Despite how a moisturizing cream may feel on your skin, it doesn’t aim to moisten your skin but rather tries to keep the moisture already in the skin from being lost. A moisturizer is, in effect, a protective barrier for your skin. This helps the skin to retain it’s natural moisture that gives it all features that we associate with beautiful skin – plumpness, radiance and smoothness.
What’s In A Moisturizer ?
Simple moisturizers are made up of one or more humectants, occlusives, emollients and various others products that give it fragrance, texture and color. The fragrance, texture and color are just the niceties of the product. They make it smell and feel good when you put it on. The active ingredients, and most important part of a moisturizer, are the humectant, occlusives and emollients.
What’s A Humectant ?
A humectant attracts and retains moisture. The simplest type of humectant is glycerin. This product was used in many of the early moisturizing creams and is still used to this day in many personal care products. Other natural humectants used for skin care products are things like sorbitol, urea, hylauronic acid, aloe vera.
Water in the epidermis (second layer of the skin) is attracted to the dermis (top layer of the skin) by the humectant. This makes your skin feel moist but a better word for it is hydrated.
Some humectants even absorb water from the surrounding atmosphere if it is particularly humid.
What’s An Occlusive ?
An occlusive slows down the evaporation of water from the surface layer of the skin by creating a barrier on the skin. The most common occlusive is petrolatum but this is quite a heavy substance which doesn’t feel good on the skin, so it is often mixed with other products. Other common occlusive substances are made from waxes, oils and silicones.
What’s An Emollient ?
An emollient substance in a moisturizing cream can also form a barrier on the skin to prevent water evaporation but it is more important as a transport. It determines how easily the cream spreads on the skin. The added benefit of an emollient is that is makes the skin feel smoother. Typical emollients include products that are also classified as humectants (sorbitol, glycerin) and occlusives (petrolatum, silicones).
Types of Moisturizers
Most moisturizers will be made up of a combination of humectant, occlusives and emollients depending on the purpose of the product.
Simple moisturizers will simply help to keep the skin hydrated.
Multitasking moisturizers will have other functions, like act as a sunscreen at the same time.
So called power moisturizers go even further. They have added substances that can help the skin stay healthy and rejuvenate. For instance, moisturizers with ursolic acid are supposed to increase ceramide production on the Stratum Corneum. The Stratum Corneum is the top layer of the dermis and ceramide is a type of lipid or fat cell. So the idea is to make the skin look plumper and more youthful.
Other power moisturizers are supposed to improve the micro-circulation in the skin cells so that the skin gets all the nutrients that it needs to stay healthy. As we age, the circulatory system is less efficient and the extremities of the body do not get the blood (which provides nutrition). As the skin is the pouter layer of the body, it is considered to be an extremity.