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What's Inside: Moisturiser

Updated: Feb 3, 2022

We’re back for the second part of the series, What's Inside?

To get filled in on our first post about cleansers, you can click here.

This week we take a microscope to moisturisers. Growing up it's one of the first skincare products we are introduced to. Clearasil, anyone?

Going into writing this post, I thought it would be pretty basic - a standard moisturiser, what's there to it? Turns out, there's a lot!

What Does a Facial Moisturiser Do?

“It moisturises?”

The word moisturiser indicates it moistens the skin (I know, that word). The word moisten means to make something wet, humidified, damp. But there's a bit more to it...

Your skin barrier is at the top of the list when it comes to a moisturiser’s priorities. Often, moisturising products both moisturise and hydrate the skin. These two words have a slight but important difference in meaning.

Moisturising refers to sealing in the skin's moisture, preventing trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL) and keeping the skin feeling soft and smooth. TEWL is the loss of water from the skin's surface - ideally, we want this water locked in!

Moisturising ingredients are oil-based - popular examples include ceramides, oils and butters.

Hydration of the skin refers to the actual water content inside cells. Hydrators attract and bind water molecules (they are hygroscopic) from deeper layers of the skin and the surrounding air (when humidity is over 70%). This delivers water to nearby skin cells - helping them to be plump and bouncy rather than shrivelled and shrunken.

We call these hydrating ingredients humectants. Popular humectants include hyaluronic acid, glycerin, propanediol, honey and surprisingly, alpha-hydroxy-acids (AHAs).

Humectants are pretty clever in that they don't only act as a hydrator, but can also act as:

- an antifreeze, to stabilise the formulation at lower temperatures

- a preservative-booster by reducing free water in the formulation

- a solvent - affecting solubility (ability to dissolve) of certain compounds like plant extracts

I like to distinguish moisturising and hydrating by thinking - am I thirsty? If I am, I need water to quench this thirst. Oil will not remedy my dehydration.

If you're struggling to pin down whether you have dry or dehydrated skin (you might have both!) book in for a free consultation with one of Skin Ritual's friendly practitioners. To address your skin correctly, distinguishing between the two is super important.

Moisturising and hydrating ingredients are commonly shelved under humectants, emollients, and occlusives.

On top of moisturising and hydrating the skin, moisturisers can address specific skin concerns such as pigmentation and signs of skin damage and ageing. Cue peptides, antioxidants and SPF!

What's Inside Your Moisturiser?

Typically, a lotion or creamy moisturiser will contain oil (your moisturising ingredients), water, and an emulsifier to keep the two from separating. We spoke about the multitasking actions of surfactants in our last "What's Inside" post. In moisturisers, they aren't used for cleansing but as an emulsifier. Thanks to their hydrophilic head and hydrophobic tail they can arrange themselves into micelle structures that contain oil droplets within the tails and water by their heads! This keeps the oil and water from separating - as you normally would see.

Other ingredients include:

  • Humectants (as mentioned earlier)

  • Xanthan gum (a common skincare (and food) thickener that helps to create and stabilise the texture of the product.)

  • A broad-spectrum preservative system (required due to the water content. Microbes LOVE water.

  • Antioxidants (e.g tocopherol - may be included when other ingredients in the formulation are prone to oxidation such as essential oils and cold-pressed plant oils. )

  • Chelators (e.g. sodium EDTA - may be necessary to support the preservative system)

  • Fragrances

  • Actives (to address other skin concerns. Normally used to give the moisturiser an edge, unique selling point or story (e.g. brightening, protecting).)

The richness of your moisturiser depends on the oil to water ratio and the choice of ceramide/occlusive.

Gel moisturisers are typically oil-free and have high water content. Thus, more of a hydrating product, full of humectants and less of a moisturising product (ceramides and occlusives).

Neither gels, lotions, or creams are better than one another - they all serve their purpose!

Different Moisturisers for Different Skin Types and Environments

Between the spectrum of rich cream to water gel is a skin type for each. Although in saying this, there is no hard and fast rule - it depends on you, your taste, your season and even your environment!

Generally speaking...

Richer creams are ideal for those with:

  • dry skin types - a lack of sebum could use a helping hand with lovely ceramides and oils.

  • mature skin - as we age, oil production decreases thus a richer cream can help counteract this.

Gels can work well in these circumstances:

  • dehydrated skin - due to skin cells lacking water, they need a drink! Water and humectant rich products are going to help quench that thirst.

  • Summer, humid months - in the heat, sebum production is more plentiful, so lighter creams may be preferred. Humectants also work well in humid conditions, as they can better pull the moisture from the air to skin cells.

  • oily skin types - as the skin is already plentiful in oils, there is less need for a moisturiser rich in moisturising factors. Keeping the skin hydrated is still important though!

I’m currently digging gel moisturisers (or water gels as some brands call them). I have notoriously oily skin so I find a lightweight gel enough to keep my skin happy. With Auckland’s high humidity - I find this the perfect environment for my humectant rich/occlusive poor moisturiser. However, winter is here and I move down to the South Island where it is unforgivingly dry, so I am prepared that I will likely shift to a creamier moisturiser to offer a bit more barrier protection.

Overall picking the perfect moisturiser can take a bit of trial and error. And like we mentioned before, your perfect moisturiser today may not be perfect for you in the following season.

Getting a consultation if you’re unsure of your skin type followed by samples of moisturisers is your best way to find the perfect fit (without having to go out and buy multiple products before you find the one).

As always, Skin Ritual offers free consultations, so you can chat with one of their experienced practitioners and discuss your skin’s individual needs. Be sure to get in touch to get on your tailored path to healthy, happy skin.

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