Skin Care School: Moisturizers 101

Skin Care School Moisturizers 101 - Cosmetic Composition

Despite articles on a certain minimalist beauty site saying that you can throw your moisturizer out the window – please don’t, you’re gonna need it. Moisturizer is one of the very essential skincare products that we all must use, and not just on our faces – everywhere. The skin is our largest organ and protection system for the body, providing proper care will not only reflect on the outside but your insides as well.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, a moisturizer is “a lotion, cream or gel that can help keep your skin soft and smooth”. The number one thing that moisturizers provide to the skin is hydration. This is done so by providing an oil-water balance in the skin, keeping the moisture content in the skin high, and providing a general barrier that keeps all the goodness inside.

Types of Moisturizers

Oil in Water (o/w) emulsions (remember, emulsion = even blend) are water-based products that contain suspended oil droplets. These dispersed oil droplets are able to mix due to the presence of micelles.

Lotion is an o/w product that is lightweight and provides hydration to the skin. Lotions have high water concentration and are generally non-greasy formulas perfect for those with oily, combination, sensitive, and anceic skin.

Water in Oil (w/o) emulsions are oil-based products that contain water droplets suspended throughout. Much like o/w formulations, w/o products also contain micelles to keep the oil and water together. However, these emulsions will have inverse micelles of each other – one that attracts water and one that attracts oil.

Cream is a w/o product that very heavy and provides a thick layer of protection and hydration to the skin. Creams will either be oil-based or have a 50/50 blend of oil and water (dependent on the company). Creams are ideal for those with dry, normal, post-treatment and mature skin.

Gel much like lotion is a lightweight and water based product. Gels can come in many forms; however, for hydration purposes, they are typically extremely light in texture, and mainly composed of water, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid. Gels are hard to define in the skincare world as they are extremely similar to lotion and can take on many different forms in the broad spectrum of science.

Skin School - Moisturizers - Cosmetic Composition

Moisturizing Ingredients

Occlusives, humectants, and emollients are the golden trio of hydration when it comes to moisturizer ingredients.

Occlusives are ingredients that work to keep the moisture that’s already present in your skin trapped in. If you’ve ever heard of the term TEWL it deals with what occlusives aim to prevent. Transepidermal Water Loss (or TEWL) is the loss of water content from the epidermis due to atmospheric diffusion and/or evaporation. Examples of occlusive ingredients include mineral oil (yes it’s safe to use), lanolin, silicones, shea butter, beeswax – think thicker ingredients.

Humectants made popular by the all-star ingredient hyaluronic acid, is a category of ingredients that add water to the skin by pulling it from the air and surrounding environment. Using the classic example, hyaluronic acid can bind 1000x its own weight in water to the skin, providing additional hydration. Examples of humectants include glycerin, hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, and urea.

Emollients are a tricky category of moisturizers as they are often classified with occlusives. Emollients soften and smooth the skin by assisting in skin texture and hydration. A great example of an emollient is the ingredient allantoin – I wrote a post about back in January. Allantoin is an emollient that also has keratolyic activity which lightly exfoliates the top layers of the skin and allows the skin’s extracellular matrix to increase its moisture retention. Emollient ingredients can include allantoin, squalene, ceramides, plant & animal oils, triglycerides, and fatty acids.

So there we have it. My 101 course in moisturizers, ready for the pop quiz? Maybe I’ll post one on my Instagram stories later this week… Stay tuned for part II of Moisturizers 101 where I will explain the best moisturizer for your skin type! ❤



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