ingredient #2 after water. They claim this product addresses the same first three issues listed above that the other two claim to do by facilitating a moisture barrier and providing nourishment (their word) from squalane, omega fatty acids, ceramides, and plant sterols. The packaging is cleverly designed and also made out of sugar cane–no trees involved there.
While this product relies on some pretty common and less exciting ingredients, including Glycerin, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Shea Butter, and Sodium Hyaluronate (Drunk Elephant Lala also has Glycerin and Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride in the first few ingredients, and Glycerin is the second ingredient of Protini), the ingredient list is the shortest of all products reviewed here, there are no parabens or silicones, and it is also cruelty free.
Everything about this product from the packaging to its Berkeley malaria lab origin suggests thoughtful innovation and stellar marketing.
Shiseido Benefiance Wrinkle Resist 24 Night Cream,
ALGENIST Genius Sleeping Collagen, and
ALGENIST GENIUS Ultimate Anti-Aging Cream
I’ve probably used Biossance more than either of these at this point. I’ve only tried the ALGENIST Sleeping Collagen and the GENIUS Ultimate Anti-Aging Cream collectively for maybe a week or less, and maybe have used the Shiseido for a couple of weeks to a month. But all of this happened six months to a year ago and wasn’t a side by side comparison. This is why I can’t separate these into a ranking.
They both felt incredibly lightweight, hydrating, not irritating, and seemed to absorb quickly. Although it’s been probably over six months since I’ve used either of these products, I want to say that both the Shiseido and ALGENIST products had a cooling effect when applied that the Biossance and Drunk Elephant products do not. This might be the reason I prefer them.
Shiseido says the Benefiance night cream addresses the first two issues on the list above, relying on mukurossi, chlorella, and gambir extracts to soften existing fine lines, hydroxyproline to improve firmness by supporting collagen production, and super bio-hyaluronic acid N to plump.
Shiseido generally has the highest EWG score (a lower score is better) of all the brands in this review, but in my experience they consistently turn out products that work for at least their most basic intended function (e.g., moisturizer, sunscreen, but not evaluating more dubious marketing claims to revitalize or renew or anything like that), in aesthetically pleasing packaging, with pleasant fragrances that make using them enjoyable.
ALGENIST has a similar origin story to Biossance–San Francisco based, founded by an algae biofuel start-up–and predates them in existence. They are known for incorporating microalgae into skincare products. The first ingredient of their Sleeping Collagen is collagen, even before water, but it’s not clear how it’s derived and the algae is the eleventh ingredient down after Glycerin, Cetearyl Methicone, and Dimethicone. The start of their ingredient list for the Anti-Aging Cream is even less impressive–water, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Hydrogentated Polyisobutene, Glycerin–with the fifth ingredient being Chlorella Protothecoides Oil, green algae.
Both ALGENIST creams are supposed to address the first three issues on the list above, albeit using slightly different ingredients. ALGENIST says their Sleeping Collagen uses vegan plant collagen to smooth, alguronic acid to minimize lines and wrinkles, and skin-mimicking ceramides and mary thistle plant to hydrate and nourish. The first two marketed ingredients are the same for their Anti-Aging Cream, with microalgae oil being the third instead of cermaides and milk thistle. Honestly, other than the collagen and algae (see previous paragraph), the rest of these ingredients are buried in the list and not easy to quickly spot, leaving me with no confidence that they do much.
Neither are explicitly cruelty free like the others above, and both list dimethicone as an ingredient (EWG Score 3), which the Drunk Elephant and Biossance products I specifically named above do not have. I will note that I did notice other DE products do have dimethicone and I’m not sure about other Biossance products. Formulations vary wildly within a brand’s product line, so I would check the ingredient list every time if you’re looking for or trying to avoid something specific.
My least (1) to most (4) preferred:
- Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Cream – $40.24/oz
- Drunk Elephant Lala Retro Whipped Cream – $35.50/oz
- Biossance Squalane + Omega Repair Cream – $34.32/oz
- Shiseido Benefiance – $37.05/oz and ALGENIST Genius Sleeping Collagen – $49.00/oz
While I liked the feel of Shiseido and ALGENIST products better than Biossance and Drunk Elephant based on my rather limited interaction them, I liked the ingredients of the latter two much better. The Drunk Elephant Protini outright claims to do the most for your skin, combating dullness, texture, and sun damage in addition to the issues the other products in this review address (dryness, lines and wrinkles, loss of firmness/elasticity). Biossance is a heavier product than the DE Protini and Lala, which makes for a decent night cream. All of these products seem better at moisturizing than lower priced mainstream products.
If you’re primarily after heavy-duty moisturizing, shea butter is rich and effective. I’m thinking you could get shea butter (about $1.43 an ounce for drugstore brand NOW (hexane free) Shea to $7.50 an ounce for L’Occitane Certified Organic Pure Shea) and mix in your desired serums to customize a moisturizer for your skin goals. Has anyone tried this?
If you use a really rich moisturizer like shea at night, you may prefer to opt for a lighter oil in the morning instead of a cream, but oils are another post.
If your skin is dry, consider the effect that other products you are using are having on your skin–is your face soap or another product stripping all the moisture away? Some face soaps are much more drying than others. Also another post.
Questions for another day:
- Where does the Farmacy Sleep Tight Firming Night Balm with Echinacea GreenEnvy™ moisturizer fit into this line-up (dryness, lines and wrinkles, uneven skintone)?
- Can refrigerating your night cream give you the cooling effect without the less benign ingredients?
- Are there any decent clean beauty drug store products out there?
What’s your go-to moisturizer?
This post reflects my personal opinion and is not sponsored or endorsed by any of these brands.