The Anatomy of a Facial Moisturizer

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Anatomy of a Facial Moisturizer

Finding the perfect moisturizer that will work best for your facial skin is not an easy task. I remember how much money I wasted until I found the moisturizer that doesn’t give me any skin breakouts and doesn’t intensify the oiliness of my skin. It turns out that just by looking at the ingredient list of a moisturizer, you can have an idea whether it is suitable for your skin.

Basically, a moisturizer contains three types of moisturizing ingredients: humectant, occlusive and emollient. The hydrating properties of a moisturizer depend on the amount and selection of ingredients for each of those types.

Humectant ingredients keep our skin hydrated by attracting water from the atmosphere and the dermis (lower layers of the skin) and bind those water into the outermost layer of the skin. It makes our skin plump, soft and supple to the touch. Moisturizers that contain mostly of humectant ingredients are lighter in consistency and less greasy. They are ideal to be used during summer and as a daytime moisturizer. If you have oily/acne-prone skin, then your skin can benefit from oil-free moisturizer with humectant as its primary ingredient. The most commonly used humectant in moisturizer is glycerin because of its low cost and effectiveness. The only drawback is high concentration of glycerin can create a sticky feeling on the skin and can increase the rate in which the skin lose water. That is why humectant is often combined with occlusive ingredient when used as a moisturizer in order to prevent skin water loss.

Examples of Humectant

  • Glycerin
  • Sorbitol
  • Propylene Glycol
  • Sodium Lactate
  • Urea
  • Hyaluronic Acid
Occlusive ingredients provide a physical barrier to our skin to prevent or slow down water loss through our skin. Moisturizers with occlusive ingredients are ideal for people with dry skin. Most people with extremely dry skin are due to transepidermal water loss (TEWL) wherein moisture evaporates from the skin at a faster rate. This explains why there are times no matter how much moisturizer we put, our skin remains dry. The inclusion of occlusive ingredients can help seal in the moisture into our skin. Take note though that there are some occlusive agents (e.g. petrolatum and waxes) which can leave a heavy, greasy feeling on skin. On the other hand, silicone derivatives (e.g. dimethicone) are effective occlusive agents without the greasy feeling. Moisturizers that contain mostly of occlusive ingredients are ideal to be used during winter and as a nighttime moisturizer.

Examples of Occlusive
  • Petrolatum
  • Mineral Oil
  • Waxes (e.g. Beeswax, Carnauba Wax)
  • Vegetable Oil (e.g. Sunflower Oil)
  • Silicone Oil (e.g. Dimethicone)
  • Fatty Acid (e.g. Stearic Acid)
  • Fatty Alcohol (e.g. Cetyl Alcohol)
Finally, emollient ingredients make the skin soft and smooth by replenishing lost lipids (oils) in the skin. Skincare formulators usually combine different emollient (with varying degree of absorption and spreadability rate) to customize the skin feel of the moisturizer. There are some emollients who are also occlusive in nature (e.g. mineral oil, vegetable oil, dimethicone).

Examples of Emollient
  • Mineral Oil
  • Butter (e.g. Shea Butter, Cocoa Butter, etc.)
  • Vegetable Oil (e.g. Sunflower Oil)
  • Silicone Oil (e.g. Dimethicone)
  • Lanolin
  • Synthetic esters of fatty alcohols and fatty acids (e.g. Isopropyl Palmitate, Glyceryl Stearate, etc.)
Now that we know about these three elements, let me give you an example on how to decode the properties of a given moisturizer. Ideally, a good moisturizer must be able to attract (humectant) and retain (occlusive) moisture to your skin, as well as nourish (emollient) dehydrated skin.

Let’s take a look at Human Nature Day Moisturizer product ingredient list.

Humectant: glycerin, aloe vera leaf juice

Occlusive: rosehip oil, sunflower oil, avocado oil, stearyl alcohol

Emollient: rosehip oil, sunflower oil, avocado oil, glyceryl stearate, dicaprylyl ether

As you notice, majority of the ingredients of the sample moisturizer are occlusive and emollient so it is best suited for people with normal to dry skin.

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