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Moisturizer Junkie: How Much Is Too Much?

By Amalah

I go through a small tub of moisturizer (nivea Q10) every 2 weeks and I’m beginning to think something is wrong. When I was at the Clinique beauty counter at a store recently, the saleslady tested the moisturizer by applying a teeny tiny amount to the tip of a Q-tip and then proceeded to spread it over my whole face. This is the exact opposite of how I apply my own at home by using a generous dollop on each cheek, a generous dollop on nose and chin and another dollop on forehead. Then spending a minute or two rubbing it all in until it’s absorbed. The Clinique lady told me a tub of their cream — which is about the same size as the one I use at home — would last me three months – in my world, it would only last a few weeks.
My theory is that the more I use and the process of really rubbing it in til it’s absorbed makes it more effective than just smearing a small amount over the surface.
So my question is: how much is enough per serving?

So this is another one of those questions that I have an immediate simple answer for, but then proceed to spend several wishy-washy paragraphs on anyway.
Immediate, simple answer: OMG TOO MUCH MOISTURIZER!
Wishy-washy answer: Well, since I am not sitting in front of you in a white esthetician’s jacket examining your skin texture and pores, I do need to say that if your skin seems to like and handle that much moisturizer, dollop away. I mean, if you were actually doing harm to your skin, you’d know it.
But really, I’m a believer in quality over quantity. I also cannot stand products that DON’T last me several months. I use a pea-sized dollop of moisturizer on my whole face. (The teensy drop on a Q-tip seems a little unrealistic — was probably mostly for show, I’m thinking.) If I use more and spend a ton of time rubbing it in, my pores eventually revolt. I also don’t like to touch my face with my hands for very long, so a nice thin coat goes on easily and keeps my skin nice and soft. Oh, and if I DO happen to over-moisturize (especially in the winter), my skin is prone to chapping. (This is true of any body part — too much hand cream or body lotion does the same thing, so I use them sparingly and then seal the moisture in with a thin coating of Rosebud salve or Vaseline.)
Oh, and a bottle of moisturizer lasts me about six months. Which is good, because otherwise my entire family would be living on cans of cat food.
1586.jpgBut that’s MY skin. I’ve never had to deal with extremely dry skin, so I don’t know. Maybe you do need several tablespoons of moisturizer, and your question didn’t come with a side order of shine or blackheads or redness. Question, though: did your skin feel dry after the Clinique demonstration? Did it feel tight? Did you notice visible dry patches by nighttime? If not, then take this as a sign that you can use less of your current cream. If it did feel dry, well…I’m still going to encourage you to experiment with using less. There’s a limit to how much our skin can really absorb and use — after that you’ve just got gunk sitting on the surface. Those health food snack bars sure are tasty and good and wholesome, but if you eat five of them in one sitting they’re still mostly gonna end up on your ass.
Facial moisturizers are very concentrated. They aren’t like body moisturizers and often absorb faster — which may be why you feel like you need to apply a ton just so it doesn’t vanish into your skin in a few seconds. But try to get down to one jar a month. Try a quarter or nickel-sized dollop and spread a single, thin coat over your face. It’ll save you money, shorten your prep time in the morning, and probably won’t change the state of your skin as much as you might think.

Published January 16, 2008. Last updated January 16, 2008.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • 22209

    January 16, 2008 at 11:56 am

    What’s this about a thin coating of Rosebud salve or Vaseline to seal in the moisture? This sounds like a probably critical step that I’ve been missing! Do you mean Vaseline of the “100% Pure Petroleum Jelly” kind, or one of their moisturizers? If the petroleum jelly.. intuitively it seems like that would just clog my face up? No?

  • kalisah

    January 16, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    note: the nose has more oil cells than the whole rest of the body put together. Don’t waste your moisturizer by applying it to your nose.

  • Olivia

    January 16, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    I have quite dry skin, even on my nose, and I use about a dime-sized dollop of moisturizer for my whole face. That, plus the liquid foundation (I blend them together for a sheer coverage) do pretty well for the day, and I use a touch more of a heavier moisturizer at night. I don’t think it should take a minute or two to rub in. That’s probably an indicator you are using more moisturizer than your skin can absord at once.

  • missbritt

    January 16, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    I have a big fat face.
    I have relatively dry skin.
    I seem to always end up using cheap, cheap moisturizer (I know, I know, but I HAVE it, so I USE it).
    And with all that I still only use an itty bitty amount of moisturizer – just enough that it disappears with a quick rub.

  • Kelly J

    January 16, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    Oh dear, I think I can feel my face breaking out just reading this! That just sounds like a TON of moisturizer!
    22209 – I’m pretty sure Amalah was referring to using Vaseline or Rosebud salve to seal in the moisturizer on hands and body, NOT face!

  • mollyawesome

    January 17, 2008 at 8:42 am

    I know the temptation to use a ton of the Clinique lotion, because it is great stuff, especially for people with very dry skin, but I think it probably comes down to very little amounts of the right things. What I do nowadays (based entirely on Amalah’s recommendations) is this:
    1. Wash my face with Purity Made Simple.
    2. Immediately put on Hope in a Jar upon getting out of the shower.
    3. Wait a little while. Dry my hair, brush my teeth, etc. Then see what my skin is like at this point, because obviously it can’t lock in all the moisture from the shower. Usually I have extra peeling/dryness on my chin, mouth, nose, and forehead. So then I put on Clinique, and really, a little does go a long way with that stuff.
    4. For the drier areas, Clarin’s Instant Smooth Perfecting Touch DOES work as some kind of moisturizer, even though it’s not one. I’m so glad Amalah recommended it, because it has by some miracle made my face seem oily, which is HUGE for me because my skin is usually so so so dry.
    5. Smashbox primer on my cheeks and nose, because Clarin’s can feel a little too oily there.
    I use very small amounts of all of these things, and so far so good. They all kind of work together to make sure I’m not wasting product.

  • Dapbim

    January 17, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    My beautician once told me to apply moisturiser to my face, just massaging each area once (ie more spread it over the skin, rather than rub it into the skin, if you see what I mean). Anything that had not been absorbed within 15 minutes was excess and more than my skin needed, and should be removed with a cotton pad. Then use a bit less the next day. Repeat until your skin doesn’t feel oily after the 15 minutes, then you know that that’s enough.

  • 22209

    January 18, 2008 at 9:45 am

    Kelly J – thanks!!

  • Visitor

    December 23, 2008 at 3:56 am

    The article says “redness” from too much moisturizer? Can you explain more?

  • raeanne

    April 17, 2013 at 3:42 am

    I dont think you can “over moisturize” as an esthetician I know that different people have different skin types. While in a facial routine some people absorb the lotion instantly (dry skin) and some dont absorb any (oily skin). I have incredibly dry skin. I use the thickest one I can find. If I dont moisturize my skin enough it gets red and irritated. And I know your routine very much, the dollops on the 4 places on your face because i HAVE to do it. Do whats right for YOUR skin. If too much upsets it… stop. If you dont feel your getting enough, use more. Ive tried really expensive moisturizers and ive tried really cheap ones. And honestly i prefer the cheap ones, they work just as good. But get samples from different brands… maybe one will satisfy your skin more than another.