Moisturizers de-coded


Ah, the feeling of dry skin!  You know the feeling in the cold winter months, when your skin aches for that soft, supple feeling of hydrated skin?   Dry skin tends to occur when the humidity is low, prompting women and men to reach for a moisturizer.  But what exactly does a moisturizer do?  Moisturizers increase the water content in your skin, essentially hydrating it to restore the barrier function of the epidermis (external layer of the skin) and make it softer and more pliable.  Moisturizers contain ingredients that can smooth and soothe dry skin, helping protect it from free radical damage, reduce inflammation or irritation and allow damaged cells to repair themselves.

The common ingredients in moisturizers are: mineral oil, stearic acid, lanolin, beeswax, sorbitol, and polysorbates.

Other ingredients added to moisturizers are: natural fatty oils (olive, coconut, corn, peach, and sesame), natural fats (stearate and diglycol laurate), hydrocarbon solids (paraffin), alcohols (cetyl, stearyl and oleyl), emulsifiers, preservatives and antioxidants, including vitamin E and paraben, antibacterials and perfumes (menthol and camphor).

Moisturizers, at times, are referred to as humectants, emollients, lubricants, oils, and greases; however, these terms are not interchangeable. Each term has a specific definition:

  • Moisturizer – A substance that imparts or restores moisture to (something); to supply moisture
  • Humectant – A substance, such as glycerin, that absorbs or helps another substance retain moisture
  • Emollient – A substance that makes something soft or supple; also, soothing especially to the skin or the mucous membrane
  • Grease – Rendered animal fat; a thick lubricant; oily matter
  • Lubricant – A substance, such as grease, that is capable of reducing friction, heat, and wear when introduced as a film between solid surfaces; something that lessens or prevents friction of difficulty.

Moisturizers generally come in five types:

  • Cream moisturizers- These moisturizers are best for people with dry skin, and people with normal skin living in areas that are very cold and dry in the winter. They are the thickest and heaviest moisturizers. These oil- based moisturizers contain urea or propylene glycol- chemicals that help keep your skin moist.
  • Fluid moisturizers– These are suitable for people with combination to oily skin. They can also be used by people with normal skin through the summer months.  These moisturizers contain light weight oils, such as cetyl alcohol, or silicone- derived ingredients like cyclomethicone.
  • Gel moisturizers– These are the best for people with oily skin. These light weight moisturizers are absorbed in the skin very quickly. Be sure to pick an oil- free, water-based, noncomedogenic product.
  • Oil moisturizers- These are appropriate for all skin types. Pay special attention to the type of oil used. Good oil moisturizers include rose hip oil or grape seed oil.
  • Serums- These have the benefit of anti-aging or anti-wrinkle properties. Serums deposit nutrients with minimal hydration, making them best for oily skin.

What moisturizer do you use? How is it working for you?

  • Sally

    What comes first- Serum/ moisturizer? Do I first use a serum and then a moisturizer or first use a moisturizer, then a serum… Confused…

  • Holly

    Thanks for your comment Sally! Usually one puts serum first and then moisturizer, as the serum helps the skin to better absorb the nutrients and moisture from your moisturizer. That being said, always check the instructions of your serum for exceptions.