How Moisturizers Work – And Which Ones to Look For

Eat, sleep, moisturize, repeat.

The Internet seems to go crazy about everyone’s need and duty to keep our skin hydrated at all times. This is certainly fine by me – there a few things that make you look and feel better than nice, soft, glowing, supple, wonderfully hydrated skin. But have you ever wondered, what types of cosmetic ingredients we have to thank for the moisturizing miracles?

Let’s start with some skin hydration basics. Skin hydration is simply the water content of our skin. About 20% of water present in our body lives in the skin, with 60–70% of this amount residing in the dermis, the thickest layer of the skin that contains blood capillaries, nerve endings, sweat glands, hair follicles, and other structures. Usually, we have two types of water in our skin: free and bound.

In healthy skin, most of the water is bound to macromolecules. Those macromolecules, such as hyaluronic acid, entrap water and ions – to provide our skin with hydration and suppleness. Free water molecules can escape easily as they are not attached to any surrounding molecules. This leads to skin dryness. If our skin does not have enough of these binding elements (which often happens with age or through overexposure to harmful factors), it is harder for our skin to keep its moisture.

So when it comes down to cosmetic moisturizers, they follow the natural hydrating mechanism of the skin: They should add water to the skin and bind it there. These ingredients to look for in an effective moisturizer do the job:

 

1. Water or a plant juice

Water is essential for hydration, but using plant juices and extracts, such as Aloe barbadensis (Aloe Vera) leaf juice, instead can not only bring the much needed moisture but add numerous further benefits. Antioxidant effects, soothing, healing and nourishing are common properties of many botanical ingredients that can be harnessed by replacing water with plant extracts in skincare products. 

2. Humectants

Humectants (this word is a relative of the word humid) attract water and bind it. Some of the best natural humectants used in skincare products are glycerine, sodium hyaluronate, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and hydrolyzed plant proteins.

3. Occlusives

These ingredients form a nice protective lipid layer to keep the newly added moisture from escaping too quickly. Wonderful natural occlusives are butters, waxes and oils – such as jojoba oil. ⠀⠀⠀

4. And finally, emollients

Emollients smooth rough edges of skin cells and act as protective and healing agents for rough, dry skin. Emollients soften, sooth the skin and ideally should also nourish it. Restored through emollients skin keeps its moisture better. Great natural emollients are plant oils, such as marula, sea buckthorn, avocado, rosehip, and also shea or mango butters.

 

And one final thing - moisturizers come in many forms: Creams, serums, facial oils, lotions and masks can have wonderfully hydrating properties. Which one you choose, depends mainly on your skin type, time of application, personal preferences and the time of the year.

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