A skin moisturizer is a skin care product that does exactly what its name suggests: keep the skin hydrated. Skin moisturizers (both a face moisturizer and body moisturizers) retain water on the outer layer of the skin (the epidermis).
The water in a moisturizing cream keeps the skin soft, smooth and supple. Without a facial moisturizer on the face, the water on your skin surface evaporates and your skin will tend to become dry and flaky.
Skin Moisturizer – How It Works
A skin moisturizer keeps the skin hydrated by:
• lubricating the skin
• attracting or drawing moisture to skin, or
• inhibiting the evaporation of water from the skin.
A face moisturizer and a body moisturizing cream can do one, two or all three functions. The way your facial moisturizer or body moisturizer works depends on the ingredients it contains. Typically, skincare moisturizers contain a mix of ingredients, each of which may lubricate, attract water or prevent water from evaporating.
The following are the types of skin moisturizer ingredients matched to their respective function in a moisturizing cream formulation:
• Emollient – soothes and softens the skin
Emollients like lanolin, petrolatum and jojoba oil are lubricating agents. They soothe and soften the skin by filling gaps at the stratum corneum, the top layer of the epidermis. Through its gap-filling action, a skin moisturizer with emollients makes skin perceptibly smoother immediately after application.
Emollients can be oil-based or water-based. A moisturizer cream with oil-based emollients is generally more effective than a cream with water-based emollients. However, a water-based skin moisturizer feels less greasy than an oil-based moisturizing cream.
• Humectant – moistens the skin
Humectants like glycerin, urea and sorbitol are skincare moisturizers in the true sense of the word. A humectant is a natural moisturizer since it draws water from the air or from the dermis (the layer under the epidermis) to the surface of the epidermis.
So a skin moisturizer with humectants works by attracting water to the skin surface, thereby reinforcing the skin’s water or moisture barrier. The best moisturizer cream for dry skin contains humectants because these ingredients work great as they actively absorb water to keep skin moist.
• Evaporation blockers – keeps water on the skin
Evaporation blockers like dimethicone, canola oil and beeswax improve water retention on the skin by slowing down the natural tendency of water to evaporate. A skin moisturizer primarily made up of evaporation blockers is most effective when applied after a bath or shower when the skin is still damp.
Some ingredients that work as evaporation blockers do double duty as emollients which keep the skin smooth. But evaporation blockers are often greasy. There are less greasy variants but they usually have less staying power than their greasy counterparts.
Choosing Your Skin Moisturizer
When choosing a skin moisturizer, check the ingredients. Your objective is to pick the best moisturizer for your skin type.
If you have normal or oily skin, go for a light skin moisturizer. While you don’t need an oil-free moisturizer, you do need a non-greasy product. A water-based skin moisturizer should be perfect. If you have oily skin, be sure to pick a skin moisturizer that won’t clog your pores and cause acne breakouts.
If you have dry skin, you should go for a heavy, oil-based moisturizing cream for your face and body. Look for a face moisturizer or body moisturizer with humectants and evaporation blockers. Oil-based skin moisturizers are also ideal for older/aging skin.
Finally, if you’re looking for a sensitive skin moisturizer, you should choose a body moisturizer that doesn’t have fragrances and other ingredients that cause skin irritation. Check the label of a skin moisturizer for potential irritants.